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An Open Letter

Do you remember how excited you were when you found out that you would be spending the spring break of 2017 in Japan? You immediately thought of all the good food you would eat and all the shopping you would do. It was almost too good to be true.

But this trip was not a vacation. Not by a long shot.

Of course, it was fun. But learning about Japanese culture was more than eating sushi or saying arigato. It was about listening to how current Japanese foreign policy was shaped by their history. It was about realizing the pride that Japanese people have in their lineage and how their identity is constantly adapting with the globalization of the world. It was about seeing firsthand how far technology has come in a country that preserves and respects its past while striving toward the future.

The structure and organization of this trip made it such a unique opportunity. Every single activity scheduled for the duration of our trip expanded your view of Japan. It added a depth and complexity to the Japanese identity that you were not even aware existed. Even further, you got to experience these things with your fellow Kakehashi TOMODACHI Inouye Scholars. These peers, while all students at UH Manoa, come from various backgrounds and fields of academic study. This integration allowed you to gain insight into their perspective and allowed all of you to participate in an exchange of ideas, feelings, and beliefs that enriched the experience further.

It was an amazing spring break.

But your journey did not end when you returned home to Hawaii. With all that you had experienced and learned, you were charged to become a bridge between the U.S. and Japan – to cultivate mutual understanding and trust among people from different cultural backgrounds so that the friendship between the two countries could continue successfully.

I hope I do you proud.

With sincerity,

Charissa

 

Branching Out and Staying Rooted

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One might think that in a culture so dedicated to the preservation of its history and traditions, innovation would be stifled. Yet, Japan has sustained itself with a trading economy and high numbers of technological patents. Through the TOMODACHI program, we were afforded glimpses into both sides of Japan in only eight days. From running my hands along the prickly roof thatching of a home maintained since the Edo period to our group barely outsmarting a single robot at a matching game, I inevitably confronted an unfamiliar type of tension that marked my first experience in Japan. Upon more reflection, I think my brief stay in Japan led me to the idea of branching out yet staying rooted. The former is more easily justifiable. However, what is the purpose of allocating resources towards preserving the past? Is this payoff greater than that of using those resources to advance and ameliorate more “relevant” issues?

IMG_7851.JPGThere’s no right answer to these questions. For example, even the sight of the same tree gives people different ideas. Due to our dissimilar upbringings and current situations, we might see it as something to lean against, the source of a future home, a hoe already to a diverse family of critters, or as a single unit from root to stem. Japan seems t see significance in each component of the tree. From what I’ve experienced, I believe that the Japanese peoples’ meticulous attention to ensuring that their country’s roots are continuously being nourished has benefits and is something I personally would like to emulate.

IMG_7868.JPGOur visit to the open air folk house museum resonated with me, because I was able see, feel, and experience the creativity needed for survival in the design of the most seemingly basic of things, physical homes. It was amazing how efficiency and sustainability, both of which are hallmarks of Japanese society today, are easily evident in the design of the roofs, structure, organization and of the homes.

As we isolate new elements to add to the periodic table, create technology we once never even imagined, and forge a path of unprecedented discovery, paying homage to history is a way of staying humble. Especially in the 21st century, we tend to get caught up in our “intelligence.” Looking back at, but especially appreciating the innovation and raw curiosity required of our ancestors for survival is a reminder not to become too prideful our own modernity.IMG_7870.JPGOnly with humility can we strive towards being “with and for each other” — “otagai no tame ni.”IMG_7879.JPG

 

Another page in the book

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page” – Saint Augustine

Growing up in a family that took much pride in traveling and experiencing the world, I’ve always had a love for traveling to new places. During winter break I received the email from Dr. Ogawa stating that I was going to be one of the Tomodachi Kakehashi Inouye Scholars and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. I hadn’t gone on an international trip since high school and going to Japan was somewhere I always wanted to go to. Let’s just say my last collegiate spring break was going to be the best one yet. Weeks after our trip I have nothing but good words to say about the trip and Japan. Trying to pin point one thing that was the best part is very hard for me, considering that everything was so memorable.

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Although we went on many different tours and saw as much as we could, there were a few places that stuck out to me. Starting with the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum and Japanese folk houses we were able to grasp the history of Japan, it was amazing to see the amount of stories and artifacts that pertained to Hawaii as well. I was amazed at how technologically advanced everything in Japan was and how innovative their products were. From seeing the Toyota Motors Kyushu factory and Yasakawa Electric Museum, I couldn’t help but become even more excited about what kind of products there are to be offered globally because of how advanced everything in the facilities were.

