Save your life by yourself

Today, we headed to Tohoku where I’d been wanting to go. Before that, we gathered at the Share House and we learned about what we are going to do in Tohoku and about the Great East Japan Earthquake, and also watched tsunami videos. It has been a long time since I watched those videos last time, so it reminded me of what happened that day and I was filled with great sadness and fear again. At the same time, I was curious how people in Tohoku have gotten over so many heartbreaks.

We left the Share House around 10am and got on the train and shinkansen (bullet train). For DC students, this was the first time to get on the shinkansen, so they were surprised at startling speed. On the train, I ate one of the most famous bentos in Japan, Makunouchi Bento. Everything inside it was my favorite food such as Japanese omelet, salmon and fried prawn, so I wanted to eat one or two more.

After we arrived in Kesennuma, we headed to Uminoichi and met Masae-san, a storyteller of the Great East Japan Earthquake. Masae-san explained about her own experience and how Kesennuma has changed. She claimed that the most important thing when a disaster occurs is “Tendenko,” which means running away alone. The earthquake took the lives of people who tried to help others, so we need to keep in mind that it is the highest priority to save your life by yourself.

After that, we walked around Kesennuma. It was a beautiful place, but there were still lots of places under the construction showing the deep scars of the tsunami.

During the walk, we met some residents in Kesennuma. They were friendly, kind and full of smiles. I respect the people in Kesennuma for their strong mind never to give up even though they lost family, friends, houses or motivation because of the tsunami. I fell in love with this beautiful and powerful city in just one day.

Minori Kon
Keio Shonan Fujisawa Senior High School

Final Presentation – Telling our Story

Today, we made a final presentation to tell the audience what we learned in Washington DC for two weeks. I realized that the DC program is almost over and I was caught by sadness.

In the morning, we prepared the presentation. We divided into 2 groups, one group made a prezi and the other group considered about cultural differences between Japan and the U.S. I was in the latter group, and after collecting as many opinions as possible from Japanese students, we cut down the number to one or two important ones.

After eating Mexican food from Chipotle, we had a dry run and checked our presentation. It took more time than I expected to shape a manuscript, so It was a very frantic time for me.

Around 6 pm, the presentation started. Not only family and host family, but also Ms. Mary Murakami and Mr. Al Goshi came to the presentation, so some students were feeling nervous. After we introduced ourselves, Carlos and Shunsuke talked about diversity, Miles and I talked about racism, and Jerusalen and Arjernae talked about social innovation as wrapping up the DC program. Nextly, Japanese students described the cultural differences between Japan and the U.S. which each of us found during the program.

However, that is not all. The presentation was including entertainment and we did a lot of exciting performance on the stage in the middle. Carlos, Fuka and Noa danced Salsa and brightened up the atmosphere. Also, all boys sang a rap in English. I don’t know why, but the rap is still on replay in my head.

Finally, each DC student spoke their enthusiasm for the Japan program and after that, I read a poem aloud and told all audience that we are not TOMODACHI anymore, we are FAMILY now.

In this program, we listened to many kinds of people’s story. This time, however, we were the storytellers. I found that storytelling was difficult, but at the same time, it was a lot of fun to tell my own thoughts honestly. The power of words is strong and words can move people’s heart. I want to appreciate that I have a right to say a word freely as a person.

Minori Kon
Keio Shonan Fujisawa Senior High School

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum

On Friday, July 20, at the end of Week 1, the TOMODACHI USJYEP group spent the morning visiting the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. The experience was powerful, as always, and for many of the students (both from DC and Japan) this was new information, so particularly shocking. We asked each student to share a moment of maximum impact or significance.

Racquel: The Holocaust Museum as a whole was a lot to take in all at once. It was very moving, and really helped me understand what that time period was like. One exhibit that specifically caught my eye, and touched my heart, was called “Daniel’s Story.” It walked me through the life of a young Jewish boy before, during, and after the Holocaust. I had the ability to attempt to understand many of the struggles he went through, and all the pain he endured. I watched as his life went from peace and happiness, to disaster, devastation, and hopelessness. This exhibit really allowed for me to see what it was like to live under Hitler’s reign, as a Jew during the Holocaust era.

