Womenomics? Good or Bad?

By Chi Onyeka

Womenomics was established and coined by Emperor Shinzo Abe to help get Japan’s female population more into working. However, problems that women experience while working, especially in an area with a mostly male connotation, are unequal pay and harassment. This is part of the reasons some Japanese citizens are saying that womenomics isn’t exactly helpful.

For me as a female, of course, I’m in agreement with women in the workforce. Japan is a very egalitarian country, but it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that after some women give birth, they leave their jobs and become a stay at home mom. It’s not exactly mind boggling to me because history tells us that women haven’t even been in the workforce until the modern period (1750-1900), which is pretty late, considering how long humans have been around. I’m very appreciative that women are taking a stance in the economy worldwide, but it was a little surprising to me to find out that women after childbirth serve their traditional roles as wives.


Chi’s Photo

In this image, the class is singing “Otanjobi Omedeto” which means “Happy Birthday” to Bryson, whose birthday was on the first day of Japanese Plus year 2. This image displays our unity and love for each other. Togetherness is a prevalent aspect of Japanese Plus that I value.

Chi Onyeka

An engaging exchange

By Chi Onyeka

You would think in my experience, after a trip to Japan, I’d be less anxious meeting my Japanese peers. That was not the case at all. I was still the same anxious bubble that was popped after a while.

The class started off normal with a lesson from the lovely Eshita-sensei, then Sally got a call. I could see the students making their way to the science classroom we would later meet in and then came the anxiety. Luckily we had a days-of-the-month song which relieved the anxiety a little when we sang its catchy tune twice. Going into the science room, aw man. Lots of butterflies.

We got the opportunity to sit in the front and enjoy the presentations from the Japanese high school students from Okinawa. We learned about their high school (which made me jealous in comparison to my school), the Okinawa culture, pop culture and more. We had discussions in both Japanese and English. Both conversations were steady going, until we had to ask for assurance from our peers. I believe my anxiety was lifted when we played concentration with numerous topics to choose from. Once I realized through this game that no one is subject to perfection, it was a lot easier for me to communicate. Sadly, this game came after the conversations, which would have been less awkward had it not been for my anxiety.

Teaching the Cha Cha Slide was definitely fun for me. I have a bit of an extroverted side of me that loves to dance, so when we were dancing with the Japanese students, I was finally the normal Chi that talks too much with anyone. So seeing all 33 of the students (Japanese and American) dance to one of my favorite dances at parties enabled me to finally express myself.

Meeting with the Japanese students at Z-Burger was a less formal exchange to me. I was able to converse with some more students over a bunch of fries and a massive hamburger. We were more able to talk about our personal lives, not anything deep, but things like how many pets would they get or do they have. I like the Z-Burger exchange a lot because now since my brain thought “Ha! What’s an anxiety?” it was a lot easier for me to socialize, not only on the way to Z-Burger but at Z-Burger as well.

This Kakehashi exchange was another memory I will store forever in my memories of Japanese Plus, because it enhanced my global engagement not only with people from the other side of the world, but these people were my peers so it was a lot easier to converse with them.

Hip Hop Dancer at the Kennedy Center

By Chi Onyeka

When we went to the Kennedy Center on Wednesday, October 18th we received a talk from Kazu Kumagai (the tap dancer we later saw perform) and Reiko Sudo (the designer for Fantasy in Japan Blue, featured in the Kennedy Center Hall of States). After the discussions, we then had dinner and watched performances from Kazu Kumagai and Yumi Kurosawa, a koto player.

During Ms. Kurosawa’s performance, I was left in curiosity about the instrument she was playing, the koto. I wondered how she interacted with the strings to make such clean, quick, repetitive sounds. After the first two songs, Virgil Gadson was introduced as her hip-hop dancing partner. When she said that he was a hip hop dancer, I was excited to see how it would turn out, because I listen to rap so it was interesting to think of how he would incorporate his dance into her music. Watching him dance seemed really engaging to me. The way he moved around the stage, he was very intact with his balance, as he could put himself into poses that would require an immense amount of focus on one part of the body, say the forearm. I realized that he kept his tempo in sync with the tempo of the koto player, making it easier to follow him and the music as well.

I also liked trying to figure out what message he was trying to convey, or was he just going with the flow? In the end, I loved how he interacted with the koto player, kind of breaking the fourth wall in a way. The two made it seem like they weren’t working on their parts separately, as with this small little section when he changed the direction of Ms. Kurosawa’s focus to an imaginary apple tree, as if playing charades because he didn’t speak. He ended his portion of the performance by making reference to this episode and pulling what seemed to be an apple out of his jacket.

