Anna Bradley Essay

Kurashiki Student Ambassador, 2011

I enjoyed going to Japan this summer. I could never have experience this amazing, once in a lifetime trip without the help of the Japan-America Society, the Kurashiki-shi City Hall ambassadors, and all the people who supported me in going to Japan. I would like to thank the City Hall representatives of Kurashiki-shi, Japan for their kindness and hospitality. I also wish to extend a huge thank you to all the members of the Japan-America Society—without them, I would have never participated in going to Japan, or even make it so far as to be interviewed.

I remember getting a call late at night, telling me that I would have the opportunity to travel to Japan. If not for the JAS, that dream would have broken. Finally, I would like to send my thanks to my parents, my friends, and all the people involved in my going to Japan. My parents and friends supported me and now, I appreciate how much of an effort my parents and the Japan-America Society made for me. I feel so lucky to have come across this program and after passing on to travel as an ambassador for the first time, I feel proud to be a part of the Japan-America Society. Thank you very much for making my summer the most exciting and life-changing adventure I have ever encountered!

I had never been an ambassador before. When I found out I was going to Japan with three other student ambassadors, I felt scared and nervous. I discovered that the other student ambassadors and I shared various hobbies and interests. One of my highlights on the trip was our first night arriving in Kurashiki City and going to eat shabu-shabu with a city hall representative, Mr. Benson, and Lauren Caldwell, Danni Campbell, and Rosalyn Lucas. The jetlag made us all so tired and we began to show symptoms of “slap-happiness,” Danni commented on how the restaurant used real cubes of ice instead of the awkward trapezoid shapes of ice that exist in America. We all burst out in laughter.

I will never forget going to a sports arcade called Round1 with Rosalyn, Lauren, Nanako, Kuroda, and my host brothers. Round1 reminded me of Powerplay even though I have never been to Powerplay. I got to meet three students who would visit Kansas City, Missouri as part of the Kurashiki City exchange program. I played pool with Kuroda, Nanako, and Ryota. Kuroda and I lost the pool game. We decided to play another game since the first game ended too quickly. Ryota and I tried showing Nanako how to hold a pool stick so she hit a successful shot. At one point, Nanako hit the ball wrong and it flew across the room. Everyone laughed at how far the billiard traveled.

Another amazing highlight of my trip to Japan was when my second host family, Takayo and Shiori, took me to Ikura-Do and the Tottori prefecture with Yuki. Yuki explained that the Tottori prefecture is famous for the Detective Conan museum. Tottori also marks the birth of comics. Yuki, Shiori, Takayo, and I got to visit the Conan museum and I took many photos of the different movie posters from Detective Conan.

Ikura-Do is a huge underground cavern that people can climb through. I have never climbed inside a naturally carved in cave on the side of a mountain before. I saw underground cisterns and places where people throw coins as offerings to make their wishes come true. It was so hot outside that day so hiking through a cool, damp cave refreshed us. My host mother, Takayo, bought everyone flavored shaved ice and we all fell asleep on the way home. I loved going to Ikura-Do with Yuki and Shiori and my host mother. It felt like I was taking a field trip and I had so much fun. On the way to Ikura-Do, I let Yuki listen to my iPod. We listened to Japanese pop music and both of us fell asleep. Takayo pulled her car into a highway rest stop area. It was beautiful and there was a small faded red sign with Japanese calligraphy explaining why the waterfall behind it was so amazing. Yuki and I took tons of pictures in front the sign. Then Yuki started making scary noises, telling me that a ghost haunted the waterfall. We laughed all the back to Takayo’s car imitating ghosts. I never laughed so hard in my life.

