Danni Campbell Essay

Kurashiki Student Ambassador, 2011

Is it possible to express my thanks to so many people who have contributed to the best experience of my life? It is not, but I will try my best. My name is Dannah (Danni) Campbell and I was a Student Ambassador in Kurashiki, Japan this summer of 2011. Before I extend my thanks, please let me highlight my unforgettable experiences in the beautiful country of Japan, where the warmest of people live.

The trip to Japan was long and it took a lot of preparation, but it was well worth it. When our plane landed in Osaka and I felt the wheels touch the ground, a shock wave of excitement went through me. I could not believe where I was. Mr. Benson picked us up after we found our way through the Osaka Kansai Airport. Mr. Benson was very kind, helpful, and funny. When we reached Kurashiki we had our very first meal. All four of us were giddy with excitement and fatigue. Even at that dinner of shabu shabu I still did not believe that I was in Japan. Mr. Benson took us for a walk down some of Kurahsiki’s streets. As I saw the lanterns in the windows and the narrow roads, I began to realize where I was and how lucky I was. We went for a short walk in the dark down a lane in the silent Bikan Historical Center, and in the serene beauty I finally fully realized that it was true: I was finally in that place that I had dreamed of for so long.

The morning of the next day I was very nervous about the idea of going to stay with a family that I had never met. I was afraid that I would say something wrong and offend them, or that I would embarrass myself. However, the exact moment that I saw the Takaki family come to pick me up, I immediately relaxed and I knew that everything would be okay. They live in a cozy little condominium on the 12th floor. They had my own room set up for me with everything I could ever need.

I could not ask for a better family to welcome me into Japan. Mutsumi, the mother (but I only called her Okaasan) did not speak any English at all, but took as good of care of me as if she was my own mother. She was sweet and kind and smiled all the time. Hiroshi was the father. Unfortunately, I did not get to spend much time with him because he worked at night, so he was asleep during most of the day. Misuzu, 27, and Saeko, 28, were their daughters that lived with them. Misuzu is probably the sweetest girl ever to have walked the earth. She listened so intently to what I had to say. She constantly showered me with gifts. Mi-Chan always had a huge smile on her face whenever I saw her, and she did many things to make me happy. Saeko, the eldest, spoke English pretty well. Like her sister, she was also very sweet, but calmer. Sae-Chan and I had many heartfelt conversations about marriage, my dream of becoming a translator, and we compared our countries’ and cultures. They were very thankful for the gifts that I gave them. They were especially thrilled that I had gotten a gift for their toy poodle- Choco, as well. Choco was a furry ball of personality and his antics was a form of amusement for us all.

My week with the Takakis is one that I will cherish forever. Just the daily meals were great fun. For dinner, the entire family was usually present because they were not working. Okaasan is the most talented cook. I had never eaten so well in my life. Her meals were varied so I could experience many different Japanese foods. My favorite was yaki soba and I hope she understood how thankful I was for her meals. My favorite mealtime moment was when I was inquiring to the girls what I should buy for my boyfriend, because I did not know what a boy would want. We asked Hiroshi, he being the only male, and he answered with the only English phrase he knew: “This is a pen.” They took me to my first rotating sushi restaurant and were glad by how delighted I was with it. Home life with the Takakis was mostly spent talking about our cultures and talking about our lives. I watched Japan win the Women’s Soccer World Cup on T.V. along with sumo wrestling, which was my favorite thing to watch.