Additionally, the food was always something that I enIMG_8279joyed about the trip. The ramen, udon, and sashimi were only a few of my favorite food items we got to try. Even the McDonalds in Japan had a variety of different foods and showed off the culture. I always looked forward to every meal we had in Japan because I knew it would be something well cooked and of course, aesthetically pleasing.

Overall, my time in Japan with the other Tomodachi Kakehashi Inouye Scholars is a trip thfullsizeoutput_372at I will never forget. I went on the trip not knowing one person and somehow after a few days it felt as if I knew them my entire collegiate career. To be able to travel and immerse myself in different cultures is something I aspire to do my entire life. I can’t wait to go back and use everything I’ve learned in the Human Resource Management field in the near future.

 

Lost In Translation: A Traveler’s Manifesto

 

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Day 1: Honolulu International Airport (now renamed as the Daniel Inouye International Airport). The Inouye Scholars and Dr. Dennis Ogawa (University of Hawaii, Manoa American Studies Professor) 

 

One of my favorite movies of all time is Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation (2003). It is about two lonely Americans who falls into a platonic friendship. The movie’s title Lost In Translation has a deeper meaning than the language barrier between Japanese and English. Metaphorically speaking, it represents misunderstanding, missed opportunities, and above all else a disconnect.

Life is tricky. We are taught contradictory things on how to live. Never be the hare, but always be the tortoise. Always live in the moment, but also think about your future. Work hard as an ant, so you don’t end up like the grasshopper, begging for food in the winter. Save tons of money, but don’t be like Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge.

In our daily lives, we adhere to a routine. We mentally crave routine because having a list and knowing what comes next gives us a sense of security and stability. The downside to all this, of course, is the feeling of disconnect–that we are merely floating through life, acting like robots to the grind that we call “life.”

 

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Two Worlds Colliding: University of Hawaii at Manoa + Kyushu University  

 

I can’t speak on behalf of the group, but I float through life. I work hard, study harder, and hardly have a social life (maybe this could be the reason why I am single, but I digress). But how do I stop floating through life? Travel. I believe that everyone should travel. Travelers should go alone, with family, or with friends because the traveling experience drastically changes depending on who you are with and not necessarily where you are going.

 

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Dance in Front of the Train Station? Why not?!?!

 

 

This is my second trip to Fukuoka. Back in July 2014, my father and I visited Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Sawa, and Nagasaki. Although I had fun traveling with my dad, I had a different type of fun when visiting the same places. Ultimately, the company that you keep yields a drastic experience altogether. In this case, the Inouye Kakehashi Tomodachi Scholars (by the most part) were strangers that walked side-by-side through this experience, but during the short amount of time, became a team. We weren’t best friends vacationing, but rather new friends going through a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a side of Japan that most tourists wouldn’t have the chance to see.

 

Instead of buying Umegae mochi (top photo), I got to make it (bottom left photo). Granted, the one I made is not as pretty as the one I bought, but because I made it, it tasted better. Somehow the experience of making the Umegae (bottom right photo) made it more appetizing and satisfying in my belly. Furthermore, watching my friends laugh and tease each other as we were making it has forever been ingrained into my memory, whereas my memory of purchasing of Umegae is kind of hazy and faded. I made a cultural connection, and I loved it. The cultural experience of making Umegae is something I would have never experienced while in Hawai’i.

These experiences are what I consider moments of connection. These moments–as fleeting as it may be–stands as a reminder that people weren’t born to pay bills. So to my fellow readers and travelers, I leave you with my favorite quote about life and travel:

We are not told of things that happened to specific people exactly as they happened; but the beginning is when there are good things and bad things, things that happen in this life which one never tires of seeing and hearing about, things which one cannot bear not to tell of and must pass on for all generations. Murasaki Shikibu

Happy Travels. Be Grounded.

Japanese Eggs!

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One of the most amazing things about getting to travel is eating the food. No matter where we come from or what our roots are, food is the culture that brings us all together. While in Japan, I got to experience a whole pot full of new and familiar foods, the best of which were the eggs. Now of all the things we ate a lot of people have told me, “Really, the eggs? You got to eat ramen in Japan and go to Mr. Doughnut and you’re going to tell me your favorite meal was eggs?” BECAUSE YES!

