Malaika’s Message to Aspiring Applicants

Cat Cafe Malaika 2Dear DC Student/Aspiring Applicant: This program has a lot to offer you. It will take you across the world, let you bond with students around you, and Japanese students, who you will stay with in Japan.

  • Try new foods, some you’ll love and some not so much.
  • Do new things, like “pray” at a Buddhist or Shinto shrine.
  • The program is completely free, so you can explore the world without it being a financial burden on you or your family.
  • Open the door for your friends or peers and dispel stereotypes along the way.
  • Become more responsible, as a student and young adult.

Malaika Coleman
McKinley Technology HS

Malaika’s Reflection

Looking back at the experience, I can better see how valuable the home-stay element of the program was. You receive a completely different experience than you would receive staying in hostels or hotels. When you live with someone you are integrated into their everyday lives and schedules. This allowed us to be fully immersed in the culture and gain a different outlook on how they live. We gained insight on the cultural norms, dispelled stereotypes between our cultures and shared stories that helped us bond. For the reasons aforementioned and many others I feel this made it a great highlight of our trip. Also, the home-stay experience was highly anticipated, because we were staying with our buddies that came to Washington, DC the summer before. We all bonded over the summer and it felt like we picked up where we left off when we saw them again. Knowing people in a foreign country miles away from my home made me feel more comfortable and unknowingly more susceptible to the culture of Japan. It was very exciting seeing them again and being able to explore their country, more specifically their city, as they did ours when they visited us. Overall, I can look back and say that the home-stay experience stood out for all the right reasons and was a definite highlight of the trip.

This trip has altered my views in a very positive way. Because of this trip, I have been able to see how important it is to educate yourself. Many of the problems we face today are rooted in ignorance. It is up to us to enlighten ourselves for the betterment of ourselves and our society. Throughout my community, I have encountered many misconceptions about Japan and its people. Some are, that they are all either tech moguls or anime fanatics. Some don’t even try to distinguish Japan and China and use them interchangeably when they ask where I visited. I’ve been able to learn that there is more to Japan and its inhabitants. They are a complex people with a strong culture and lasting traditions. I have often compared the principles that hold the most influence between American culture and Japanese culture. I have come to the realization that respect for others in general is far more valued in Japan. In a community of “joaning” or name-calling, it was a stark contrast to see how peers treat each other in Japan and how we treat each other. There is more work to do on Japan’s behalf to expose its youth to the world. However, I think we can definitely follow Japan’s example and respect each other more.

Malaika Coleman
McKinley Technology High School


Takeshita StreetLuke:

Harajuku is probably one of my favorite places on earth. It is incredibly eccentric, horrifically crowded, and very tacky, but it is incredibly charming. From the colorful stores selling bootleg clothing, to the small candy and ice cream shops boasting bright and happy cartoon mascots. One of the things that surprised me was all of the West African immigrants who owned stores down Takeshita Street. Before coming to Japan I wasn’t expecting a lot of foreigners making a life there, and if there were any, I was expecting them to be Chinese or Korean or any country close by. But here there were many people owning stores from countries like Ghana and Senegal. The diversity of the stores may have to do with the diversity of the people who owned them. From weird niche clothing shops, like Gothic and ‘Hip-Hop Fashion,’ to strange unrecognizable candy and sweet shops that I didn’t recognize, Harajuku is bleeding what makes Tokyo unique.


Harajuku certainly lives up to all of the hype. As one of the most well known spots in Japan, our entire group had preconceived ideas about what it was and what it would be like. All of these preconceived notions flew out of the window once we arrived in this special spot in Tokyo. The streets and the people were all an exploration of different Tokyo styles and cultures and getting to see it all in one area is a dizzying experience.

Cat Cafe GabbyOne spot in particular, cat street, is an area that all of us had heard about through stories told on the internet and weird news articles that we would never admit to have actually read. The biggest attraction on cat street is the cat cafés. We were all excited to explore one for ourselves and jumped at the chance to go inside one. Once we entered the café, we were all shocked by the number of cats all over the café. We were also shocked by how calming the entire experience was, sitting on couches quietly talking and petting cats might sound like a really strange thing, but actually it was really calming and enjoyable. Although Ms. Parascandolo did run out of the café earlier than expected, we did have a great time visiting one of the newest parts of Harajuku.

Cat CafeSierra:

My life in one place!

Harajuku was the most amazing shopping district ever! I don’t know why people will shop anywhere else! They literally had everything I could ever want for clothes. There are also great places to eat around there.

Manga Cafe SierraHowever there was one place in particular that stole my heart.  The place was the Manga cafe! That place gave me life. I am not exaggerating. If I was by myself and didn’t need to go anywhere, I would have stayed there for hours and I could have. They had showers, a booth where I could sit (a lounge chair was there), a computer if I wanted to go on the Internet.  They also brought me a blanket and I could drink an endless amount of drinks. The greatest thing however was the manga. There was a countless amount of manga. I almost cried in joy. My group mate Micah who is a fellow manga lover and I just had the time of our lives there. I will definitely be going there again when I come back to Japan.


