Cindy’s KAKEHASHI Reflection

By Cindy Guevara (Japanese at CHEC)

In the beginning I had all kinds of emotions. I was nervous, happy, a little sad, but most of all I was excited. This would be the first time I went outside the country without my family, and really far away. 6,747 miles away to be exact. When I first arrived at Tokyo, Narita airport I was very happy because after a super long plane ride I had finally stepped foot in Japan. I didn’t know what was coming my way, but I already knew it was something amazing. What I didn’t know though was that in just one week of being in a whole new and different country I would learn so many things about it. I thought the best part would be the food, but that wasn’t it. I mean the food was delicious, don’t get me wrong, but I had so many fun and exciting experiences that I don’t even know what was the best part anymore.

The first day, we were introduced to Fujimoto San. And I tell you she was the best guide. She took us from Narita airport to a restaurant so we could eat dinner, and not just any dinner, my first ever dinner in Japan. It was delicious – a new flavor that I had never tried before. After everyone finished their delicious meal, we rode a bus to the hotel. The Grand Palace Hotel. While we were riding, I saw so many convenience stores and vending machines. I had heard there were a lot of them, but I never imagined that there were so many! It was like they were in every block.

Once we got to The Grand Palace Hotel, we were assigned rooms and roommates. And that’s where our Journey in Japan began. We went to so many different lectures. In the first lecture we learned the rules and expectations. After that lecture we were going to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for another one. There I learned that the constitution of Japan was actually influenced by the United States of America, I found that very interesting, because I didn’t know that. I also learned why Japan is a very safe country, they don’t use weapons like guns. In fact, article 9 of the Constitution renounces war and prohibits Japan from having Military Forces. That was shocking to me because I didn’t know about how their constitution was made or by who and when I learned that I was shocked.

After lectures we got on to do so many things. Our schedule would be really tight and we had to be mindful of how much time we had. Of the many things we did, one of them was to get in the Shinkansen to go to Gifu prefecture, where we would go to a school and later meet our Host Families. When we arrived at Gifu Prefecture we had 2 more guides. We went to another lecture to learn more about Gifu and I learned that every prefecture has something unique that lets them stand out from the others, and Gifu’s was Cormorant fishing. Basically they use Cormorant birds to catch fish. I found that interesting because normally the birds would eat the fish, but this was different. They were trained to not eat them.

Later we went to Gifu Sogo Gakuen High School, where I had so much fun. I think that’s the first time I actually had fun in a school. We watched and did so many club activities. This showed me that in Japan the students are very dedicated. At first I thought they would be stressed out because of studies and not really open, from what I had heard, but it was wrong. The students were so energetic and excited to have us there it was very cool. We watched the drum club play and it was amazing, they took it so serious. Then we also watched the calligraphy club, the archery club, and we not only watched, but we were given the opportunity to do it ourselves. I had so much fun. It was very sad that we had to part ways so soon. But I was excited that we would soon meet our host families.

Even though we would have partners, I was nervous. I was concerned about the language barrier. But when I met my dad I was so moved, because he was trying so hard to make sure that my partner and I understood what he was trying to say. It made we want to try even harder to learn Japanese. The hospitality was great, not only in my family but also at the school, stores, the hotel. Pretty much everywhere. I had so much fun and exciting moments that I will treasure them always. Overall the trip was phenomenal and I am so thankful for this opportunity that was given to me.


By Charity Chukwu (Japanese Plus)

Given the harsh social and political climate right now, it can be difficult to find positive things about the U.S. I often compare it to Japan, pondering how much better the U.S. would be if it were more like Japan. I was ashamed of my country, so I had the notion that some of the Japanese people would feel the same way.

I never would have imagined how many things Japan and America have in common. Tokyo looks so similar to Baltimore or another nearby city in my eyes that at one point I wondered when I would start to feel homesick. The rainy, overcast sky outside the Grand Palace Hotel was met with a kind of nonchalant serenity; it felt as if it were an everyday sight despite knowing I was in a completely different country! Not to mention that the Rainbow Bridge resembles the Key Bridge in Baltimore so much that it’s uncanny.

The trip also convinced me that America has a lot more respect from Japan than I previously thought. I have to admit, I worried too much about any mistakes I made in the way I presented myself. While we were visiting the high school in Ogaki City, one of the girls giving my group a tour reached out to feel the curls on my ponytail. She complimented me and asked if I braided my hair myself. I told her that my mom braided it for me, and the look of pure amazement on her face honestly made me blush. I was used to hearing how pretty girls from Japan are, so I jumped to the incorrect conclusion that I would somehow be deemed inferior in some shape or form.

