2015 Kurashiki Student Ambassador Essay: Erika Fiscus
“To travel is to take a journey into yourself” (Danny Kaye). This once in a lifetime opportunity to travel to Kurashiki is the ultimate learning experience. I have not only grown as a student of Japanese, I have grown several feet as a person and I cannot thank the Japan-America Society, Patty Woods and Lydia Kanki and the wonderful people from Kurashiki City who made this opportunity available to me enough. I also cannot thank James Benson and Mr.Fuji enough for their guidance as we tested the waters of Japan both literally and figuratively. For this journey into Kurashiki and into myself I cannot think of anyone better to lead us and help us grow. From our preparation to our actual time, this was a dream come true.
As we stepped off the plane after a fourteen-hour flight, my legs, sore from sitting too long, protested as the four of us in our awesome maroon Student Ambassador T-shirts hopped onto the shuttle headed towards integration and baggage claim. Once we had gotten through all of the security we spotted Mr. Benson and were immediately relieved to know that we had an adult to help us navigate the rest of the way. After getting lost only once we made it to our hotel and got to try the delectable famous food of Osaka, 551 Horai. It was heaven to bite into the fluffy, warm bun after a long day of travel. That night we met Mr. Benson’s old student for dinner; she had gone on the exchange to Kansas the year before. She made us feel so welcome and made me that much more excited to finally meet our host families.
The next day we headed out of Osaka and towards Kurashiki. After countless trains and gazing at the lush countryside and the busy cities we passed through we finally made it to Kurashiki station. I was so nervous and just hoped that my host family would like me. All of my fears and butterflies were blown away once we saw our families standing there with the welcome sign and the first thing my host mom did was hug me. I can never thank her enough for doing that. It made me feel at ease right away and her smile brushed away my worries. My little host sister Nanami who is three and my host grandpa was also there. I couldn’t wait to meet the rest of the Nishimotos. After meeting my host dad, Takashi, host grandma, Akemi, and my little host brother Naotaka, who just turned two, there was a parade my host mom and Nanami were going to be in. It was amazing! All of the dancers in the parade were so together and knew how to do each move just so. One of the things I love about Japan is their celebrations. They are always filled with color and light.
Some of the trips I took with my host mom were to the Bikan Historical District, a pagoda, and a sake factory. On my last trip with the Nishimotos we took a trip to the highest point in Japan. We drove an hour or two to a mountain and then hiked up for a long time. I made the mistake of choosing to wear a long skirt and impractical shoes that day but I made it safely up and down that mountain! Nanami and I took it one step at a time together. Once we reached the top there was a castle and we had the opportunity to go up inside it. It was surreal walking where people from many years ago had walked. That is a day I will not fail to remember.
The four of us met back up again and got to share our own unique experiences with each other as we traveled to Hiroshima and Miyajima. We visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum located at the exact place the atomic bomb hit. I learned many things about what happened that horrible day and will forever carry what I learned about the kids and families who lived through that in my heart. After an emotion filled afternoon, we got on a boat to get to Miyajima, where deer run free and abundant and the famous spirit gate is located. We walked through Itsukushima shrine where a wedding was taking place and got to see a little bit what Shintoism is all about. As a Kansan who doesn’t see the sea very often this was a rare treat to just take a boat out on the water. Later during the trip our group of four met up again to experience the hospitality of the city and we were gifted with the amazing experience to go boating, visit a Zen temple, and swim in the ocean. I loved every second of it and I would like to thank those who set up that portion of the trip for us, it was very enjoyable to experience that with everyone!
About halfway through our trip it was time to switch families and perform the dance I choreographed to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off”. At the luncheon we were given very special gifts that I could not appreciate more from the city and were able to meet the students going to travel to Kansas. My second host family, the Mori family, was also there and after a sad goodbye, I left with my host mom and my host brother, Daijiro, who is thirteen and my older host brother’s, Koudai’s, girlfriend. Her name is Mei and she and I communicated really well. It felt like I was able to have one more person there that opened her heart to me and again, I cannot put into words how amazing it is to feel that from someone. That evening I met my host dad, Yoshihisa, and my host sister, Yuuka. We had a lot of laughs getting to know each other and I feel honored that I was able to be a part of their family.
My host mom, Yuuka, and I took a trip together to an onsen, the Japanese hot springs, and we had the most amazing meal. That evening we wore yukata and went down to the little festival where they had live performances of a band and traditional Japanese music. Later that week, after meeting my other host sister, Chihiro, we took a trip to Okayama Castle and a beautiful garden. The amount of time and energy it must have taken to make everything so perfect is insurmountable. A large festival was happening while we were there so my awesome host grandma, Misako, dressed me in a beautiful yukata and I got to experience a Japanese festival in the most traditional way. We ate shaved ice and at the very end there were fireworks. That festival is one of my most memorable moments. On my last trip with the Mori family we drove to an udon, a type of noodle, making school and I can still taste the love put into those noodles.
The last day at the station there were many tears and watery goodbyes but it was time to go. We got on a train with Mr. Fujii and headed to Kyoto. Once there we went on a tour to a couple places rich in history. The next day it was time to board a bus and head to the airport.
Though it has been a few months since my return to the United States and Kansas I have thought of my time in the beautiful mountainous city of Kurashiki every day. “For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.” (Leonardo da Vinci) My eyes turn towards a clear skyline every evening and I am reminded of the way the sun disappeared behind the tops of lush green in the distance. Every morning I can’t watch the sun rise without thinking of the way the sky would turn pink and you wouldn’t see the burning globe until it peeked out from the misty mountains. But more importantly and most of all, with these physical reminders I am always reminded of the people – the people that I never expected to change my life or to make me feel like I was a part of their family. They welcomed me with open arms and hearts and I cannot thank them enough for that or those who have given me the opportunity to experience something that was bigger than myself and opened me up to more than just my life in Kansas.
Every time I pick up my chopsticks that were given to me by the Mori family I can’t help but be reminded of sitting at the dinner table and hearing the happy chatter of everyone around me. Every time I see a couple with two children I can’t help but be reminded of the Nishimoto family and how wonderful they were and how my host siblings never failed to bring a smile to my face. I long to see those who touched my life in such a positive way but I know that they are always in my heart. After just two weeks with each family I never wanted to leave. I hope that someday we can meet and enjoy each other’s company again.