Cat Cafe Malaika 2Today we went to Harajuku. We had so much fun walking along Takeshita Street. It was very interesting to see the many subcultures housed in Harajuku. One includes Lolita, in which girls dress as if they were from the Victorian-era. Another subculture includes hip-hop, so we came across many stores selling many things considered to be a part of urban culture. We also saw many stores selling cosplay outfits and gothic outfits. Overall, I can now better understand why it is so popular among the youth. The street is full of things to do. You can shop, eat crepes, try on clothes, or even people watch. I had a great time visiting the must-see Harajuku district.

Meiji ShrineMicah:

We visited the Meiji Jingu Shrine in Harajuku. At each gate we bow in front when entering and leaving to tell the Shinto Gods we are here. Once we arrived down the path to the Shrine Pavilion, we had to bathe our hands in water, then put it in our mouth and spit it out to cleanse ourselves. The Shrine Pavilion had two very beautiful trees to the right and left. One of them had prayers that you could hang up on wood.

We were even lucky enough to see a traditional wedding. The group walked in one line across. They walked very slowly with serious faces. The priest was in front, in the middle the married couple under an umbrella, and in the back are those invited to the wedding. Police officers made way for the group. We learned that shrines often host marriages and other celebratory occasions.

Meiji Shrine Wedding 2 Meiji Shrine WeddingWhat I really like about Shintoism is their belief that god is in everything. Everything and everyone is part of one force. It was very interesting, and gave me insight into how some people in the Tohoku region could still have respect for nature even though it’s destroyed so many lives. Many Japanese people I ask make the point that no one can really tell if another is Buddhist or Shinto, but the religions are so imbedded in the culture that even if people were wrecked by nature and not at all religious, they can still forgive. This belief is part of the culture. Maybe not consciously, but it is there.

Meiji Shichi go san

Tohoku Teens, Mayor Sato, and Thank Yous


We visited the temporary shopping village of Minamisanriku. After, some shopping and admiring, we met with some inspiring and powerful high school students and their college student sponsor/mentor. These students have formed several organizations, such as COM. COM is an abbreviation for Center of Minamisanriku. COM strives to invoke positive social change in the community. The group is spreading their word by making pamphlets and talking to the people of Minamisanriku. We engaged in great discussions about the changes the town is experiencing because of the earthquake and tsunami. Some of the key words we came up with were appreciation and regret. We found that these have a direct correlation, as some of the students shared that they lost people close to them, and never expressed their appreciation towards them. Now they regret it and wish they simply said thank you.

Tohoku Teens PizzaAfter the great time-sharing experiences, we made pizza. This was very fun and made us even closer. We bonded over talking, eating, and dancing. Slowly, we broke down cultural and language barriers. This experience was very moving and motivating, because those students are taking action rather than simply complaining. They tackle many adult problems surrounded by 3/11 and are making a lot of progress in making positive change.

Mayor of MinamisanrikuSierra:

The Mayor of Minamisanriku, Mayor Sato, is one of the strongest men I have ever seen. I am still bewildered by him and his strength. I have already said that the people of Tohoku have this kind of strength I rarely see anywhere else and I am so glad the mayor embodies this strength. His story was tragic and horrifying. I don’t know if I could have kept being mayor after the tsunami. I mean can you imagine looking at nine people around you when there was 53 people just seconds ago? I would have broken down at that instant, probably having a panic attack. Then having to survive on a roof for a couple of days where it was freezing and snowing? He is a true survivor. What really got me though was when he told us the story about the reporter from Chicago who was also a psychologist telling him he has post traumatic stress disorder and he just basically said I very well might have it, but I do not have the time to be dealing with it. There is still work to be done. That is dedication right there, and I would definitely have him in a government position where I live if I had the power. He is a real true leader, one of those men you rarely find.


Mayor Sato filled the room with his presence. He felt bigger than life, and it was surreal to hear him speak knowing what he went through. When he told us his story of the Tsunami, it made me respect him even more. He had clung to a small fence on the top of the disaster prevention center and 43 other people with him were swept away, tragically ironic. After the disaster, he took the job as mayor back up, and had the daunting task of rebuilding Minamisanriku.

At the reception, it was my job to present the day we spent with him. There is no way to say everything I wanted to say in the time slot I had. I don’t think I truly got across how monumental his meeting was for me. After the reception, we ate buffet food and added everyone in the room to our Facebook to create future contacts. People came to me and told me that I was very lucky to meet mayor Sato, but I don’t think they truly understand what a difference that he, and the other survivors we met, had on me.

Final PresentationMicah:

Our entire TOMODACHI US-Japan Youth Exchange Program group presented in front of our sponsors and TOMODACHI alumni on Friday. My own group did one on our journey in the Tohoku region. Our Japanese TOMODACHI did a presentation about our time in Washington D.C. during the summer. Afterwards we were able to mingle with our sponsors and fellow alumni. I learned that the TOMODACHI Initiative is very vast and there are many other programs I can join! With so many TOMODACHI connections in the room, I immediately felt like an alumni with a vast family of connections for my future. Everyone I met was as great as the people I did my own program with! I’m so glad I’m accepted in this family! It has truly been a life changing experience thanks to TOMODACHI and has made my future clearer. I’m so happy and grateful for this opportunity, from the bottom of my heart.