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The thing about eggs is that they’re so versatile. You can have them fried, boiled, omelet style, scrambled, custard, in soup, over rice, on salad, anything you want. Then, the thing about other countries is that we all cook our things differently. In America we consider an omelet flat and folded in half with stuff inside, in Japan its rolled into a log in a rectangle frying pan. In America scrambled eggs are cooked until there’s no liquid left, in Japan they’re cooked until they’re thick and creamy and almost like a stew. And the tamago gohan… Oh the tamago gohan, a taste of childhood that you just can’t get anywhere. Tamago gohan, or more commonly known in Hawaii as egg rice, was something I would eat with my grandma on cold days or with my friends when we were lazy for dinner and didn’t want to cook. A fresh pot of rice, fresh uncooked eggs, and a dash of shoyu was all you needed.

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I’ll tell you a secret, standard Japanese eggs are not like standard American eggs. Whatever they feed their chickens, it’s not like in the US. The yolks of Japanese eggs are a dark orange compared to American eggs that are more yellow. Whatever this difference is, it makes the eggs taste different too. I would avoid eating egg rice too often when I was younger because even with the shoyu and fresh rice, a lot of the time it just tasted like watery eggs and soggy rice. That, and everyone always told me that I’ll get sick if I eat raw eggs, psh. In Japan though, I got as much as I could, not just tamago gohan, but all of the egg dishes. They were just all so good, and I’m so lucky we got to pick what we wanted to eat every morning because I did not miss breakfast once. I’m going to miss those runny yolks and creamy scrambled eggs more than anything.

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Matcha in Japan

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I have been drinking green tea for the past 4 years and upon learning of my inclusion into this trip I immediately thought of the quality of the green tea I would enjoy in Japan. I had only consumed culinary grade matcha up to this point and was excited to try ceremonial matcha from the source. I was also fortunate enough to have had a visit to a ceremonial tea garden scheduled for our group. The reason for my

Matcha is a type of Japanese green tea. Unlike teas that are brewed with tea bags or loose leaves, matcha is unique in the regard that it is ground to a fine powder. Matcha powder is used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. The name matcha suits the tea as the Japanese translation of matcha is powder. Thus, when western recipes call for matcha powder to be added as an ingredient it could be literally translated as “powder powder”.

Matcha is grown in shaded tea fields. The shade forces the green tea plant to produce more chlorophyll, caffeine, and nutrients than it normally would. This provides the matcha with it’s vibrant green color and powerful nutrients. Due to this method of growth matcha leaves are endowed with a rich, mellow taste unlike other teas that are grown in unshaded fields. Matcha, Oolong Tea, and Black Tea are all made from the same tea leaves of the Camellia sinensis.

On March 29 we went to the Yusentei Japanese Garden. This garden was constructed in 1754 as a resort of the Lord of the Kuroda Clan. Within the park is the Yusentei tea house. Unfortunately, we were not able to watch the preparation of the matcha we received. However, a master of tea was present to instruct on the proper manner in which to drink the tea. The instructions are as follows;

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  1. Bow to show appreciation towards the people who made the tea.
  2. Eat the sweets
  3. Grab the tea bowl with your right hand and place it on your left palm
  4. Turn the tea bowl twice, to prevent drinking from the face of the tea bowl because the face is the most important part of the tea bowl
  5. With the tea bowl on the left palm of your hand, cup the side of the teal bowl with your right hand and drink the tea
  6. Turn the tea bowl back to its original position, with the front facing you, and set the bowl down with your right hand
  7. Bow again

Unfortunately, I was so eager to taste the tea that I forgot to cup the tea bowl when I drank my tea. Fortunately, the master did not witness me make this mistake. The taste of the tea was also amazing, it was sweet and earthy. There was no competition when comparing the taste of this tea to the taste of the matcha when I had grown accustomed to in America.

Another special part of the ceremony was our surroundings. The garden that housed the tea house was the most aesthetically pleasing view that I had ever experienced first hand. Below are some pictures that I took to remember the event.

Tasting the quality of Japanese matcha at the tea ceremony prompted me to buy a few tins of ceremonial matcha from the next mall we visited. I dread the day when the last of my tins run empty. This will be just one of the many reasons that I have to return to Japan in the future.