“I used to think . . . but now I know . . . .”

PROGRAM NOTE: The last day of the DC part of the program came on July 29, and so we asked all student participants to respond to this final prompt: “I used to think . . .  but now I know . . . .” The range of their responses is amazing, and speaks to the variety of  experiences that deeply impacted the students during the program’s first two weeks. So interesting!

R.M.: I used to think the freedom of individuals and the considerations for others are contradictory, but now I know the considerations are something which should be based on the freedom. I knew this when I visited the US Holocaust Museum and thought about the course of the Holocaust.

Chris: I used to think that I wasn’t as smart and deserving as other people to be included in programs like this, but now I know that I’m uniquely special. I saw this when I was picked to such special programs like the TOMODACHI student exchange and Boston engineering program.

H.K.: I used to think your degree and studies by college basically determines what you do as in lifetime job, but now I know what attracts you throughout your experiences regardless of when it is, can connect you to another job. For example, Mrs. Mya Fisher from the U.S. Japan Council went to a science high school but is currently working with helping programs going on between the two countries.

Clinard: I used to think that it was difficult to be a social entrepreneur but now I know that it is fairly easy to do something that establishes change. This is important because it inspires people to go out and do something positive in order to benefit their communities or just to simply benefit someone else’s life.

A.O.: I used to think that every gender had responsibilities but now I know that there is a country where gender does not pertain to what jobs you get. I heard this when I listened to Ms. White – a Japanese woman that lives in DC and works for Mitsubishi Corporation – saying that in her company, no matter what gender you are, every person is equal and all the work is being done from the people who realize it has to be done.

Kan: I used to think history and politics are far from our daily lives. And I wasn’t interested in history so much but now I know that to learn and share the history are necessary to understand others and our own cultures. This is important because we need this knowledge to build friendship with other countries in the future.

Maxx (Michael): I used to think Japan was more of a diverse independent voiced country with a political system like ours but now I know that the Japanese or most of them at least are introverted and focused on respect within a system that doesn’t elect the president. For example most Japanese stay to themselves and apologize often but some like E. can see themselves as more and this is important because it shows courage to move forward and I saw this when H, E, and R step out of their comfort zones and step up.

Hiroto: I used to think that America experienced lots of historic events and doesn’t reflect on the things that happened. But now I think US thinks much of its histories and makes something to remember it. Because we saw a lot of monuments in D.C. and also were lectured about historical things by many people, so I felt a difference with Japan and my mind was changed.

Jeffrey: I used to think I knew all about World War II but now I know I didn’t and that there was a much deeper side to it. For example, I saw this when I went to the Holocaust Museum and learned about the countless people who perished along with forgotten cities and towns.

Yeysi: I used to think that I was in the deep of the iceberg but now I know that I can be over the sea level. This is important for me because everyday is an addition to my future and this program is changing my hold on the world. It is making me feel that I can do something for my community and improve the environment that I live in.

R.H.: I used to think a “restaurant” is a place where you have to buy something to stay, but now I know that there are some places that provide a comfortable space for free. This is important because the founders are thinking about customers’ real needs in first priority, and I thought free space is something that they should have in Japan too.

Kiara: I used to think that entrepreneurship was just about being your own boss and making fast money. But now I know that some local entrepreneurs don’t really do what they do for profit, but to make a change or create a safe space for their communities. I saw this when we had Free Minds come to us and Charles shared his background with us. Free Minds helps prisoners express their true feelings through creative writing and I think it’s wonderful that a woman would stop by a jail almost every day to help them with their different interests in literature.

Tempestt: I used to think that it wasn’t so dangerous in other countries, but now I know that mostly all immigrants move to the U.S. for safety reasons. This is important because I have met students from Cardozo High School that said they moved to the U.S. because it was dangerous to live in their home country.

Rio: I used to think that there is a big wall between white people and black people because I heard the news white police shot black, but now I know many Americans are very friendly even if their skin colors are different. I saw this when I was on the train. People were truly mixed and I thought that was my stereotype.

Ayane: I used to think if you make a mistake before, it will follow you your whole life, but now I know it will not. This is important because the story that we heard at DC Central Kitchen completely changed my mind. I had heard about second chances. I realized you can make your future by yourself. I really liked the words, “It doesn’t matter what happened in the past, what matters is what you are going to make right now.”

E.N.: I used to think that social entrepreneurs have a different goal for their future, but now I know they are all people who thought of a way to make a better society and worked towards it. This is important because I now know that anyone can be a social entrepreneur. If I start questioning my surroundings and think of a solution, I can become one too!

Kamashae: I used to think that justice could never and would never be served concerning the Black Lives Matters issue. Now I know that justice can be served, it’s just how you go about receiving it. This is important because all races/people should be treated fairly under the laws’ eyes. I saw this when our group talked with Ms. Mary Beth and how she kept saying how the voices of the youth are more effective in most cases than voices of adults.