Our final presentation was a great success. Showing donors, TOMODACHI alum, and different individuals from the United States Embassy and US-Japan Council our experiences in Tohoku turned out to be quite an interesting experience. At first I thought the presentation would be very hard to give because we learned so much from our trip to Tohoku and compressing it all into one power point presentation seemed very hard. I was proved wrong once we began our presentation, and was amazed by how much detail we were able to squeeze into ten minutes! I really enjoyed sharing our experiences and talking to all of the people who came to watch. We also got to learn a lot more about the different parts of TOMODACHI and what they do, which was a really cool experience for me. Our group also really enjoyed listening to the Japanese side of the exchange presentations. It was really the first time that we got to experience the exchange through their eyes. Hearing what they had to say about their time in DC was really thought provoking and showed us a lot about what they held on to and found special about the experience. Overall the presentation was an interesting look into both the Japanese and American experiences and was a great way to learn more about the TOMODACHI project.

Final Presentation DC-Japan Kids Final Presentation Gabby Luke Final Presentation Keio Final Presentation Students

Fresh Oysters, Magic Fish, and Cocoons

Anchors Aweigh Japan Luke:

Fishing Trip 3Water hit us from all directions. Rain from the sky and waves splashing over the side of the boat.  My jeans were completely soaked through and I had to yell to be heard over the motor, but I couldn’t be happier. The fog grazing the black water as the waves swelled up and down looked like something straight out of a Godzilla movie. At any second I was expecting giant dorsal fins to cut through the water. The fisherman whose boat we were on stopped the boat and started to pull up a mass of oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops. Something about the grittiness of the boat and the intenseness of the weather made me feel like an authentic Japanese fisherman. The boat owner, Mr. Muraoka, grabbed one of the oysters and cracked the shell open, sucking the raw oyster through his teeth with a loud slurp. He then motioned for me to do the same. This was the only thing during this trip that I hesitated before eating, but I eventually did slurp it down. It tasted like liquid salt. It wasn’t necessarily bad but could use a little lemon.

We ended up getting off the boat and lighting up a grill under a temporary building that looked like a waterproof circus tent. We dropped the shellfish we just caught onto the heat and began to feast on what was by far the freshest tasting oysters I’ve ever had. During this lunch, we listened to the fisherman’s story. He survived the tsunami after saving his entire family and a fellow fisherman.  His story both humbled and inspired me. I never knew someone as respectable and saintlike as this man could possibly exist, and my world now feels a little more hopeful knowing people like him are real.

Fisherman 2Sierra:

A topic that really interests me came up in our discussion with the fisherman, Mr. Muraoka. The topic that came up was nature, particularly the ocean. Mr. Muraoka said he believes that nature allows us to live, that we should take of it for allowing us to live off it. I will have to say that I agree. Nature is something of great beauty. There is no doubt about that. But it is also something of great destruction. Me and many other children have been told this for years and have acknowledged this fact. However seeing the damage first hand has changed everything, and even though I’m experiencing this 3 years after the tsunami happened, I feel the bone-chilling fear of what happened. It is very different from watching a disaster happening on TV or in a book. When you actually stand in the place where the disaster took place, you realize a lot of things. For me it was realizing I stood where houses should be. I stood where there should be shops. I walked by a space where there should be an elementary school. I should be seeing green everywhere but there is not. Instead I am standing in a construction area. I am standing in fields of brown dirt. I am standing near temporary houses. I am standing with tears in my eyes realizing where I am standing was once covered by a tsunami that washed away 1,800 homes and approximately 840 people.

Fishing Trip 6That is why my fear of nature is on a whole new scale. Don’t get me wrong. I do not hate or blame the ocean. The ocean does not have emotions or have a vendetta against humans. The ocean just is and it does what it does. The ocean is still the livelihood for the fishermen and without it, the town has no chance of revival. During my whole time in Tohoku, I marveled at nature, including the ocean. The beauty here is indescribable and the air feels fresh and clean. So my personal belief is that nature should be respected and protected, but also be aware that it is not a joke. It has no problem with taking anything away from you, and you have no chance of fighting back. However it feeds us and gives a home. In closing, nature is not good or evil; it just lives and moves forward.


Our day in Minamisanriku was an interesting exploration of a community that has been changed completely by the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami. Each community member we met today had different experiences with the earthquake and tsunami, but they all had one thing in common: a strong will to persevere and rebuild the town to an even better state than what it was before. I enjoyed talking to all of the Minamisanriku citizens yesterday and felt that their stories changed my attitude toward a lot of things like the idea of being grateful for the small things and people in your life.

Cocoon ArtOne of the community members we got to meet yesterday was a woman who had started a business making small figurines out of cocoons. Astonishingly, she makes and sells them out of a small temporary living facility near the sea. When we first walked into her workshop, we were all amazed at the amount of intricate little cocoon dolls she had made. At first glance I was sure that I could never make anything so nice, but when we began to make them and she helped us through the process we all began to see and understand how these cool little dolls could be made by even the most non-artistic person.

CocoonsWe all began to craft our figurines together, and as we made them many people in our group began to come up with our own individual ideas that we could make into dolls. Sierra made a very ‘kawaii’ caterpillar, Micah made a very frightening ninja complete with a sword, and Luke made a very interesting model of Godzilla with his. The experience was actually really fun and getting to make these while talking to a community member trying to change her town for the better was a very interesting experience.


