What we did on July 20th

First we started with three words:

  • Humiliation
  • Hostility
  • Hope

Then we had to find examples of each word for each of the activities we completed the days prior. This task was hard since more of them leaned towards a certain word and we just had to think of random things that correlated with the event we were writing about.

Afterwards we watched a movie called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard”. The film was centered around the connection between the kids from Honkawa elementary school and the congregation from All Souls Church. This film took in the context of the World War II bombings in Japan and after the bombing in Hiroshima, All Souls Church gathered school supplies and sent them to the kids from Honkawa elementary school. The kids leaped with joy and said that the school supplies smell like America and used them with all their little hearts content to draw pictures–bright, colorful, optimistic pictures. Then sent them to the church, as a thank you gift. People in the church were surprised at the vitality in the pictures even though they were drawn in what one would presume as dark, dull and lifeless times. The pictures were hidden in a box for decades but were later rediscovered, and displayed in the church. After a while, the congregation of the church decided to give the pictures back to the students, many many many years later.

We had talks from two people: Shizumi Manale, the producer of “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard,” and Mary Murakami, a survivor of the Japanese incarceration after the bombing on Pearl Harbor. Both talks were equally impacting. From Mrs. Manale instilling inspiration in the hearts of all the people sitting in that room that no matter what happens, one should follow their dreams, to Mrs. Murakami who spent three years of her teenage life imprisoned in small cells, with nothing to do but go to school, as she graduated high school while in the camp. One of my favorite parts of her talk was when she told us how strict the policies for intergender teenage relationships were. During the one time of year all the teens were looking forward to, a dance, if a boy and girl wanted to dance near each other, they would have to stand approximately a foot away from each other, otherwise their parents would be called. She still tells her story because the Japanese internment was based off of fear after the attack on Pearl Harbor, then after the war it was deemed wrong and the incarcerated Japanese families received compensation of $20,000 each. She still tells her story because the U.S is still judging off of fear, for instance, after 9/11 Islamophobia began to increase, especially after other terrorist attacks, like the Orlando nightclub shooting. Now travel bans are being issued to certain countries, whose citizens wish to emigrate to the United States.

We were supposed to go the memorial of the Japanese American Patriotism in World War II but it was too hot, so we decided to stay inside and do writing exercises. First, we put ourselves in the shoes of two people: an 8 year old, on their way to school–but then their school is bombed, and a 16 year old, whose family is rounded up and sent to camps. We were supposed to write just one, but me being a scholar, I decided to divide the time and write both. I prefer my second one where I wrote about the 8 year old. I liked it more because it focused more towards the future than my previous paragraph.

Lastly we went to an evening activity with Words, Beats & Life where we explored hip-hop by learning to freestyle and to DJ. I listen to a lot of rap music, and I can rap to those, but making my own is a different thing. First we learned to freestyle by picking three words that rhyme and putting them into a phrase that coincides with the beat. Everyone had a laugh at the people in the booth trying their best to create a rap in their head and say it in that same moment. Afterwards we tried DJ-ing, which was more complicated to me, but it was easy to get the hang of it. I loved to sing along to the songs that I liked, but no one could outsing Shawma. She loved, danced, and sang, to almost every song the DJ tried to mix into another song that she would love, and sing, and dance to.

The day was educational and fun at the same time. It was a fun bonding experience for the TOMODACHI students now that I think we’re finally settling into the fact that we’d be spending the next month together.

Here are some pictures I took during the Words, Beat & Life activity:

Chidera Onyeka
Banneker Academic HS

Natsuho – Day 4

In the morning we had discussed about what is big idea from our programs and we found 5 big ideas.

  • The difference in equality.
  • Ask WHY without a fixed mindset when trying to understand culture.
  • Who is America to deprive a man of his rights!?
  • America is known for freedom but it took its own citizens and incarcerated them.
  • No one can hold back the young mind since it has so many possibilities.

These 5 ideas are really important for us to understanding differences and make good society. So we need to keep these ideas in our mind.

After our debrief ended we had to see a film which is “Picture from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” That film was talking about children survivors from the atomic bomb. And also we had conversation with Shizumi Manale, who is the film producer. Children survivors from bombs had strong mind. It is because the education and their teacher making them positive even if they are hungry or they have totally nothing. Ms, Shizumi’s story was interesting for me because she tries so many things and she is so powerful.

