Normal life of teenagers

I spent my free day with Rey, Hide, Skyy, and Raven. My free day was one of the best days in my life. You know how in those teenager movies the teens are just being teens – that is exactly how we were. I have never felt so free. We were joking around, doing dumb stuff teenagers do. Even though I was with Japanese teens they were just like me. I get when everybody says there is no diversity in Japan but each person is different. Rey is like an American. I can say Rey acts more American than me. Hide is just a funny guy. Hide is honestly one of the funniest people I have met in my life.

We spent the day in Korean town. Skyy and Raven have this obsession with K-pop. They bought everything in Korean town that had a K-pop idol face on it. You know how people have one of those crazy obsessions that’s kind of scary? Well, when it comes to K-pop, Raven and Skyy can be a little scary. After Korean town we went to karaoke. Everybody was singing whatever song that came on. When Hide starting singing a Japanese song, I was astonished. He sang so well. I didn’t expect him to be that good at singing. In that moment when he was singing I had a crazy girl crush on him. Skyy and Raven were singing k-pop songs while me and Rey sang the most American songs you could think of. I felt really free that day because of the bonds I had formed with such amazing people. I felt like I could just be myself.

Shawma Brown
Ballou SHS

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

Chi – My Day on August 12th

First things first, let me tell you about. My childhood. I grew up around cartoons and anime. When I wasn’t watching anime, I was watching cartoons and when I wasn’t watching cartoons, I was sleeping. One of the animations I watched and loved was Ponyo. Though it was a while ago, I still remember my eyes gleaming with joy watching her become a human. I also got into a phase of Your Friendly Neighborhood Totoro, in which case I saw a strikingly expensive hoodie but still bought it all because of the Totoro on the front. Soo, hearing we were going to the Studio Ghibli Museum was quite the good news for me. Then I learned that we were going to Harajuku, the city of fashion, where I was planning to spend a little bit of a lot of money on clothes.

Going to the Ghibli museum was definitely a fun experience. Although the prices were a bit too much for my speed, the museum itself was definitely exciting. When I read the map, it described the museum as a maze, something I had never heard before, and said “Let’s lose our way together.” Going off of those words, that’s what I did. Trying to make our way to the rooftop (which is only accessible through the third floor spiral staircase) we ended up on the first floor–three times. We found our way to the rooftop (thankfully) then went en route to the straw hat café where we spent the rest of our allotted time. Before all of that though, we first saw a short film that can only be seen at the Studio Ghibli Museum. The film was definitely entertaining as I was prepared to cry because I was told that some of the films would make me cry. I just braced myself for any one that I saw. Afterwards we just wandered around the museum with the casual ooh and ahhs and we went to the gift shop; and my my, you know a store is overpriced when you spend around ¥1,700 for a pencil and a pen. Anyhoo then we started looking for the way to the rooftop yada yada.

When we went to Harajuku, we had two options: we could go the Meiji-jingu shrine or tour the famous Takeshita street, known for fashion. Me, being an aspiring fashionista, went the Takeshita street route. It had stopped raining not too long before we went to Harajuku but then it became hot, like really hot. Then to make the situation even better, the street was extremely crowded and boy was that fun! The stores had really nice things, but I realized that I didn’t want to blow all my money on that street, especially since we’d be going to Akihabara the next day. In that case, I budgeted myself so that I could spend money in both places, but sadly none of the shops could fit my budget. Well, except the crepe store (yum!).

That day had lots of walking and exercise, something that I don’t do much of, so I was extremely exhausted after that day. I had fun, don’t get me wrong, but the day was still packed and so was that Takeshita street.

Chi Onyeka
Banneker Academic HS

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

I woke up early this morning

I woke up early this morning. i was writing my blog outside because it was very mystical. Luckily I had a chance to go for a walk with my hostdog Ginsan. We walked on the beach for about twenty minutes. He was so cute.

After that we did a farewell ceremony at the Portal Center. I was a little sad to say goodbye but I soon realized I lived nearby so I told him that I will come back again.

At noon, we had cow tongue at the cow tongue restaurant. I had some beef stew. The meat inside was so soft and it tasted wonderful. I was satisfied.

