Japanese students visit States

Sophie Byvik, Editor-in-Chief

After an 8.9-magnitude earthquake and its resulting tsunami devastated northern Japan in 2011, the United States and Japan banded together to form the Tomodachi Initiative, an organization that funds a series of exchange programs between Japanese students affected by the earthquake and American students.
“Tomodachi means ‘friendship,’” said chaperone Takeshi Hatakeyama. “Through the American Embassy, the Tomodachi program invited us to visit D.C. and other historical places.”
A group of 20 Japanese students was chosen from a pool of over 500 students based on how their lives were affected by the tsunami, their participation in relief efforts, English language abilities, and teacher recommendations, according to local coordinator René Brown.
“This program was designed to lift these kids up and get them looking forward to what can be in their life, not just what has happened,” Brown said. “They are encouraged to benefit from coming here, broadening their horizons by living with American families, seeing the many things America has to offer, and putting that to good civic use in Japan.”
The group arrived in Northern Virginia on March 25 to spent 14 days experiencing American culture, from malls to monuments to food, one of several culture shocks for 16-year-old Kokoro Sasaki.
“In Japan everyone uses chopsticks, but everyone uses forks, spoons, and knives in America,” Sasaki said. “America is hot, and we wear shoes differently in Japan. When you’re at home, your shoes come off, but here, they don’t. But everyone is kind here.”
Many of the students lost family members during the tsunami, and most lost their homes, living in temporary housing until homes were rebuilt. Yukari was at a park when the tsunami hit.
“I was very scared,” Yukari said. “I don’t practice any religion, but I prayed. When I went home, it was snowing, and my grandmother’s house was damaged. We couldn’t use water and had to use candles until our power was restored.”