It’s interesting how traveling to another country teaches you more about your own. Now, I try to learn about the U.S. with more ambition, just like I do when I learn about Japan.

A Visit from Mr. Tobias

Occasional writing from the Japanese I class at Columbia Heights Education Campus.

By Tim B

To help our class gain some perspective, Takahashi-sensei asked one of the staff members in the school to give a presentation to our class about his experiences with Japan. The staff member that came was Mr. Tobias, and he walked in dressed with a headband and a shirt that was gifted to him by his host family. Mr. Tobias is the technology coordinator for the school, and it is his job to organize the laptops and IPads in the building. He told us that he lived in Japan for a year while he was on a religious mission to teach English. Also, he recounted various stories about how daily life is different in Japan than in the United States. Later on, he ended his speech with how the experiences really shaped his life and his goals.

Mr. Tobias’ speech on Friday highlighted some really interesting things about Japan to me. One of the things that he told us about Japan was the advanced technology and cleanliness in the culture. He mentioned that department store bathrooms have stalls with water jets and blow dryers. He also mentioned that he felt safe enough in Japan to walk around late at night. Furthermore, one part of Japan that he loved specifically was that the technology there sometimes hadn’t even been released in America. Another important part was the respect that Japanese people show each other. The Japanese culture that Mr. Tobias described got me really interested and motivated in going to Japan someday.

Mr. Tobias’ presentation had a really positive impact on me. His presentation motivated me to travel and connect to people. Someone asked him, “Did you ever feel discriminated against in Japan for how you look?” He replied with a lesson, and said that “What people can see about you is only the tip of the iceberg; you have so much more about yourself that people will only ever know if they talk to you.” It really stuck with me, and I could relate since I am the only one that looks like me in my school. According to him, his experience with Japan working with people is the reason why he does what he does today. The time he spent working on learning a language and getting to know very different people shaped him and really had an impact on him. In conclusion, I hope that I can study hard and learn Japanese so that I can meet new people and find my passion just like Mr. Tobias.

Chidera’s KAKEHASHI Reflection

By Chidera Obiwuma (Japanese Plus)

First of all I would like to start this by expressing my appreciation to the Japanese Embassy, JICE, and everyone who helped and hosted us in Japan. This trip was my first time visiting Japan so I had a lot of expectations about Japan and for me, Japan was more amazing than I expected. I loved meeting the people, exploring the different cities and popular sites, looking at the beautiful scenery, and learning the history and current events about Japan.

To me this trip showed me the importance of developing more global awareness and exposing myself to people with different cultures from my own to develop an understanding of each other. Many aspects of the trip such as the high school exchange, homestay, and visits to temples and shrines helped me come to this realization. Before coming to Japan I thought that Japanese high school students were very different from American high school students, however, that was not the case. I saw that they were just like any normal high school student or teenager, cheerful and excited. The homestay was a very exciting part for me. It was nice to see how hospitable that Japanese people were. My host family took me into their home and made the homestay a very fun experience for me. I have always been a firm believer in not judging others because they are different from you racially, ethnically, religiously, etc. but this was furthered by my host family, especially my host mother. She treated me like I was one of her daughters and showed me many interesting things, like Ogaki castle, Myojorinji temple and making arts and crafts. Leaving them was difficult for me and I even cried when they left. I was so surprised because I didn’t realize that spending just one day with a person can impact you so much. Through my host family, I was able to get more insight on what a typical family in Japan was like.  I saw that in Japan family is very important in life and seeing my host family I think that it wasn’t so different from what I experience in America.

On the trip I learned a lot of things about Japan and the culture that helped me to understand Japanese culture and the reasons for certain things in the culture. Something interesting that I learned was that the statues in front of temples and shrines have specific positions for their mouth. The statue on the right always has its mouth open and the statue on the left closed, which symbolizes life and death, so walking through the temple or shrine is like walking through life. This made made me feel that Japanese culture is very thoughtful. The KAKEHASHI trip was an incredible trip and I will definitely want to return to Japan one day.

Bea’s KAKEHASHI Reflection

By Brynae Harrod (Japan in DC)

As much as I like to be back home in the United States, I’ve missed Japan. The trip was as I expected. It was a blast while I was there, learning a little bit of the language to get around, talking to the people, having culture shocks almost every day. Surprising myself, since I already had culture awareness. I’m glad I only embarrassed myself once, the memory of accidentally confusing a Japanese woman for one of my friends. I deeply apologized but I’m glad I was just as easily forgiven.

