The following reports were written in Japanese for the Ikata International Exchange Assocation's records and translated by Jessamine Jensen.
This year marked the 14th Ikata Junior High School Student Delegation to Ikata’s sister city of Red Wing, with eight students and two chaperons making the journey.
The students were exposed to another culture through their homestays; by experiencing life in American homes they were able to deepen their international understanding and appreciation.
In addition, again this year Red Wing students too came to Japan, which in contributing to stronger relationships between Red Wing and Ikata and between the students’ families, marks progress in the level of exchange between the ordinary citizens of our sister cities. We would be delighted if our introduction of part of this overseas exchange would assist you in your own path to international understanding.
We have high expectations for the future activities of each of our students, who successfully completed their delegation. At the same time we hope that this sort of overseas exchange will lead to an enhanced awareness of the international community and to the fostering of good global citizens.
We sincerely thank all those involved for their guidance and cooperation in regard to the delegations of both student groups, and extend our gratitude for your continued understanding and support for this program in the future.
An Unforgettable Homestay
Ikata JHS (Grade 9) Haruki Hirose
My exhaustion after the long, long 12-hour flight vanished instantly when I met my host family. What would become for me an unforgettable homestay had begun.
The first word to describe my impression was BIG. The roads and the houses—I was surprised that everything was so big. Although Red Wing has about the same population as Ikata, I couldn’t understand why this city is considered countryside. And the time I spent there was really, really fun. In Red Wing I saw some of the best scenery around the Mississippi River, and I went shopping at the Mall of America, the biggest mall in America. I was also ecstatic that I got to do what I most wanted to do in Red Wing, which was to play basketball. I was amazed at how extremely long the Mississippi River is. I was surprised at how big the amusement park in the middle of the Mall of America was. In that mall there were so many stores that you couldn’t possibly visit them all in one day, and there was a store just for basketball and another one just for baseball. I thought it would be nice if they had those stores in Ehime, too. I played basketball at a sports center called the YMCA. It had facilities for everything, and I played table tennis and soccer there, too.
My homestay was at the Quinn house. Everyone in the Quinn family was so nice, and the food was so good that I started to feel that I’d like to stay in America forever. I made a lot of friends, and I had some wonderful companions. The days we had in Red Wing were over in a flash, and to be honest, that was really hard for me. What I really wanted was to stay there with my host family and friends for much longer. I felt sad and miserable, but I’m glad that I was able to say goodbye with a smile on my face.
Although I lost some things when I went to America, the things that I gained were even greater. Also, someday I’ll go back to Red Wing with these same classmates. Thank you very much, everyone.
Red Wing: The Best City Ever
Ikata JHS (Grade 9) Hiroyuki Yano
I learned a lot of things in a city called Red Wing. One of the main things was real-life English. Until I went to Red Wing, I didn’t know how Americans spoke English. But I observed it firsthand after I met my host family. On the way to their house from the airport in Minneapolis, I heard my host family talking, but it was too fast for me to understand. Hearing Americans speaking English for the first time gave me a very different feeling. I did feel a little uncomfortable, but then when they talked to me, they spoke slowly and clearly. I appreciated that and I thought that Americans are really nice. So now, when I speak to foreigners in Japan, I think it’s important to consider their feelings, too.
Flowing through Red Wing is the longest river in America, the Mississippi. Unlike Japanese rivers, it isn’t very deep, so it doesn’t flow very fast. In Japan the river basins are small in area, and boats don’t sail on them. There were many boats on the wide Mississippi River. When I first saw it, it was so surprisingly big I could have mistaken it for the sea. In addition there were some very big corn fields. In Japan, even if a field is big, you can always see mountains nearby. But in America there wasn’t a mountain to be seen, and the corn fields seemed to go on forever. Seeing them, I thought America and Japan were like two different worlds.
At my homestay I understood the extent of my own language skills. So, to improve them in the future, I want to study English in America. To do that, I will need to make sure my English studies in Japan are also solid, so I will do my best to study hard.
I received help and support from a lot of people during this program. I will never forget my appreciation towards you all. Thank you very, very much.