As a person who can’t dance, or at least has no rhythm, I was just star struck and surprised after he finished, because I was expecting him to do sort of stereotypical hip-hop moves, like two-steps, three-steps, I was imagining him touching his toes with one of his hands pressed firmly against the ground with a boombox beside him, but his dance was more like ballet to a beat. I could sense that he had experience in ballet, judging by how flexible he was, and how fluid his movements were, and how he could easily shift where he put his balance.

Watching the performances at the Kennedy Center gave me a sense of intercultural appreciation. I thought maybe I would just see one Japanese tap-dancer on  the stage tapping his toes as fast and rhythmic as he can and a gorgeous koto player, stringing her heart out, both by themselves. But both performances were very diverse. One of my favorite performers was  Alex Blake who played the bass during Kazu Kumagai’s tap dance. I loved how dedicated he was, almost falling out of his chair at one point (a point that admittedly made me giggle), showing his enthusiasm.

My first time at the Kennedy Center, will be something I’ll always remember, reminiscing about the enjoyment I experienced watching these performances.

Chi’s Sakura Matsuri

By Chi Onyeka

Cherry blossoms are trees that bloom once a year that were gifted to the U.S from Japan in 1910 as a symbol of friendship between the two countries. They (sadly) all died at first, because it was unknown how to take care of them, but later in 1912, more trees were gifted to the United States and were better taken care of. Now, in DC, we annually celebrate the blooming of the cherry blossoms in spring from their peaks until after the time their petals gracefully fall. There is another festival in DC dedicated to serve the same purpose, except organizations and different programs involved with Japanese culture get to gain awareness and if an organization gets lucky, someone might become a donor. There’s also other booths that are just for fun and music from J-Pop bands as well as traditional Japanese dances. This festival is called the Sakura Matsuri, which I had the pleasure to attend this year with Globalize DC.

I arrived at the festival around 7-8:30 in the morning with Ms. Sally and met two other students there. From there we set up and discussed about how we were going to address the wind issue since our tent activities were primarily paper-based whether it be coloring sheets or papers providing more information about the Japanese Plus program. We ultimately decided that we would use water bottles to set on top of the papers. Though it wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing, it was helpful even though at some times during the day the wind was so strong it knocked the bottles over and papers ended up flying anyway. Once we finished setting up the tent, we began to explore the festival before people were let in. Since 10:00 (when people started to enter the festival) until 2:00 (when my shift ended) I was primarily tasked to draw people to the tent, take a picture of people with puni puni, explain the meaning behind puni puni’s name and to provide more insight to people about our program. I’ve seen many interesting people in doing so, and the hardest part was coping with rejection, because a lot of people were blunt and said “No” off the bat, then others (the majority) said things like “I’ll come back later” or “Not right now” which was easier to accept.

Before the Sakura Matsuri, we spent a lot of time in class deciding what we were going to do for the children that happen to encounter our booth. My group had the idea of teaching participants five different types of sushi then playing a matching game and those who remembered the most types of sushi got a booklet with pictures of the sushi, the name in romanji, as well as the name in hiragana/katakana. When it came time to run the booth during the festival 90% of children were drawn to the coloring section and most people who came to participate in our activity were adults interested in our program. Many people were excited to receive the booklets, but I didn’t give out all that I made. When I finished running the sushi activity, my shift ended so it was time to go explore.

So, the first thing I did once I was free was to go see what music they were playing and it was really interesting how it wasn’t just traditional songs or J-Pop. There was dancing and we even played and interactive game with the host (It was pretty much “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in Japanese). Then I roamed around a little bit to see what other activities they had with friends. There were so many things that I wanted to buy I didn’t have the money for them because I made the horrible decision to blow $9 on ramune, leaving me with $2 left :(. There was also a Karuta booth. I had never played karuta before so I was rendered clueless throughout the whole thing asking things like “wait, what?” or “what do I do now?” pretty often. I beat two other people playing (surprisingly) and was up against a girl who spoke Japanese and read hiragana like lightning. I was kind of intimidated, but I was still optimistic. If you wanted to know, I got 2/10 cards and she got the rest. It was still surprising to me that I got similar to 2nd place, having never played Karuta before. It was fun. We also ventured to other booths where they had really cool things like optical illusions through mirrors and coloring! Excuse me, I really like coloring. I got a Ponyo mask and boy am I happy to have it! We also saw anime booths that had merchandise for one of my favorite animes but once again, I only had $2 so I sadly walked away from the anime booths.