Next to Ikura-Do, my other all time favorite memory from this trip has been going to Okayama with Yuki, Yukina, and Shiori. I took the train with Yukina and Shiori to meet up with Yuki. I did not realize that we were going to see Yuki so when I saw her sitting on the bench outside of the station, I shrieked with joy. I really wanted to see Yuki while I visited Japan; she was my shadow student when I visited the Amaki school last year and I hosted her at my house when she visited my school. My dad told me how Yuki’s personality resembled my own personality. We stuck together like glue the entire homestay. Yuki saw me and she threw her arms up. She told me that she was so excited to see me. We took turns asking each other questions about the past year. I asked her how everyone at the Amaki School was doing and she asked me about my family and my friends at school. Yuki reminded me how much fun I had the past year I went to Japan.

In Okayama, I remember going into the train station bathroom with Yukina, Shiori, and Yuki and giving Yuki a makeup lesson in front of the bathroom mirrors. Yukina wanted to make Yuki look prettier with eyeshadow but she did not know how to put it on so she asked me to help. I thought it was hilarious that Yuki was learning about makeup and beauty tips inside of a train station.

My other favorite moment with Yuki was when she and her mother took me to visit Bikanchiku. Bikanchiku is famous in Japan for being the oldest historical area in Okayama prefecture. Bikanchiku is also famous for its “white walled buildings.” Yuki and her mother and I visited a local shrine in Bikanchiku. Yuki told me I was lucky to visit the shrine that day because it rained. She told me that rain meant “welcome” when you visited a shrine in the rain. While we toured around Bikanchiku, we saw several swans and Yuki’s mother let us feed the fish. I took pictures of the swans and the orange and black speckled koi fish in the river. Visting Bikanchiku was also the day that one of Yuki’s friends, Fuji, texted Yuki asking me on a date. Yuki let me text Fuji back saying “hello.” We spent the last couple hours inside the information center texting Fuji. In one of the vending machines inside the center, I saw a bottle of apple juice that read “Fuji Ringo” which literally translated to “Fuji Apple.” I laughed loudly and pointed at the juice bottle to Yuki. She laughed too. She drew a little cartoon man and wrote “Fuji” with an arrow pointing to the man. Then she drew an apple and wrote “ringo” with another arrow.

“’Fuji’ and ‘fuji ringo’ are different” Yuki told me while still half-laughing. After that, Yuki and I laughed every time Shiori or Yukina mentioned ‘Fuji’ and ‘apple’ in the same sentence. It became our own little inside joke.

Bikanchiku and Ikura-Do were by far the most memorable moments of my trip. I felt so included spending time with my second host family and Shiori’s friends. I even made an inside joke that Yuki and I can laugh about. My last visit to Japan was fun but I felt like going to Kurashiki-shi was more enjoyable this time. Everywhere my host families took me, the local people greeted me warmly. I even found the chance to speak with a couple store clerks. I found that the Japanese people were so kind and welcoming everywhere I visited. My host families did an amazing job hosting me. They made sure I felt at home, took me sightseeing nearly every day, and also let me help out around the house. I never once missed my home or my family. A week and a half had gone by before I sent my first text to my mother.

I loved visiting Kurashiki-shi, Japan this summer and I never got homesick. It was impossible for me to feel isolated and alone in a country where all the local people treated me with overwhelming kindness. I remember my first host mother, Emi, taking me to a famous udon noodle restaurant for lunch on my first day of homestay. I ate with my little host brother, Kengo, and Emi.

When we all finished our lunch and got up to dump our trays, I smiled at one of the chefs and showed my gratitude with “arigatou gozaimasu” and a bow. All the cooks turned around and waved at me. My host mother smiled and told me that I made all the cooks smile with my kindness. Even the customers waved goodbye to me. I still recall my first day with my host family. I have never seen such widespread kindness in a local restaurant before.

Following my first homestay, I felt like I did not visit Japan for very long. Three weeks zipped by so fast that it only seemed like I stayed in Japan for a few days. I had so much fun making jokes, practicing my Japanese with the natives, and spending quality time with my two host families. It was the best experience of my life so far, and I feel so lucky to say that I visited Japan a second time.