My first family did so much to make sure that I would have the best experience. I went out mostly with the daughters. It felt like sister bonding time and I truly loved them like sisters. Misuzu, Saeko, and I went shopping at the mall often. One day we brought Okaasan along and we picked out my pink yukata. Misuzu was especially excited, because her favorite hobby was wearing kimonos and yukatas and doing Japanese dances. One day they took me to Okayama Castle. The garden in front of the castle was beautiful and seemed to fill everyone with good spirits because of how the sunshine shone on all the beautiful plants, ponds, and small buildings. We went into the castle and I got a wonderful view of Kurashiki from the top. Misuzu took me to the library. We did crafts together and I examined Harry Potter in Japanese. Hiroshi took off a day of work to get to know me. He drove me and the family into the mountains. Curving around corners we got glimpses of beautiful scenes through the gaps of the trees. He would pull over so I could get out and take many pictures. From atop one of the mountains I saw the sea for the first time. We wound down the roads until we reached the shore. We took a boat ride along the coast way. I got the most beautiful view of small islands dotted everywhere, misty with fog. Huge ships would pass by and amaze me. The most incredible thing I saw on the boat trip was the Seto Ohashi Bridge. It went on for miles across the sea to connect Honshu and Shikoku. That day we had lunch on top of a mountain overlooking the bridge and the bright blue water. The Bikan Historical Center was very close to the Takaki home. I was immensely enchanted by the old black and white warehouses and the river walk. I visited many of the adorable shops and bought some of my best souvenirs there. I walked along the river and watched the koi in the water and crossed the little bridge that is famous in that area. People were having boat rides down the river in old-style boats and there were even carts for people to ride pulled by men.

My time with the Takakis was nearing its close, but I had already learned many things about Japan. Many things had surprised me. Most of all was the toilets. The traditional toilet in the ground and the toilets in the home with the sink built in above them were a great surprise. The roads were shockingly narrow to me and I had no idea how people fit two cars going opposite directions down them. The singing crossing walk that played a beeping melody made me extremely happy for some odd reason. I found all these quirks dear, and I have the most fun revealing those memories to my friends.

The party where we switched families was a tearful one. I had become completely attached to the Takaki family and we all cried. Saeko, Okaasan, and I cried the hardest. But in the back of my mind I knew that I would see them again. After I thanked them sincerely, we promised to send each other many letters.

Then I was on to meet the Watanabe family. I was also very excited to meet them. They lived in a house on the outskirts of the city. Shozo, the father, 35, speaks English very well because he goes on many business trips to Hong Kong. Yumi was the mother, another one of the sweetest women. She also took care of me as if I was her own. She was very talented with calligraphy and we practiced kanji together. She would always write out agendas for me that helped me a great deal. Minami was their seven year old daughter. She was the brightest face in the room and was incredibly smart. She could read and write in Japanese and English. She loved to read and did her summer homework daily. Shiho was their 10-month-old baby. I was very attached to her. She was very hard to amuse and could scream loudly at times, but something about her made me happy as a lark. Last but not least is Hakase, their miniature schnauzer. He was quite a character and I laughed until my side hurt by how he played with the toy I gave him.

Home life in the Watanabe house was always interesting. Minami and I would play Wii every so often. Sometimes the family and I played ball, which was a ton of fun. I would tell them things about America and then they would tell me about Japan. One of my favorite things we did was we would all study English together almost every night. Minami enjoyed this the most and her English improved greatly. She asked me questions all the time and she wanted to impress me by studying English every day with all her free time. I had so much fun helping them understand my language but in doing so I also learned a lot of Japanese and new kanji. We would often go for walks in their quiet neighborhood and would always run into some of Minami’s friends.

Life outside the home with the Watanabe family was great as well. We went to the beach one day. Minami and I played in the water and gathered the green seaweedlike sheets that floated in the water. We also had a picnic. I spent a lot of time with my friend Lauren, another ambassador. We all went to the park and played with the little ones all day. But I think that we actually enjoyed the playground more than they did. One day we crossed the Seto Ohashi to Shikoku and we made our own uchiwa fans and ate the famous udon. We also climbed a huge hill to visit a small castle that day. Another day we went to pick blueberries, and then we visited an onsen. Lauren and I were nervous about the onsen at first, but it was very relaxing and felt wonderfully relaxing. We also visited a very tall and old Japanese temple. It was cool how it reflected in the pond. I rang the huge iron bell and prayed at the temple. I visited other temples and shrines with the Watanabe family and they all were unique in their own way. We visited the Watanabe’s friends one afternoon and had a noodle slide party. Two long poles of bamboo that were cut in half were strung together. Someone sent noodles down one side and we would catch them as they slid down with our chop sticks. They all were very surprised by how easily I could catch little cherry tomatoes with my chopsticks, while they had a hard time with it. Yumi and her daughters and I enjoyed a hike up a mountain one day, and we discovered many old buildings and statues here and there in the forest. One night I went to a summer festival at Minami’s school, which was elementary, middle, and high school all put together. I was surprised that they served alcohol in the lot of the school. I was also amazed to see everyone gather in a big circle and dance a traditional summer dance. We also went to a huge summer matsuri in town. There were banners with pretty ornaments hanging from them going across the street. People were marching down the street playing musical instruments. The sides of the streets were filled with booths of games and food. I had some of my favorite Japanese summer snack- kaki gori. We watched a highly talented taiko drum band play. It was a wonderful matsuri, but unfortunately it was one of my last nights with the Watanabes.

