By Skyy Genies (Japanese Plus)
This past week, I learned so much about myself and Japan throughout my stay in Gifu and Tokyo; from culture and traditions to language. Going into the program, I didn’t really know what to expect, as it was my second time travelling to Japan. Would I feel any different? Would it be the same? These questions lingered in my head before the trip and were quickly answered the minute I landed in Japan. From the first activity to the very last, I was able to obtain valuable knowledge about not only Japanese society but about my own. Things were definitely as amazing, if not more than the first time I travelled to Japan. I had the opportunity to use my previous experiences of Japan to create a new perspective during the KAKEHASHI trip that would lead me to many revelations and reflections. A few of the events that were especially meaningful to me were the homestay program and the high school exchange.
The homestay program was one of the best experiences of my life. Throughout my 3 days and 2 nights living in a house with the Watanabe family, I was able to not only learn about the history of Gifu, such as Teru Teru Bozo, but I was able to create meaningful relationships with my family members and gain insight about the livelihood of the average Japanese family and exchange information about our countries with one another. From my host mother, Akemi Watanabe, to my younger sister Akemi, every member in my host family had wisdom and love to share with me which truly made the experience amazing. During our day together, our family travelled to Nagoya Castle, shopped in Nagoya, and even ate the famous local tempura shrimp together. That night we had an amazing feast of pizza, a plethora of sushi, and roe noodles.
Aside from touring, my host family and I discussed various topics such as the school system of Japan in comparison to the United States, protesting, politics, and hobbies. I learned about how the Japanese school system is structured, as my host mother was a Japanese teacher, how Japan perceives Trump, and even the little things like the Golden Dolphin of Nagoya Castle. Like any other family, we ate dinner together and cheered for the Olympics together. I felt like a true member of the family. By the end of the experience, I became an appointed mentor for my host sister Akemi. These amazing bonds are what truly made the homestay experience unforgettable. Not to mention the Nintendo Switch that my host brother was obsessed with. The cheering, shouting, and fun competition that Mario Kart offered us at any given time is truly a memory that I will continue to cherish for the rest of my life.
The high school exchange was an honestly breathtaking experience. From the minute we arrived at the high school, we were greeted warmly by cheering students, excited to show us their high school and presentations. I cannot put in words how amazing the performances of Taiko, Koto, Sado, and Kyudo were. The extreme contrast between the effort, dedication, and determination put into the students’ participation in the clubs was truly astonishing to me. The students seemed like true professionals at their club activities. Aside from the presentations, I felt so great after getting to know the students and realizing that despite our differences in language or culture, we had many things in common. I befriended people who loved K-pop, anime, fashion, photography, and art, just like I do! This experience is the perfect example that love and friendship has no boundary. Despite how far apart you may seem from someone physically or culturally, there is always common ground that you can meet on and build meaningful relationships on. I will never forget the day I spent at Gifu Sogo Gakuen High School and the meaningful relationships that I created.
Throughout the trip I realized the importance of the maintenance of tradition and culture, despite technology and infrastructural advancements, how far dedication and kindness can take you, and the significance that realizing that commonalities exist between people despite the seemingly apparent contrasts between people. From the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I learned that even in the midst of confusion, aggression, and threats, it is important for the people as a community to stand by what they believe and have believed for many years before, such as the anti-weapons stance that Japan stands by. From the high school students and my host family, I realized that if you put your heart into something, you are bound to see a positive outcome. Whether that be the construction of meaningful relationships or the mastery of your club, dedication can take you a long way. The thing that I took away from this trip the most was the fact that people from places on opposite sides of the world can still find common grounds and create sincere connections with one another that may have been unimaginable before. I would like to apply this knowledge to my future when I approach new concepts and people, because it is through understanding one another that people can avoid conflict and achieve world peace.
Additionally, I realized that I definitely want to minor in East Asian studies and study abroad in Japan during my time in University so that I can give back the same generosity and love to those who treated me so well and guided me during my time in Japan during the past week. I am so thankful for the experiences that I had in Japan through the KAKEHASHI program! Thank you!