My most famed memory from being over in Japan had to be the way the Gifu prefecture fishes. It’s something I’ve seriously never heard of. Amazing how fishing in such a way was even possible – fishing by using birds as a host to capture the fish; no fishing nets, no rods or even a string. But instead, a rope being tied around the neck of a bird that can swim like a duck. The bird caught fishes themselves. But in order to stop the birds from swallowing the fish, the fishermen yanks the rope so the bird knows to not swallow the fish and instead give it back to the fishermen. I wasn’t able to see the fishing for myself but still just hearing it put to me was a surprise to how it even worked. Even more since our presenter didn’t know a lot of English, watching him explain what he’s saying with movements was very funny to watch. Although he looked silly while he explained, everyone was able to understand perfectly.

Harajuku would also be one of my famed memories while staying in Japan, I’ve never been much of a ‘fashionista’ but with Japan, especially in Harajuku, Tokyo, it was so normal to express yourself with the use of clothing. Goth, Kawaii, pop fashion, they had it all. Fashion is a very creative way I’ve seen people express who they are, and Japan has taken the trophy for it. Yami-kawaii being fairly new, has to be a great way of expressing the sad feelings of depression through their culture. I was told feelings like this have always been never talked about and viewed in such a negative way. With fashion, people are able to cope with those thoughts. I think of it as a beautiful way to express one’s thoughts without the use of traditional arts.

Juliana’s KAKEHASHI Reflection

By Juliana Franco (Japanese at CHEC)

My trip to Japan was a life changing experience. I got to see many phenomenal things I don’t see on a daily basis here in Washington, DC. Personally, this trip taught me a lot about self-respect, being healthy, taking care of myself and others, even if I don’t know them. Japan gave me the opportunity to get on the Shinkansen, which is also known as the bullet train. On our way from Tokyo to Gifu, while being in the bullet train, I got to see many different houses, some were small box houses and other were big houses. I also saw Mount Fuji while we were on the bullet train.

When we got to Gifu, the group of students and I got to go to Sogo High School and everyone was so nice and friendly to us. We received a warm welcome when we arrived at the high school. During our visit, we got to learn cool things like how to write calligraphy, how to play koto, which sounds like a guitar, and how to do archery. We also had very friendly tour guides to show us around the school. By the end of the school tour, we became really close friends with many of the students of Sogo High School. Unfortunately, we had to say goodbye and head our separate ways.

Another experience that taught me a lot about culture in Japan was the home stay. During my home stay with the Saka family, I was honored to be a part of their family and visit places like the Castle Museum, the 100 yen store, and I got to try ramen for the very first time with my homestay family. Japan was a really great and unique experience. I’ve made good friends, I’ve eaten foods I have never eaten before, and I visited many great places. Unfortunately, the trip was too short but I hope to visit Japan later on again in life.

Tyler’s KAKEHASHI Reflection

By Tyler Bailey (Japan in DC)

The recent trip to Japan, that was given to us as an opportunity to learn about its culture, was a blessing and so much fun! It had always been a dream of mine to travel there and see all that it gives. On the trip we ate a lot of delicious food, went to a lot of cities and shrines, learned about its history and its many businesses, and even had a homestay where we were able to see how it is living there. One of my favorites that I will always remember since going on the trip is finally getting to try on a kimono! While with my host family, I got the chance to try a kimono on for the first time. It was tighter than what I imagined it to be and a lot harder to move in, but it was still fun and really beautiful. They even took us to a shrine for pictures and showed us how to properly pray there. Another favorite from the trip is taking the Shinkansen (the bullet train). The ride on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Gifu Prefecture was really smooth, and lasted for only two hours! We got to see a lot of mountains while on the train, even being in the station was really cool. Its systems and the design of the trains and the station are way different than ones in Washington D.C.

I learned a lot of things while in Japan: new Japanese phrases, how to properly use chopsticks, how the currency over there was, and even learned that the U.S. took part in creating the Japanese constitution! This trip to Japan has changed my perspective on a lot of things, and also gave me some light on what I may want to do in the near future, studying abroad-wise. I’m very grateful to have gone on this trip and I would go again in a heartbeat if given the chance.

Maria’s KAKEHASHI Reflection

By Maria Garcia (Japan in DC)

The trip to Japan was truly a life changing experience for me. I was able to embrace so many new things, things that I had only ever heard about. Some of those things I learned I still use to this day. Before every meal, I make sure to use the phrase “itadakimasu,” which was a way of saying thank you for everything that leads to the moment we have and the food we have with us. I love the bathrooms, not just the heated seats, but the fact that we were able to use squat toilets. Last year at this time, I had no clue toilets like that actually existed. But today, thanks to the KAKEHASHI Project, I am able to look at life in a more appreciative way. At school, all of my friends are happy I was able to go to Japan. In the stories I have told them about my adventure in Japan, I include something valuable that I will always remember. The food was amazing (it was new) and really delicious. I loved the fact that no matter your status everyone was treated the same, and as foreigners they treated us the same (it was really cool).

