Joel’s Homestay

My homestay with CT was really a learning experience. In fact, if I learned anything about what it’s like to actually live in Japan, it was from my experiences in my homestay. At first I was a little bit scared about making any mistakes, but I knew if I was to learn anything, I first had to ask questions, which was crucial. However as I got to know my host family, I wasn’t scared anymore.

For one thing, I really loved their home, especially the living room. I also loved that we were able to spend a lot of time just talking amongst ourselves. I also got to learn a lot from my host parents, from learning how to say what my age is in Japanese to learning an alternate way to wear my yukata.

One of my favorite days with them was on November 11, 2013, which was the night I learned how to make sushi. I really loved spending time with them. Even now I do miss them, but soon I plan to come back and catch up with them. Hopefully I could also help CT study abroad in the same college I go to while I’m at it.

Joel Bernola
Duke Ellington School of the Arts

November 21 – Watari-cho

After taking the train to Watari-cho, we soon took a taxi to a museum where we learned about the origins of the city of Watari.  First we saw samurai armor from the Edo period, including a replication of the armor that belonged to Date Shigezane, the founder of Watari and a relative of the famous Date Clan. Afterwards we saw old supplies used by farmers to not only make rice, which was their cash crop, but also silk. As we went through the exhibit, we also saw articles of clothing that were worn by farmers and religious ornaments that were made from rice plants. We also were able to see an old fire engine used by early firefighters of the Edo period, which seemed very advanced for its time, and a boat we learned how to sit in.

Then after we went through the exhibit, we went to visit the organization WATALIS, where we learned about how kimono fabric was put into different uses in the past as well as today in the process called the “up-cycle,” which is similar to the concept of recycling, and made cool hangers covered with kimono fabric.

Personally the thing that struck me the most about our visit in Watari was not only having fun while making cool hangers, but also learning about how the organization was going to create products for the Olympics in Japan for the year 2020. But even after that, the one thing that truly impacted me was the point where the head of the organization gave me a piece of kimono fabric and told me that I reminded her of her son. After hearing this, I really felt close to her and the company. I also enjoyed conversing with other employees within the organization and grew closer as we did. This was actually one of my favorite days, just because of how special it was.

Joel Bernola
Ellington School of the Arts

Keio and Wearing Yukata

Throughout our visits at Keio Fujisawa Junior and Senior High School, we actually had a chance to actually go to classes with our host brothers and sisters to see what school is like in Japan. Through this experience we found out that the way school worked in Japan was very different from what we expected. For example, there were almost no classes that were taken outside of homeroom and that there was recess. While over there, we also got to see and experience traditional customs. One of those customs was wearing Yukata, a traditional robe-like garment that was worn in everyday life (most that are made today are made to be worn during the spring, for a day). For this we first met with a yukata and kimono-making master who first told us that the kimono is worn by women while the yukata is for men. Afterwards we were given options to choose from and helped us put them on one by one. After that we walked around the school for four hours where we met with very excited students that took pictures of us with us.

This was another day that I really liked because I had a really great experience wearing traditional clothing and had a chance to learn more about how they were worn. In fact because of this experience, I question how traditional Japanese garments are sold. I also question how they are worn and shown in the media, because of the many different, and inaccurate, versions of them for costume. Though I get that costumes aren’t supposed to be accurate, it really diminishes the true purposes behind traditional clothing and accessories. Along with that point, because of the media, people think that the famous shinobi (ninja) had an actual uniform that they used for their missions, which is not true. But besides that, I really had a good time just wearing traditional clothing and having an experience that was similar to the experiences I usually have at anime conventions.

Joel Bernola
Ellington School of the Arts

November 7th

After having an early breakfast at NUI Hostel, we soon left to go to the Imperial Palace of Japan. While there we saw the residence of the emperor as well as ambassador quarters, and the high council building where the emperor had meetings with ambassadors. While exploring the palace, there were times when we suddenly saw horse-drawn carriages that passed us by. Near the end of the tour, one carried the ambassador of Argentina who waved at us from the carriage.

Once we left from the Imperial Palace, we went to a sumo themed restaurant where we all tried a special dish called chonco nabe (a stew that was mixed with vegetables and seafood) which was traditionally served to sumo wrestlers.  Afterwards we went to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, where we first looked at artifacts and displays that depicted parts of the Edo period, which was around the time of the rule of the samurai warrior class, as well as part of the Meiji Era, which was also known as the start of modernism and westernization of Japan, and World War II.

I would say that a great thing for me to do on this day was wear traditional clothing. I say this because as we visited these places, people were not only impressed but they were also very happy to see me as if I showed respect by doing so. If I learned anything from this day, it was that showing your interest in a country that you travel to will connect you with the people. I also felt that I learned that being a traveler is also connecting with any country you go to, where you’re categorized as a foreigner, to the point that you don’t feel like one. Overall, the Edo-Tokyo Museum was very interesting for all of us because of the artifacts and models that were on display. Posing by a rickshaw was one of the funniest things we did besides taking pictures near a palanquin. For me personally though I just loved being able to see what I had studied up close as well as express my knowledge.

Joel Bernola
Duke Ellington School of the Arts

November 4th

After spending three days in Anne Hostel in Asakusabashi, we took all of our things and went to the Asakusabashi train station to get on the train and go to Kuramae. Once we arrived in Kuramae, we went to NUI Hostel, where we put our luggage in a secure storage closet and went to Kuramae station. Once we arrived at Kuramae station, we took the train to Ueno station and explored through the Ueno district. While exploring through Ueno, we soon stopped at a restaurant call “Bon Bori” where we had steak for lunch. After lunch, we went to a huge Buddhist temple called the Benten-Do. Afterwards we went to another temple called Zojo-ji, which had historical value because it was shared by the famous Tokugawa family. Afterwards we went to Amaiyoko, where we didn’t just see many shops, but also a person dressed in a panda suit dancing. Once we left Amaiyoko, we went to another restaurant and had dinner in Kuramae and went back to NUI Hostel soon after.