* discrimination
* prejudice
All terrible things start from discrimination and prejudice (black, white, Jewish, man, woman)

Arjernae: The survivors who spoke out after the Jews were freed from the camps was one of the many things that shook me. Also, the fact that people who were hospitalized were being murdered by hospital staff without the families’ knowledge. That they were experimenting and taking people who weren’t really sick hostage, just to burn their bodies and come up with a cover story about how people’s loved ones died, because of “sickness,” is sickening itself.

Noa: I Iooked at the exhibit on children’s shoes. I can imagine the view of the many children.

Jerusalen: “You are my witness” (Isaiah 43:10). I think when I saw the biblical quote on the wall, it hit me that the quotes said in the bible can relate to so many problems in the world, the people affected being Jews. The quote from a bible has a great impact on their relationship with religion. That stuck with me while seeing all the other exhibits. I think the other thing that impacted me was the room where you could light a candle for the Jews and soldiers. The tranquillity in the room made me feel peace.

Minori: About 8 people slept in a tiny space together. When one of them died, others used his things, such as shoes, clothes. Also, when they wanted to pee, they just peed while lying in bed, so others experienced the bad smell. I realized how important storytelling is through this experience.

Miles: I viewed a short film within the first exhibit. Firstly, the ambiance of the theater was fitting for the rest of the museum, was extremely dark with industrial features. The film was about the religious persecution Jews faced throughout history well before the Holocaust. Starting during the Crusades, thousands of Jews were killed by the hands of Christians. Jews were also painted as devilish/demonic figures with art pieces depicting them drinking children’s blood. The film also touched on how Martin Luther expected Jews to convert to Christianity during the Protestant Reformation. So when Jews decided to keep their faith, he called for the burning of synagogues and Jewish people’s homes. I found the film extremely interesting because I wasn’t aware of the long history of violence and persecution towards Jews prior to the Holocaust.

Anika: An image of babies piled up in the ground of the camp because they’re dead (dead babies).

Carlos: There’s a billboard in the “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibit which is a question to the public at the time:

What impacted me was the response:

“Yes 93%” and “No 1%” and “Don’t Know 6%.” I was impacted by the level of racism and discrimination that used to be, because they used to get scared that I’m related to.

Keiichiro: I was affected by the “Smile Photo” in the Holocaust Museum. I felt discomfort for it. Why? Why do they smile? The Holocaust is said to be so terrible. But at that time, people who live in Germany (not Jews) are smiling.

Shunsuke: “Amcho” is a word that was used by Jews to identify themselves as Jewish when they weren’t allowed to name themselves as Jewish during World War II. It’s kind of a secret word in Jewish. Jewish is human. They all have names, born, personality, and others like us. However, they didn’t have any rights or opportunity to name Jewish. They were discriminated against as aliens. As they were heading to their death by inhumane ways.

Noa: I looked at this – children’s shoes. I can imagine the view of the many children.

Naoki: When war has happened, human beings can do that.

Human’s Individual Power

It was a pretty busy day as well. Today’s start was a debrief of activities so far at American Councils. We gathered our own opinions and chose favorite one.

  • Follow your dreams, don’t allow others to hinder you—believe in your dreams
  • Race is a social view, we are all humans
  • Music is a common language

These opinions above especially received a lot of votes. By thinking deeply, we can see the true essence of things.

Next, David Nakamura, who is the White House correspondent, came to American Councils. We were supposed to visit the Washington Post, but we couldn’t because they are preventing hidden cameras. He is working near the presidents of America and has met Barack Obama and Donald Trump many times. Through listening to his story, I learned how strong the president’s power is. Just as the president changed, not only America but also the world changed. I felt “humans’ individual power.”

After eating pizza with my friends at Columbia Heights, we met two Japanese Americans, Mary Murakami and Allen Goshi. Mary Murakami talked about her experience during WWII. Japanese Americans were forced to have an extremely hard life inside the camp. Although I learned what happened in Japan at that time in history classes, I didn’t know what actually happened in other countries, so this experience was valuable and expanded my horizons.

Finally, we learned about social entrepreneurship from Scott Rechler. After thinking about the world issues, each group established a company which is for solving the issues, and made a presentation. Our group discussed food waste and established “Food Bank.” I felt that this experience provided me a hint to find what I want to do in the future. Overall, we were all tired, but satisfied with learning a lot of important things in just one day.

Minori Kon
Keio Shonan Fujisawa Senior High School