It was high time to leave around 6:00 so on they way home I discussed the best encounters with people I made with my transit buddy. We talked about how useful the experience was in terms of exposure to Japanese culture as there were SO many activities to do regarding Japanese culture. We both loved it, both our time in the booth, and our time roaming elsewhere in the festival. If I had the opportunity next year, I would definitely clear my schedule to come again. As well as bring a lot more money next time.

Our (sort of) class trip to Sakuramen

By Chi Onyeka

For starters, I wasn’t able to go to Tono Sushi because my school forced me to be there on the one Saturday that I would be able to go to a ramen shop for the first time, with the rest of the class. I know. Sucks right? On the brighter side of things, Sally, our program coordinator, offered a complimentary class trip to a ramen restaurant near our class. I was too excited to hear this news, but some of the students didn’t come, making it a sort of class trip.

So we didn’t go to the ramen shop right away. We stopped by Hana (はな) market and picked up things we would need for our Sakura matsuri, or cherry blossom festival booth. While in there, I got to explore and see more of what they have and asked the lovely Eshita-sensei, our Japanese teacher, to help me figure out what items were that were written in kanji. Then.. I came up with the idea that I should ask the cashier where the seaweed was in Japanese. So with the help of Eshita-sensei, I found out how to say seaweed in Japanese and proceeded to the cashier’s desk. I knew I wasn’t in the wrong for this because I’ve heard the employees there speaking Japanese among themselves, so it wasn’t like I was assuming their nationality by speaking Japanese instead of English. And it worked! She showed me where the seaweed was and I looked at the prices and were pretty satisfied since I’m currently planning to make my own onigiri once I get the money (and time) to do so. When we were leaving, Eshita-sensei gave us all newspapers in Japanese. After Hana market, we walked to the ramen shop called: Sakuramen.

Once we got to Sakuramen, we stood outside for a bit, waiting for seats suitable for all of us. We were told to go in and examine the place just to get a look of what we might have to experience, being in the ramen shop. I got to go in first and I noticed that there were mainly people in groups of three or four and the music was fairly loud. And if I’m remembering correctly, the bottom half was dimly lit but it suure did smell good in there! Because we were a large group of people, we ate on the upper half where it was quieter and less crowded. The music was faint and we all got a pretty decent time to order. I ordered gojiramen which was pork, bamboo, onion sprouts, and a thick noodle all drenched in chicken broth. It was very very good and I’d definitely revisit on my own or with a friend. On the way home, when I told my mom what was in the ramen bowl, she was so surprised that I ate bamboo and asked all these questions along with telling me to google nutritious facts about bamboo just to know how healthy bamboo is (yeah, my mom hovers over my diet like that). The thing is, there are so many species of bamboo and I didn’t know which one I ate so I couldn’t just google bamboo and find out “hey! It has a lot of calcium” or something like that, so to calm her down, I told her that bamboo is a multipurpose plant, that I’m pretty sure is good for you.

The trip to Sakuramen was definitely a memorable experience as it was my first time going to a ramen shop. Of course the whole class didn’t go, and I couldn’t order in Japanese, it wasn’t make it as memorable as Tono Sushi would have been, but it made up for my absence. And since the ramen was very oishii, it was totally worth the experience and I would definitely do it again.

So what’s religion like in Japan vs the US?

By Chi Onyeka

So I was born and raised to be an avid Christian and I remember getting into an argument about whether God was alive or not in the 5th grade. Here nowadays, you can’t do that because people are sensitive about things like that, hence the reason why you’re not supposed to talk about religion in public. It’s not at all that the US isn’t religiously diverse, it’s just that there are so many strong opinions developed about religion in the US that people prefer not to be so open about their religion. For instance, you wouldn’t see someone openly saying the grace at a restaurant or blabbing about atheism, because they wouldn’t want someone to get offended. Religion isn’t really applied to the daily life unless you attend or reside in a place that identifies strictly as one religion.

In Japan, on the other hand, people don’t really identify as one religion; they merge different aspects of each religion into their daily lives. The main religions practiced in Japan are Buddhism, Shintoism, and Confucianism. Some people even practice two religions at the same time! But Chi, what do you mean by they apply religion to their daily lives? Well reader, here’s what I mean. Take itadakimasu, for example. Itadakimasu is the practice of saying thanks before a meal to the gods and everyone who contributed to making the meal. If you’re about to eat a nice warm bowl of miso shiru at the most popular restaurant in Tokyo and you say “Itadakimasu!,” no one would give you side eye because that’s a part of their culture and you’d probably get more side eye not saying it anyway. That’s what I mean.

