2015 Kurashiki Student Ambassador Essay: Allie Michael
I had always dreamed about going to Japan, however I never thought that my dream would actually come true so soon. I would like to give a huge thank-you to the Heart of America Japan-America Society and to the city of Kurashiki, for letting me experience this. It is definitely something that I will never forget. Words absolutely cannot describe how thankful I am for the coordination, financial assistance, and opportunity that I was given.
After our fifteen hour, anticipation-filled flight to San Francisco and then to Osaka, we were happily greeted by Mr. James Benson and his New Zealand soul patch. I had never been to Japan before so it was like stepping into a whole new world, one that I quickly came to love. While rolling around our carry-on suitcases, we boarded trains and rode to our next destination in Osaka, which was an adventure of its own. Our next adventure consisted of finding our hotel, which seemed to be more of a scavenger hunt if you ask me. We ended up eating tonkatsu, or pork cutlets, that night and then heading back to the hotel to get some much needed rest, for tomorrow we were meeting our host families!
After eating breakfast at the hotel the following morning, we headed to the Shinkansen and then to Kurashiki. When we arrived in Kurashiki, all of our host families were there with a huge sign. The mother of the Tanimoto family, my new host mom, and I headed to my new home for the next week and a half. Also with us was two-year-old Koutaro, who just went by “Ko-chan”, who instantly fell asleep in the car. While driving through the city to head home, I was surprised how “homey” it felt. It reminded me a lot of where I live now. Kurashiki, however, is a little more compact than Olathe. Arriving at the house, I was greeted by my host father who proceeded to say “My name is Katsuhide, but you can call me Katsu… like tonkatsu.” The joking manner of my host dad instantly made some of my nerves settle down. Later that afternoon I met 7-year-old Yuuya, or Yu-chan who seemed extremely shy, but soon warmed up and asked me things like: “Why are Americans so tall?”
The Tanimoto family was extremely kind and loving and I truly felt at home in their beautiful house. The moment I absolutely felt at ease and at home was when we were doing fireworks and when asked by his mom if he would give me one, Yu-chan said “of course!” I mostly spent time with my host mother, as my host dad was at work during the week, going to different sites around Kurashiki. As a family however, we went to see the Seto Ohashi Bridge, and the Bikan Historical District. Also while I was with the Tanimoto family, the four of us Kansas City kids went to Hiroshima and Miyajima with Mr. Benson. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was very powerful to say the least. After that we went and got Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki. However, I enjoyed my host mom’s better. Nothing beats homemade food! We then rode a ferry to the beautiful Miyajima and were greeted by tons of cute deer (they were probably my favorite part)! The tori gate there was huge and so beautiful!
After the week and a half had quickly ended, we went to a luncheon were the Kurashiki students who were coming to Kansas were and also our new host families. After all the wonderful speeches and performances, we four KC kids and the Kurashiki students went to the mall and took tons of purikura, or photo booth pictures, and exchanged Line accounts! I then headed to my new home with the Ishii family for the duration of the trip. My second host family consisted of my host mother, Reiko, my host father, Yasuyuki, my adorable host brother and sister, Kouga and Hana, and then my host grandparents, Hideo and Hisako. They greeted me so warmly and they acted as if I was their family straight away with hugs. Although I cried the first night in the Ishii house, due to the new atmosphere and because of the fact that I wasn’t ready to leave my first host family, I quickly got accustomed to the new house and family. Hana always wanted to study English with me and Kouga never failed to have a goofy look on his face. I even got to help Hana’s English teacher during one of their classes. At first I was a little intimidated, but I soon saw the amazing kindness in her and her husband at a barbeque we had when she told me I was considered to be a member of the family.
With the Ishii family, we took an “exclusive tour of Kurashiki” guided by the one and only “Kurashiki Expert,” Mr. Hideo Ishii! He was the self-proclaimed tour guide and I enjoyed an informational tour of the Bikan Historical Area and a visit to the Ohara Museum of Art. Also with the Ishii family we went to a summer festival and watched fireworks, wearing our new yukatas! The four of us KC Students also went and visited two high schools where we were greeted by kind and enthusiastic students, games, and activities. We all exchanged contact information and we had an amazing time. We also went on a little excursion visiting many historical places in Kurashiki and yachting a little bit (which was very frightening for me). Near the end of the week and a half with the Ishii family, we headed to the Kurashiki Station to set off to Kyoto. The time at the station was full of tears and emotions from not wanting to leave our precious families that we came to love and care about.
Our time in Kyoto was short but it was full of beautiful, historical sites that we got the chance to see on a tour. We ended the night with karaoke and went to bed at our hotel. We reluctantly woke up the next day, realizing it was our last. Walking the streets of Kyoto, doing a little shopping, was so much fun but was cut short with having to head to the airport to go back to Kansas.
This wonderful experience is something that I will keep in my memories and in my heart for as long as I live. I was fortunate enough to be allowed to go on this amazing trip and I could never be thankful enough to everyone that has helped coordinate this. I want to thank again HAJAS, the city of Kurashiki and my two amazing host families the Tanimoto family and the Ishii family. I cannot wait to go back and see you again.