From March 9 through 16, the Japan Foundation in coordination with the Japan America Society of Houston sent 20 students from Strake Jesuit College Preparatory and Westchester Academy for International Studies. During the course of their weeklong stay in Japan during spring break, the group got to visit the Mayor of their sister city in Chiba, participate in a company visit at the Shiga Plant of Daikin Industries LTD, which also has a presence in their home city of Houston, and also to visit various touristy locations in eastern and western Japan. The students were asked four questions at the end of the trip and I will share four responses from their replies below:
My favorite and most interesting experience in Japan was visiting the fish market on the last day of the trip. Seeing as I typically do not consider myself as a “fish” person, I was really surprised at the wide variety of seafood that was available for sale. Coming from Houston, the sushi scene is fairy small and most of what is serves as “sushi” would be considered by the Japanese as tempura with rice. The fish markets were a true display of what authentic sushi was meant to represent.
The cleanliness and lack of the typical fishy smell were really interesting, not to mention being able to see the actual deconstruction of massive tuna steaks. I was super surprised how massive full sized tunas actually were. The markets were so full of Japanese culture, it was a microcosm of the entire nation concentrated into markets smaller than a American football field.
When we were given free time my friends and I traveled around each of the stands and sampled everything from tuna to crab. Some of the largest crabs I have ever seen were being sold at the market. I ended up finding a stall that sold four packs of various tuna pieces ranging from lean to fatty. It was an unique experience to taste the different fat compositions in the meat and how flavor of the cold tuna pieces interacted with the warm rice. The freshness of the sushi is uncompromising and was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Christopher Russell – Strake Jesuit
My impression of Daikin has changed in the matter that I see it as a more environmental company. Before the trip I only associated air conditioning with the word Daikin, but now I think of so much more. After visiting the Shiga plant, I realized three main things. One of them was how big of an impact they really have on Houston. Not only do they have a plant in Houston, but many residents of the
city own Daikin airconditioning. Based on my personal thoughts, Houston’s immensely warm climate would make it impossible to live in without Daikin’s air conditioning assistance. Another factor I noticed was how environment friendly the company is. While we were taking the tour, the tour guides kept mentioning the many ways it has helped the surrounding and overall environment. For example, they explained that once a year or so, their employees in a certain region get together to either pick up trash from parks, or plant new trees. This not only contributes to the conservation of the environment, but lets the employees have bonding time. This leads me on to my third conclusion. Just by simply walking into the building, it gave off a very welcoming vibrance. I believe this was not only because of how kind the employees were, but because of how kind they were to each other. Everyone seemed to get along very well, and while watching an introductory video and reading the packet, they talked about employee bonding events they have. The company hosts many events for the employees to get to know each other and the community better. I believe this is the best aspect of the company because, it makes everyone feel as if they matter, which is very important in a factory run company. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos inside the factory, so I believe we only got a group photo in the conference room.
Isabella Garcia – Westchester Academy
I came into this trip with a very small understanding of Japan and what life was like here. Some of the things I found the most interesting were the systems of city governance, the religions, and just the incredible amount of vending machines there are in Japan. Starting with the meeting of Toshihito Kumagai, one of the things we talked about was the difference or similarities between being a mayor and America or Japan. Aside from a few number differences, surprisingly in terms of leadership there was not much of a difference. It was interesting to see how similar yet different Japan and America were in this sense. The other really interesting things that I found was the religion of Japan, Shinto and Buddhism. Having the opportunity to learn about different religions is something always exciting as religious tolerance is an issue in the US. I loved the way Shinto people deal with other religions, accepting them as serving God the way they knew best. Having the chance to see their shrines and visit their temples was amazing. I had no idea about the traditions of rituals so being able to see them in person was fascinating. It was a blessing to view the workings of another culture’s religions in person, I will keep that memory in reverence. The last thing I found shocking was two fold but both amazing based on their numbers: Kit-Kat flavors and vending machines. I could not go anywhere without finding a new Kit-Kat flavor, a collection grew from this, or running into rows upon rows of vending machines in the streets. It was just a reminder how different the US and Japan are, neither is better or worse, and both are wonderful.
Jett Poskey – Strake Jesuit
Before being apart of this program, I don’t think I would have been sure how to answer this question. I was considering on the possibility of working in Japan but wasn’t confident initially in that decision, as it was hard for me to cite specific examples of actually understanding the significance of relations between Japan and the US, however this trip helped me find the answer to these questions. When we visited the mayor of Chiba City, Mayor Toshihito Kumagai , I found it significant to know that he and our mayor, Sylvester Turner, actually interacted with one another, even before Gen-J introduced this news to us. To cite two specific examples of their interactions, in 2010 Mayor Turner and Mayor Kumagai signed an agreement to promote technology growth and encourage business exchange in both cities, and in
2017 after Hurricane Harvey, Mr. Kumagai wrote a letter to JASH expressing his hope for speedy recovery from the storm. When we met Mr. Kumagai, I felt clear genuinity and sincereness from him when he mentioned the pleasure of his interactions with Houston, and his congratulations of Astros’ winning. From this experience, it strengthened my conclusion of how significant relations can be between Japan and the US.
After being a part of the Gen-J program, I can confidently and strongly say that I will work in Japan in the future either through international relations, or the career/field I am currently interested in. In the meantime, I plan to take more opportunities to embrace the Japanese culture and language with others in my community whether it be by participating/volunteering in local Japan-related events, through international study abroad programs, or through sharing the experience Gen-J gave me. I strongly feel like foreign/international ties are very important in the way we interact with other nations such as Japan, not only in a political or economic benefit-sense, but also as a way to connect ourselves with one another, empathize, and to strengthen our communication to give us a deeper cultural understanding of beliefs and values as well.
Stephanie Martinez – Westchester Academy