Che’s Reflection on Our Kakehashi Visits

By Chetachukwu Obiwuma

The Kakehashi visits in Japanese class were very insightful and caused a complete paradigm shift in my view of Japanese students. The idea proliferated by popular media dramatizes the true life of Japanese students. To understand the lives of Japanese students, you must first know if they live in rural or urban Japan. Rural high schools are more isolated and tightknit, but there was an eagerness we witnessed that did not necessarily apply to the urban group. Especially one of the girls, she was very adamant about us visiting Okinawa. They really were curious about the differences between us as students and asked a lot of questions about our daily lives at school. When explaining their daily lives, there were many more stark differences than what you would normally see in an anime.

In anime, you see a lot of kids in their uniforms, and of course, the women are hypersexualized while the men are made to look suspiciously grown up. This was not the case for the urban or rural students. While the girl from Okinawa did have some similarities to Sailor Moon, her uniform was not as depicted in anime. Also, some of the urban kids were in college and had no uniform policy. Another thing that I was surprised to see was that the rhetoric between students was not as formal as shown on anime.

Also, animes dramatize participants in clubs or bukatsu. For example, the anime Haikyuu makes volleyball seem so intense. Even looking at the anime Free, swimmers are shown as intense grown ups rather than teens. It is starkly different in real life. The level of intensity and dedication to sports differentiates between everyone. During one of the Kakehashi visits, there was one girl who said she played three sports, and there was another who played none at all. It was wonderfully enlightening to see the variation of club activity, with one person even giving us a martial arts display.

The conversations that we had with the students were not what I expected. We quickly bonded and talked about many things that happened in our daily lives. Although there were some language barriers, we tried to talk in Japanese and they also practiced their English. The importance of Kakehashi visits are not only to travel and make new friends, but to also dismantle assumptions made about a culture based on media portrayal.

Tomodachi Means Friend

By Chetachukwu Obiwuma

I’ve never really been someone who thinks that school relationships can exist outside of school. It’s just for me, I don’t truly see how people can interact with each other outside of school. It is small-minded of me to say that but I have become accustomed to schedules that don’t involve things like hanging out with friends.

However, at the Sakura Matsuri, friends were what made it the most memorable. I invited some of my school friends to the festival since I was working a booth, but I didn’t really expect them to interact with me at all. I was shocked when they told me that they were waiting by my booth. It was fun to watch them attempt to draw for our community quilt.

After meeting up, we roamed the anime section of the festival. I bought a button and my friend bought the opposite of me. Food was shared and even when I had to get back to my shift, they waited for me and we all went home together.

Also, at the booth, my Japanese class friends made it more lively. Joking while trying to draw the crowd in with our cute mascot. All in all, for my first festival experience, I loved it.

Taiko Drumming

By Chetachukwu Obiwuma

On March 23, the Smithsonian American Art Museum held a small festival in correlation with the start of the Cherry Blossom Festival. In all my time in DC, I have never participated in the Cherry Blossom Festival and this was the first time that I was able to enjoy such a wonderful event. Now, in the American Art Museum, the attractions were mainly geared towards kids, like face painting and making cherry blossom trees from tissue paper and rolls of toilet paper.

However, they also had performances that had already drawn a large adult crowd when I arrived at the event. On the schedule, it showed that the taiko drummers were going to be on at about 2:30 so I roamed the halls of the art museum, waiting for the sound of the drum.

After my roaming, I came back to the mini-festival much earlier than expected and I was able to catch another equally intriguing performance. With an accompaniment of the bamboo flute, I was able to watch three women play the koto, a Japanese string instrument. The tranquility of the koto mixed with melodic movements of the arms of the women playing just kept me invested in the instrument.

However, the beautiful koto did not last as long as the taiko players had just come back. Before the performance, I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t even know how the drum sounded. As the group got ready, I tried to find a good seat up in the front. Then, the performance started. The drums had a low deep vibrating sound but the high paced movements within the performance is what really drew me in. People swung around one drum, flowing in and out of the beat being played by the ensemble behind them. There was shouting and people jumping off the stage. All of these interactive pieces kept me drawn until the last second of the show. The use of both dance and music in such a way was astounding for me.

I suggest everyone go to the Smithsonian American Art Museum to see the taiko drummers whenever the cherry blossoms are in season. The family fun of how child-oriented the festival is gives a bonus to the already magnifique performances enlisted to capture the crowd. If you missed this gathering, please consider other Cherry Blossom Festival activities being done all around DC. The taiko drumming made my first Cherry Blossom season the best one yet and I can’t wait to participate next year.

Why you should consider ICU

By Chetachukwu Obiwuma

Today, a Japanese university visited us. Now, this didn’t really pique my interest as I had already shot down the idea of going to a college in any other country besides the United States. However, the International Christian University (ICU) made a really powerful presentation to me that sparked my interest in what is outside colleges in the US.