We went to the Togura area of Minamisanriku to discover their way of fishing. We learned a bit of the fisherman’s trade from fisherman Muraoka-san. We rode on Mr. Muraoka’s fishing boat and got to see interesting fish. There was one fish that was so cool to me and extremely different from any fish I’d heard of. It’s called a Sea Squirt. It’s a single celled organism that hatches from an egg and begins as a tadpole. It then grows to a fish. The weird part is the final product. It becomes a hard red stone like creature, and only has a mouth and waste hole. It even grows after that! It keeps its last shape though. When cooked it is very sweet and, as Mr. Muraoka described, has a magical affect. After eating it once, everything you eat or drink after has a sweeter taste. It’s a “magic fish.” This fish can only be found in Togura, and is a specialty to the people. I wish we got to try this fish. It sounded so amazing and tasty. I know that when I return to Minamisanriku one day, a Sea Squirt will be sure to be on my dinner plate!

Fishing Group PhotoMalaika:

Fishing Trip MalaikaDuring the morning, we had a great fishery experience and looked into one of the fun activities of Earth Camp. I really enjoyed the time spent with Muraoka-san. He is a real-life superhero. He is a fishermen, chef, gardener, loving family member, leader in his community and much more. I really appreciated his willingness to talk to us about 3/11. He saved so many lives because of his awareness and selflessness. These amazing traits coupled with his resilience is truly admirable and inspiring. After our amazing experience and look into the fishing industry, we made art out of silk cocoons. This was even more special because it was in a temporary house used for crafts. The woman teaching us to make the crafts was also the wife of a brave fisherman that we met earlier. This was very engaging and fun.

Minamisanriku and Watari


Today we ventured past Sendai into two new cities, Watari and Minamisanriku. These cities were our first look into places that were heavily affected by the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami. Our experiences today have been entirely different from the rest of our trip and have given me a look into what Japan is really like outside of Tokyo. These cities also have given us the opportunity to see what effect the tsunami and earthquake really had, and how the people in these cities have coped with the hand they have been dealt.

King of WatariOur first stop today was the history museum for the city of Watari. This museum was an interesting look into the culture and history of a small strawberry growing town near the coast of Japan. I really enjoyed learning about the rich history of the place and the people who had been living there for centuries. The museum was filled with amazing different artifacts that really spoke to the diverse nature of the town. Artifacts such as a past king’s armor taught us a lot about Japanese symbol. One of these symbols was a feather-like talisman featured atop a past king’s helmet. This symbol was represented through a long tail-like feather, which was meant to symbolize a caterpillar. We quickly learned that caterpillars symbolize much more than we think they do. Caterpillars are animals that never go back; they only move forward, which is a mentality that is very important in battle. This is why kings put the symbol on top of their war armor. It is believed that this symbol will make kings braver in battle and always move forward, like the caterpillar. This look into the culture of ancient Watari was very interesting to me. I felt that the museum was a great introduction into the town of Watari and the identity of the people who live there.


Today we arrived in Minamisanriku after a two-hour bus drive from Sendai. We toured around Minamisanriku and visited three spots. The first was an elementary school high up on a hill that looked over the town. From there I was able to perceive how the once bustling town became what I saw. Minamisanriku is very close to the sea. All the land next to it was only construction and temporary shops. Before the tsunami, the town was filled with cement and tiled homes, many shops, and beautiful sunflower fields. Our Sensei Sosha made the point that it is very difficult for foreigners to imagine the damage other than the town area because the vegetation returned. It’s important to make the point that all these trees that stay on the hills were once decimated.

Disaster Bldg 2The area that struck me most was visiting the Disaster Prevention Center. The residents of Minamisanriku memorialized the building for all the lives lost. Only the red steel foundation of the building remains, and the mayor of Minamisanriku survived by hanging on to the pole on the top of the building. We paid tribute to those lost by praying in front of the memorial of two small statues and flowers. I think I’ve made it clear that I believe in God through this blog. With all those lost I wasn’t sure what to pray for. There’s always the factor of others who are lost in nature’s wrath, or that nature even has a wrath, or why people even go through such pain!? It was all so complicated for me, so I made it simple.

“God, nature is confusing, the world is confusing, and you are confusing, but I trust you.”

That was good enough for me. It gave me comfort for the people of Minamisanriku, for those devastated in the world, and myself. It gave me comfort, and I believe I’m ready to help now, as much as I can.

Tohoku Construction WorkersLuke:

We were standing on a hill, looking out over a barren construction site that was once the district Togura before the tsunami happened. All that’s left now are bulldozers moving back and forth and lopsided remnants of people’s homes. The view was horrifically beautiful. With the sun perfectly setting over the mountaintops, and the trees swaying in the light breeze, it almost felt as if nature itself had no remorse. We treat it as a disaster, as it should be treated, but it feels like the planet just acts like what happened that day was just another part of the cycle. Nature will never be in our control. Nature will always be bigger than us. This sentiment was displayed perfectly by the morbidly decaying ruins of the disaster prevention center, almost as a perfect metaphor of how little prevention could be done. The whole experience was an emotional journey that was not enjoyable, but definitely necessary for us to see.


