By Felipe Lemos
On March 25th, I was able to join my peers in the Japanese Plus Program in an exchange with a group of Japanese students from Okinawa, visiting DC through a KAKEHASHI Exchange program called TOFU (Think of Okinawa’s Future in the United States). This was the third group of KAKEHASHI students I met with as a part of Japanese Plus, so I was already a bit used to these exchanges and felt ready. At first, we all went into a room and sat down at 4-person tables with 2 Japanese and 2 American students. We introduced ourselves and I was the youngest one at the table being 15. We asked each other some questions we had to pick out of a cup which gave me an opportunity for some Japanese practice. As I started talking it got easier to communicate and the nervousness I had vanished. However, we almost always communicated in English because like in the other exchanges, their English is miles better than my Japanese. But in the end, I enjoyed the exchange more than I thought I would going in.
We also learned more about Okinawan history and culture through the presentations the students showed us. I thought there would be some repeated information from the last group of students from Okinawa but I was surprised to see very little that I had already learned. The most interesting thing to me was the American influence and presence on the island. They told us that 80% of their town was a US military base which is unreal. They also showcased the dialect of Japanese that was from there that had some influence from English, like adding -er to the end of words to make it someone who is that word. They even use American brands as the words for some objects like using Pampers as a word for diapers.
I liked the experience overall and while there were some embarrassing parts for me, like having to teach another group of students the Cha-Cha Slide, I hope that we can do more exchanges in the future of this program, because getting to know these students and talking to them helps us improve our Japanese and our knowledge of the culture of Japan.