It didn’t take long to realize the Japanese values– kindness, gratitude, harmony. The significance of unity and relationships was evident in everything I witnessed. There was a constant undertone of respect for one another, for one’s environment, and for the importance of sharing this world with one another.
Experiencing the overwhelming awe of the Ise-Shima National Park brought perspective and clarity to my core. In Western culture, we have a tendency to praise the individual’s effort rather than honoring the environment itself. As I walked through forests of unimaginably large, woeful trees, I realized that their ability to grow to their height was only due to the Japanese care and deep appreciation for the Earth.
However, where I felt this essence of Japanese culture the strongest was during the most anticipated part of the trip– the homestay in Kumamoto. I remember looking around at luscious green grass and small painted buildings as we drove through a town I’d be sure to never forget. As I walked into the lobby of the building, heart racing in my chest, I saw the kind, welcoming eyes of my Japanese mother. She smiled at me cheerfully, as a nervous “hello” was muttered between us. The sound of a higher pitched voice uttered, just barely louder than a whisper, “Konichiwa!” from behind my host mother’s legs. We both looked down and laughed as I met Sanami for the first time, the youngest of my three Japanese sisters. The whole car ride home I’d feel her eyes on me, but as soon as I turned to look at her, she’d giggle with the cutest smile and turn to look out the window, as if she hadn’t been staring at me.
Meeting my other sisters was just as exciting and adorable. Eimi played “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana on the piano for me. She showed me how to wash my hands, and blowdry my hair after a shower– both intricate parts of their daily lives. Miku showed me her love for fashion, and constantly complimented me on my style! We played mario games on their iPad and Uno cards at night– the girls apologizing every time they laid down a card that would skip my turn or made me draw extra cards. I got to meet kids that my host mother taught, who were so nervous to speak English around me, but were also so excited to learn about my American life. Our family went to the mall (Aeon Mall) one day and took pictures at a Japanese photo booth that I carry with me everywhere I go. At the arcade, we played a game similar to that of Guitar Hero, but for taiko. Eimi and Miku walked me to a local shrine (Shinkai Daijingu) and showed me the customs and rituals of their religion. They even bought me a charm, and explained that whatever I wished upon it would come true– I of course wished to one day come back to this beautiful family.
I could go on and on about all of the unforgettable memories I made with them, but what I think would be truly a shame not to mention is the immense generosity they showed me. From when I first emailed Eiko, my host mother, I immediately felt welcomed into their family. They always made me feel as though I was one of them, and never failed to think of my comfort first. Though I learned about Japanese culture for two weeks, I couldn’t have felt it stronger than in those three days.
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