Last Day in Tohoku

Today marks our last day in Tohoku. Our time spent in Tohoku was my favorite part because I’ve learned and done so much stuff that I would otherwise not be doing. In the morning, I woke up at around 7 a.m. to have a final breakfast with my host family. My host mother had to leave early and go to work, so we had to say our goodbyes to her early.

Me and my host mother

Around 9 a.m., we arrived at Minamisanriku Sansan Shotengai to meet the rest of our group. Once the rest of the group arrived, we got to say our farewells to our host families. When our host father drove away, we continued to wave until we couldn’t see the car any more, which is an idea we got from the other people we met throughout the program that said farewell to us. We then went inside the center to work on an idea that the group decided to come up with. The idea was to decorate a bottle and fill it with messages from our group to those who lost their lives and those who survived the disaster. The plan was then to place the bottle at the memorial site for the disaster. Due to this being our last day in Tohoku, we had to finish this project in about an hour. After finishing the bottle, we went to the memorial site and we recorded us placing the bottle.

Afterwards, we were given a tour of Matsushima, by children that were learning English and aspired to be tour guides. The children gave us a tour of the the Zuiganji Temple, Entsuin Temple, and the Kanrantei Tea House. We were split into groups and were assigned one tour guide. Our tour guide was quite a shy person and because his English was still developing it was hard for him to communicate, but nevertheless I was impressed with the tour he gave at such a young age, even with the limited amount of English he knew. The tour ended at the tea house, where got a chance to try drink tea and look out at the nice view, while talking more with our tour guides. After the tour was done, we got on a train back to Tokyo. Once we arrived in Tokyo, I had to prepare my belongings to go to homestay the very next day.

Raven Bluford
Banneker Academic HS

My Host Family

After taking a tour at the Minamisanriku Town Biogas Generating System, we went to a center to meet our host family. I was hosted by a married couple with 3 other girls from our program. Once we arrived at the place we would be staying at, we were taken to our rooms and afterwards we were given dinner that was cooked by my host mother. At dinner, I got to introduce myself in Japanese. At first, it was kind of awkward because my Japanese isn’t that good and my host family’s English isn’t that good, so the language barrier was quite prominent. Due to us being quite tired, after dinner we all went to sleep.

Lotus Flowers

The next morning we woke up early and our host family took us to see the lotus flower festival. I was really excited to go to the festival because it would be a great opportunity to see the nature surrounding the area. Once we arrived, we got a chance to go on a boat to view the flowers. After going to the festival, we went to get lunch at a ramen restaurant, which I was really excited about. We arrived back at the house and we got a chance to help our host mother prepare dinner. This was the first time I got a chance to help cook, so I was a little anxious, but it turned out to be quite enjoyable, even though I got slightly injured when trying to cut the pepper.

The conversation at dinner the second night was much better because we got a chance to know more about each other, so it wasn’t as awkward. The most enjoyable part of this experience was being able to take a break from the hectic schedule we were on and being given the opportunity to just relax and reflect on the experience I’ve had thus far.

Raven Bluford
Banneker Academic HS

The real Kesennuma

In the morning, we got up extra early after a really late night visiting the Kakehashi house. Once we got up, we went to the fish market in Kesennuma. At the fish market, we met a group of 4 college students, who would later be leading a tour from the organization Sokoage Youth. We were given a tour around the fish market and we got to witness the fisherman bringing in the fish from the bay. I really enjoyed seeing this because it was nice to witness the behind the scenes exchange from when the fish is brought to the port to when it is actually bought and is placed in restaurants.

Afterwards, the group of college girls from earlier gave us a tour around Kesennuma. To start the tour, we went to a gallery that showed pictures and recovered items from the Great East Japan Earthquake. I think in comparison to the pictures the recovered items had a really big impact on me because I somehow felt more connected to the people, especially as I read their stories. I also think seeing the recovered items and hearing the stories somehow made thinking about the disaster more real.

After, we went to K-port, which is a restaurant owned by a Japanese actor Ken Watanabe. At the restaurant, we learned about the mission of the restaurant, which was to connect people from all over the community and those outside the community to raise tourism in Kesennuma. After the restaurant, we broke up into groups and had a discussion about what we learned. Our biggest take-away was that you shouldn’t forget that there are actual people involved in disasters and not just infrastructure you see destroyed in pictures. Then we were given free time at the Uminoichi, which is a place for tourists to go. At the Uminoichi, my favorite part was the ice museum because it was definitely different from anything I’ve seen before. It was a literal ice museum, where we had to wear big jackets to protect us from the cold.

To end the day off we went to the Minato Matsuri, where we got to go in groups and explore. My favorite thing at the Matsuri was visiting one of the booths where we had to find 5 letters in a newspaper as a contest. The winners and the losers were both given shaved ice, which was really really good. After the Matsuri, we arrived back at the lodge and had dinner.

Raven Bluford
Banneker Academic HS

Raven’s DC reflection

After the first part of the program spent in DC, I’ve learned a lot of things about my own country, culture, and the importance of maintaining good relations. The most impactful parts of the program for me were visiting the various museums and watching the film about the children in Hiroshima after the bomb. We visited the Holocaust Museum, African-American Museum, and the Japanese internment exhibition. This experience was memorable because in all three cases you can really see the similarities and it really allows you to see how important it is to not only see differences in people but to see them as just human beings. The film we watched about after the Hiroshima bomb was also really memorable because being able to show the kids even after their homes were destroyed and their family members were killed, they were still able to paint a happy future for themselves. Watching the film made me sad, but made me see the power of hope.

