Korea Town

Today was legit one of the best days of my life. Rey, Shawma, Raven, Hide, and I spent our free day in Tokyo together. Earlier in the program when we had a little free time at the end of the day we planned to go to karaoke, but everyone was so tired. That’s a hint about what we did today!

It started around 10 when we met at Shinjuku station. From there as a group we headed to Shin-Okubo or K-town T-T. If I haven’t mentioned it earlier, Raven and I are completely obsessed with Kpop and Kdramas. So you can imagine my excitement. It felt like when we landed in Japan for the first time, the thrill of seeing Japanese on a sign instead of English. This time though, it was Korean. Being the Koreaboo (person who is obsessed with the Korean wave) I, as many people in the group know, sadly have better Korean than Japanese. I was literally in heaven just walking past Korean beauty and grocery stores. Then out of nowhere Raven and I noticed a picture of a kpop group named EXO. We were ready to risk it all and spend all our money at that store. Then Rey said, this is nothing compared to what you’ll see when we really get to the town.

We..weren’t..in..the..town..yet?? I couldn’t understand that. My heart wasn’t ready. Then I saw for myself. I heard kpop everywhere, saw my favorite people on every screen, and splurged on so much kpop merchandise, and I would spend all my money on it again. Hide, Shawma, and Rey were so surprised at how Raven and I completely turned into different people. We were fan girls. While in Korea town, Raven and I were being cheap to save our money for kpop merchandise, so we ate Korean Pancakes for lunch. I had a honey one, I don’t know if it was because it was Korean, but it tasted like heaven, just saying.

We shopped in a few more kpop stores then headed to the karaoke room. We had so much fun. We sang Japanese, Korean, and English songs. For hours on end, at the top of our lungs we shouted Call Me Maybe and Sakura Chiru. One point was very interesting when Hide sang by himself. He had a beautiful voice, we were all so amazed, imagine that. After around 3-4 hours of karaoke we were worried about how our voices would sound at the presentation tomorrow. Despite that, we kept going, we lived for then! Afterwards we stopped at a few more kpop stores and then headed home.

I have never had so much fun in my life. I had so much fun with them. I think about those experiences every single day. I feel like a changed person. After only four weeks of being together we were family. I loved hanging out with them so much. I felt pure happiness. TOMODACHI thank you SO MUCH. Honestly, I gained experiences, great friends, and kpop merchandise. I’m so emotional right now. I cannot thank you enough.

Skyy Genies
Banneker Academic HS

Mite Mite Mite

These past few days have been ones that I will NEVER FORGET. On August 10th, myself, Rey, and Chi packed up and traveled to our farmstay. It was so fun! When we first arrived at the house we would be staying at, I was so surprised! It was a beautiful cozy cabin at the top of the mountains that was powered completely by Solar energy and water sourced from a spring well built by the family after the tsunami as a safe place to go if a disaster happens again. At first, I was super nervous about meeting and staying with my host family, but after just a few minutes of meeting my host brothers, I felt completely welcome and comfortable. My host brothers’ names were Kai (7) and Daichi (2), my host mother’s name is Mei Sato, and my host father’s name is Frank Sato. As soon as we got into the truck, Kai, in Japanese, spoke to us about bugs and showed us pictures of them in a book he had. I felt so happy because you could feel how passionate he was about what he told us. He was very interested in what bugs and plants we had in the US.

My host mother knew some English since her husband is American, so communicating was not hard for us at all. When we first arrived, we took out the things we would need to take a bath since we would travel to a public bath later on. Then we headed to the Sato’s main house further down the mountain. The house we arrived at is the one that was affected by the tsunami. Inside the house, our host mother showed us a line on the wall close to the ceiling and told us that it was where the water reached on 3.11. Something very shocking that she told us was that the cat they had named MiMi survived on the top of their house during the tsunami. I was very surprised.

When we settled down in the house, Kai turned on a movie for us as we ate some delicious Japanese style chili. Everytime we attempted to look down at our food “Miiiiiiiiiite” Kai would yell. He even knew the lines of the movie. He was so cute, I loved how much he cared! Daichi, don’t get me started. He was a ball of energy who liked to be chased and had to copy Kai’s every move. Then we headed to the public bath. It was nice, it looked like a hot spring. By now we were so exhausted, so on the ride home we slept as the car glided over the beautiful hills leading up to our homestay. When we got back to the environmentally friendly house, we slept soundly.

