My trip to Japan was indescribable. I will never forget all of the memories I made with my KC girls and my friends from Japan. I never would have had this life-altering opportunity without the help of the Japan-America Society. I would like to thank Patty Woods and Lydia Kanki for preparing for my trip, the wonderful Kurashiki City, James Benson, Kondo Mari, and the Fujikawa family and the Taniyoshi family for making my experience incredible. To anyone else who was involved in this trip that I have forgotten to mention, my eternal gratitude extends to you as well.
I have never traveled overseas before so I didn’t know what to expect. The girls I had trekked with were incredibly friendly and had similar interests. It was very easy to become friends with them. Tiffany has been to Japan before so she had a lot of wonderful tips to give. Katie was wise beyond her years and had very interesting topics to discuss. Bianca was a fun-loving, blunt but caring younger girl who brightened up the trip with her mannerisms. I couldn’t have asked for a better group to go with.
I led the group out into the lobby of the airport where a man approached us and removed his hat in a gentlemanly manner. This man was James Benson, our guide when we took field trips. He escorted us to the hotel we were to stay at and translated amazingly well for us. Tiffany suggested that we should dive right into the Japanese culture and stay in a Japanese-style room with a Japanese-style breakfast in the morning. Staying in an authentic Japanese hotel room really prepared me for what I was getting into. We then wandered the tranquil Japanese town for a place to eat. Although dinner was a bit awkward, being in a small restaurant at 10 pm, it was amazing. I felt jolly and my new friends could tell. Japan felt like home already.
The following morning brought our group to the meeting of our host families. In a hazy mess, I greeted my first host mother and father, Mami and Kazu. I also met my second host mother Chiaki and her oldest daughter Remi. A few Japanese students who were preparing to go to Kansas City were there to greet me as well. I wish I could have been more aware throughout the meeting, nonetheless they accepted me as one of their own. I felt really welcomed by all.
Mami and Kazu drove me to their house in the mountains. “An antique” Kazu stated, describing the house as a very old one. I thought of it as traditional and gorgeous. Then Mami told me we were picking up my host sisters from school. So we hopped back in the car and drove to the train station. The scenery passing by was vastly different from the Kansas countryside, it was magnificently green everywhere we looked. We pulled to a stop at the train station and I met my two new host sisters, Minori and Kaho. Their English was impressive, from their introduction to their One Direction sing-alongs.
I couldn’t have asked for a better way to begin my journey in Japan than to spend my first few weeks with the Fujikawa family. I can’t even begin to describe how much fun I had! We went shopping, we went to a shrine, a barbecue restaurant, a sushi place, karaoke, a festival, the ocean, an aquarium, the Great Seto Bridge, and every single second was outstanding. They bought me mango juice, Anpanman merchandise, and even gave me my very own chopsticks! Mami prepared tons of delicious food that I never would be able to taste in America and I ate until my stomach was close to bursting. During my first homestay, Mari Kondo chaperoned us in Hiroshima and Miyajima. It was an eye-opening experience. Before our boat ride to Miyajima, we had the best meal of my entire life called okonomiyaki. I’ve heard about it in Japanese class, and it did not disappoint.
On our last day together as a host family, we set off fireworks. The family prepared a cake in celebration as well; it was delicious as always! My last night was spent in Kaho and Mino’s room. We listened to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu as they taught me how to make a friendship lanyard. Kaho said they were to give to your friends to give them luck. We then gave each other the bracelets we made. Mino also made me a craft in the shape of a panda and Anpanman. In exchange, I taught them the cup song. Throughout my stay with the Fujikawa family, I never felt out of place. I felt as if it was my very own home.
My next host family, the Taniyoshi family, was very kind to me as well. We watched movies, went to college, explored an art museum, and went to a cat café together. It was tremendously entertaining the whole way through. We rented a few Anpanman DVDs, Studio Ghibli movies, and Les Miserables. I sang nearly every word of Les Miserables, and my sisters, Remi and Mana, kept encouraging me to sing louder. Watching Anpanman and Howl’s Moving Castle for the first time was amazing as well. College in Japan prepared me for college in America; they were actually kind of similar. The art museum was breathtaking. The cat café was super cute; I love cats. One cat even kissed me on the nose!
One day, the Fujikawa family came over to visit and have dinner. I was so elated to reunite with them one last time! We made onigiri (rice balls) together and we had barbecue for dinner. Afterward, Kaho, Mino, and I taught Remi and Mana the cup song. I hope that they share the cup song with their friends and remember me. During that homestay, we went to a secret temple, a katana museum, and a pottery shop. The secret temple was for our eyes only; it is closed off to most visitors. We were taught how to meditate, and I really felt refreshed when we left. Then, we went to the katana museum. We learned how a katana is made and saw some magnificent art that inspired some katanas. The pottery place was stunning as well. This is where Benson’s coined the phrase of the trip, “It’s all part of the experience.”
On our last day, we said our goodbyes and the Fujikawa family took me to the train station. I received photo albums of our experience and letters, and I couldn’t help but tear up. I was so incredibly happy to have this experience with both of my families, but I was so sad to go. They made my trip extraordinary and I cannot thank them enough. For our last day in Kyoto, the girls and I took a bus tour to many scenic areas. That night, we went to karaoke together and had the time of our lives. Benson was a fabulous tour guide; he was very entertaining. We were all so sad to leave him.
My trip to Japan was unbelievable. I am so lucky to have been chosen to take this trip, and even luckier to make all of these new friends. I cannot express my gratitude fully no matter how many times I thank everyone. In my wildest dreams I would never have expected to go to Japan. The Japanese culture has become a part of who I am. And it is all thanks to the Japan-America Society, my host families, and everyone involved. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in my entire life.