In the afternoon we had a lecture from Mary Murakami. She is a former internee. We heard about her life during World War II and after the war. It is important to hear from people who were in there at that time because so many people pass away so this is a valuable lecture for me. And I could feel it real what I learned from the Smithsonian museum.

End of the day I learned Hip-Hop. It was nice and fun. We did rap and DJ. They taught us how to rap. It is seems so easy but actually it’s so hard. When I rapped I had some words in my head but the words didn’t come out with beats. And DJ it also seems so easy but it’s really not. The DJ teacher counted for me but I couldn’t go with count.

I learned if things seem too easy actually it is not easy but challenge is important so I’ll keep trying.

Natsuho Suzuki
Fukushima Prefectural Asaka Kaisei 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

Act for the Future

This morning, we went to Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in the morning. John W. Franklin, the senior manager, guided us through part of the museum. We were lucky that we could get into the museum before it opened, and we learned a lot about the African American History such as slavery, discrimination, prejudice, and the activist movements.

Next, we visited the “Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and World War II” exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. We deepened our knowledge about what happened to Japanese-Americans as a result of World War II. As a student from Japan, I felt disappointed about the treatment of Japanese-Americans, especially, justifying the propaganda of discrimination against Japanese during the war.

At the end of the day, Scott Rechler organized a workshop on social entrepreneurship for us. We started this activity with the question: “What makes you mad?”. We split into groups of four and discussed our responses, proposed solutions to one of our problems, and presented those solutions to our teachers. My group chose distracted walking as our problem. We came up with a solution where we would sell free phones that have hardware which disables the screen when the user is moving above a certain speed and our hardware makes profit through advertisements from investors.

This activity was the most interesting experience to me because I felt connected to it. I plan to start a business in the future, and I often think about the ways to earn profits in the business. During this activity, I made a discovery. I liked Mr. Rechler’s process for coming up with a business idea. In his workshop, I realized a simple way to come up with ideas was by asking the question, “What makes you mad?” I asked Mr. Rechler a new question at the end of the workshop. Do people ask themselves, what makes you mad, in the actual situation of starting a business? He told me that there are people who start the business in this way, but he also said that you can ask yourself; “What makes you happy?” I also learned that it is important to find an idea that meets the needs of the customers and the investors for business success, and you must have a reliable process for creating new ideas and fundraising.

There are many things that I learned during this program so far, but there are still many things that surprise me. I discover new things and having valuable experiences every day. I’m looking forward to experiencing more through TOMODACHI, and I want to learn, understand, and think more deeply to understand the essence of life and to be a person who can be critical and creative.

Ryotaro Morimoto
Keio Shonan Fujisawa SHS

Ko’s Day Two

Today was the day we left the dorm. I was very sad because I have to separate with my family.

We took the metro (with our luggage) to Columbia Heights Education Campus. It was rush hour, so there were many people walking around. I was surprised because it looks like Tokyo. After we get to CHEC, we had a Slam Poetry Workshop with Mr. Regie Cabio. At first I was nervous because I’m not good at making poems. But then Mr. Regie told us to stand up and exercise. We made a circle and pass the words, and we made stories with our partner too. I really enjoyed it.

Afterwards we made a list of what we like and what we don’t like. I felt that it is important to express yourself.

After that, we talked with the first and second generation immigrants from Bell High School. Talking to them, I found out that they have positive thinking about living in D.C.

For lunch, we had Ethiopian food. I tried to eat all of them but the food was so spicy that I failed to eat all. But it was so delicious.

On the way to CHEC, I saw a big beautiful painting of Obama and Prince. I was so happy because I was a fan of Prince.

Today I met many people and learned many things.

Ko Sato
Furukawa Gakuen 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

The excursion through life in a day

My simple everyday Washingtonian life had changed in one day just by seeing DC as an outsider. In the crack of dawn we got to meet at American Councils, which was represented by Benjamin Gaylord, and Mya Fisher of the US-Japan Council. Mya Fisher talked to us about what the TOMODACHI program is and how it was founded. I think it is very unique that the TOMODACHI program was founded after the 3/11 earthquake in Japan. It just makes me think about how dear Japan must be to the US. A devastation took place in Japan and the United States helped out even though they’re worlds apart.