We also did many things as a student ambassador group with Kurashiki city members. One day we visited an ancient school where people practice zen. It was here that I saw the most beautiful thing on my trip. It was a simple thing: a pond with trees and stones around it. Every once in a while you would see a koi fin graze the surface of the water. The rain brought out even more beauty to that scene, and I was extremely enchanted with it. We met some Americans who practiced zen and we learned about their daily lives in the school. That day we also made Bizen pottery. We all got a chance to mold a bowl from clay. The owner of the shop was a very sweet old man. He gave us gifts and told us a story about the time he spoke to the emperor. He wondered if the emperor had remembered what he had said to him, which had been poetic. We visited City Hall one day. I felt very special when I got to meet the mayor. We also met the Japanese ambassadors who were going to Kansas City. We talked with them and then showed them the Cha Cha Slide. They folded gigantic paper cranes for us. We also visited the high school. I really enjoyed it because I had always thought of what school life in Japan would be like. The students who welcomed us were very cheerful and kind and they offered us gifts. We played games and had traditional Japanese sweets with them. We were shown many of the clubs in the school. We saw the Shoji game club, we participated in tea ceremony, saw people practicing archery, and we got to meet the students participating in kendo. My favorite day trip with the group was to Miyajima and Hiroshima. Hiroshima was a very highly emotional place for me. I was extremely fascinated by the museum that displayed all the pictures and artifacts from the disaster. I took many pictures of the famous building with the dome. Miyajima was an incredible stop. We took a ferry to see the giant red torii, a huge symbol of Japan. It was much bigger than I had expected and the temple in front of it was exquisite. The deer were very amusing to me. They would follow you around and beg for food. I saw one steal a man’s newspaper and eat it. Another tried to eat a girl’s shirt. They would stand outside of the open doors to the shops but would never go inside. With Yukie Nishi we visited Kyoto. We toured the geisha district. We visited the many Buddhist temples and Shinto Shrines that Kyoto is famous for. At one shrine I drank form the rivers that were to make you healthy, wealthy, and wise and I closed my eyes and touched the two stones that were to bring me happiness in love. The Shrine of 1,000 Buddhas was very fascinating. Seeing all these statues that are hundreds of years old and discovering that each was different from another was quite a shock. On our last day we traveled to Osaka and got a sky view from a tower. I was amazed by how vast the huge city was. It seemed never ending. Then we were off to the airport.

Both my families had come to say good- bye to me before I left for Osaka. I was very thankful to them and it was the hardest thing saying goodbye. But we promised to keep in touch and they have already sent me letters and pictures since I have gotten back. We plan to stay connected through letters and I promised to come back and visit them someday.

I reached many goals on this trip. I made friends and exchanged culture. I experienced first-hand what Japanese life was like. I learned new things and did new things that I am proud of. It made me feel independent and strong. My Japanese speaking skills increased and I am one step closer to becoming an interpreter. I have created life-long relationships. Most of all I have extremely precious memories that I can share for the rest of my life.

Now that I have expressed what this trip did for me I would love to extend my great thanks. I thank Mr. Benson and Yukie Nishi for helping me find my way in Japan. It is absolutely necessary that I must never end the thanks I give to my host families. They took me in, treated me very kindly, and helped me form an experience of a lifetime. And finally I would like to thank the Heart of America Japan-America Society. Without the people of this society my dream would not have been fulfilled. Please acknowledge that this thanks is sincere and everlasting. To all who helped me along the way of this road of dreams, I have all these wonderful memories and I will forever be happy looking upon them, and so I offer a thank you that is impossible to entirely give. Thank you! Thank you!