Introducing Everyday DC

PROGRAM NOTE: On Monday, July 18, the first full day of the program, our DC and Japanese students participated in a two-part workshop led by Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Workshop leaders Fareed Mostoufi and Evey Wilson provided coaching to help our students develop their photojournalism skills. Then they shared information about their “Everyday Africa” initiative, a project designed to capture the real, everyday side of Africa often ignored or unseen by mainstream media. The TOMODACHI USJYEP students were challenged to create their own “Everyday DC” photo project to document their time in DC. The real DC!! So after an afternoon bus tour that took our group all over the city, here’s what they came up with:

Ena-EDC-TwoRiversE.N.: I took a photo of TOMODACHI students playing in the field in the place where the two rivers meet. I took it at noon. I took this photo to show how the students from Japan and the DC students are coming together.

Tempestt-EDC-WashMonumentTempestt: This landmark is the Washington Monument during mid-day in Washington D.C. This building holds a significant role to D.C. because no other building in the city should be taller than this landmarkl.

Yeysi-EDC-GeorgetownSkyYeysi: I took this picture at Georgetown in front of the Potomac River on Monday, July 18. This picture includes Clinard and Jeffrey taking photos. 

Hiroto-EDC-RunandStayHiroto: Run and Stay.

Kamashae-EDC-WhenMoodSwingsKamashae: In Georgetown of Washington, DC . At 4:17pm, ” when the mood swings ”

Chris-EDC-Three FriendsChristefer: Three friends at Frederick Douglass’s house high fiving in the hot sun all for friendship!!

Kan-EDC-FountainKan: I took this picture of a fountain in Georgetown at 4:30 pm for the TOMODACHI group.

Hayato-EDC-Yeysis HairH.K.: Yeysi is tying her hair to keep it out of her way at Frederick Douglass’s house on a Monday afternoon.

Ayaka-EDC-Damp Sky A.O.: The damp sky just about to swallow the blue light, a man is staring at his phone and searching for a nice place to rest

Kiara-EDC-UnityinNatureKiara: A rare moment shows a sweet yet intriguing moment of bonding between the new students and alumni of the TOMODACHI Program..Unity in Nature.

Michael-EDC-Elijah and RobesonMichael: Taken by me at a martial arts dojo outside around 3 pm on July 18th. The picture is composed of Eli and an African American ball player, Paul Robeson. I took this picture because when Eli was standing in front of the drawing, turning his head just added the piece. Adding a black and white picture and it’s a historical moment.

Ryoto-EDC-GeorgetownSign R.M.: A picture of a tower and a sign in Georgetown on July 18th, 2016 for TOMODACHI.

Jeffrey-EDC-FountainJeff: Picture by a fountain near Georgetown around 4:30 pm with the rest of the TOMODACHI gang!

Ayane-EDC-MuralAyane: This is the mural which is a picture on the side of a building on U Street located in Washington DC in the daytime. I took this photograph because it is rare to see pictures in Japan on sides of buildings. This picture is a representation of what I thought America would be like because it is colorful.

Rio-EDC-SummerEveningRio: TOMODACHI participants enjoy their stay in Georgetown, Washington D.C. But they are concerned about the weather because they think it will storm. Japanese students will soon experience a summer evening in D.C. for the first time.

Clinard-EDC-ExchangeStudentClinard: An image of a foreign exchange student who sits and thinks as he reflects on what he has learned from his new friends and from the unfamiliar city itself.

Rina-EDC-DarkSkiesR.H.: This photo is taken in the late afternoon, July 18. It’s the photo of the fountain and the sky, in which the cloud is coming and starting to cover the bright and sunny sky. I took this photo because I thought it represents the typical weather of D.C.

Facing 3/11

PROGRAM NOTE: Our nine (9) 2016 TOMODACHI USJYEP DC students spent July 11-14 preparing for the start of this summer’s program through a variety of educational activities – a kind of “boot camp.” In one session, we focused on the Great East Japan Earthquake, using video and www.japanquakemap.com to help convey the enormous impact of the historic 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011. The event and its aftermath are the reason the TOMODACHI program was created – and it’s important for our students to try to understand what happened that day. These are their reactions:


After watching the tsunami and earthquake hit Japan, I was devastated. I was not only devastated because of the damage, also because of the fact that I could’ve been there, and if I was there, how unprepared I would’ve been. People watching their homes, with valuable things inside being swept away with the waves. Boats being swept deep into Japan from the sea. Seeing people in fear for their lives, including small children and animals. Seeing people trying to flee the area to save their lives and the lives of loved ones. Seeing this heart-wrenching event take place is almost unbelievable and unreal. That one tsunami could kill, rip apart, devastate, ruin, and destroy an entire country. I am glad there was footage, this footage in particular, to prevent such unreadiness from happening again, maybe to save more lives and more buildings by taking extra precaution to ensure safety for more citizens. My condolences go out to families that have been lost or broken by these horrific events that occurred on 3/11. I could never imagine the feelings you have toward these events.


