I have always been interested in Japanese culture. My father lived in Japan for several years and became fluent in the language, and decided to give me a Japanese name that means “snow”, to combine his love for Japan and my mother’s Canadian heritage. I have been studying Japanese for the past five years, and although the program at my school is small, it satisfies my learning style by providing me with hands-on learning opportunities combined with typical classroom lectures.
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The Japanese government is aiming to strengthen their connection with the USA, and introduced a program called the Kakehashi Project to provide students in both countries to communicate with and learn more about each other. The government chose my school to participate and provided us with 25 slots for our students to travel to Japan, all expenses paid. I was fortunate enough to be selected to travel with the Kakehashi Project, and will never forget my experience there.
Kakehashi means “bridge”, and the project did exactly that: it allowed us to bridge with Japanese students to learn more about their language, country and culture. I thought that I would be gaining a simple understanding of Japan, but I got much more than that. For the first half of the trip, my peers and I explored the different facets Tokyo and Okinawa have to offer. We visited local museums, attended lectures given by prominent figures (including the head of the Kakehashi Project as well as the U.S. Consul General to Okinawa) and toured the streets and stores.
The second half of my trip had the most impact on me. I stayed with a Japanese student of my age, and learned that we share the same name. Her house is very different than mine; it’s modest and simple, with few knickknacks and memorabilia displayed. She starts her day off with a routine of a small breakfast of rice and fish, gets driven by her mother in a 25-minute commute to school, and switches to school slippers before entering her indoor, multi-storied high school. Her classes are filled with strict instructional work, and her physical education classes are replaced with karate lessons–she holds a black belt.
As Yuki took me on trips with her friends and to her after school choir practices, I started to see fewer differences between our lives, and more similarities. We both love Disney songs and movies, rank salmon as our favorite type of nigiri, or raw fish sushi, and value our friends as a top priority in our lives. Staying with her family allowed me to see Japan, a country I once saw only as a powerhouse for innovative technology and delicious food, in a whole new light. I saw Japan through her eyes, and I was able to see the hardworking families and the communities they strive to support, the schoolchildren who work diligently for a successful future, and the performers who provide lasting entertainment for all generations of the Japanese. My time in Japan allowed me to appreciate the diversity our planet holds, and welcome both differences and similarities in each community.
When Yuki visited my family and me in November, I hope she was filled with the same sense of wonder that I had during my time in Japan. Although she and I are 6,000 miles apart, the bonds I have with both her and Japan will last forever.
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