First, the tuition! America’s tuition rates are enough to make anyone cry, but ICU blew me away. When they announced that they were a private university, I expected ~$40,000. I first saw the value in yen and shook with horror until they converted it to US dollars. Tuition is about 12,900! That’s less than half the tuition of most of the colleges that I want to go to. There obviously are other fees like living costs and a matriculation fee, but financial aid is offered to curb tuition fees so that you can pay these other fees.

Then came the student activities. One thing I am very passionate about is being your own advocate. I love when students are given the opportunity to show their responsibility and that is exactly when ICU does. All of their clubs were completely established by students and they offer a wide range of clubs from athletics to things like Large Jazz Ensemble. I saw that they didn’t have a volleyball club and I do hope that someone in the future starts one. But the idea of having student led clubs allows for people to interact more as you don’t have to be good to get in, you only have to be interested.

Finally, when they talked about what happens after students graduate, I was in awe. Employment in Japan is pretty much guaranteed as the government has established a well organized system that works with companies to help students find jobs after college. In America, many people don’t know what to do after college and are left to fend for themselves. This system of aid ensured that about 75% of the graduating class in 2017 were already employed as they left college. This system makes you very hopeful as you have to worry less about if you will have any future successes in finding a job as they allow you to find something that correlates with your degree.

These three things stood out to me very much, but there were also small things like universal healthcare that is offered to international students and the diverse religious denominations that ensure that the ‘Christian’ in ICU does not dictate the school’s stance on what your practicing religion should be. It showed me that there are better options outside American schooling that should be looked into.

For the organization that spoke to us, the Japan ICU Foundation, they can be found at They offer a scholarship that offers full tuition to ICU and I hope that more people are inclined to sign up. As for me, it is not an option for personal reasons, but I still would love to know that other people will be educated about this opportunity after reading this blog.


By Chetachukwu Obiwuma

During the Japanese Plus program, many opportunities are given to us to learn about or pursue our interest in Japanese culture outside of class. One of these opportunities was a haiku competition, sponsored by the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District, that was meant to serve as a celebration of “Spring in the City.”

Here’s the announcement:

The competition piqued my interest as writing is a hobby of mine. However, before I could even think about competing in the program, I first needed to learn more about haikus.

Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry in which 17 syllables are organized in lines of 5-7-5. Haiku originates from the hokku which is the opening part of renga, another Japanese writing style that was delivered orally and typically had about 100 stanzas. 1 Haiku gained popularity in the Western Hemisphere as European authors began to translate Japanese works.

Many famous Japanese haiku writers like Issa, Basho and Buson have developed the writing style to become more distinct 1. With these popular artist, haiku became even more prolific in word choice and diction. The translation of their works have given us insight into the literary richness ingrained in this writing style. The subtle talks of nature or the ability to create ominous moods using five syllables only furthers the great impact that haiku has had on western literature.

For me, haikus are quite peculiar. As poetry is a way to express yourself, it seems that sometimes you can’t stop sharing and sometimes you have nothing to say at all. Through me trying to enter a haiku competition, I’ve found the use of the 17 syllable limitation to be quite freeing. It stops the problem of oversharing or having nothing to talk about at all. It gives you a set limit and does not make you want to drag on your feelings. The format of a haiku gives a form of freedom through its selected format.

This is a short haiku written by me.

Bringing Shivers
Shivers down my spine
Aching all time while your
Eyes send out shivers


1“Haiku (or Hokku).” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation,

Sharing appreciation

Before winter break, we asked students to take time to express appreciation or recognize the accomplishments of one or two of their Japanese Plus classmates. The results:

Angel: Asa, thanks for always having a smile on your face. It’s really nice talking to you. You make the learning environment brighter.

Maria: I like how Angel tries hard and takes lead of our group. I also appreciate how both Carlos and Luis did the performance the other day alone.

Cyrus: I like hearing Alexx and Theo’s Japanese, because it sounds close to what I’ve heard in media.

Asa: I’m thankful for the encouragement of Lucca for helping me practice and also Che for being the person to help lighten the mood and make me laugh.

Chetachukwu: Carlos is a nice and funny person. It is really helpful and helps me grow educationally. Asa is a funny soul and I like her skirts.

Alexx: I’d like to thank Che for always being on point. She did a lot for our group and was really responsible. I’m glad I have her in my group. I’m also thankful for Gabe who always works really hard. He inspires me to push myself even harder.

Gabe: Jonah, keeping the class always positive and giving heartfelt thanks to visitors. Alexx, for helping a ton in my group, especially during the skit.

Jazmin: I would like to thank Theo and Elena for helping me a lot when learning my katakana. They always make me laugh, and I’m glad to have them in my group.

Katie: I’m really happy that Asa is here with me since she told me about this program and that she’s been with me this whole entire time, even if I am annoying to her. I’m also really happy that Jazmin is here since I can ask her about Japan since she has been there and that she is someone I know who can be there for me.

Jonah: Carlos is very optimistic and a good friend always willing to help. Kenny seems to always want to learn and never bummed and is fun.

Arjernae: I’m proud of Alayshia for being dedicated and not quitting even with people telling her to. I’m proud of Cyrus because he’s one of the few people I see and he acknowledges me when I come to class. Also he’s becoming more open and not as shy as he was in the beginning.

