December, 2015: Breeze Issue #98

A Free Monthly E-Newsletter for Friends of Japan & Teachers of Japanese

John Kim

Clarkstown High School South
West Nyack, NY

The JET Memorial Invitational Program (JET-MIP) was pivotal for me because it made me redefine how I wanted Japanese language and culture to fit into my life. I would like to thank everyone who contributed to this experience, notably the other American high school students (MIPPERs), Mr. Lin, and Ms. Okumura.

JET MIP was comprised of a multitude of contrasting experiences, which all blended together to form a well-developed program. One moment I was enjoying the trip by making friends, messing up a food order in Japanese, and singing “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift, but the next trip would offer difficult work. I found that the task of making Rikuzentakata more inclusive and hospitable to minorities laborious, but it was satisfying because these results would benefit these minorities. For example, during the Rikuzentakata High School Summit it was pointed out that the comfort of the infirm was greatly affected by the proximity of the pharmacy to the hospital. Another contrast was the difference between the rigidity and the independence of the program. The program’s schedule was tightly packed at times, but these were all worthwhile activities such as school exchanges and visits to landmarks that deepened our knowledge about Japanese language, culture, and people. However, regular intervals of free time were given, allowing me to explore Japan independently. I was exhilarated by the opportunity to visit areas that I was interested in such as the BiVi Sendai’s Subway, Rinku Mall’s Namco arcade, and Kesenuma’s Burian Bakery. The most profound difference is best illustrated in the stories of those who survived the disaster. As we visited buildings destroyed by the 2011 disaster and listened to memories detailing the lives of victims, the mood of the trip turned somber. Yuriage Junior High School was the most saddening stop during the trip because it still retained its severely damaged appearance from after the disaster. However, awe-inspiring feats that attested to the perseverance survivors had were interspersed in these memories as well. One notable example was Mr. Kato’s decision to not only operate Hotel Boyo as a post-disaster shelter, but to also reopen his hotel to house construction workers who were rebuilding his community.

My perspective on my Japanese learning has been greatly influenced by this program. First, I was overjoyed to find the extent of my proficiency in Japanese language and customs through everyday activities. These ranged from asking where I could buy soap to interacting with my host family. Although I was pleased with my ability, the trip was also a humbling experience. Some of these embarrassing moments included my ignorance about trays used for handling money and various dialects. Although these may not be my best experience, I was exposed to many areas of Japanese language and culture where I am lacking and hope to improve upon. In addition, the program introduced students to foreigners who made Japanese not only an integral part of their working lives, but also of their personal lives. Their passion when describing their career path caused me to scrutinize what I would like to utilize Japanese in the future. Also, my perception of the Japanese language and its place has been significantly affected. Now that I have been to Japan, it has strengthened my view that Japanese is more than exams and schoolwork; it is a method of communication that should be carefully cultivated. Another influence on this changed perception were the other MIPPERs I traveled with. Many of them had profound motivations and goals for Japanese in their lives, and this inspired me to redefine my goals to be more enduring and constructive.

Since getting back from Japan, I have been reverse culture shocked by the absence of the overwhelming hospitality of Japan. Even though I was surprised by the United States, the people I left behind may have been more shocked by the nature of the stories I have brought back. I believe two factors went into the novelty surrounding these stories. First, our group visited places that are not often frequented by tourists when compared to other more famous locations. Another factor may have been the personal nature of the stories I brought back. Almost all of the people in my community watched the disaster on their televisions; there were no personal connection to these victims in 2011. However, I have helped the disaster become less of a distant memory through the accounts of victims’ lives as well as survivors’ struggles and perseverance in the aftermath.  Those who listen may realize that the disaster did not affect regions or even cities; they could view the disaster through the eyes of individuals. In addition, they may be able to comprehend how people in the Tohoku region are suffering in the five years since the disaster.

To Taylor Anderson and Montgomery Dickinson: I believe this program continued your work in bringing the people of the United States and Japan closer together. Officially the program sent 160 students, but because of every person that was involved, JET-MIP has affected countless lives. Thank you for providing all of us, both American and Japanese, with an opportunity to share our stories and experiences; you are still providing all of us with valuable lessons!


Nippon Through My Eyes Photo Submission

“Yuriage Jr High School”

The clock on the exterior of Yuriage Junior High School stopped at the time when the earthquake struck. The effects of the 2011 disaster can still be seen in the present.