Chicago Shimpo
Saturday School Students Inspired by Kakehashi Project to Work More for the Two Countries

• Ninety-six American high school students visited Japan from July 24 to 31 through Kakehashi Project which has promoted young Americans’ better understanding about Japan. Among them were 19 students from the Chicago Futabakai Saturday School participating in the project for the first time.
• The 96 students were divided into four groups, A, B, C, and D, and group D was consisted of the Saturday School students, who possessed a U.S. passport.

• The 96 students visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, went sightseeing in Tokyo, moved to Tochigi Prefecture or Hokkaido, visited Prefectural government, a local school, historical spots, and stayed with host families for three days.

• The students of D group have at least one Japanese parent or relative, so they had visited Japan before, but experiencing Japan through Kakehashi Project was totally different from their previous visits. They saw multifaceted culture, society and people in Japan, and the firsthand experiences gave them strong impacts that positively affect their future activities.

• They wrote their impressions in their reports such as “My view of Japan was changed because I deepened my understanding of Japanese culture that valued respecting each other, following social order and more,” “I learned that Japan’s history has contributed largely to the present day of Japan, and the recycling system was well organized,” “I was able to see different people and visit many places. I couldn’t do this without participating in the Project,” “I came to understand that Japan was a society of trust because nobody cheated to put money in a coin box for a paper fortune, and vending machines were placed everywhere without vandalism,” “I was impressed that Japan looked like a country of a treasure box with abundant culture,” “I learned that we can get along with anybody if you treat people with kindness.”

• The Saturday School held a meeting on August 18, and the students spoke about their experiences.
• They unanimously said that staying with host families in Tochigi Prefecture was the best. Their host families were mainly farmers and no WIFI was available. Host parents dressed them in yukata kimono dresses and took them to a local festival where they had a rare experience to carry a sacred mikoshi, or portable shrine. Host parents served them meals with home-grown vegetables, taught them how to make threads from cotton balls, and gave them an opportunity to make tea cups from clay.

• Yoshiyuki Ootani stayed in Mr. Goto’s home. “I couldn’t find any words to talk with Mr. Goto, so I was silent, but he was very kind and took care of me so well. I gradually talked with and listened to him. He has accepted many travelers from many different countries. I learned that I would get along with any people regardless of their race, age, or gender, if I show my compassion and kindness,” Ootani said.

• Riena Walter said, “My host family was so kind to me, so I got relieved from stresses accumulated in the trip. When we had to leave the family, I couldn’t stop my tears.”

• All the students are heavy smartphone users. How did they spend their time with host families?

• Julia Wakikata said, “I could talk with host parents and do many things. If WIFI was available, probably I was watching my smartphone all the time.”
• Iris Takahashi also said, “I didn’t know what I could do without WIFI, but I really enjoyed talking with my host family.”

• Keita Allen stayed in a home of a couple who were around 80 years old. “I was impressed by the couple who have been spending their lives vividly. I’m always touching a smartphone, so I had to think about what to do. I had new experience with shogi games and enjoyed watching TV,” Allen said.

• Takeo Koso stayed with a family who ran a duck farm. “I woke up at 6 a.m. and helped my host family to move ducks from rice fields to a greenhouse because pesticide spraying was coming to the area,” he explained.
• Ken Takemoto also stayed in the same family and said, “We didn’t have WIFI, so I went to bed early and could wake up earlier. We had been moving from one place to another, so we could take a rest with the host family.” He depicted how the host family made ramen noodles from scratch and treated them with duck soup ramen.

Debate with Students of Sano High School

• The students had debates with the students of Sano High School in Tochigi. Two topics were “whether or not zoos have to be closed,” and “Which is more important, love or money?”
• The students from both schools were divided into three groups and took role of proponents, opponents and judges.

• According to Saturday School Principal Katsu Shimabukuro, the debate was a good training method, which develop the students’ ability to organize their thoughts and voice their opinions. Sano High School has employed the method for years and strengthened its English education.

• The students actively participated in the debate, and some of them made close friends to keep in touch each other.

• Saturday School Teacher Kiyoko Kanaya, who accompanied the students, said, “I saw that the students’ faces were so vibrant when they were exchanging their opinions.”

Gaps between Japan and America

• The Saturday School students have known what Japanese culture or people looked like, but they grew up in the American culture and customs and have identified themselves as American.
• When they visited the Foreign Ministry, they were bewildered by gaps about dress codes between the two cultures. They also felt uneasiness when they were seen as Japanese students by the staff of JICE (Japan International Cooperation Center), which has a contract with the Foreign Ministry to take care of the students coming to Japan through Kakehashi Project.

• According to teacher Kanaya, JICE had sent a dress code, which included wearing jackets and ties. Kanaya, however, met people who just returned from Japan, and heard that the most important thing was to avoid heatstroke because Japan was more than 100 degrees at that time. So she softened the dress code a little. “That’s my fault,” she said.

• According to several students, “business casual” meant wearing a shirt with collar in America, but it was wearing a jacket and tie in Japan. They didn’t know about the difference until they visited the Foreign Ministry. They also felt displeasure when JICE made complaints about their attire. Although the A, B, and C group were chided, the D group of Saturday School students had more complaints from JICE.

• They had faced another uneven treatment when they visited Sano High School. While the A, B, and C groups were wearing short pants, D group was told by JICE staff to change their attire to a more formal style.
• Some students wrote in their report about questions why the different treatments occurred and they wanted to contribute to fill the gaps between the two countries in the future.

• After listening to the students’ opinions, teacher Kayana said, “If Japanese people express respect for others by their clothing selections and that is Japanese culture, we should respect that culture because we live in America where the people have accepted diverse culture, and we know about it.”

• At the end of the meeting, each student spoke about his or her plans for the future. They expressed their wish to work or do volunteer work between Japan and the U.S. and talk about their wonderful experiences to their friends in America. Some students said that they wanted to work in 2020 Tokyo Olympics by using their bilingual skills.

• Principal Shimabukuro said to the students, “You had invaluable experiences in the project. Your first advantage is being bilingual and bi-cultural. It’s not an easy thing, but it’s really a treasure to you. I wish you to become a Kakehashi (bridge) human resource in the future.”

• Teacher Kanaya said that she had heard the words of appreciation from her students and suggested that they return their appreciations directly to the people who took care of them, or indirectly to anybody by doing something good for people. She also expressed her gratitude to the Foreign Ministry, Consulate General of Japan in Chicago, and the staff of JICE to give her students a great opportunity to have great experiences.

The students arrive at Tochigi Prefectural Government

Debates at Sano High School

The students of Kakehashi Project pose for a photo with the students of Sano HS.

The students wear a yukata dress prepared by their host family.

The students' host parents come to see them off.

The students enjoy eating local food at a restaurant.