2015 Kurashiki Student Ambassador Essay: Cory Bestwick
I am always a little embarrassed to admit that my love of the Japanese language came because of my discovery of anime, but now I can say with full certainty that the real Japan is much more wonderful than just the entertainment it creates. With the help of the Heart of America Japan-America Society, the city of Kurashiki, and my Japanese teacher Naoko-Sensei, I was able to visit the city of Kurashiki this summer, and it was by far the greatest trip I have been on in my eighteen years of life.
After my second international flight and a stressful wandering through the Japanese airport (I was not quite as stressed as my colleagues were), we met our English-speaking guide James Benson, a great and wonderful man. We stayed in a hotel for the first night, then went by train to Kurashiki to meet our host families. My first family, the Ozaki family, was made up of Tomoo, Izumi, Reina, and Tatsuya. They were a family of firsts in a sense for me, since with them I did many things for the first time in my life. I bathed in onsen (a Japanese hot spring) for the first time, ate fresh sushi at my first sushi bar, visited my first Japanese school, shopped at my first Japanese mall, experienced my first typhoon, saw and swam in the ocean for the first time, almost passed out on a bike in Miyajima for the first time, and learned many new things about the Japanese language. Most importantly though, I had my first impression of the kindness of the people in Japan with them, and I was blown away. Everyone was polite and helpful, and no one refused a favor if you needed one. It was truly heartwarming to see how well-mannered the people there were.
Since Tomoo was often working, most of the traveling I did with the Ozaki family I did with Izumi. She was amazingly nice and patient with my lower-level Japanese skills, but since she was also learning English we were able to help and teach each other during my stay. Initially I was quite nervous because of how much Japanese I did not understand, but with her help I was able to venture out of my comfort zone and vastly improve my Japanese. We went to many stores and bought many things together (I probably did the most buying actually), visited a nationally-renowned garden and castle, and did a multitude of different activities with Reina and Tatsuya. Her cooking was to die for; each night’s dinner seemed better than the last’s, and she even let me prepare the food one night (although hers was better). Reina and Tatsuya were hilarious and very fun to play with. Tomoo was funny as well, and they were all patient and kind regarding my level-two Japanese skills.
After my time with the Ozaki family I transferred to the Ono family. On my first day with them I met their missionary friends, Michael Moos and Arthur Gabriel, and after some intense ping pong we all ate delicious Indian food and went home for the night. Even though we spent more time relaxing we still did many fun things and the added down time was nice to have. One day the oldest son, Seito, and I spent the day at the mall, where we bought a few trinkets, went to the arcade, watched the new Terminator movie, and had sushi for dinner. Another day I went to a different mall with the oldest sister, Seine, and had a similar fun experience. Everyone in the Ono family spoke English well, so my imperfect Japanese was less of a constraint.
With my host mom Noriko, I helped teach an English class at her church, and even one at her home. She was an amazing person as well, and being with her and her family certainly enhanced my experience in Japan. Her missionary friends were awesome as well, and I will never forget my time with them. Since we held similar beliefs it was great to talk about religion with them; I remember one Sunday where we talked for over an hour, just the three of us, about our beliefs. Meeting them was an unusual addition to my trip that I could have never predicted, but I am forever thankful that as well as my outstanding host families, I was able to meet them as well.
Not only did we do things with our host families, but we also had many trips with Mr. Benson and some Kurashiki city officials during our stay in Japan. With Benson we took a day trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima, visited two high schools, and also went on another day trip with the members of the Kurashiki city office. All of these trips were great experiences, and meeting and getting to know Benson is one of my fondest memories of my time in Japan. Meeting the Kurashiki students traveling to Kansas City at the luncheon party was also a pleasure, although dancing in front of everyone there was quite unnerving. During our last days we traveled to Kyoto with our other guide Fujii-san. I will never forget sightseeing in the city and getting lost together those last few days, and I will always be able to remember Kyoto by the great souvenirs I bought there.
I try to make it a goal in my life not to make too big a deal out of anything, but to do this regarding my trip to Japan would be a great injustice to all of the individuals who gave their time and effort to allow us to visit Kurashiki this summer, and even to myself. No object or elaborate speech can express how thankful I am to my host families, the Heart of America Japan-America Society, the city of Kurashiki, and anyone else who had a hand in preparing our trip. The day I got the call from Patty Woods saying I was going to Japan that summer I could not (and still cannot) figure out how a level two amidst level threes and fours could have been accepted, but despite my lack of fluency it was the most meaningful experience I have had in my life. I learned many great things about Japan and about the language and about the people who live there. I also learned, first-hand and undeniably, the benefit of leaving one’s comfort zone, of trying new things and expanding one’s horizons, and not denying oneself of a perfect learning experience because it might be embarrassing at times. I learned to swallow my fear and try something new, and in this case, it was the best decision I have ever made.