The next day we woke up and hiked to the main house. On the way there Kai identified almost every plant we came across. He amazed me at how much he knew about the environment. When we got to the house, we ate Raisin Bran and Yogurt. When we first arrived at the house we noticed a wheel similar to the one that we saw at the Women’s Eye Headquarters, so today we asked about it. Ms. Sato took it out and showed us how she makes yarn from sheep’s’ wool that she gets from someone in the neighborhood who has sheep. We even got to try it for ourselves. After a few tries, I got it right and spun some wool yarn. It was super fun. We also drank some delicious tea with berries that we picked during the hike inside of it. Those berries were so strange, they made our mouths tingly and numb.Then Daichi’s 2 year old friend “Ko-kun” came over with his mother and we walked down to the ocean front. It was so fun, I was surprised at how unhesitant all of the kids including Chi were to jump into the water with their clothes on. It was a sight to see!

This night was truly my favorite, Kai pulled out some glowsticks and walked back to the house swinging the glow sticks, chasing Daichi, and taking pictures. I loved it so much, I am getting emotional just thinking about it. Then we headed back to the house, got our things, went to the sustainable house, got ready for a bath, took our bath, ate dinner, and hit the haystack.

The next morning, our last day at our homestay, we had the chance to meet and have breakfast with our host father who travels to another part of Japan for a few days out of the week to teach English. He spoke to us about his experiences coming to Japan, teaching English, and using the resources available in the environment around his house. He took pride in the wood he cut down from the forest behind the house. The cedar smelled so good! Before we had to meet up with the group, Mr. Sato took us on a short hike behind their house to see a very old graveyard and the different types of plants that they had. It was very interesting. Then something scary happened, I saw a snake!!! My heart was beating out of my chest, then I got over it because everything was so beautiful. Then we packed up our things and said our goodbyes to Kai and Daichi. It was so intense, I only knew these people for less than three days, but we really felt like family. My eyes watered up when we took our last pictures and said our last goodbyes. On the ride to meet up with the rest of the group, our host father gave us his opinions on the Mayor and his intentions with rebuilding the city. Let’s just say he’s not his biggest fan. Then we arrived at the TOMODACHI meeting spot.

The experience was so touching. I learned about how to truly coexist with nature. Not to mention detaching from society, we had no wifi! No unlimited electricity! No shower! An outdoor toilet. Wow, I truly experienced things that I would never have had the chance to otherwise. I am so happy that I had this chance because I realized that it doesn’t take much to be happy. I also involuntarily realized that bugs and small animals aren’t that scary because Kai always held them up to our face. Thanks! I got a chance to experience a contrasting lifestyle to my own and learn from it. I am so grateful!

Skyy Genies
Banneker Academic HS

Always Appreciate Nature

Today was a super busy and interesting day! The first thing we did in the morning was travel to the Togura District of Minamisanriku to hear from a fisherman about his experiences after the earthquake and tsunami. While listening to the fisherman speak about how the tsunami impacted his district, I was amazed by his ability to focus on the positive outcomes that such a negative event had. In fact the main theme of the things he told us was that it was important to the people of the Togura District, even after the tsunami, to appreciate and coexist with nature. Some of the things that I heard during this presentation include how species of sea organisms that had not been seen on the coast of the Togura District resurfaced after the tsunami and how the fishing industry became certified as a sustainable fishing industry.

The fisherman that we spoke to was also a part of an organization that taught a type of Japanese folk dance. He told us that before the tsunami came, the equipment and intricate costumes that were used for performances of the dance were put away in a secure storage container. However, when the tsunami came, the storage container was washed away and the members of the dance group were devastated. After the tsunami, many of the members of the dance group did not want to continue to participate any longer. Then, one day when searching through the debris, a drum that was used in the folk dance performances was uncovered in perfect condition. This event brought hope and motivation to not only the members of the group but to the citizens of the Togura District to keep fighting and pushing to improve their conditions.

After hearing these heart-touching stories, we enjoyed a delicious seafood barbeque of clams, miso oysters, and tokoroten. After lunch we went to visit a non profit organization in the Iriya District called Women’s Eye. The NPO members specialized in teaching and practicing the production of all natural silk from silk cocoons. The purpose of the organization was to bring together women and continue traditions. Like the fisherman we spoke to earlier, the women of this organization focused on how they could use the resources that nature granted them to benefit their community. Not only did they farm the silkworms, they fed them with agricultural goods found in the surrounding mountain areas, and even dyed the silk that they handmade with natural dyes from flowers, trees, and plants. I was so inspired by the NPO’s ability to see the positive side of nature instead of hating it for the disaster.