One thing I’ve learnt throughout the program is that although we look differently and have different viewpoints, what makes us Americans is that we care to express our opinions and we value our freedoms. Another thing I learn that I think was really reinforced throughout this program is that just because things are different, it doesn’t mean one is better than the other in regards to culture. I also learned a lot about how maintaining good relationships is really important because you don’t know what that person you meet in life will be to you. Now that we are starting the next part of our program, I hope to gain even more insight about my country and the world.

Raven Bluford
Banneker Academic HS

A day full of highs and lows

In the morning, we met at the U Street Metro Stop and then we walked to the Thurgood Marshall Center. The first activity of the day was a workshop given by Operation Understanding DC, which is an organization that thrives to bring together youth from the African-American community and youth from the Jewish community. By bringing together these two communities, they hope to create leaders that will stand up against inequality and injustice. For the workshop, we were put into a group with another individual and we had to tell that individual a time where we felt different or left out. For me, this was pretty hard because usually if something bad happens I try my best to just erase that memory, but eventually I found something to talk about even if I think that the situation I talked about was relatively small. Afterwards, we were then asked to tell our partner about a time where we made someone else feel different. This one was much easier for me to think about, but much harder for me to talk about because I’m not proud of what I did and I don’t want someone else to think of me differently because I did those things. From this workshop I learned that doing something bad doesn’t make you a bad person as long as you learned from your mistakes.

The second activity of the day was given from a lady named Mary Beth Tinker, who later we learned was a part of the famous Tinker case. The Tinker case was about a group of three children that decided to wear arm bands to school to protest the Vietnam War and those three were then suspended from school because the principal thought that they didn’t have the right to wear those arm bands. The case eventually went to the Supreme Court and this case basically led to children in public schools being allowed to exercise their constitutional rights in the school, as long as it didn’t interrupt learning going on. I found Mary’s story to be really inspirational and brave because as children we are told to never talk back to an adult, so it was really nice to see a child actually speak out against something she found wrong, even if there was a possiblity that she might get penalized for it. We ate soul food for lunch, for a lot of the Japanese students it was a new experience, but it was nice to hear how they thought it was really good.

After eating, we got on a rented bus to the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, where we did community service by passing out free healthy food to the community. This was the most stressful part of the day because we had to lift a lot of things, which I’m not used to. We were given different job assignments. At first, I was supposed to be the person that restocks the food that we put on the tables, but my job got switched because I wasn’t strong enough to carry the food. So for the whole day, I passed out food cans like tuna and black beans. Passing out food had good things and bad things about it. The good thing was that the people were really nice when I handed them the food, but the bad thing is that because the line was so long and going slow, people were getting aggravated and they took their frustrations out on the workers, which is us.

After passing out food for about 3 to 4 hours, we ended the day off by going to see the Youth Baseball Team play and our job was to cheer them on. This was my favorite part of the day because it was more relaxing and cheering people on and seeing them smile because of the cheering is a really rewarding experience.

Raven Bluford
Banneker Academic HS

Trying New Things

Our second day of the official start of the program was a day full of trying new things. In the morning we checked out of the GWU dorms at about 8:30 a.m. and took the metro to Columbia Heights. The Japanese students rode the D.C. metro for the first time and it was interesting being able to see their reactions to seeing the D.C. metro and hearing how it was either similar or different to Japan. From Columbia Heights, we went to Columbia Heights Education Campus (CHEC). Upon arriving to CHEC, we got to do a Slam Poetry Workshop with Regie Cabico. The workshop was really fun as it was a very good energized way to start off the morning and allowed us to learn a little bit more about each other in regards to our likes and dislikes.

Afterwards, we got a chance to talk to students at CHEC that were either first generation or second generation immigrants. This was probably my favorite part of the day because it allowed me to really look at my country or specifically my city from a different perspective. I think that living in D.C. has gotten me so used to seeing people from different countries with different cultures that I don’t really think of that person’s story, so today was really beneficial in the way that I got to actually hear one of those stories. This experience also made me realize that as Americans many times we look at the downside or negative things about our country or culture, but we never think of the good things about America like the various opportunities and freedoms that we are given that citizens of other countries don’t have access to.

The last activity of the day consisted of us going to an Ethiopian restaurant with the students that we met from CHEC. It was my first time trying Ethiopian food, so I was really excited. The food was different, but nevertheless good. I think the most important thing that I learned today is that you should always take opportunities given to you because there are so many people that aren’t fortunate enough to have those opportunities.

Raven Bluford
Banneker Academic HS

Raven’s first post for TOMODACHI

I am feeling very anxious, but also very excited. I am feeling anxious because this experience will ultimately change me as an individual and will also act as a driving factor that will shape my future. But I am really excited because I plan to get a lot out of this experience by learning to adapt, observe, and take initiative. I hope that in the future that us as a group will be able to learn from each other and our surroundings. I also hope that we will leave an impression, hopefully good, on the various people that we will meet and encounter during the program.

Raven Bluford
Banneker Academic HS