The most amazing thing to me was the culture, because I had only heard of it and even though I hadn’t embraced it, I was mesmerized in the little I had heard. Now, actually being in Japan, was an eye opener, because I was able to see kids my age excited to teach me all that they could. At some times, such as the homestay when language was a problem, I would open my little blue book and try to at least pronounce each word I wanted to make a sentence. It didn’t work all the time, but at least I tried, and my host mom would be very confused, but was very patient. She would try her best to teach me new words and I would try my best to remember them. When we were back with the group, I realized how crucial it was for me to try and speak more.

I didn’t want to leave, and still wish to be there, but the trip soon came to end. I never cried during the trip, but when we were on the plane, I realized we were leaving and I was leaving something very special. All the connections I made along the way, especially Ms. Fujimoto, were part of my family and having to leave was the hardest for me. That is why I am thankful for the opportunity I was given because it gave me so much.

Tara’s KAKEHASHI Reflection

By Tara Martin (Japanese Plus; Japan in DC)

The KAKEHASHI trip was extremely impactful on me and my personality. I think it was the best way that i’ve been able to experience and deepen my understanding of Japanese culture. One of my favorite parts of the exchange trip was going to Kidochen, a sweet shop in Ogaki City. I was really looking forward to this because my family (my aunt and my mother especially) are amazing bakers and I really love sweets. I found the process of making the different flower mochi very fun. It also made me pay attention to detail and be very patient with the process, because rushing it would make it look nothing like the examples the chef made. It was a great way for me to learn an underlying cultural aspect of Japanese culture and appreciate my work.

My other favorite was the homestay. I think it was the best way for me to really experience Japanese culture that I already heard about. It was helpful for me to really understand how these practices influence daily living. It’s one thing to hear about how you live in Japan versus actually experiencing it. I had known before that you shower before you get in a bath and the bath is only for soaking, but what I didn’t realize was just how cold the shower water was. It definitely made the warm bath feel amazing. I also really enjoyed sleeping in a futon because it was really warm and cozy; also because my host family had no central heating, so I was freezing most of the time. They also fed us different foods than the program did, which helped me try new things. This really meant a lot to me because throughout this entire trip I was able to meet new people and get a new experience and it changed me.

I realized just how different Japanese culture is from American culture, especially the small things like shoes (high tops seem like a great idea until you have to keep relacing them every time you take them off). Going on the KAKEHASHI trip also made me even more aware of the Japanese and American relationship. I definitely want to go back to Japan and have more time for sightseeing, and somehow make it for the 2020 Olympics.

Jeff’s KAKEHASHI Reflection

By Jeff Jenkins (Japanese Plus)

I must say that the program was marvelous, and I enjoyed every moment of it. From the people that I met and the things that I was able to experience, especially the homestay and the Gifu High School visit. I find it amazing how traditional Japan remains, while other countries are rushing to new advancements and technology, forgetting their cultural roots. The High School that we visited was a great example, because they had clubs for Japanese calligraphy, Japanese archery and Kumi daiko (traditional Japanese drums). It is amazing that teenagers can participate in more old-fashioned clubs, instead of just track and field, football and basketball. It’s awesome to know that they have a larger variety of activities to choose from for their afterschool activities, something I wish we had in America.

Being able to communicate with Japanese people in Japanese was super fun and it showed that I had come a long way from the last time that I had visited Japan, which was in the summer of 2016. Possessing the ability to read and communicate in Japanese filled me with me self-gratification and I couldn’t be any happier about it! Especially during my stay with my host family, I could convey my ideas to them and we could hold conversations with each other making our time together much enjoyable. I must say that it was quite interesting switching from Japanese and English, I remember quite clearly that I said the phrase “sumimasen” to both Japanese and English speakers one too many times, as if it was instinctively. The Japanese classes I have been taking for a year in a half truly paid off, and I’m thankful to my sensei and my Japanese Director for allowing me to see how much I’ve truly grown and gained a deeper perspective on Japan – specifically, their “Constitution,” which was crafted by the United States of America after WWII.

I had known that our relationship with Japan had been deep since WWII, however I never knew that we constructed a constitution that stops them from declaring war or going to battle with anyone. This was truly shocking to me, because I had always thought of the constitution as something that would only be used in America, not across the world. I only knew the tip of the iceberg when it came the relationship of Japan and America, but after my trip, I understood that it goes a lot deeper than we may know.