Tohoku has surprised me and has evoked more emotion than Tokyo ever has. Don’t get me wrong, I love my time in Tokyo, but there is something here that makes me feel strong and alive. A great example of this is when we went to the Watari Museum. There was so much history and stories in the little town.  It amazed me. A piece that really stood out to me was the reason why the king of Watari had a plume/feather material on his helmet. The plume represents a caterpillar. You see a caterpillar always moves forward, never back, and that was how the samurai were during war. They kept moving forward.  There was no going back. Another part is that swords were like leaves and since the caterpillar was their symbol, it was like they ate the swords like caterpillars eat leaves. This really showed me a different side to the word strength: to keep moving forward, whether in times of war or in times of a disaster. The people of Tohoku have this kind of strength within them.


In the morning we visited the Watari Museum. Here we learned about the history of Watari-cho, with the oldest artifacts dating back 5,000 years. We then traveled to a shop named Watalis. Watalis was founded after 3/11 and is an upcycling organization that gives new life to old, unworn and/or damaged kimono fabric. The rather small shop has received over 314 boxes of kimono fabric weighing in at 2.3 tons. I really enjoyed learning about the beautiful story of Watalis and loved making our own pins from donated kimono fabric. After the workshop, I happily bought some merchandise from the shop.

After a nice lunch at a place created to hold community meetings after 3/11, we got on the road and headed for Minamisanriku. Even the trip to Minamisanriku was moving because I began to notice large areas of land that appeared to be cleared. We visited many different viewpoints to get a grasp for the destruction caused by the earthquake/tsunami. This really sank in after comparing what I was seeing to pictures of the town before the disaster.

Takasago Junior High, SEELS, and Beef Tongue

Welcome to TakasagoLuke:

Waking up in Sendai was rough. Staying up late watching Sumo wrestling had definitely taken a toll on me, and even the hotel’s complimentary coffee had little effect on me. My breakfast consisted of egg, rice, natto [fermented soybean], and a slab of salmon. We left to go see a seminar about Filipino immigrants in Japan. Although this meeting was informative and very interesting, the real highlight came a few hours later when we visited a local junior high school. We were greeted by excited waves and nervous hellos from the hordes of uniformed preteens stretching their necks to get a look at the strange foreigners.

We all replaced our shoes with slippers and went through a quick tour of the school. When we went into the room of kids, we were surprised by a rambunctious round of applause, and a smaller round of applause after each of our extremely butchered Japanese Introductions. All afternoon we played English themed games and asked questions to each other in English. While obviously not perfected or well-tuned, their English skills were a lot better then my Spanish skills were at their age. Their enthusiasm to learn the language definitely inspired me, and their eagerness to listen and talk made it easy for us to connect at a more personal level than I thought we would.


Rice TacoToday was my day for meals. I had the most delicious meals I ever had so far! I did not expect my favorite meals to be in Sendai. My first favorite meal of the day was at lunch. Taco rice! Don’t scoff yet.  Read the rest of it! It may sound American but it was absolutely heaven in my mouth.  I literally destroyed my taco rice. Let me tell you what it is before I go on a tangent. So it has rice as a base with lettuce and tomatoes with this sauce that was amazing (and it doesn’t have soy!). I regretted not getting the large, but all was good because I got some of Gabby’s.

The next meal shocked the life out of me. Beef tongue! I was expecting not to like it and be stuck with eating rice because I did not like the beef tongue at the Japanese Embassy in DC. This beef tongue however was the bomb dot comRestaurant with Beef Tongue. It was like steak but just so much better. The seasoning was perfect. I had the salt base because the miso has soy. I was not upset at all because I was told that with the salt base you taste the beef more, and I really loved that beefy taste. Overall today was a great day to eat!


Kids’ Door allowed us to have activities with Takasago Junior High School, which was hit by the Tohoku tsunami and earthquake. The middle schoolers carried so much energy with them! As soon as we got out of the car and even got next to the building, students were screaming English greetings and waving their hands and even arms hysterically to get our attention. It was amazing how much joy I felt from their presence. I could tell I would have a great time with them just by their welcome.

Takasago studentsWhen we partnered up with the children, we started off by introducing ourselves in Japanese. Then each American student had a group of Japanese students. I asked everyone in my group questions.  Then we played a game. The game is called Yamanote Line. It’s the same rules as the game Concentration 64. The group claps to a beat and at each interval a person has to say something under the general topic. Like if the topic is world cities, the group would clap twice and I’d say Rome. This game was an amazing icebreaker and brought out the competitive spirit in all of us. It was really cool hearing how they said some cities I knew with a Japanese accent. I’ve learned from my own Arabic class that different languages may have different names for cities and countries. It was cool hearing the Japanese version and comparing it to English and Arabic. I had a fun time with all the students and am very glad we felt such lovely energy from a recovering area.

SEELS Group ShotGabby:

Meeting various organizations in Japan that work to better society has been both interesting and inspiring. I really enjoy and appreciate getting the opportunity to meet and talk with the people who run these organizations. One of these organizations, SEELS, a nonprofit which helps recent Filipino immigrant women find jobs as English teachers in Japan, was one that we got to see today in Sendai. SEELS’s main mission is to help Filipino women who want to teach English to Japanese children and adults start their businesses. By helping the women become English teachers, SEELS is helping these women gain a sense of economic stability which allows them to leave low-paying hostess jobs. Leaving these jobs and transitioning into more desirable and permanent positions such as English teachers does a lot for these women and their ability to feel more comfortable in Japanese society. The SEELS organization is also helping to lessen the lack of English-learning opportunities for Japanese students. This service is really needed in Japan, and despite the hard time the organization has being accepted in society, it seems to be working well for those trying to learn English. I found this organization truly interesting because of how this business model really solves two huge societal problems in Japan, and the Tohoku region. I really enjoyed meeting with the group today and seeing another part of Japanese culture.


