Irene Hsi: Student Ambassador to Kurashiki, Japan
Summer 2010 Essay
Heart of America Japan-America Society
The 2010 ambassador trip to Kurashiki, Japan was more amazing than I ever thought possible. I am glad that I did not pass up this opportunity made possible by the members of the Heart of America Japan-America Society. I learned and experienced so many things on this trip that I could not possibly have learned through the classroom. I stayed first with the Kinoshita family, Susumu, Hiroko and their children Nanami and Yukihiko. My second host family was the Shibakawa family including Makoto, Keiko and their children Rintaro, Ryutaro, Rio, and Rikiro. This trip helped me grow as a person because I experienced aspects of Japanese culture that I did not even know existed.
Both of my host families have small children under six years old so I learned a lot about Japanese primary education. Japanese children start going to school much earlier than American children. They can, but do not have to, start nursery school when they turn one year old. Unlike in the United States, kindergarten starts when children are four years old and lasts for two years. Nanami, who is five years old, was also learning the times tables and the English alphabet from her mother.
Also, I found out that mothers are expected to leave the workforce as soon as they have children or sometimes even as soon as they get married. Keiko said that often times, their social lives usually revolve around their work, for example, becoming friends with their coworkers or going to company dinners or outings. So, when they leave the workforce, they also leave their social lives behind so many mothers join mother-child societies that meet at least once a month. She brought me to the July meeting and at least fifteen mothers and twice that many children were present. They celebrate the birthdays of every child at the monthly meetings as well as traditional Japanese holidays. It was really fun this time because we celebrated Tanabata. The Tanabata festival celebrates the meeting of star-crossed lovers once a year. The children wrote wishes on pieces of paper and tied them, along with handmade decorations, onto shoots of bamboo. Most of the mothers in the society had already quit work; however, Keiko received maternity leave because she works for the government. I also learned from her that most people who inspect for the Japanese government move around and transfer a lot so that no connections that could lead to favors are made. Hiroko, on the other hand, still works because she owns her own company that helps with the importation of foreign goods into Japan. They are both extremely concerned with the ageing Japanese population which is partially related to the having women leave the workforce when they have children. Currently, women do not want to stop working so they put off getting married and having children.
Both my host fathers worked in the medical field. Susumu works selling medical equipment and Makoto is a medical systems engineer. Susumu was away on business trips most of the time. Makoto returned from work a little later than most Americans would but not exceptionally late like I thought he would. Hiroko and Keiko were the ones who could speak English so I had fun trying to communicate with Susumu and Makoto in only Japanese.
My host families took me to many places during my stay. I visited Nanami’s kindergarten on the last day of school. Hiroko took me to her office in a building which was right next Kurashiki Station. She also let me sit in on one of her meetings when a consultant was helping her build her website. Susumu also brought me to see Saijo Inari which is a famous shrine in the area where we saw a small community festival. It was held in hopes of rainfall and a good harvest. They also invited a local high school taiko drum group to play as part of the ceremonies. I loved being able to see a small area festival. We drove to Osaka and visited the grandparents. They also helped me buy an electronic dictionary in an electronics store in Osaka. Keiko brought me to visit local sites in Kojima where the Shibakawa family lives. We went to the Seito Ohashi Bridge and the salt lord Nozaki’s home. We also went to a fireworks festival with her sister’s family. We also went to the circus and the kids had a lot of fun. I went with Keiko to drop off and pick up Rintaro and Ryutaro from kindergarten one day and they lead me around to show me the school. I really enjoyed my time with the children of both families. I could communicate with them so I was really happy. I also enjoyed speaking with my host parents; I learned a lot from them and they seemed to enjoy hearing about the United States too.
We were also taken on a tour of the Bikan historical area in Kurashiki. It was an interesting place and still held the feel of traditional Japan. We went to the Momotaro museum and many haunted houses. At the shrine overlooking the Kurashiki area, we prayed. The Kansas City Friendship Group brought us to quite a few interesting places. I think the most interesting was going to the Bizen pottery shop. I really like the concept behind Bizen pottery which is recreating natural beauty in pottery. The trip to Miyajima and Hiroshima was both exciting and saddening. However, I am glad that I was able to go to Hiroshima and see everything related to the atomic bombing. Miyajima is a really beautiful place and I am happy that the tide was in when we went. Our trip ended in Tokyo, and although we only had one day there, it was still great to see the city.
Many people made this an unforgettable trip for me. I am lucky that my host families decided to host a student this time and I want to thank them along with everyone who helped me in Japan for the opportunity. This was a great experience and I definitely want to return to Japan again in the future. So, thank you members of the Heart of America Japan-America Society for helping me go on this trip to Kurashiki, Japan.