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.

A Full 180

By Chidera Obiwuma

During our KAKEHASHI trip in Japan, our group had the opportunity to do an exchange with high school students from Gifu Sogo Gakuen High School. During the time we spent with them, they showed us the many different clubs that they dedicated much of their time to. I was flabbergasted seeing all the astonishing performances they had for us, especially the Taiko drumming. Through this experience my views on Japanese schools changed immensely. Japan is known for having a strict education system; however, that wasn’t what I thought after spending almost a day with the high school students. I was amazed at the performance by the students and felt that they all had talents to showcase unlike many students in America. To me, in comparison to Japanese high schools, I think that American high schools are strict. The reason I say that is because of the big difference that I noticed in our curriculum. Japanese high schools are more well-rounded than American high school students. They not only learn the traditional subjects like math and science but also learn about the arts like calligraphy, similar to learning cursive in the West, which has become a dead practice. I feel that such a curriculum makes a person more versatile and allows them to not only have more opportunities in life but to show one more thing about themselves that makes them interesting and stand out as an individual.

Women in Japan

By Chidera Obiwuma

“Japanese Lawmaker’s Baby Gets Booted From The Floor” is an article about a municipal lawmaker who brought her 7-month old baby to her job which was dominated by males, and she was asked to leave. There were no rules against bringing infants, but it goes to show the type of inequality that women face in not only Japan but around the world. Surprisingly, in Australia, Senator Larissa Waters was able to breastfeed her baby on the floor of Parliament. It is a burden that many women face around the world, such as the idea that you should not breastfeed in public because it makes people uncomfortable.

In Japan women consistently leave the workforce because they are expected to do so when they have children. Even at their jobs they get the worse pay, worse benefits and worse career prospects. They earn 74% of the median male wage on average, similar to their American counterparts who earn slightly more with 81%. The disparity between men and women in terms of politics and economics is a global problem and something that we need to combat. It will be a difficult process in Japan as this way of thinking is a cultural tradition.

https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2017/11/24/566367004/japanese-lawmakers-baby-gets-booted-from-the-floor

Into the ’20s

By Chidera Obiwuma

On October 18, 2017, I witnessed my first live tap performance and it was very enticing and moving. Prior to the show, I was briefed on the life of Kazunori Kumagai, the tap dancer, and how he worked to do something that he loved and his exploration of a combination between Japanese culture and a traditional art form of African American culture, Jazz and tap dancing.

Regarding the live performance, it was very intricate and not only rhythmical to the ears but also appealing to the eye. It was very fascinating how when Mr. Kumagai did rapid taps to make quick rhythms, as I watched his legs, I didn’t see the movement move through his legs. I wondered how many years of practice did it take for him to move his leg at that pace? How fast was his leg even moving? Doesn’t his leg get tired? It was a really pleasing performance to watch, not only because I could tell Mr. Kumagai was in his element and really enjoying what he was doing, but also with the support he got from the other performers, Masa Shimizu on the guitar, Alex Blake on the bass, and Samuel Torres, on the percussion.

Before the performance, Mr. Kumagai said that the performance was not pre-composed but was just spontaneously made as the performance went on, and it was certainly true. As Mr. Kumagai started a certain rhythm with his tap shoes, the other performers would join in, adding their own element to it and outstandingly, they would all be in sync. It was amusing to see the back and forth battle between Mr. Kumagai and a specific performer to see if they could copy his beat. Mr. Blake was very enthusiastic on the bass; he not only played the bass but scatted to it. At some point he was so into the moment, he would lean back and I would get afraid because I thought he would fall out of the seat. Mr. Torres certainly showed that he was a master on the percussion. He moved his hands so fast between the cymbals and conga that his hands started to look like worms to me. Last but certainly not least, Mr. Shimizu was very overpowering on the guitar. Whenever a beat was started, as soon as he joined in, I could hear his guitar really well and it sounded really good to my ears.

I really liked the performance and would definitely like to see another performance between Mr. Kumagai and Co. I would also like to extend gratitude to the Kennedy Center for giving our Japanese Plus Program, not only the opportunity to see spectacular performances, but also to hear about the lives of Mr. Kumagai, himself, and Ms. Reiko Sudo, textile artist, in terms of what it took for them to achieve what they have today.

The Sackler Museum

By Chidera Obiwuma

It was an interesting and fun first experience of the Sackler Museum at the Smithsonian.

One of the most prominent artists was Japanese artist, Kitagawa Utamaro. It was interesting to me that a man could depict through his paintings what it was like to be a woman in the Edo period because, according to him, he knows women well. And indeed, he did; his painting depicted mostly the lives of Geishas and concubines within their residence. The paintings were truly beautiful and each has a unique story behind them. However, some of it did make me uncomfortable. For example, in the Geishas’ residence, seeing children running around. Also, of course life during the Edo period wasn’t all glamorous for all women. It was disheartening but also inspirational to see that Utamaro was bold enough to portray not only the good side of this time in history but also the bad side of it with the prostitution of girls and women. Many of them forced into the practice, catching diseases that led to their death, and even when they were freed, they didn’t know how to do anything else so they ended up right back in prostitution.

It’s What I Believe

By Chidera Obiwuma

I found it interesting how free Japan is with religion and philosophies. They mix and combine the different religions and philosophies amongst them. For example, in Japan, it is normal to be baptized in the Shinto ritual, get married in a Christian way and celebrate a funeral using Buddhist traditions. This is very unlikely in the United States, where people tend to be defined by and just strictly follow one religion. It is unlikely to see a Christian practicing parts of the Islamic religion, because more than likely it will be frowned upon and criticized. In the United States, you can get discriminated against because of your religion, but that is unlikely in Japan since no one is really subjected to one religion.

Soto-Uchi

By Chidera Obiwuma

All over the world we treat those we are closest to and not close to differently, but it was surprising to learn about the high value Japan places on this distinction in treatment. In Japan there is a difference in how the Japanese treat those close to them and those who are not close to them. The way the Japanese treat their family and circle of friends is known as uchi and the way they treat other people is known as soto. Due to this system it is very difficult, almost impossible, to become part of a group if you come last or don’t belong to that group. In uchi, it is necessary that all members agree on an issue, no matter how insignificant, and how to proceed. This is done to keep the harmony among the uchi. There are also different levels to uchi. The first level is family, followed by friends, then your company and lastly, your country.

Foreigners are the most soto that you can get. No matter how long you live in Japan, the Japanese will treat you as soto because they see you as a threat to their harmonious uchi. This is one of the reasons that Japan is a closed country, one of the most advanced countries with low immigration. However, it is highly important to know that being treated as soto doesn’t mean that they will disrespect. The Japanese will treat you kindly but there will still be a barrier between you and them.