When we came back to NUI, we first took our stuff out of the storage closet and moved into our rooms, which were very similar to college dorms that held up to eight people.

Out of all the things that happened that day, I would say that staying in NUI Hostel stood out the most for me. I say this because while staying in NUI Hostel that day, I met people from different parts of Japan as well as different parts of the world. If I learned anything from that day, I would say that communication is key when it comes to being a traveler because you’ll never know what you learn from the people unless you talk with them in spite of language barriers. In fact, because of this, I ended up going to bed at 12 am after having conversations with so many people. What’s funny about this is that I even felt as if I was truly myself as I had conversations with others that became my new friends.

Joel Bernola
Duke Ellington School of the Arts

Joel’s Summer Reflection

Many times through the first part of the program I had mentioned the quote made by Confucius that “true knowledge knows the extent of one’s ignorance”. This is because I wanted to stress the importance of learning and experiencing the different cultures in our midst of the world. What also had somewhat provoked me to mention the quote was finding out during the first few days that there was an extent to my own ignorance of the Japanese culture. This troubled me because after being told that I knew so much of Japan’s history, I didn’t realize that I knew so little of its present.

When I first got to meet the students from Japan, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to talk about subjects that would put us on a “common ground.” However, when I started to just talk about these certain subjects like anime we had great conversations about places we could hang out in while in Japan. At that point I felt that I could relate to them with my knowledge of the history and art. Even before this, a friend of mine who is of Japanese descent had told me never to expect a thing about the Japanese, which I took to heart.  Especially when I learned that a lot of things we listed about what we thought the life of an average teen in Japan was like were false.

I truly believe I had grown from this experience just learning the differences between the present culture of Japan and the culture I had grown to know in the US. Two things that had truly affected my point of view of learning about culture alone were Bo’s metaphor of the iceberg and Ben’s story of the man with different colored glasses, which talked about one common theme, looking beyond the surface of what we see in order to truly gain knowledge. All these things that I have thought about through this first part of the program had truly opened my eyes to what I should do in order to gain true knowledge when I go to Japan and be able to give others this knowledge when I return.

Joel Bernola
Duke Ellington School of the Arts
Washington, DC

DC Day 11: August 1, 2013

On August 1, 2013, we first met with each other at School Without Walls and talked about our plans for the day. Soon after, we met Scott Rechler who is a representative and social entrepreneur from the LearnServe organization. Through meeting him, we learned more about LearnServe and what social entrepreneurship was. Afterwards we soon left from School Without Walls and went on the bus on our way to Duke Ellington School of the Arts and met with Ms.Tia Powell Harris, the Dean of Arts at the school. After learning about the history of the school itself, we then learned about the history of quilting. This was because we were doing a project based on the principle of quilting, to tell a story. So we made two quilts, one stayed in the US, while the other went to Japan. After completing our quilts, we went to the main classroom of the dance department and watched them rehearse for a show that they were going to perform later during that week. Afterwards, we talked about our pictures that we made for the two quilts we made and soon left.

I was really excited about this day because we were visiting my school in the afternoon, however I was very unsure about what we were going to do in the morning because our former plans were cancelled. But then we met Mr. Rechler, who actually knew my seventh grade social studies teacher which was awesome, since it also gave us something to talk about besides the interesting things that came out of being a social entrepreneur, like creating organizations which helped out different communities and spread awareness about social issues. What was also interesting and fun was trying to make up our own organizations as we were in groups brain storming about what social issue was most important within our society.

Afterwards we went to my school and first talked about the history of its foundation and talked about what different departments were in the school as well. What was really cool for me as we went over it was being able to also show some insight about my department and major, Museum Studies. I was also very interested in what we learned about in a power point presentation, made by the Dean of Arts, Mrs. Tia Powell Harris, about the history of Quilt making. I was so fascinated by what I learned; it filled me with excitement about our activity, making our own quilts. The fact that we made two in which one of them went to Japan was really exciting.  However, I also felt sad because I knew that it was only getting closer to the time that our friends were going to go to New York and then go back to Japan.

Joel Bernola
Duke Ellington School of the Arts
Washington, DC

DC Day 1: July 22, 2013

On our first day of the program, July 22, 2013, we met inside the American Councils organization.  While we were there, we first introduced each other one by one, from the DC side of the group to our Japanese counterparts.  After we introduced ourselves, we were put into groups of three and were assigned to give our view of both American and Japanese students, and presented what we thought and what was actually true. Afterwards, we viewed a presentation which brought up the metaphor of culture being an iceberg. This meant that we only see a few interesting things on the surface, but in order to understand them we must look beyond the surface.  After viewing the presentation, we went on a bus tour around DC with our Japanese friends and told them about each area we arrived in, and conversed about the differences between the culture of DC and Japan. We soon came back to American Councils and went our separate ways.

On this first day of meeting with the Japanese students I was a little nervous about trying to get to know them because I was afraid of saying something ignorant, but I had realized that my sudden fear was just holding me back from having a good experience. Even after just talking with them for fifteen minutes, I found out that I had a lot in common with them as I mentioned different things that I was interested in. What I really found interesting though was learning about the school system in Japan from Mr. Sugiyama, especially when it came to finding out about the different sports that are practiced there. In fact, I became so excited as I learned more about the Japanese culture that I was just sad that we had gone our separate ways and was excited about the next day.

Joel Bernola
Duke Ellington School of the Arts
Washington, DC