Lastly, we traveled to a business called the Yes! Factory, where we learned about how a business can be a cohesive tool to promote, employ, and bring happiness to a community. At the factory, community members were trained and produced products of the mascot “Octopus-kun” using sustainable materials such as tree bark from cedar wood trees that were chopped down to keep the forests healthy. The owner of the business touched my heart due to his ability to use humor and cleverness in the creating of products and the names of certain aspects of the business. It showed me that even in the midst of hardships, one can still be happy and appreciate what they do have to bring happiness and prosperity to a community. Today was so great

Skyy Genies
Banneker Academic HS

Homestay Funday

After two days of recuperating at Ninja House, today was our first day of the official program starting. When the day first began, we had an orientation for the Japanese side of the program from Sosha Mitsunaga Smith, our program coordinator in Japan; Hayato, a TOMODACHI alumnus, and interns Tomomi and Kento from the US-Japan Council. We recapped what we did in D.C., the cultural differences we came across so far between America and Japan, a few tips on homestay cultures in Japan, the themes that we will focus on during the program, and an overview of our itinerary. Then we headed out for lunch, which was Chankonabe, a sumo’s stew pot meal. It was very delicious and filling, My favorite part of the stew was the Chicken paste. I’d love to have it again.

Following the orientation, we traveled by train to the Edo Museum. Riding the train with more people was a cool experience in itself. I was able to experience the organized process that is boarding and getting off the train, it was so precise, I love it!

We arrived at the Edo Museum and were given tours. In school, we go over the Meiji Restoration and the Edo Period, and the Sino/Russo-Japanese War, but during this tour, I developed an in-depth understanding of these concepts and realized the connection between some of these events. The wood block paintings, Kabuki, and exhibits of traditional houses during the Edo period were especially interesting to me because they were so beautiful. Another impactful event that I learned about for the first time at the museum was the September 1, 1923 Earthquake in Tokyo that also brought large spreading fires. An overall theme that I took away from the tour of this museum was that Japan determinedly recovered and rebuilt their country after many devastating events on multiple occasions but they remained optimistic.

After touring the museum, we took the train to the Sensō-ji Temple in Tokyo. It was so large and beautiful and there were many markets surrounding the temple. I loved the traditions that took place in the temple like placing “Goyen” or luck in the tin box and praying for something, washing your hands and mouth in the fountain to cleanse your soul, or allowing the smoke of the pot flow over your head to cleanse you of demons.

After leaving the beautiful temple, I headed home with Yuuki for my homestay, I was so excited! We took the train to her house. When we got here, I took a picture of the beautiful view outside of her house. When we got inside we started making dinner. Yuuki and I made Takoyaki which are round dough balls with green onions and octopus inside of them, while her mother “Kao-San” made gyuza wraps. It was so delicious, we talked about traveling while eating a delicious dinner and a Mango from Okayama for dessert. After dinner we took our showers, played a little Jenga, wrote our blogs, and went to sleep. So much happened in one day, I was exhausted, but I would do it all over again.

Skyy Genies
Banneker Academic HIS

Skyy’s Reflection after the DC program

Today was the official start of the second section of the TOMODACHI program (trip to Japan). The first part of this program in D.C. was composed of a variety of visits from historical figures such as Mary Beth Tinker or trips to educational locations such as our visit to the African American History Museum, and workshops from people of varying careers who spoke about how the importance of storytelling plays a role in the formation of a better future.

Mary Beth Tinker spoke to us about the importance of youth speaking up and fighting for our rights. This was a very impactful presentation because in the past I thought that it would just be better to wait until I’m an adult to actively advocate for rights. But after the presentation I realized that even at my age every voice matters and can make a difference.

Visiting the Righting a Wrong exhibit at the American History Museum was very memorable to me because in school we don’t really learn about it so I was very surprised to learn so much about something that is virtually hidden in our school’s curriculum. Discussing what we saw at the museum and understanding how the other students felt from the Japanese perspective was very enlightening.

Now, we are heading to Japan and I think these lessons and the overbearing idea that we must fully understand the past or history of something before trying to understand what we are seeing before our very own eyes will help us realize that we must record what we experience and seize the moment by asking questions and trying to obtain a deeper understanding so that we can tell an accurate story when we come back. The world can benefit from what we learned on the trip. I think the ideas we bring back especially regarding the determination and optimism of the people living on the coast of Japan after the 3.11 earthquake can teach an important lesson to the people in our society about the strength of thinking in affirmations.

