As a freshman in college, I had the opportunity to visit Japan with fellow peers to explore the intricate culture of a nation so deeply rooted in tradition yet rapidly modernizing with technological developments. It was not until the night we landed in Tokyo, all exhausted and groggy from an eight hour flight, when we first met our tour guides at the orientation in Toranomon Hills that I began to realize the full extent of the immense opportunity that lay ahead of us. In Tokyo, we were continuously on-the-go and shuttling to and forth cities to visit destinations such as the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum, Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum and Queen’s Square Shopping Mall. Our journey continued when we flew to Fukuoka and visited locations like Dazaifu Tenmangu, Toyota Motor Kyushu, Inc., and Shofu-en. From the umegae mochi cooking workshop and the on-stage experience at the Ohori Park Noh Theater to the Toyota Miyata production plant tour and Aeon shopping mall, we were continuously immersed in Japanese culture. We learned about centuries-old traditions such as the Japanese tea ceremony and compared and contrasted those practices with the sophisticated technologies that Japan currently produces and utilizes such as service robots. These two seemingly distinct aspects of Japan, the traditional and contemporary, are often fused in the continual flux of developing ideas in areas such as fashion and architecture. For Japan in particular, our generation is learning the unique practices that are fundamental to its society but also enjoying the liberty and leisure activities made possible by the advancements and modernization of the country. Meeting with students from Kyushu University has helped me better understand how our generation serves as the kakehashi from the past to the present and future. During the school exchange and the city tour of Tenjin by the university students, we bonded through discussions of career goals, future plans, customs in our countries, favorite music, movies and food, advice for each other, and laughs over other commonalities that we all find enjoyable.
The Kakehashi TOMODACHI Inouye Scholars Program has allowed me to further understand the customs in Japan that are passed on from generation to generation, understand my own identity and enjoy the wonderful cultural experiences of the nation. I now understand the importance of our generation in that we serve as a kakehashi from the past to present and future in our countries to maintain tradition as well as promote advancement for the betterment of society. This generation also serves as a kakehashi between our respective countries to promote understanding and develop friendships that will last a lifetime. In these snapshots of our time in Tokyo and Fukuoka, I share a glimpse of my experience in Japan through the lens of a student from Hawaii seeking to understand and gain knowledge of the country’s fascinating yet complex history and culture.