Tara’s KAKEHASHI Reflection

By Tara Martin (Japanese Plus; Japan in DC)

The KAKEHASHI trip was extremely impactful on me and my personality. I think it was the best way that i’ve been able to experience and deepen my understanding of Japanese culture. One of my favorite parts of the exchange trip was going to Kidochen, a sweet shop in Ogaki City. I was really looking forward to this because my family (my aunt and my mother especially) are amazing bakers and I really love sweets. I found the process of making the different flower mochi very fun. It also made me pay attention to detail and be very patient with the process, because rushing it would make it look nothing like the examples the chef made. It was a great way for me to learn an underlying cultural aspect of Japanese culture and appreciate my work.

My other favorite was the homestay. I think it was the best way for me to really experience Japanese culture that I already heard about. It was helpful for me to really understand how these practices influence daily living. It’s one thing to hear about how you live in Japan versus actually experiencing it. I had known before that you shower before you get in a bath and the bath is only for soaking, but what I didn’t realize was just how cold the shower water was. It definitely made the warm bath feel amazing. I also really enjoyed sleeping in a futon because it was really warm and cozy; also because my host family had no central heating, so I was freezing most of the time. They also fed us different foods than the program did, which helped me try new things. This really meant a lot to me because throughout this entire trip I was able to meet new people and get a new experience and it changed me.

I realized just how different Japanese culture is from American culture, especially the small things like shoes (high tops seem like a great idea until you have to keep relacing them every time you take them off). Going on the KAKEHASHI trip also made me even more aware of the Japanese and American relationship. I definitely want to go back to Japan and have more time for sightseeing, and somehow make it for the 2020 Olympics.

Genderless Tokyo Youth

By Tara Martin

I looked up my own article and found this really interesting one from the Huffington Post titled: “Japanese Youth Are Fearlessly Embracing The Genderless Fashion Movement.” It’s about how Japanese youths are using fashion and style to transcend gender. Japan apparently had a “third gender” called wakashu before Western ideas were introduced. Many of those interviewed have received a lot of backlash from strangers, to family and friends. It’s really inspiring for me because they’ve dealt with other people’s judgments and harshness in such a positive way. They’ve learned not to be bothered by it or let what other people say slow them down. This is a really good message because now gender equality and acceptance is becoming more and more talked about. It’s important that we create a safer environment for everyone so we can continue to thrive.



By Tara Martin

I went to IlluminAsia as a visitor since I was too young to volunteer. IlluminAsia was a two-day festival (October 14-15, 2017) marking the re-opening of the Smithsonian Freer and Sackler Museums of Asian Art. Me and my mom went around 9 on the Saturday it opened. It was very crowded, which we sort of expected. We first explored the festival outside before going inside the Sackler/Freer. We first went to a paper lantern station. I made a very simple paper lantern by cutting a piece of construction paper and attaching a little light to it. It was really cute! We then went to the food section (which was even more crowded) and went to a poster and screen-printing tent. Sadly, therer we waited for a long time in the poster making line but it wasn’t too bad! It gave us time to take in the festival (and start to get hungry). My mom really liked how that section was lit and arranged; she said that it reminded her of a Thai street market at night. When it was my turn, I choose stencils and colors and they spray-painted the designs on. We then went over to the next tent, which was the Japan-America Society’s tent. They had this really cute game called “The Chopstick Game”, where you picked up a piece of folded up paper and you would open it and learn a Japanese phrase or word. My mother and I then tried to get momo (a Nepali food), but the line was really long; so we decided to go to the museum. On our way in, we saw a craft station with stencils and rubbings and really gorgeous mandalas opposite of the station.

Inside the Sackler, we saw the Subodh Gupta (terminal). Downstairs, we saw two exhibits: Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt and Encountering the Buddha. The Divine Feline exhibit was about how cats were valued in Ancient Egypt and how they were mummified. The Encountering the Buddha exhibit has a lot of Buddhist statues from all parts of east and southeast Asia. They even had a model Tibetan temple (which put our little Buddhist shrine to shame). We then went to the gift shop where i bought a book on Japanese folklore and fairy tales. Afterwards, we tried to get over to the Freer (emphasis on tried). It was at least 10 minutes before we found our way into the Freer Gallery. In the Freer, the exhibits were separated by region/country. We saw the jade exhibit (China), the origins of Japanese Buddhist paintings (Japan), and early Iran/Iraq gold plates and treasures. They had a “Tea in the Courtyard,” where you could go in and buy tea ($1). In the courtyard, they had tables set up for playing games like Mahjong.

We left IlluminAsia around 12 am (midnight)!


By Tara Martin

During December, we learned about the Japanese new year’s card: nengajo. The custom dates back to nenshi-mawari, or new year’s visit. The visit was intended to keep good relationships in the new year. When post offices began sprouting up, sending cards became popular. Nowadays, you can buy one, send one virtually, or hand make one. They’re extremely popular, over 4 billion are sent each year! Many people still make theirs by hand with brush calligraphy, painting, stamps, and creativity.

Nengajo incorporate common symbols: the zodiac, Mount Fuji, the rising sun, tako (kites), hagoita (Japanese badminton), kadomatsu (festive decorations), and common characters. The postal service also holds a nengajo lottery (where the lottery numbers are on the cards). There’s also a specific etiquette for sending nengajo. For example, you shouldn’t send a nengajo to a family in mourning (out of compassion). The culture behind nengajo is very interesting!



By Tara Martin

Giri translates to something like obligation or social duty. Giri is the belief that you are indebted to someone who has given you something. I find this concept very interesting because it shows that there is a moral obligation to returning a favor or giving a thank you gift. It’s kind of similar to the US, where we feel that we must get a gift for our loved ones and those who have given us a gift. However it’s not really seen as mandatory and you usually give gifts because you’re being kind, not because you’re indebted. Giri really shows the level of gratitude in Japan.


By Tara Martin

Recently we’ve been visited by students from Shikoku University. Their presentations were great. After class, the students and I went to Z Burger for lunch. They were extremely kind and generous. Since I was there before the rest of the class, I got to know the students more. It was a great opportunity to practice my Japanese, especially because we learned how to introduce ourselves. Before I left, I was able to exchange business cards (very informally, but still). It was great to get this opportunity to be with the Japanese students, since I wasn’t able to go with them to the afternoon festival. Overall, they were very friendly, kind, and interesting. This was definitely a great experience. 🙂



Nengajo Contest

By Ana Nguyen

The Japan Information & Culture Center (JICC) holds a nengajo contest near new years where the winner receives a new years goodie bag called a fukubukuro. It was the year of the rooster and everyone in our class made a nengajo. Everyone had a different design. One person drew a chick hatching, another person drew muscular roosters, one person drew a robotic rooster with aliens. Below are a few examples of what our class drew.







And me, Ana: