Today was our first full day at the Tokyo site. After eating breakfast at the Olympic Youth Center, we headed to Haneda airport where we rehearsed for Thursday’s Final Forum. Most groups, including my Religion Roundtable, worked until the last minute, trying to polish our presentation in order to get the most out of the rehearsal. On the bus to Haneda, we rushed to write our script for the presentation. Once we got to the airport, we spent more time working on our PowerPoint before the rehearsal started.
The Religion RT was the first one up, and we presented our material within the 15-minute time restriction. However, other JASCers criticized that our presentation lacked clear transitions and cohesiveness. Though their comments may sound harsh, our RT appreciated the honest feedback. It is amazing how people who we didn’t know 3 weeks ago can be so tight and share their honest thoughts. The rehearsal was a valuable opportunity for the Religion RT to get back onto the right track, and we greatly appreciated the comments and criticisms from other participants.
After lunch, the Tokyo Infrastructure Forum began, where distinguished guests and speakers gathered to lecture us on the future of infrastructure in Tokyo, focusing especially on Tokyo 2020. Speakers from Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Japan Tourism Agency, ANA holdings, Japan Airlines, Japan Airport Terminal, and NEC gave us critical and important insight on the future of infrastructure. Following the lectures, we had a chance to discuss about some of the problems Japanese infrastructure face today and we tried to come up with solutions or innovative ideas reflecting these issues. The discussion session gave us the opportunity to digest some of the information presented during the lecture, and it was great to exchange idea with people outside of my RT. The forum ended with dinner/networking event where delegates had the chance to talk with the speakers and guests. Overall, August 18th was rich in terms of context.
Shinkansen, or to most Americans, the “bullet train.” For all of the JASCers taking the bus from Kyoto to Tokyo today, I am sure they wish they would have been on the Nozomi bullet train—avoiding the horrible traffic that comes with the Obon season (an annual time during which Buddhists in Japan commemorate loved ones who have passed away). What started as a journey that was supposed to end at 5:00pm, ended up lasting until 8:15pm. Spending over ten hours on a bus will make a person think twice about the efficiency of expressway travel in Japan—but nonetheless, a lot of students were able to catch up on some much needed sleep. The bullet train, which travels at up to speeds of 300km/hr (180mph), takes just 2 hours and 17 minutes to go from Kyoto to Tokyo. While students this year didn’t get the opportunity to experience “Shinkansen,” hopefully they will get the chance to experience one of the world’s most efficient high-speed rail systems when they return to Japan in the future.
After settling down in Kyoto the JASC delegate set out to explore Japans ancient capital. The JASC delegate split up into three groups, one went to Urasenke to participate in the Chado tea ceremony tradition, another went to the Toraya factory to see and sample some of Japans most famous sweets and the last group went to Nishihonganji, one of Kyoto’s renowned temples. Everyone enjoyed taking a break from meetings and work and finally getting some down time to tour Japan. We then returned to the Kyoto Utano Hostel to have round table reflection. As deadlines approach groups are having to think more critically about the aspects they have learned about each other’s nations and final forum presentations.
6:30am: The usual time for waking up during JASC. However, this day, I was particularly
tired from observing a four-hour conference centered around the prospects for
Shimane’s regional revitalization. I participated in the conference as well,
providing ideas for educational enrichment and how education could be used as a
tool to convince people to migrate and, ideally, live in the area.
Made it into the newspaper!
7:00am: Packing. This is the moment I finally realized that I was soon leaving Shimane’s beauty. Yet, I was not leaving the memories behind. My okaasan and obaasan treated me to a variety of Shimane’s unique activities and sights, including: a boat trip around Matsue Castle, the wonders of the castle itself,
8:00am: Breakfast. Potatoes again.
9:00am: Round table. The true highlight of the conference; this is what we set out nearly 24 hours of travel time and 12,000 miles to achieve. Today’s highlight included my gained knowledge of the difference between ippanshoku & sougoushoku (don’t know what it is? Should have been in JASC!)
12:15pm: Departure – a particularly bittersweet time. On one hand, I could finally venture outside the building past 10:30pm and explore the wonders that Japan had to offer. However, Shimane’s rural charm is forever etched into my mind.
2:30pm: We reached the first service stop on our long (seven hour) bus ride. This particular stop was situated in Okayama prefecture, curiously known for its delicious milk products.
4:30pm: I slept for the majority of the bus ride, and this service stop included. Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure where we were on the map, but I didn’t mind. I enjoyed the comfort (and air conditioned atmosphere) of the bus ride.
7:00pm: Arrival! Admittedly, I mostly explored the darkness of my eyelids the entire trip. However, when I was conscious, I was in awe at the green rice fields scattered along the highway. When we arrived in Kyoto itself, I was surprised that the weather was not as hot and humid as my round table partner (from Kyoto) warned.
The Future: Final forum is approaching rapidly and, admittedly, I am terrified, perhaps at the likely chance of presenting unprepared. Nonetheless, I am determined not to stress about it. Rather, I’m looking towards the future in other ways. For example, I’m excited to further explore Kyoto’s breathtaking beauty – perhaps its famous sites such as Kyoumizudera Shrine. I also want a taste of city life (and a preview of Tokyo’s eccentricity) in the Gion Shopping District. Finally, I intend to reinforce the valuable friendships I have thus far with my fellow delegates.
After nearly a week in beautiful Shimane, the 67th JASC delegation brought the second
leg of our program to a close with a forum on regional revitalization and following reception.
The day started off as any other at our Sunlake residence: at 6AM; a classical musical track wafted through the hallways and bedrooms as our cue to wake. A light cafeteria breakfast came soon after – and by mid-morning, most of us were fully awake and ready to tackle the day. For a volunteer task force of 14 (One Japanese and one American delegate from each RT group), this morning was spent prepping for a presentation to the residents of Shimane later that afternoon.
Split into three groups, delegates focused on innovating for regional revitalization across three sectors: tourism, industry, and education. I myself was a member of the tourism group, which discussed ways in which to sustainably attract both national and international visitors to the prefecture. After all the meetings, we had a light lunch and (for some, with nervous excitement) headed to the Prefectural Office to share our ideas with Shimane community members and to the rest of the delegation. Several important guests were present, including commentators from well-known businesses in each of the three sectors. Tourism was first, and suggested a linear marketing process for Shimane to follow
(centralize and define a powerful brand image, increase accessibility to the region and its information, and follow up with locally-based resources while keeping a global perspective).
As a digital marketer, I personally wanted to stress the importance of a unified marketing strategy – and expressed this by comparing the differences and issues with Shimane’s Japanese, Korean, and English tourism websites. I’ll be the first to admit that my nerdy obsession with digital marketing made me want to go on and on about this particular fix, but our presentation made sure to equally represent other ideas (such as development of a winter activities program to encourage tourism in more stagnant months).
Industry and Education brought up interesting points that played to Shimane’s strengths
in the medical and IT fields. By expressing and developing the talent and focus of the region, both groups sought to emphasize Shimane as a place for businesses to thrive and for eager students to begin specializing. The Industry group also mentioned the possibility of exporting Shimane products in the developing markets of Southeast Asia, and the Education group thought to utilize the large number of empty dormitories in Shimane to help create or convert new charter and boarding schools in the region. Each group’s presentation was followed by special commentary from Shimane leaders in each respective sector, and question/answer sections also brought out more interesting points from the minds of all the delegates.
After a successful forum and many speeches later, the delegation found itself at the
beautiful English Garden in Matsue, where (thanks to the generosity of Shimane industry leaders and members of the community) delegates, special guests, and host families broke bread together over a beautiful spread of food and drink. Shimane gave two brief performances: one of samurai culture and another by the costumed prefectural mascot, Shimanekko (Shimanekko is a yellow cat, dressed with icons from Shimane’s famous historical Izumo Taisha shrine).
Many photo ops, small plates, and business cards later, the delegation sadly bid good-bye
to our newfound friends, program supporters, and respected community leaders (as tomorrow we were to move to our third location, Kyoto)! The memories of Shimane, however, will forever stay in our hearts. The smiles of our homestay families and the shared countryside experience were an excellent part of our JASC programming, and we gained a perspective many of us would never have seen otherwise. Dan-dan (thank you), Shimane! Until we meet again.
My first experience in Japan was in Ishikawa, Komatsu – a small town tucked in the western side of the main island of Honshu.
Away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, I fell in love with the true Japan. A week in Shimane reminded me of the first few feelings that I felt landing at Komatsu airport.
Such feelings were excitement, joy, a fear of the unknown and the feeling of being stuck in Inaka Japan.
To a country boy that was raised outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti and turned city boy due to living in New York and Boston, Komatsu came in with mixed feelings and so did Shimane.
However, surrounded by nature and open fields, Shimane brought upon me time to reflect. Moments of serendipity that are rare when boggled down by a crazy schedule and fast-paced cities like Boston, New York and Tokyo.
Since the summer of the year 2011 to now the summer of the year 2015, in the timespan of these 5 summers, I’ve traveled to Japan more than 10 times, completed multiple internships, studied abroad, worked as a consultant at multiple companies culminating to me being now a member of 67th JASC. I could not think of any other way to end my college career and mark the beginning of my life as a Shakaijin in Japan.
Nonetheless, the never ending sea of rice fields and rows of mountains forced me to ponder upon the original reason why I decided to learn Japanese. The reason actually stems from my time living in Haiti.
The Haitian market is dominated by Japanese goods. From Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Isuzu and more, Japanese cars made made up an overwhelming amount of the vehicles on the street.
The television predominantly showed Japanese shows such as Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z and such all translated into French or English. Onigiri were redrawn to be burgers, names were changed and made to have an American or French flair to mask the Japanese influence.
Once I realized the Japanese influence that was hidden in the shadows, I was astonished to see how a country so far has such an influence on a small country like Haiti. This officially launched me on a quest to learn more about Japan and how it became a leading soft power player in the world.
Never did it occurred to me that I would be coming to Shimane, the land of the gods and cradle of many of Japan’s cultural influences.
In the silent and moon-bathed nights of Shimane, I was able to remember and likewise reflect on the original mission that I had in mind when I decided to learn more about Japan.
We started our fourth day in Shimane in a cloudy day, which was pretty good for us
because usually the sun light was too strong.
But, the sceneries in Shimane are always beautiful.
After about one hour bus riding, we arrived at Nakamura Brace Corporation. During the presentation,
we are all amazed by Mr. Nakamura’s story for founding his company. I am deeply inspired by Mr.
Nakamura’s story because we all have dreams, and we are trying hard for achieving our dreams despite
other people told us our dreams are impossible.
This is the artificial hand that was produced by Nakamura Brace. At first glance, the hand was scary, but
it will help a lot of people who lost their hand.
Iwami-ginzan is the world heritage. There is a small town in Iwami-ginzan. The town keeps its original
atmosphere from the ancient period. Even the vending machine needs to merge into its style.
Kumagai family was the most powerful family in the area. We were very happy to visit the family’s home
as you can tell from the following photos.
After we finished our lovely lunch in Omori city.
We went to Onan city to discuss how to renovate the city. Yoshiteru-san and I think about letting
scientists and researchers to live in this peaceful place. It could be better for them concentrating on their projects, and at the same promote the education in the area.
Finally, our day ended with celebrating Ayaka-san’s birthday. Yeah!
Yesterday night August 8, 2015, marked the beginning of our
stay in Shimane Prefecture. It also marked the start of my favorite experience
as of yet: a homestay with a local family. Throughout my time in Japan thus
far, I have had a lot of firsts, such as eating my first onigiri and bento,
visiting my first temple, attending my first lantern festival, and even
visiting Japan itself is a first for me. However, through my stay with Ikoku
(my homestay mom) and her family, I was able to experience many more firsts
through the perspective of locals.
My Homestay Family and Home
(Left) Ikoku’s family picture, (right) Starting on the left, Suzu, me, Saya,
Ayaka, Ikoku, Haru, Aki, taken today in one of their “toconoma” rooms
This is my homestay family, the people who lovingly took me
into their home for a day and kindly took the time to show me around Shimane.
Ikoku (left picture, top row, 2nd from left) took Ayaka, a Japanese
delegate, and me around her community.
Ikoku’s children, shown above, were lively, inclusive, and understanding
of my limited Japanese language skills.
This home also happens to be a temple named “Dairyuji,” or
“temple of the big dragon,” as Ayaka translated for me. It was so pretty, I had
to take lots of pictures.
Next, we went to the Community Center, where the
kids had taiko practice. I got a chance to play!
In the Evening, I got the chance to attend the Shinwa
festival. Although not the biggest one, this festival brings in many different
people from throughout the city. Ayaka and I got the opportunity to participate
in the “Bonodori” dance, which was the highlight of the evening. I danced with
shop owners, civil servants, young, and old (all of which danced better than
Ikoku’s co-workers with whom I joined in dancing. They
work in city hall.
(Left to right) two fellow dancers, Ayaka,
Saya, Suzu, Aki, and me
We ran into the leader of the American delegation, Hannah
Today, we went back to the community center to make “hashi”
a.k.a chopsticks, and bowls to eat “nagashi somen.” This was by far my best
meal in Japan so far. Because of the lively people, the welcoming atmosphere,
and the general sense of community I felt from the people made this a meal to
Various youth who attended this community event.
Everyone is making their own chopsticks and bamboo “bowls” to use for later
Various youth who attended this community event.
Everyone is making their own chopsticks and bamboo “bowls” to use for later
Eating “nagashi somen,” which is somen noodles — and in
this case pink somen noodles, cherry tomatoes, ham, and cucumbers — getting put down an open bamboo shoot. You
try your best to catch the food and eat it. At the end of the shoot is a basket
to collect the fallen food and it is returned to the top and saved
I again felt the family atmosphere, especially when a young
girl gave me one of her tomatoes when she noticed I was unable to catch one
myself. The people were welcoming overall; they were constantly asking me if I
was doing okay, they checked up on my progress, told me to try different things
(like cutting the bamboo or hand-carving the chopsticks) and were considerate
of my limited Japanese abilities. I felt like I was given the royal treatment.
As I was leaving the facilities, young children leaving in a separate car yelled
out “See you” in English, a phrase I had told them just moments before.
Upon coming home to the temple, Ayaka and I were
treated like guests of honor, through a special tea ceremony in the main
“toconoma,” an area only the “most important guests are taken to,” as Ikoku’s
mother told me. There, we made our own Japanese tea, ate traditional Japanese
sweets, and sat in a beautiful and large traditional Japanese room.
Making the tea with the kids. Suzu and Aki were especially
good at it
After speaking to locals and getting to know my host family,
I learned many things. First off, I learned more about life in rural Japan.
Through my conversations, I learned more about the need for revitalization in
Shimane, particularly in education and work opportunities for locals. I got a
deeper understanding of the forms of community bonding that take place in the
city, such as through festivals and fun, educational activities. I got to learn
about 100km, where students in Shimane in the 4th-6th
grade walk 100km in 5 days, as a type of spiritual and educational experience
where children learn their limits and strengths. Japan in itself may be new to
me, but I can say now that I at least know a bit more about Shimane.
We got to sleep in today!!! Whoooo! Well, we were only able
to sleep until around seven o’clock this morning, but it was something. At this
point, every second of sleep counts. #allsleepmatters
breakfast, we were separated by roundtables (RT) before boarding buses. It was
a twenty minute drive to Izumo Taisha, one of the most influential and
prominent Shinto shrines in Japan. On the way the religion RT, fondly called
“Rem Rem,” gave a presentation on Shinto religious characteristics and told us how
the world was created according to Shinto philosophy. The story is quite
interesting, so I’ll share it here on the blog. Before the world existed there
were two gods named Izanami, a female deity, and Izanagi, her male counterpart.
When these gods used a tool to stir the ocean, several drops of water dripped
off their utensil and formed several of the island of Japan. Although Izanami
and Izanagi saw that the newly created landmass was good, they were still not
content, so they took to their marriage bed. Izanami later gave birth to the
rest of the islands one by one. This story is just one of the grand bits of
Japanese mythology that we learned about today. We also heard the story about
how the gates of hell were sealed with a stone and about how the one of the
gods added land to Japan by stealing it from the Korean Peninsula. Shimane
prefecture is bursting with ancient stories passed down from generation to
generation. There is a deep relationship between religion, history, and life
here, resulting in a sense of mystery and intrigue. I, personally, (and I’m
sure many others share this feeling) believe that this connection with the
local culture and its past is very important and inspiring. We were lucky to be
able to learn about this all in person.
In addition to being a
famous shrine, Izumo Taisha has a long history and many interesting features.
