Teens get firsthand Japanese experience
October 4, 2013
By Christina Corrales-Toy
There is no better way to understand a culture than to visit the country from which it originated. Just ask a group of Liberty High School students who experienced a total Japanese immersion in July.
The group, including teens from Newcastle, took a 10-day visit to Japan as part of the KAKEHASHI Project, aimed to build stronger relationships between future Japanese and American leaders through a youth exchange.
Led by Liberty Japanese teacher Matt Harvey, students spent time in Tokyo before boarding the country’s famed bullet train that runs at speeds of about 150 mph to the city of Maizuru.
They saw temples, feasted on native cuisine, shopped in local convenience stores and, most importantly, got a real taste of what it was like to live in Japan.
“They aren’t as loud as we are and they are a lot more respectful,” Liberty freshman Tiffany Yamasaki said. “They’re all very friendly. Even if you’re just a stranger passing by on the street, they’ll smile.”
Yamasaki made the trip with her mother, both of Newcastle, and marveled at the opportunity to connect with her own heritage, as well as the chance to get a head start on the Japanese language, before she prepared to take the class in high school.
“While I’ve been in class, I’ve already recognized some phrases that I learned in Japan, but 10 days wasn’t quite enough to totally master it,” she said.
Newcastle resident Sydney Hartford, a Liberty freshman, wanted to make the trip because of a growing fascination with the Japanese culture. A fan of anime and manga, Japanese comics, Hartford said she was surprised at how similar Japan was to her own country.
“Once you’ve been to another country, you kind of realize that despite it being so far away and different, it is still going to be fundamentally the same,” she said. “They still do the same things. They have homework, they have school, they go to jobs.”
Arguably the best part of the trip was a three-day home stay, where students actually lived with Japanese families, said Alex Tachiyama, a Liberty senior.
The Liberty teens got a taste of Japanese traditions, learning customs, and understanding the culture’s deep respect and pride of its surroundings, Tachiyama said.
“There were no garbage cans anywhere but it was really, really clean there. There’s no litter,” he said.
What Tachiyama took away most from the trip was the experience of a different sort of patriotism, one that, though it appears different from Americans’, isn’t any less passionate.
“They have so much resilience and pride for their country,” he said. “Even though they don’t show patriotism like we do here in America, in Japan, they show it a whole lot more, just not right in your face. It’s more of a deep understanding.”
The fully funded trip was sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.