Today we visited the organization named SEELS. SEELS is an empowerment program for Filipinas living in Japan, more specifically Fukushima and Sendai. The program helps those Filipinas challenge the stereotypes of only being capable to be entertainers and night club workers. These women are becoming caregivers for the elderly and English teachers. Although they are far from achieving many goals, this is a huge step in the right direction and is helping establish their place in their communities. Through the SEELS program, one of the largest goals, acceptance, is much closer.

We then visited an organization by the name of Kids’ Door. Here we discussed how the tsunami affected the children of the area and how the organization is working to help them. We also prepared for our visit to Takasago Junior High School.

Tohoku BallWhen we arrived at Takasago Junior High School we had a very warm welcome. This was very nice. I also enjoyed meeting with a woman from the United States that has been in Japan for three months teaching English through the JET Program.

We then saw some classrooms that were filled with objects of importance from or due to the earthquake/tsunami. We then went to a classroom full of eager students ranging from 12 years of age to 15 years of age. I really enjoyed meeting them all and playing a game called the Yamanote-Line game. We also talked and I know now that we have so much more in common than I thought.

This soccer ball has an amazing story of traveling many, many miles from the tsunami and eventually finding its way back home to the school.

School Festival and Goodbyes

KEIO SFC Sierra:

The school festival at Keio high school knocked my expectations out of the park. There were so many clubs and classes doing their own theme. I seriously lost count of how many hoodies I saw because each class has their own designed hoodie. My host sister designed her class hoodie, which was pretty cool. Now going back to the clubs, I wish my school had as many options. Three clubs stood out to me the most. The first was the band/orchestra.  They all looked so professional and neat. The songs were played beautifully, especially the studio giblets songs. I felt like I was in a theater listening to the track. The second club was the art club. I was so bewildered by the fantastic art that was there. It inspired me to work and get better at my own art. The third club was the rock band club. There were two bands: an all girls band and an all boys band. I was really feeling both of them. Micah and I were really into it in the end when the boy band was playing the opening of Naruto. We both literally ran up in front of the crowd and started singing and jumping.

At the end of the home stay I sorta didn’t want to leave, as I have mentioned in a previous blog post that I am in love with my host family’s house. I am also so grateful for all the things my host family did, like housed me, washed my clothes, and cooked me meals.  Speaking of cooking meals, during my last night at my host family’s home, my host mom made me some pizza from scratch. It had pepperoni and onions. It was oishi (delicious). It is now one of my most favorite pizzas ever. I will miss my host family very much and I hope we can one day meet in the future.


Keio HS FestivalKeio High School’s school festival is a once a year celebration and open house. The Japan TOMODACHI students gave us a tour of Keio, and guided us to different rooms, presentations, and activities. I enjoyed the Keio orchestra most. They started off with a piece that felt like it was torn from an action movie. The two next pieces were dear to my heart and I greatly enjoyed them. The first was from the video game Donkey Kong. The music is very jazzy, and they captured that feeling and exaggerated it with excellency. The next were a few pieces from the anime film Totoro. I enjoyed reminiscing over the movie while listening to the music. It was fantastic and I’m glad I got to see less popular culture in America come to life in its home country.

My first ever homestay experience was fantastic! I stayed with my host brother TM and his family. I lived with TM’s mother, father, and little brother Gaku. I did not meet TM’s father until the last night, because he was in San Antonio for a business trip. For first night I had such a warm welcome. I mostly remember a very large dinner with so many various foods, and I especially like the Japanese fried pork. I really like the way the Japanese fry food. It’s not deep fried and greasy, yet still very crunchy. The second day we went to a family restaurant and had hamburg. Hamburg is hamburger meat without the buns, and is usually served with a sauce. I also tried bone marrow for the first time. It was fried, but I soon found out, when my family and host family video chatted, that bone marrow is a popular meal in the south where my father is from. I still laugh because little did I know this meal that I thought was so foreign is so close to home!

My last night TM’s father arrived. He brought popcorn from his layover in Chicago. I had never heard of Garret Popcorn before but it is extremely popular in Japan because the Japanese don’t really eat popcorn. I imagine Garret Popcorn is a hidden jewel in America. I think that America’s cities have that one secret thing that easily distinguishes a local from a foreigner, like mambo sauce from DC. That’s why I imagine I wouldn’t know Garret  Popcorn, yet if I talk to any Chicago lover they’d instantly know what I’m talking about. Or I just didn’t know the place and everyone else does, but oh well. I definitely felt that Garret Popcorn was prized by the M family, and as I saw a shop for Garret Popcorn in Tokyo Station I instantly thought of my host family. It is something dear to my heart now, all because of the love that I felt connected our family.


