Japan. Everyone knows it as the super-advanced civilization making its way through pop culture and technology and for the recent earthquake and tsunami that struck March 11th of last year.
I was fortunate enough to be chosen by the Consulate General of Japan, along with four other U.S. high school students, to experience Japanese life first hand on the Invitation Program for Japanese American Students. It allowed us to truly go off the beaten path of the tourist books and Travel Channel shows to see what it is really like to learn, feel and see Japan through our own eyes.
Ever since the earthquake and the tsunami and power plant disaster of last year, Japan has been making a steady recovery. It was as if they stopped crying and knew it was time to pick up the pieces. They helped rescue the wounded and the stranded, they buried the dead, and they rebuilt. Many were left homeless, separated, or broken but even then people—neighbors and strangers— helped.
Japan is an old and proud nation, and with pride I acknowledge my Japanese heritage. Ever since the days of old traditions, to the age of the Meiji Era, to the present day, Japan has experienced extreme changes and groundbreaking achievements. Japan has decidedly advanced past our own ideas of technology and art while still holding on to their history that’s still reflected in their new and amazing styles and their traditions and their unique look.
During my trip, I met a lot of inspirational people to call my friends from Ms. Tomoko Sugimoto and Mr. Tadao Nogami who helped arrange and guide me, the Abe Family who housed me during the segment of my trip when I stayed with a Japanese family, and of course my fellow comrades including Paul Kushi, a friendly and fun person, Emily Sakari, an inspirational and insightful comrade, Mckenna Asakawa, a kind and exceptional co-worker, and Maya Yu, a great friend to hang out with. Paul was from Asheville, North Carolina and had many interesting stories to share. Emily was from Davis, California and spoke almost fluent Japanese and was a big help being a part-time translator. Mckenna was from Lafayette, Colorado and asked the best questions. Finally, Maya was from Washington, D.C. and was a great person to listen to.
While in Japan, we had a chance to visit a Japanese high school. That was one of the more interesting parts of my trip. The Japanese high school was dramatically different from mine. For one, the school uniforms weren’t like a sailor uniform, which is kind of what I expected, but seemed more like Sunday prep-schoolish. To me, a person who’s never had to wear a uniform in his life, that seemed unusual.
Second, in the middle of a certain period, the students have cleaning duty where they clean the classrooms. It was not only surprising for me that they were so efficient, it was that at my school, no one ever actually cleans and does a good job at it. Lastly, the school had more gourmet choices for cafeteria food, such as curry rice, stew, and BBQ chicken. For dessert, actual ice creams, cakes, and fudge and in the vending machines and dispensers, from tea to orange juice, to soda.
At the school, we were briefly split up and accompanied a student guide to classes. My student guide was a girl named Harue Ishiguro. Harue-san was a friendly sort who spoke English and was very enthusiastic about showing me around her campus and I was more then happy to oblige. At the end of the day, we all gathered back and spent the rest of the evening with the student council. We all gathered in their meeting room and hung out while eating snacks and doing origami. After, they showed us to their music room, where we enjoyed a wonderful practice by the school’s music band. A few blocks away, they brought us to a major historical landmark. They showed us the spot where the first American, Commodore Mathew Perry, set foot on Japan. Incredible! At the end of the day, we bid our guides a fond farewell and departed.
We also visited a number of important temples. The most incredible was Kiyomizu Temple. It was built right into the mountain and it housed an incredible shrine and a sacred spring. From a distance, it was one of the most imposing sites I will forever remember. No words could have ever described its grandeur. I also had a taste of the more technological advanced side of Japan when we visited Panasonic Center in Tokyo. There, they showed us an exhibit on how they incorporated their ideas from nature into their amazing products, such as sharks skin plating into their washers, sensors that tell how dirty the water was, or the insulation that was based off of whale blubber. Afterwards, we were taken to another special exhibit that showcased different laws of matter and light. I saw holograms of jewels, liquids that turned into balls, and pictures that moved! All in all, an amazing experience.
When I returned home, I recounted my journey through Japan with excitement to my friends who were both equally jealous and amazed. My parents had missed me and were excited to see all the pictures I took and the gifts and souvenirs I had bought. This was truly a once in a lifetime experience. I had the pleasure of experiencing it.