Skyy Genies
Banneker Academic HS

If you’re prepared to win, you’ll win

Today, we traveled to the Halcyon Incubator House in Georgetown. The Halcyon House is a place where six social entrepreneurs live for five months to “incubate” and get their businesses off the ground.

Mike Malloy, the Program Coordinator of Halcyon House, gave us a tour and amazing tips to approaching our futures. Mike Malloy put his experiences in the business realm into a wider context that can be applied to any part of your life. He spoke about the important lessons he learned from his sunglasses company called Waveborn. Two things that he said that stuck with me were “If you’re prepared to win, you’ll win,” and “think affirmations.”

The first quote to me was very powerful because through his own experiences, Mike was able to realize that having self confidence in your abilities and your ideas can be one of the major factors that allow you to succeed at something. I need to apply this to my life because I often think of a lot of ideas but I do not think they’re worth anything. Mike’s advice helped me realize that if I’m prepared to win or express my idea and have it implemented, then it will happen.

The second quote, “think affirmations,” was also very interesting to me because Mike spoke about how simply speaking positive things into existence can motivate you despite obstacles you may come across when trying to make your dreams a reality. Even through hardships and failures, we must think optimistically because “your life is like a jungle gym not a ladder; you may fall down the slide and roll around in the dirt for a while, but you must get back up and keep climbing.” This experience was very insightful because although I do not exactly plan to go into business or be an entrepreneur, the advice that Mike gave was very flexible and could be applied to any field of life.

Lastly, Mike said that “[he] believes that diversity in everything is great, except one thing: values”. He explained that he wishes that everyone in the world valued the idea of helping each other and improving society in our own way. I truly thank Mike Malloy for his wisdom, what I learned today will stick with me forever.

Skyy Genies
Banneker Academic HS

Remembering Our Dark Past to Move Towards a Brighter Future

Our historical and innovative journey on July 19, 2017, started at 9:00 A.M where our TOMODACHI group was given an exclusive tour of the African American History Museum by the Senior Manager John W. Franklin. For three hours, we were able to obtain a more in depth understanding of the history of African Americans in the United States from slavery to our former president Obama’s inauguration. It was my first time visiting the museum since it opened and I felt very emotional as I toured the museum.

One exhibit that was very powerful to me was the one about Emmett Till. It was hard for me to watch the video of his mother speaking about what happened to her son and why because I am around the same age as Emmett when he was brutally murdered. I thought, “What if that was me?” “Who could deserve something like this?”. As we continued throughout the museum, I kept trying to wrap my head around what may have caused these things to happen. Why does skin color determine treatment in society? Why does one person or a group of people decide who is better than another? Aren’t all men created equal?

Then after lunch, we toured the “Righting a Wrong: Japanese American and World War II” exhibit at the Museum of American History. The same questions lingered in my head as I learned about how Japanese Americans were “relocated” to internment camps because they were “a threat” to America during the Second World War. I felt disgusted, once again, a group of people were discriminated against and had their rights’ stripped due to the way they looked. I thought to myself, “When would the cycle end, will history ever stop repeating itself?”. I just felt like it wasn’t fair. However, after touring both museums and thinking of these things I realized that it is important for us as Americans, or us just as people to look back even on the darkest parts of our history in order to move forward and make sure those things never happen again.

Later on, we participated in a workshop about Social Entrepreneurship by Scott Rechler of LearnServe International. We participated in a fun activity where we had to “think of something that pisses us off” and created a business plan to combat that issue. It was interesting to me how simply sitting back and thinking about the things that could make our society better can lead to an amazing business plan and can have a positive effect on our society. I think this workshop also ties into the overall theme I took away from today’s experiences which is “We must remember our dark past to move towards a brighter future.”

Skyy Genies
Banneker Academic HS

Skyy’s First TOMODACHI Post

I don’t even know how to put the excitement I am feeling right now into words. There are so many things that I am looking forward to learning, experiencing, and achieving through this program. Throughout this journey, I hope to get out of my comfort zone physically and mentally. To me this means, becoming a more open minded person about concepts and traditions that I am not accustomed with, genuinely opening up to people and forming strong friendships with them, and going to places and experiencing things that I would never be able to experience in my current environment. I can’t even imagine the things I may learn about Japan or the things I may be able to teach others about the US or DC.

Being able to take part in something bigger than me that will help countless people will change me for sure. I think after this experience, the way I perceive everything around me will change, I will have gained lifelong friends here in the US and in Japan, and I will begin to strive for a future that allows me to use my global mindset to solve problems while taking into account the many points of view that may be affected by my solution. I’m so excited!

Skyy Genies
Banneker Academic HS