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The Impact of Visiting Japan on Life and the Future

African-American Students Discuss on Their Experiences

• Former students of the Langston Hughes Elementary School and participants of Kakehashi Project spoke about their experience in Japan at an event “Bridge the Future of Chicago’s Youth”, which was held on April 29 at the Japan Information Center of the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago.

• Consul General Naoki Ito welcomed the students and families from Langston Hughes and spoke about the development of “The Dream Project for the 21th Century.”
• In November 1999, then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi first visited Chicago, and many students from Langston Hughes welcomed him. Impressed by their Japanese speaking ability, Obuchi decided to invite them to Japan. Unfortunately, Obuchi passed away shortly after his visit to Chicago, and Ichiro Ozawa, a member of the House Representative of Japan, took over his mission and annually invited 15 to 20 students to Japan starting from 2000. About 260 students visited Japan through the program until the end came in 2013 along with the termination of the Japanese program in the elementary school. Some of the school graduates continued to study Japanese to adulthood.

• Consul General Ito said that the interest in the Japanese language has been increasing in Chicago and the Midwest while the number of teachers available to teach Japanese has been decreasing. “I hope some of you consider becoming Japanese teachers, so that you can share the impact that Japanese study has had on your lives,” Ito inspired the attendees.

• Earl Ware, former Principal of Langston Hughes said that the Japanese program was initiated in 1992 having the students have more respect on themselves and learn self-discipline, and it was successful. He applauded retired Japanese teachers, Mitsuko Rokuhira and Ikuko Nichols, for their devotion to the program. He also expressed his gratitude to Ichiro Ozawa.

• Kimbreana Goode, principal of the school, said that Xian Franzinger-Barrett joined the school last February to teach Japanese program, and is going to reopen the program.
• Franzinger-Barrett said, “The students are ready not only learning travel, but also to connect heart to heart in a way that can change the world.”

• Former student Erionna Tucker, who visited Japan when she was the 7th grade, spoke about her experience in Japan. She said, “It was the best experience in my life.”
• Her group visited the Ueno Zoo, Tokyo Disneyland, an elementary school, Meiji Shirine and more. She saw the cleanliness of the cities and recycling and then thought what information she could bring back to her home country to improve things in daily life. After she returned to the U.S., she recognized that she was bowing when she met with people.

• Since her childhood, Tucker’s dream was to go to Japan. She transferred to Langston Hughes and her dream came true. “There is opportunity for kids like us to go to Japan. It doesn’t mean having to go to college abroad. Just out from my experience, please, please take this opportunity into your hand. Being exposed to something new that you haven’t seen before is so breathtaking, so amazing,” she encouraged younger students.
• Now, Tucker is a student of the DePaul University with a major in Graphic Design and a minor in Japanese.

• Leah Castleberry and Brandon Stuart visited Japan last March through Kakehashi Project, which was created this year by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in partnership with the Embassy of Japan in Washington D.C., to increase African-American interest in and exposure to the culture of Japan.
• Castleberry noted Japan’s co-existence of technologies, nature, and culture and said, “One never sacrifices for others.” After returning to the U.S. she said that she wanted to strengthen ties between the African-American and American communities with the Japanese community. Castleberry currently works for IBM.

• Brandon Stuart started studying Japanese when he was a high school student and stayed with a Japanese family in Aichi Prefecture in 2005. He screened his digital story that showed many meetings with a variety of people and good food. He graduated from the University of Chicago with a master degree and works for the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

• Three former students from Langston Hughes and the two participants of Kakehashi discussed the impact they had on their lives and future. Dan Seals, former JET teacher and government official, joined to lead them.

• Donald Walker (18-year-old HS student) visited Japan when he was in the 7th grade student and loved all his experiences, including Japanese people and culture. He said that having a lunch with the Prime Minister was an amazing experience. After returning to Chicago, he began to see people’s eyes when he talked with them and felt more disciplined.
• Having high-school life and many new experiences, Walker said, “I definitely want to continue my knowledge of (Japanese) language and culture and do plan on going back to Japan.”

• Erionna Tucker said that her personal life has changed since she saw how other people in the different culture were. She also felt she became more disciplined and aware of conscience. “I’m glad that I changed because now I want my career to be different. I want to be a translator even more,” she said.
• She is going to find opportunities to go Japan and wants to stay there two to three years to explore outside of Tokyo.

• Brandon Stuart was 15 or 16 years old when he first visited Japan, and it was such a time of learning on how to present himself. During his search for different aspects of life, he said that experiences in Japan helped him to find a center and articulate his dreams. He felt conscience development after he saw that Japanese were always bowing and saying, “yes, yes, so, so,” when one contacted others. It was a way of dealing with people while paying respect.
• Stuart said that he was very inspired by learning language. He also said that having the ability to learn other languages was a personal matter, and exchange between people was the most important.

• Leah Castleberry was impacted by the respect and reverence that Japanese people had for the Earth. She said, “Every Japanese person understood their personal duty to preserve the planet.” She has started to save water and do recycling after she returned.
• During her visit in Japan, she visited the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management and learned about a philosophy of unlimited possibilities achieved by hard work and discipline. She said that it was her vision and future

In the back row from left: Brandon Stuart, Leah Castleberry, Consul Toshihisa Kato, Ikuko Nichols, Consul General Naoki Ito, Mitsuko Rokuhira, former Principal Earl Ware, Xian Franzinger Barrett, Driona Tucker, Chante Wilborn, Principal Kimbreana Goode, and Donald Walker