Otsukimi at the Arboretum

By Maria Garcia

Have you ever heard of Otsukimi? Don’t worry if you haven’t. In fact, I hadn’t either until a week before the Otsukimi at the National Arboretum. It’s a traditional viewing and appreciation of the Harvest Moon. Ms. Sally (my mentor) asked the class if we had checked Facebook for the event. Although I had not heard about it, I was interested because we were told we could use our Japanese we had been learning. Some other kids were also interested and said that they would come along. So when Saturday came we were all excited and ready for the Otsukimi.

When everyone was at the Otsukimi, dinner was on everyone’s mind. For dinner we had bento boxes which were filled with fish, meat, egg, nori, rice, squash, seaweed, and so much more. Dinner had a neat trick to it though because to eat dinner you needed to know how to use chopsticks.

After dinner we all went for a walk and saw some bonsai trees. The bonsai are super amazing because these trees go through training and many are over a hundred years old. As we walked around, we found the night getting cooler. So we went in and tried the mochi pounding. Mochi pounding was a new concept for me and made me appreciate mochi a lot. This process of mochi required two people – one who wet and turned the mochi and the other who would hit the mochi with a big hammer called a kine. The mochi is placed into the usu and kine are used to form the mochi.

After a short break we went inside to listen to the Koto players. Then after some time the koto players came out and played a song. I enjoyed this because when I went to Japan, the students from the high school performed for us. I remembered how much fun that was, and we ended our night of fun. The koto is played using all ten fingers with these special guitar picks which are put into the fingertips and the strings are plucked. The koto sounds more resembles a sitar but if you have never heard of a sitar, just think of a guitar with a higher pitch.

We had a break time during the night and went for a walk. During this walk we played tag and made our way to the columns. After we ran around for some time, the columns were a great place to walk, and we noticed it was really dark. We kept at least one flashlight on, as we explored the surrounding area. Then we noticed we had gone far and decided it was best to head back. Someone went back alone, and we all decided to stick together instead of separate. We went back the path we came from, but as much as we wanted to continue to explore, we decided it was getting late and that our friends should not travel alone. The walk back was just as fun, as we told stories and wishes for the upcoming year. Our group had so much fun and when we got back we were all tired. The night soon ended and we all went off in our own direction. The best part was knowing that our group was fun to be around with and all cared about one another.

Special thanks to the Japan-America Society of Washington, DC for hosting this special program.

Diplomats

By Maria Garcia

Today (October 13) was a great day. We learned so much. The best part was knowing that we would have some special guests arrive for our class today. We had three things to tackle today with our guests in class. The first being the blog post and the importance of students keeping records. We came to a conclusion that a photo album, video, quotes, and creativity were necessities that had to be done as soon as possible. We assigned two people to write a blog post for the day. Next, while our guests were looking around the school, we got through some last things.

When our guests arrived, they introduced themselves and then we had a chance at using our new knowledge. Cyrus mentioned that the refresher was “most definitely a great idea to go over the self introductions.” Our guests were fun and helped us pronounce and correctly write our words. The diplomats brought us all gifts! Sato san, Mayu, and Mizuya were all happy we were studying Japanese and encouraged us to continue.

We learned to count all the way up to 9,999! – which was quick and exciting. Then we reviewed some vowels and added new vowels such ka, ke, ki, ku, and ko. Each character is different and hard to write, because simple strokes can change the meaning of the word. Nevertheless, we took our time as the embassy visitors and some old friends came around to help us. Kenny mentioned his favorite part was to learn the numbers, getting to meet the diplomats, and being able to eat the gift which was a yummy treat.

After all the new information, as a group everyone said “Arigato” to the diplomats for all the help. Then, our old friends made a speech that motivated everyone to continue on their journey with the Japanese language. They told us it may be hard but not to give up and to use our resources. Finally, before ending class, we all went outside with our gifts and took a photo. Everyone said “Ja nae,” and went off on their own paths. After a quick survey, most would agree that today was a lot to learn but very interesting, turning the tables from our so far traditional classroom. Carlos, Kenny, and some others thought that the gifts were yummy and very kind gifts.

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.