HALLIE Baumann:  Student Ambassador to Kurashiki, Japan

Summer 2010 Essay

Heart of America Japan-America Society


First of all, I would like to sincerely thank the Japan America Society of Greater Kansas City for presenting me with this amazing opportunity. I sincerely hope that more students recognize the treasure that this program is, and take advantage of it. It gives people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to take a trip like this a chance to explore Japan with the added bonus of homestays and guidance from local organizations and government.

I had some of the best times of my life while in Japan this summer. I treasure the memories I have of the new people and places I was able to meet and see. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never be able to relive; but the connections I made with my families there are deep enough to stay strong even though we are halfway across the world from each other.

The morning after we arrived in Japan I was greeted by my first host mother and taken to their lovely apartment that is across the street from a temple! As the day went on and I got settled in, I met the rest of the family one by one. Their names are Mrs. Hiroko and Mr. Hidehiko Okamura, their daughters Hanayo and Tamayo, plus U-chan, their huge pet rabbit. Hanayo and Tamayo were shy at first because they don’t speak much English, but we soon became friends. I miss them very much, but we now talk via e-mail, and soon Skype, so I am very happy.

One of the first things we did together as a family was going on an udon adventure! We drove for a long time up a mountain to reach the first udon shop; then we drove all the way back down and across a whole ton of rice paddies to reach the second place. It was very funny, because when we got there my host family seemed disappointed. I asked why, and they said that the shop used to be decrepit and not popular, but now it seemed shiny and new! For the next shop we went in search of curry udon that didn’t have pork in it (because I keep a level of kosher and I looooove curry). I don’t think we ever found any, but it was fun looking! The last place we went to is named “Gamou” and apparently it is very famous for its noodles. They are extra long and square shaped and very delicious; but by the time we got there I could barely eat a single noodle because I was so full from the other shops! Also, because the building was very cramped and the line wrapped around the outside, what you do when you’re done with your noodles is dump the broth in a bucket outside and your chopsticks in one next to it and leave your bowl in a pile.  It was kind of nasty, kind of pretty to look at all of the broth with the spring onion slices floating on top.

For the second half of the trip, I stayed with the Hashimotos: Mrs. Yasuko, Mr. Tetsuya, their daughter Shino, their sons Satoshi, Naoki, and Takafumi, and Mi-kun, their feisty pet kitten who likes to crawl up people’s backs. I don’t think I ever got to meet Naoki because he lived for the most part with a friend, but the Hashimotos were very welcoming and initiated me into their daily routine very quickly. Almost every night we would watch TV and play cards around their kitchen table. Shino was very enthusiastic about playing; I remember her pouting face and her victory dances with much amusement.

On the first day I spent with the Hashimotos, my host parents and I woke up bright and early and went to a corn festival. There were stalls there with grilled corn, sweet corn, and other tasty treats. The best part was picking our own corn in the fields. My host father told me how to find the best ones. I felt like I was in a movie, running through the rows of stalks. We all brought home a lot of corn, and for an extremely good price! We ate it for snack almost every day after. After we left the festival, it was actually a decent hour of the morning to be awake, so we went to a farmers market. There were lots of fresh produce and an abundance of fresh fish. We actually had a little bit of a scare about exactly how fresh it was when one of the fish crates started rattling like something was trying to get out! After a few shakes my host mother pointed it out to the fish lady, who promptly kicked the crate and said it was fine. It stopped moving after that; I think that part freaked me out even more…

One of the nicest parts of the trip was actually right before we left Okayama. My second host family was dropping me off at the airport when who do I see there, but my first host family as well. Both families and I got to talk for a while, and laugh, and cry. It was so nice seeing the two families that had made my trip so great talking together. It seemed like a good ending for that part of the trip.

Overall, this trip has cemented the idea that the Japanese are some of the best, kindest, and most amazing people in the world. My host families were amazing. Our government guides were amazing. The members of the Kurashiki-Kansas City Citizens Exchange Association Programme and the Japanese students who were coming to Kansas City were amazing.  I can’t believe my luck to have had the chance to meet so many beautiful people in such a short period of time. Thank you so much for enabling me to have these remarkable experiences. I am grateful from the bottom of my heart.