Theo: Jazmin is a very hard worker and I really respect her drive. Alexx has a strong grasp on the language and I find her very impressive in general.

What are you most proud of?

Before winter break, we asked our Japanese Plus students to reflect on their time in the program so far, and to share what they felt most proud of. Here are they answers:

Angel: I’m proud of the onigiri that I made and improving in katakana.

Maria: I am most proud of the self-introductions we have learned.

Cyrus: I guess just being able to talk to new people and not be a complete mess.

Asa: I’m most proud of me mastering katakana but mostly gaining more courage to speak out and meet new people.

Che: The fact that I memorized all my katakana. I know most of my combinations.

Alexx: I’m most proud of my speaking abilities in terms of public speaking. I’m not very good at speaking loud and clear, so I’ve been really happy with how far I’ve come.

Gabe: I went from knowing one Japanese word to being able to introduce myself and knowing katakana.

Jazmin: I’m most proud of my speaking skills, because I’ve improved a lot since the last time Eshita sensei taught me some phrases when I was in “Japan in DC.”

Katie: I’m really proud that we finished learning katakana and mastering it. I really thought it would take a long time to learn.

Jonah: Learning katakana and meeting with new people.

Arjernae: Learning basic Japanese is what I am most proud of (katakana, introduction, writing).

Theo: Probably the feeling of mastery over a different alphabetical system to the point that I recognize meaning relatively quickly.

Japanese in my life

By Chetachukwu Obiwuma

There are small things here and there that are truly needed when learning a language. One of them is immersion. There needs to be a healthy amount of the language included in your life. One of the ways I do that is through anime. Of course, there are differences when it comes to anime and Japanese in real life, but when you recognize a phrase that a character used or read a sign in katakana, there is a sense of pride. It’s not very large but it makes learning more worth it. To see it being applied in your reality, and for you to understand it, shows great progress and allows for you to feel more motivated to learn more.

Learning how to walk in Japanese

By Chetachukwu Obiwuma

This past class, we met a wonderful woman named Shanti Shoji. Shanti was there to talk to us about her non-profit, Kizuna Across Cultures, which she co-founded based on her interest in Japanese in her younger years. Kizuna Across Cultures is a program that connects Japanese classes with American classes in order to facilitate cross cultural interactions and support language learning. The program lasts for six months and the bridges built create more ingenuity on understanding Japanese language. For more on the organization, please refer to this URL:

I was not really interested starting out, but as Shanti gave us background of how she got into the organization, I was astounded. There were so many references to Japanese resources which still exist today, that we can use in our pursuits within the Japanese language. She mentioned the JET program, which is an exchange program where English speakers can teach English in Japanese schools for a year; the JICC, the cultural center for the Japanese Embassy in the U.S.; and her gap year in college to intern with another Japanese organization. The instances she gave us to show her journey in the Japanese language showed us the level to aspire for in our own individual pursuits of mastery in Japanese.

Meeting with Shanti is something that I feel like was very important for people studying Japanese, because it gives something to look forward to. All the opportunities that came for Shanti that were associated with her abilities in the Japanese language give hope to some people who don’t feel that pursuing language studies is solid enough for a career. Even if it has nothing to do with language careers, Shanti stands to serve as a way of telling people to become more serious about things like your communal environment.

Shanti talked about growing up in a community that had a significant Japanese population and how it became entrenched in her before she even started studying Japanese. She sets a precedent about language studies that more students need to be aware of. How can your studies serve as a potential bridge in the community? This does not require that you be the pillar of engagement in your community but that as an individual, you become more aware of the impact you can have in community. Become a more uniting force through the Japanese language. Take what you have learned out into the world and link more people together in order to promote unifying diversity. Let our differences make us allies and not enemies. Join with your two hands and fortify it so that it never breaks apart. Be like Shanti and learn to be an impactful individual through cultural immersion studies, such as the Japanese Plus program.

Getting Started

By Chetachukwu Obiwuma

My first ever Japanese class was not like what I thought it would be. I wasn’t hoping for magic or the surge of knowledge about the Japanese language to hit me, but I’m not a people person. I do have a close knit group of people that I love to talk to but this is a class full of people from other schools in DC. I thought that I was only going to talk to the people from Banneker and that would be it.

However, from when I first got into the class to the end, the atmosphere was so welcoming. We sat in groups of four and two of the people at my table were not from Banneker. It’s never really been easy for me to interact with people, but Japanese class has a vibe that facilitates natural interactions. Through the use of interactive activities during the language portion and discussion during the cultural proportion, I was able to easily talk to students at my table and in the class. The need for interaction, especially in language classes, I feel is largely overlooked. Conversations are more likely to be remembered more than a worksheet. Drilling can work with some children but not everyone learns the same, and to include interactions to facilitate learning allows for a much more open classroom.

The atmosphere of the Japanese class is something that I really do like and pushes me to strive for success in my Japanese language studies. I hope that through my interactions in Japanese class, I am able to learn more about the Japanese language and culture. I also hope that I am able to gain a wider global perspective through this class.