Waking up in Sendai was rough. Staying up late watching Sumo wrestling had definitely taken a toll on me, and even the hotel’s complimentary coffee had little effect on me. My breakfast consisted of egg, rice, natto [fermented soybean], and a slab of salmon. We left to go see a seminar about Filipino immigrants in Japan. Although this meeting was informative and very interesting, the real highlight came a few hours later when we visited a local junior high school. We were greeted by excited waves and nervous hellos from the hordes of uniformed preteens stretching their necks to get a look at the strange foreigners.
We all replaced our shoes with slippers and went through a quick tour of the school. When we went into the room of kids, we were surprised by a rambunctious round of applause, and a smaller round of applause after each of our extremely butchered Japanese Introductions. All afternoon we played English themed games and asked questions to each other in English. While obviously not perfected or well-tuned, their English skills were a lot better then my Spanish skills were at their age. Their enthusiasm to learn the language definitely inspired me, and their eagerness to listen and talk made it easy for us to connect at a more personal level than I thought we would.
Today was my day for meals. I had the most delicious meals I ever had so far! I did not expect my favorite meals to be in Sendai. My first favorite meal of the day was at lunch. Taco rice! Don’t scoff yet. Read the rest of it! It may sound American but it was absolutely heaven in my mouth. I literally destroyed my taco rice. Let me tell you what it is before I go on a tangent. So it has rice as a base with lettuce and tomatoes with this sauce that was amazing (and it doesn’t have soy!). I regretted not getting the large, but all was good because I got some of Gabby’s.
The next meal shocked the life out of me. Beef tongue! I was expecting not to like it and be stuck with eating rice because I did not like the beef tongue at the Japanese Embassy in DC. This beef tongue however was the bomb dot com. It was like steak but just so much better. The seasoning was perfect. I had the salt base because the miso has soy. I was not upset at all because I was told that with the salt base you taste the beef more, and I really loved that beefy taste. Overall today was a great day to eat!
Kids’ Door allowed us to have activities with Takasago Junior High School, which was hit by the Tohoku tsunami and earthquake. The middle schoolers carried so much energy with them! As soon as we got out of the car and even got next to the building, students were screaming English greetings and waving their hands and even arms hysterically to get our attention. It was amazing how much joy I felt from their presence. I could tell I would have a great time with them just by their welcome.
When we partnered up with the children, we started off by introducing ourselves in Japanese. Then each American student had a group of Japanese students. I asked everyone in my group questions. Then we played a game. The game is called Yamanote Line. It’s the same rules as the game Concentration 64. The group claps to a beat and at each interval a person has to say something under the general topic. Like if the topic is world cities, the group would clap twice and I’d say Rome. This game was an amazing icebreaker and brought out the competitive spirit in all of us. It was really cool hearing how they said some cities I knew with a Japanese accent. I’ve learned from my own Arabic class that different languages may have different names for cities and countries. It was cool hearing the Japanese version and comparing it to English and Arabic. I had a fun time with all the students and am very glad we felt such lovely energy from a recovering area.
Meeting various organizations in Japan that work to better society has been both interesting and inspiring. I really enjoy and appreciate getting the opportunity to meet and talk with the people who run these organizations. One of these organizations, SEELS, a nonprofit which helps recent Filipino immigrant women find jobs as English teachers in Japan, was one that we got to see today in Sendai. SEELS’s main mission is to help Filipino women who want to teach English to Japanese children and adults start their businesses. By helping the women become English teachers, SEELS is helping these women gain a sense of economic stability which allows them to leave low-paying hostess jobs. Leaving these jobs and transitioning into more desirable and permanent positions such as English teachers does a lot for these women and their ability to feel more comfortable in Japanese society. The SEELS organization is also helping to lessen the lack of English-learning opportunities for Japanese students. This service is really needed in Japan, and despite the hard time the organization has being accepted in society, it seems to be working well for those trying to learn English. I found this organization truly interesting because of how this business model really solves two huge societal problems in Japan, and the Tohoku region. I really enjoyed meeting with the group today and seeing another part of Japanese culture.
Today we visited the organization named SEELS. SEELS is an empowerment program for Filipinas living in Japan, more specifically Fukushima and Sendai. The program helps those Filipinas challenge the stereotypes of only being capable to be entertainers and night club workers. These women are becoming caregivers for the elderly and English teachers. Although they are far from achieving many goals, this is a huge step in the right direction and is helping establish their place in their communities. Through the SEELS program, one of the largest goals, acceptance, is much closer.
We then visited an organization by the name of Kids’ Door. Here we discussed how the tsunami affected the children of the area and how the organization is working to help them. We also prepared for our visit to Takasago Junior High School.
When we arrived at Takasago Junior High School we had a very warm welcome. This was very nice. I also enjoyed meeting with a woman from the United States that has been in Japan for three months teaching English through the JET Program.
We then saw some classrooms that were filled with objects of importance from or due to the earthquake/tsunami. We then went to a classroom full of eager students ranging from 12 years of age to 15 years of age. I really enjoyed meeting them all and playing a game called the Yamanote-Line game. We also talked and I know now that we have so much more in common than I thought.
This soccer ball has an amazing story of traveling many, many miles from the tsunami and eventually finding its way back home to the school.