Everything has left me speechless and emotional from what I saw. It felt as though I could feel the heartache everyone had experienced. The photos and videos had made me rewind my life back to the day Katrina had struck. The flooding of water and fire seemed almost too similar to the situation I had been in. I’ve always refused to remember the details that had happened, but seeing this has unlocked the door I had wanted to keep closed. I have empathy for the people that went through the earthquake and tsunami.


In Japan 3/11-3/12/11 was a catastrophic time period. There was a total of 226 earthquakes in a matter of two days. Knowing that DC does not have a lot of earthquakes, meaning that the number count is minimal, there are an abundance of mixed emotions going on inside of me. My city is fortunate enough to not experience these things and it makes me depressed and solemn to know that Japanese personnel have no choice but to experience them.


Words can’t describe this. Seeing the video and visual representation made me think about how fast situations change us. 148 earthquakes back to back. It’s heartbreaking to think about the aftermath. All the devastation. All the families missing loved ones or mourning the losses of friends and family. I can’t imagine pain and fear in their hearts from that day. I don’t know how to fully process this. Right after the tsunami was a huge fire. Picking up every piece that was broken, physically and/or emotionally takes time in events such as these. This makes me realize that some of us have a tendency to complain about certain things or possessions. When you look at the big picture, you realize that life is the best thing you can possess, as well as a sense of calm and security. If you don’t have that, everything is in shambles.


I gotta say just wow! Watching the actual video of the tsunami wasn’t that bad because although it showed the destruction of the towns at various times I couldn’t really get a feel of how bad it really was. But after looking at the Japan quake map, it really gave me a full view on how monstrous this event was and the little breathing time the people had in between these attacks. And it really allows you to grasp how lucky some countries are to avoid events such as this, especially on a large scale such as this.


Imagining many earthquakes from one day to the next is devastating. Hearing about one every now and then and deep hurricanes over in America and we think wow, oh my god and so on. But when you compare American disasters to Japan we have it trillions of times easier and that makes us lucky. To think of how scared people were at first and then to lose hope more and more as earthquakes keep happening for two days. It pushes fear to new heights. The man on the video who tried to boat away from the tsunami said he was ready to die at any time. That’s only one person. One brave person at that, and as a man he had to survive but others are petrified or could have been worse. It’s sad.


I saw that on March 11th that Japan suffered unexplainable damage from earthquakes. It seemed to me that after 2:46 pm JST (Japan Standard Time), Japan had suffered what I would call the domino effect from earthquakes. After one major earthquake, a series of earthquakes started to occur. Some were inside one another and I could only imagine if that was D.C. Also, to talk to survivors of the earthquake is very honorable. I would like to know if they remember the earthquake, how did they feel to survive. Did they feel sorrow for those who died, but also felt a sense of relief for surviving? Just that day from my perspective was so horrific.


I have never thought how big was the impact of the earthquake and the tsunami in Japan. It feels like the pain will never have a cure, the terrible magnitude of those disasters can’t be explained in words. The words are less when you watch the stories that people passed through. The days will not be the same however. I think that the communities will have to be together and receive extra support of each other. It’s sad that just a quick action of the earth can destroy years of effort from families to construct their homes and their lives.


I feel very distraught about Japan’s 3/11. I give my condolences to all the families that lost a loved one during that tragic time. I could have never imagined myself in the situation/predicament that Japan went through but it takes a strong society with a phenomenal backbone to be where you all are today. Just by seeing the quake map and seeing how the earthquakes hit drives my passion to study more about why Japan gets earthquakes more often.

Program Note: The Yasuo Kuniyoshi Exhibit

During the pre-travel orientation program for the DC TOMODACHI students, we visited a special exhibition on the life and work of Yasuo Kuniyoshi (1889-1953) – “The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi” – at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The visit exposed students to an important Japanese American of the 20th century art world, and gave them an opportunity to experience and think about how people’s life stories are shared, in preparation for their upcoming program in Japan. From the exhibit website at http://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/archive/2015/kuniyoshi/:

“Kuniyoshi emigrated to America from Japan as a teenager, rising to prominence in the New York art world during the 1920s to become one of the most esteemed artists in America between the two world wars. He drew on American folk art, Japanese design and iconography and European modernism to create a distinctive visual style. Kuniyoshi defined himself as an American artist while at the same time remaining very aware that his Japanese origins played an important role in his identity and artistic practices.

His inventive, humorous early works often included subtle color harmonies, simplified shapes, oddly proportioned figures and an eccentric handling of space and scale. His work became more sensuous and worldly after two long stays in Paris, as he painted moody, reflective women and still lifes with unusual objects.

Kuniyoshi was thoroughly integrated into American life and the art world, but immigration law prevented him from becoming an American citizen. Classified an “enemy alien” after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he remained steadfastly on the side of his adopted country during the painful war years, working with the Office of War Information to create artworks indicting Japanese atrocities. After the war, Kuniyoshi developed a compelling late style, with bitter subjects and paradoxically bright colors.”

The exhibition runs until August 30th.