It’s official name is Izumo Oyashiro, and it houses Okuninishi-no-kami, the god
of relationship building and interpersonal relationships between humans. Because
of this god’s area of expertise, girls often come to this shrine to pray for
marriage or their relationship status. This is prefect for all the
Since JASC is one of the best programs in the world (…maybe I’m biased…),we
were given special access to parts of the shrine that few people aside from the
monks ever see. We were privileged enough to be invited to observe a worship
ceremony. The entire event, though nearly thirty minutes long, included only
one priest, a priestess, and two drummers, all in long traditional robes. After
a few moments of Taiko style drumming, the priest chanted a gorgeous melody
from a scroll and systematically waved a specially designed flag towards the
alter. Then a brightly dressed priestess walked in a tight circle multiple time
while holding a rattle composed of a cone shape with bells hanging off of it
and a handle draped with long, sweeping ribbons in bold colors. At certain
points in her circle, the woman would twist her wrist, sending the shrill sound
of bells throughout the large worship hall. After walking in many circles, she
shook the rattle in our direction, which I assume was either a purification
ritual or a way of blessing us.
After attending the ceremonial event, we were invited behind another special
gate. Before we could enter, our leaders had to offer a tribute to
Okuninishi-no-kami. This is a very special process that deviates from the norm.
Our leaders wore white robes and held a small branch in their hands. We all
bowed twice, clapped our hands four times, prayed, and then bowed once more.
This process is unusual because the normal process to pray at a Shinto shrine
in Japan involves one bow, two claps, and then another single bow. We also
received a bit of sake to drink once we entered through the gate. A monk later
gave us an informational tour regarding some of the unique characteristics of
Izumo Taisha. This included explaining how the roof is made with bark and an
overview on the complexities of the shrine’s architectural designs. Once the
tour ended, we all headed to a restaurant to eat Shimane’s special soba!! It
was so good. It was also wonderfully cool on such a hot day. Many of us treated
ourselves to some refreshing ice cream in an attempt to find further relief
from the heat.
We then returned to our lodgings and began the American culture presentation.
This was done by a few people who had volunteered long before JASC officially
started. The presenters talked to us about certain aspects of racism and then
organized us all into smaller groups and mediated discussions. Because JASC has
a large amount of diversity amongst its delegates, it was interesting and
sometimes saddening to hear people’s experiences with prejudice and
discrimination. We were also prompted to talk about other race/sexuality
related issues such as America’s Affirmative Action legislation and the line
between harmless jokes and micro-aggression. While it was all engaging, the
portion I found especially interesting was the conversation about the relationship
between one’s personal identity and social labeling. I learned more about the
labeling that takes place everywhere, even in the U.S. census, and the sheer
amount of labels that Japan and the America have, whether they are meant in an
innocent or derogatory manner. Though it was a sensitive issue, all of the
delegates worked hard to create a non-judgmental and caring atmosphere, which
enabled depth in the conversation because no one felt it was necessary to
withhold their opinions.
Once the culture segment ended, the delegates formed their separate RTs and
began topic specific discussions like normal. RT time sped by, and soon it was
time for dinner. While we typically savor each bite of our meals (food is
wonderful), tonight we rushed each bite. The difference between tonight and
every other night was the impending talent show!!! We raced through dinner in
record time in order to find a spare moment to perfect our skills. It was well
worth it too. Everyone spent the evening in awe. Delegates and RTs preformed
standup comedy and dance routines. Groups also sang and played incredible
musical numbers. Each segment was so creative and skillful, and now the extent
of JASC talent has been revealed.
From learning about Japanese mythology, attending a Shinto worship ceremony,
engaging in deep discussions, and participating in the talent show (not to
mention everything else in between), it was a long and exhausting day. Every
day in JASC is a new adventure. Tomorrow will be no exception. So with that in
mind, I’m heading to bed. Over and out!
To be honest, I was very nervous to participate in home stay. With my incredibly limited knowledge of Japanese and worrying about violating proper etiquette in a Japanese home, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to communicate or would come off as a rude American 😅 Luckily my 岡さん and かちょさん were very patient and understanding of the minor difficulties I had the first few hours of meeting me. I’m also super fortunate to have ミドリさん as a roommate/translator! Supposedly we’re all going to 温泉 tonight. I’m anxious again – but if JASC or my homestay experience has taught me anything, it’s that my anxieties are usually far worse than reality.