In conclusion, there’s definitely more than one religion in both the US and Japan. It’s just the portrayal of religion in Japan would be more open and common because it’s normal to be a Buddhist in the morning and a Confucist in the evening. Whereas, in the U.S, that kind of stuff is rare because we follow mainly monotheistic religions that tell us to not bow down before another God, so if a Christian says “God Bless you” to a Muslim..that might be seen as a problem. So in the US and Japan religious diversity is handled differently.


By Chi Onyeka

Iki is the concept of doing well, but not in an effort to stand out. For instance, comparing two rich men, the one who wears expensive clothing with the biggest house, the most security guards, and the shiniest shoes, would be less iki than a rich man who doesn’t show off his money, but is still doing well…maybe even more than the aforementioned rich man.

This is completely different from the American perspective, because here we strive to stand out and are admired when we do. For example, take the rich man scenario. The man with most expensive items (bling if you will) would be admired more than the one who’s modest. Iki is a concept I admire because it demotes conceitedness. Braggarts are more common in American society because they seek admiration without thinking of how cocky they might sound. Iki would be a good thing to introduce into American culture just so that no one feels less important than another.

How we developed our puni-puni values

By Chi Onyeka

One faithful Saturday, Sally-sensei gave us the task of finding characteristics that we should utilize in order to make this program successful. First what we had to do was in our table groups determine our character values. Then as a whole group, we said the words that were discussed in our table groups, and we had MUCH more words than the 12 that are displayed on the website. We decided that there were too any words, so we decided to choose the strongest synonyms of each. It was a two-class process, but in the end, we came up with and try our best to follow these twelve words:

  • Open-mindedness
  • Respect
  • Patience
  • Dedication
  • Empathy
  • Collaboration
  • Responsibility
  • Honesty
  • Curiosity
  • Equity
  • Communication
  • Application

The Bingata Festival

By Chidera Onyeka

As students in the Japanese Plus program, we get a lot of opportunities to experience Japanese culture through festivals. One I attended was the Bingata festival. Bingata is the traditional art of dyeing cloth. It’s a time consuming process in which a special paint is brushed onto a special cloth with a specific motion in a certain order. Once the design is finished, it must sit for 3 days to let the color sink in and then ironed, soaked, and then air-dried.

Before we made our own Bingata, we took a tour around two floors where there were myriad kimonos. I saw a group of people wearing beeaauutiful kimonos and I had to ask them where they got them from. They told me that there are communities online that guide you to making the whole outfit (because they also wore a lot of other accessories including a fan). They pointed out that the kimono required a lot of patience and skill. After a talk about how I could make them myself, they told me I could just take the easy way out and buy it online for up to $20. So after taking pictures of different cloth designs, just wandering around with Daniel Ruiz, we made our way down to the Bingata workshop, where we had a sensei who gave us instructions in Japanese.

For my own interpretation, I was able to pick out a word here and there but still had no idea what we had to do. Luckily, we had a translator explain to us what to do in English. During the process, I managed to mess up once and be told that I couldn’t fix my mistake and then mess up the exact same way again. Then once we were finished, the leader of the workshop announced that they would pick out the best paintings from each group and make them sumo wrestle for a prize… and I was skeptical about it because half of the room was full of kids no older that 10 and the other half were adults along with 10th graders and 11th graders. Good thing they didn’t follow through with the idea because I don’t know how I would have reacted to a 17 year old and a 9 year old in a mawashi (what sumo wrestlers wear) fighting to the death. Well maybe not to the death but until time is called or someone wins. It was after everyone was done with their designs that we were told about how to soak it to “erase” the paint outside. Ironically, we were told to paint outside the lines and just glop the paint on there and shove it around.

At the end of the day, I was really excited to soak my cloth and I couldn’t wait 3 days but being a perfectionist and someone who’s a magnet to instructions, I forced myself to. In the end, I learned about a method of traditional Japanese art. It taught me to be patient and worry-free with my art because art isn’t just something I can always conjure up in an hour. It taught me that to achieve true beauty, it takes time, and relaxation. The event was very helpful to me because I tend to do those exact things, rushing and worrying too much about it looking good, when I draw. I would definitely recommend it for anyone interested not only in art, but in Japanese culture.