Afternoon, we went to a tour with the local students from elementary school and junior high school as a guide for me. They took me to a lot of places and tried their best to explain to me in English. I was moved to see that.

During my stay in Tohoku, I realized that I didn’t know as much about Tohoku as I thought. So it was a great experience for me.

Ko Sato
Furukawa Gakuen High School

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

Living with another culture

One thing that I regret while being on this trip is not being able to be fluent in Japanese. My home stay with the fisherman’s family was so fun. I wish I was fluent in Japanese because I could have had more conversations with my home stay parents. It was nice to get to know people who don’t even know English.

My host mother was very American to me because she wasn’t the type to hold back her opinion. I really liked that about her because it was like having a piece of home with me. My host mother’s cooking was out of this world. My mother will probably be mad at me for saying this, but my host mother’s cooking was the best thing I ever tasted. My host father was very different from my host mother. My host father was more of a storyteller. The job he worked required him to do a lot of traveling. He would tell us stories of the places he traveled to. I enjoyed his stories very much.

One day when I go back to Japan I will visit my host mother and father and tell them stories of my own.

Shawma Brown
Ballou SHS

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

Minpaku, stay rich in nature

I had a great experience with my host family in Minamisanriku. I stayed at the Minpaku with Natsuho, Shawma and Raven. My host father was a local fisherman and he used to be a sailor so he has been many places all over the world. I felt I was traveling around the world by listening to his stories. This experience made me notice the power of telling stories. However, Natsuho and I had to translate his stories into English for two girls from D.C. because he could not speak English so much. The most difficult thing in translating was to keep interest. When I translated his story to English, the story had less interest than his own story. I thought that I really want to improve my English skill to be able to tell attractive stories with my own words.

Looking down at the beautiful ocean at Utatsuzaki

After going to the Lotus flower festival, our host father took Natsuho and me for a drive. We saw a lot of new houses on the hill, and when we looked down, there was always ocean. I liked the view from the tip of the peninsula the best. We also saw the difference between bay and out of bay. There are whitecaps outside of the bay, but no whitecaps at the bay. Our host father said that this is one of the reasons why Minamisanriku is famous for cultivation. We also heard about his childhood in Minamisanriku. There was no road but nature. I felt that people grown up in towns filled with nature would know how to coexist with nature. I hope that the ways to respect nature will be never forgot.

Yuuki Takashima
Keio Shonan Fujisawa SHS

New Experience in My Homestay

When I was arriving to the Japanese traditional style house, we drove through the mountain. There were lots of nature, and it was exactly the same image of the rural area that I have. My stereotype of the rural area is that there are many natures but it is less convenient. I could never see the convenience store or stations from the house, but I like the nature and it was comfortable in there.

My host parents like to watch foreign movies, and we watched it during the meals. We saw many movies and we were able to expand the topic of our conversation. We talked about the foods on every meal, and almost every food was brought by the father. He was a fisherman as it is the common job in Minamisanriku.

On the full day with my host family, we had a valuable experience helping the job as a new fisherman. The host father taught us the process of farming scallops, and we had experienced the first step of the process called “Pin-sashi.” We stab the pin through the rope to hang the shell. It was a very simple task, but I felt like I was a fisherman.

After we took a nap, we went to the beach. Bryson, Daniel, and me explored an uninhabited island called “Areshima,” trying to reach the opposite side of the island. There were many cliffs to reach the end, and the island was filled with danger, but we had a wonderful adventure!

We had a delicious takoyaki party for the dinner and had a great time with my host family and my friends. After the dinner, I had a chance to talk with my host mother about my business plan. She told me that it is an excellent plan to connect the senior citizens and children who are wait-listed for the kindergarten on the website. She said that there are many senior citizens in their community who are using an internet, and they want to involve with children. She gave me one problem that I should solve: to remove the suspense for accepting children. I thought it would be necessary to gain understandings for instance, to hold a meeting for the senior citizens, or make a user policy that would remove their suspicion. I will continue thinking for the best solutions for this problem.

Throughout this program, I am learning that it is important to talk, to ask, and to listen to people. It is also important to think actively before, during, and after the conversation as well.

Ryotaro Morimoto
Keio Shonon Fujisawa SHS