It just makes you think about what is culture? For me I think culture shouldn’t be given a definition because to me culture is defined by what people or a group of people define it as. Mr. Gaylord made me realize that sometimes people only look at the top of the iceberg but not actually at what’s at the bottom. The bottom of the iceberg is the “why.” Why does this culture do this and that? I never really thought about the why. I only think about the who, what, when, and how. I guess this stood out to me because it was so profound. The why, I mean as an everyday Washingtonian, I never asked myself why does this culture do things differently from me.

The most interesting part of the excursion for me was the workshop we had with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, represented by Fareed Mostoufi. He talked about how newspapers are not so common anymore and how people get most of their news from online. Allison Shelley, a freelance journalist, showed us how to tell a story through a picture. It’s so funny to me because every time I take pictures and not once did it cross my mind that a picture could tell a story.

The tour bus was the most unique part of the day. I guess I liked the looks on the Japanese students faces because you come to a place only expecting the top of the iceberg but today they got the bottom. The conversation we had was why did an American citizen make a rude gesture at one of the Japanese students while we were on the bus. The Japanese student had no idea that this action was offensive until we told him. The Japanese student asked why. This why question led to a much deeper conversation of understanding the bottom of the iceberg of American culture. This is the “why” Mr. Gaylord was talking about and the “why” we need to ask ourselves every day.

Shawma Brown
Ballou SHS

It’s up to you to see what lies beyond the surface of stereotypes

The TOMODACHI program has officially started today!

We first visited the American Councils office for the first time as a group and there, we learned what it means to be a part of this program – we are the next generation, or should I say the next leaders, to connect US and Japan through various fields.

After that, freelance journalists – one of them was Allison Shelley – from the Pulitzer Center taught us that what we see in the media does not exactly cover everything about the country. For example, Africa has the negative reputation for its poverty and lack of health care, but her photos on an Instagram page called EverdayAfrica showed modern and cultural shots of Africa. So we can only see one aspect of a country unless we go look for more and try to understand in depths.

Later that day, we did a quick tour around all parts of D.C., from the west to the east and, from the north to the south. To me it was a surprise that where the people lived were completely divided into the areas for privileged and another part for the lower incomers. This is all in the same small city! It was quite unbelievable yet was a reality I knew I had to accept.

We walked along the rivers which divided D.C. into east side and the west side.

However, as we drove past each neighborhood and heard childhood stories from people of each background, I saw that everyone was just the same whether they lived in the wealthier areas or not. They belonged to a community, and most importantly they all belonged to the city of D.C. So in my opinion, if we just judge people by where they come from and base our thoughts on generalization, the gaps and misunderstandings will forever remain.

Though the activities we did today were all so different and seemed unrelated to each other, I think there was a fundamental theme throughout the day: to see what lies beyond generalizations or stereotypes is up to us and our open mindedness.

Keio Shonan Fujisawa Senior High School

Ahh, it’s the start of the TOMODACHI program

When it comes to how I’m feeling about the fact that the TOMODACHI program is about to start, there’s a whole whirlpool of emotions to describe, but I’m excited, to say the least. Thanks to prior experiences meeting Japanese students through the Kakehashi exchange, I’m no longer nervous anymore about interacting with people from the other side of the world. On the note of interacting with people, I really hope that everyone gets along because it might be unpleasant for a quarrel between two people to affect the activities later on in the program.

By participating I really want to make something out of the experiences I’m going to have. I don’t want to feel like I applied for this program because I needed something Japan related to do over the summer. For all that I could have applied for a summer job option I was exposed to called Japan in DC. I also don’t want to feel like it’s just something to put on my college resume, because that also seems morally wrong to me. Over the course of the TOMODACHI program, as well as hoping for a good time, I want to be able to use this opportunity (as well as the hopefully many others I’m going to have) to better my global understanding of the world. Knowing the history of certain places as well as seeing its mark left on the areas affected, I look forward to being there myself – for instance visiting the town of Minami-sanriku in Japan, where the 3/11 tsunami and earthquake hit tremendously hard and being able to take in a true sense of a community — seeing people work together to repair their town.

On the America side, I want to learn more about this former global superpower that so many people wish to visit, or maybe to live in. Speaking from personal experience, my parents (born and raised in Nigeria) see living here as an advantage, and I really want to feel that way exploring DC. All in all, I just want to live in the moment, and be able to apply my time in this program for personal benefit and have a good time, just to put all this shortly XD.

Catch you on the flipside!

Chi Onyeka
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