Today was the last day with our host families. After an hour of now trying to get everything in my suitcase, and 5 minutes of me and my host mother running to the station at full speed to make sure I don’t miss my train, we caught up with the other TOMODACHI students, and I bid farewell to my host mother with a hug and went off onto the train, ready for the next chapter of our Japan adventure.

After a few minutes in a regular train we got off at Tokyo station. Looking around, this station might be one of the coolest stations we’ve been to. Filled with stores, snack shops, and restaurants. I could have walked through it for hours. It seemed as though every Japanese cartoon character had their own store, and there was even a whole hallway made up of only ramen shops. This is where we ate, and it was delicious.

Ramen ShopThe bullet train was crazy, extremely smooth and comfortable, and the constant stream of urban skylines, mountains, and rice fields outside of my window kept me mesmerized the entire way. We got off in Sendai, a city ravaged by the 2011 earthquake, and I have yet to really explore the city.


Sadly, Sunday was our last day with our Japanese host families. I had such a wonderful experience with my host mother Mikki and my host sister MI. I really enjoyed staying with them and the wonderful conversations we had.  On my last night with my host family, we all went out to dinner at a local ramen restaurant. At the restaurant we could choose from many different kinds of ramen bowls that all looked amazing and featured many different toppings such as pork, egg, and chicken! I chose a ramen bowl with a miso broth and chicken on top – it was delicious. When I first got my steaming hot bowl of ramen I was so excited to eat it! It smelled delicious and I couldn’t wait to try the miso broth. As I was eating it I realized what a mess I was making, I could never quite get the broth and the noodles in one bite. My host mother quickly noticed that too and was quick to help me master the art of eating hot ramen. As she showed me how to slurp and spoon my ramen quickly and efficiently so that I got maximum flavor possible, I found my self really sad that I would be leaving soon! I really grew close to my host family over my last four days with them and will really miss them when I leave Japan. I am really grateful for my experience with them, and found it such a great way to truly experience Japanese culture.


Today we had the school festival at Keio SFC. It was very fun and I really appreciated the hard work of the students and teachers at the school. Some of the events we visited included an amazing performance by the band, adventures in different classrooms, and viewing beautiful art from the art club. Although the long anticipated school festival was great, it came with the last day with our home stay families. I really enjoyed my entire home stay experience. On the last day we had an amazing meal. That same night, I gave my host family their gifts that I brought with me from DC, which they accepted graciously. We then watched ice skating and ate green tea ice cream. Watching ice skating has a deeper meaning, because it was something we could all enjoy, seeing as all other channels were in Japanese. I will miss them when I go home, but for now I am anticipating seeing them again at the final presentation.

Living in A Global World

UN Speakers and Group at KeioMicah:

We had panels with two men who are part of large peace organizations, two of which are part of the United Nations. Mr. Kuyama was former assistant Secretary General to the UN and Mr. Shibuya was former president of Save the Children Japan.  We also had visitors from an Environmental Sustainability class in Keio. What interested me most was a discussion I began about peace. I had asked panelist Mr. Shibuya what peace was to him and if he feels like the jobs he does adds to his vision of peace. The definition of peace and what it is in the world has been something itching my mind lately. Mr. Shibuya responded that having a set vision of peace would be lying. He believed that doing his best to give hope was his way of aiding peace – the hope that inspires people in the most dire and unfortunate situations to help create a better tomorrow.

The professor of the Environmental Sustainability class had asked me what my view of peace was for a “teacher’s perspective.” I personally have two beliefs of peace. My first is that everything is at rest. Everything is one and not bothering anything else. My second is a bit darker. It is based off the philosophy of yin and yang. That the world is part of an equal cycle of love and hate. Although we have so much hate in the world, there is a hidden equal amount of love. For my own development, Mr. Shibuya’s mention of hope also gave me hope for all the pain in the world. I feel like love and hate are on a different plane of yin and yang, and now I believe hope and pain are on another. I had recognized pain as a power in this world, but I wasn’t sure what it was complemented by. Now I recognized that hope is the way out. This discussion was very important for me. It gave me the necessary drive to realize why I want to help others. Why I SHOULD help others. I now feel like it’s my responsibility to give hope at the least. To help reach peace, whatever it might be. But I do know that peace will be good for everyone, so why not?


Participating in the TOMODACHI program has renewed my sense of excitement towards learning more about the world around me. At school I have begun to be exposed to other countries and issues that are different than issues that concern everyday Americans. This initial exposure has really pushed me to explore the ways that I can be more involved in not just American issues but global issues. Through this program I have been able to further explore my interest in global issues and have begun my own journey to truly becoming a global citizen. I am thrilled to be learning about Tohoku and talking to the citizens of Tohoku next week. Through my experiences in this region I hope to really begin to see how I can be active in my role as a global citizen and help not just my community, but the global community.

Keio University 2Malaika:

Living in a global world has fostered the growth of relationships between countries of different statures. In the global community issues have arisen that require global solutions. The answers to the issues being faced cannot be solved by a single government. Living in a global world, most developed countries or MDCs have a responsibility to help, not hinder least developed countries or LDCs on their road to development. Living in a global world means we must embrace our differences in order to be more productive. You never know how much you will have in common with a person, so you must keep an open mind. In order to ensure the longevity of our world and its inhabitants we must work together.


The world is becoming smaller and smaller, but I don’t think we will ever be one. Every decade something new comes out that seems to be the final link to bringing us together, be it Esperanto in the early 1900s or the Bitcoin in the present day. Since the turn of the 20th century, humans as a society have felt this need to create uniformity among the species. Yesterday we had a talk with two former United Nations representatives. The UN is a rare exception, because unlike Esperanto and the Bitcoin, it actually worked and actually caught on. After hearing the two men talk, I realized what makes the UN a working exception, because the UN isn’t trying to create uniformity. The UN is attempting global understanding and cooperation.


Some people are kept ignorant by their government while others simply do not pay attention or look at the news. A world where people are not ignorant about what goes on in the world is what I think a globalized world is. Where people are aware of what is going on in the world around them. Meaning that people know the events that are happening in other countries, whether good or bad. This knowledge will cause people to communicate. Communication is what connects the world, in my opinion, more connections means more interactions such as people wanting to volunteer, see new sights, and start organizations. This will cause more people to become global. When the people become global, so does their nation.

Curry, Blind Soccer, and Homestays

Keio University CampusMalaika:

Today we had a nice tour of Keio University. I admired the fact that the school is very student friendly. It has a surplus of student resources and a plethora of consultancy desks. After the school tour we learned about the incubation of businesses and startup companies at Keio University. We then had a presentation to learn more information on Keio University. More specifically we learned about the GIGA Program, which is a program for international exchange students looking to come to Keio University. GIGA stands for Global Information and Governance Academic Program. I really enjoyed meeting with some GIGA students over lunch and later playing with more GIGA students during the Sport for Smile event. During this event we played many games with blindfolds as the focus. The use of the blindfolds not only made any game much more fun, but increased the amount of teamwork needed to complete the given task. I really enjoyed bonding with the students and hope to meet them again.


Japan in my mind has always seemed like a fantasy-like place. I’ve always had this vision of it stuck in an early-2000’s nirvana-like coma, with technology at the forefront of my perception, and the millions of people stuck as background objects. This trip to Japan has definitely helped change my perception, but yesterday’s trip to eat curry was the cherry on top.

As a group, we went to the so-called ‘bad neighborhood’ of Tokyo, but considering Japan’s shockingly low crime-rate, I wasn’t very worried. We got there and the first thing I noticed was how different it looked from the rest of the city. Skyscrapers were replaced with humble houses, and fast food chains and restaurants were replaced by Pachinko buildings. After a few minutes of meandering around we found the curry place. A tiny hole in the wall. The restaurant was filled with this eerie sense of quirkiness. Something about the subtle Indian music and the complete emptiness of the place definitely put me on edge. Our curry came and I dug in, surprised by how good it was. The owner seemed like a nice man although I didn’t get the chance to talk to him for very long. We left and all went our separate ways, leaving the strange pachinko filled neighborhood behind, and in all honesty, I definitely want to go back.


Is it bad that I want to steal my host family’s house? Cause I really want to . . . I mean their house is like my dream come true, straight out of an anime. The neighborhood does too, Saginuma, I believe. There is so much I love about their house. I love the bathroom. It is so big and nice. The showers give me so much life! I am not exaggerating. I could go on about that magnificent bathroom. But I will tell you about another slice of heaven, my room (my host sister’s room). If that was my room I would never leave it. I would also wake up much livelier because it is so soft. The pillow lulls me to sleep. It caresses my dreams. Let me not forget one of the most important things. My host family! My host mother is wonderful, always being nice and looking out for me. My host sister is very kind and funny, and is a total Taylor Swift fangirl. I can’t blame her. Taylor is amazing.

GIGA Lunch GroupMicah:

We had lunch with four GIGA Program students at Keio University. “GIGA” stands for Global Information and Governance Academic Program. All of the students were freshman in Keio, and came from many different backgrounds. One was from Germany, one was from America, one was from China, and the last specifically mentioned he was from Hong Kong, instead of saying China. This was our first time for conversation with Keio students. They were all relatable, seeing that none of them were from Japan, and none of them spoke fluent Japanese and were all learning. After talking with them I felt like I really had a chance of entering Keio. Around campus I hadn’t seen a very diverse number of races or nationalities. Now that I met these students of different races and nationalities, I felt like a bridge was built. Like there is a realistic chance of studying abroad. I can do it! All of us can! Plus the students were very friendly. When we played Blind Soccer with them later in Sports for Smile, the German student decided to block one of my passes. A new rivalry was made. Maybe one day If I return as a student, I can find him in the gym again. I will win too. I’ve been practicing :).

Keio Gym-2Gabby:

Dinner with my host family is a new and wonderful experience. The dishes that I have eaten at their house have all been a great introduction into traditional Japanese cuisine. All of the different flavors, and smells are completely new to me and unlike any other foods that you can buy in America. My host mother, Miki, is such a great cook and the dishes that we have had so far have all been really appetizing. Last night my host mother prepared a dish from her childhood, okonomiyaki, a casserole type food commonly eaten in Osaka. At first I found the dish a little daunting and was kind of scared to eat it – I had never seen anything like it and wasn’t sure what to expect! After I put my fears aside and dug in, it was great! The dish was really flavorful and the mixture of soy sauce, dried tuna, and pork was actually amazing. I’m really happy that I got to try a traditional Japanese dish, and the experience was one that I’ll never forget.