What I Learned During My Homestay
Seto JHS (Grade 9) Ayumu Yamauchi
I took part in a homestay. When I left Japan, I felt both uncertainty and anticipation. However, I was going to stay with the family of someone I’d made friends with here, Cameron, so I didn’t feel too apprehensive. By the time we got to Red Wing, we had had some trouble, but I was able to make it with a good attitude. When we landed at the airport, our host families were there waiting. I met Cameron and his parents, too. Then they brought me back to their house, and I felt almost like it was my own home. The next day, Cameron was going to school in the morning, and so every day I went along. When I did, Cameron’s dad, AJ, would drive me around Red Wing’s downtown and other places so that I got to see a lot. There was a fun schedule planned every day and nothing to worry about. The food was very good, too, and it was a different experience from Japanese food. The only thing was that I felt a little homesick for Japanese rice.
Then, all of the fun days were coming to an end. At the Red Wing River City Days parade, I helped hand out things from Ikata that we had brought for this occasion. No matter how old they were or if they were male or female, everyone looked happy to receive these little presents, and that meant a lot to me. Another thing that I especially remember were the water sports. When everyone else was at the Mall of America, I was out on the water. We went to a beach and swam. Then they attached something to a boat by rope, and I rode on top of it and skimmed around on top of the water. It was really fun!
Then, at last, the long homestay also came to an end. I felt really sad to be saying goodbye to all the people I had met, but I didn’t want to show any tears. I thought crying would be a nuisance to people, so I didn’t cry.
I met a lot of different people during this sort of experience, and I’m still keeping in touch with them. I hope one day we can all get together again.
My Trip to Red Wing
Misaki JHS (Grade 9) Morihiko Miyamoto
I was able to learn about and discover many things during my homestay. At first, I was very nervous. I worried a lot about whether my English would be understandable. But somehow or other, I just started speaking. My host family always spoke very nicely to me, and when they didn’t know how we were doing, they even used gestures and props to explain things better. I’m so grateful to them; they were really great people.
In Red Wing, there’s the Mississippi River and a lot of corn fields. There are also lawns. Contrary to my expectations about buildings everywhere, there was a lot of greenery, and the whole place was very pretty and livable.
The most memorable thing from my time in Red Wing was when our host family took Yano and me to climb up a tall mountain where we could look down and see the whole city. It was in the evening. Right next to the streets of Red Wing, the Mississippi River was winding away, sparkling in the setting sun. It was really pretty. I hadn’t brought my camera with me at that time. But that view was so amazing that, even without a camera, I will certainly never forget it.
I am really glad I went to Red Wing. It is as pretty, and the people there are as nice as they are in Ikata. To keep up the ties I made with people from Red Wing during this program, I want to go there again in the near future.
Thank you very much to everyone who helped to make this trip so good.
Memories from Our International Exchange Program
Ikata JHS (Grade 9) Honami Ashikaga
I was really glad that I took part in this international exchange program. I made a lot of friends, and I learned a lot.
When all the students from Red Wing came to Ikata, I couldn’t talk to them at all, and I got pretty nervous. Luckily, we broke the ice quickly and became fast friends. While they were in Ikata, we taught them a lot about Japanese culture. Two things they really liked were yukata and origami. I’m not very good at origami myself, so I was impressed when they were able to fold a lot of different patterns. They were better at it than I am. I don’t think they’d ever worn yukata before, so I thought they would probably find them restricting and uncomfortable. But while they were choosing and wearing their yukata, they looked so happy that I was happy with them. We watched the fireworks together at the end of the festival, and that was a lot of fun, too.
In America, there were surprises around every corner. There was so much nature around my host family’s house that I could look out my window and see a deer, and there were rabbits when I walked outside. I thought it was really cool. Some of the things they did were really fun, like walking around inside with shoes on, or staying up so late that we could play outside or go swimming until 11pm. I was thrilled that so much of the food was food that I already liked, or tried for the first time and found delicious. It was interesting that the treats, like the cupcakes, were so bright and colorful. The people were all so nice and so interesting, I had a lot of fun spending time with them. When I didn’t understand what they said to me in English, they would rephrase it for me, so that conversation generally went on without any trouble.
I learned about differences in culture and traditions on this international exchange program, and it motivated me to want to speak better English. I think it will be useful for me in the future. And of course, I was very happy to make so many friends. I would like to keep our friendships up through e-mail, and someday I definitely want to go to Red Wing again with everyone from the other Ikata schools, so we can meet our friends in Red Wing.
Landing in America
Ikata JHS (Grade 9) Rikako Hayashi
I took my first step on American land after an approximately 12-hour flight. Welcoming me were the serene Mississippi River, the spacious fields, and the pretty flower balls that decorate Red Wing. I was surprised by how much nature there was. At Megan’s house, they were really considerate of us in our unfamiliar, bewildered state of mind. I had a lot of fun sightseeing in Red Wing, going to the pool, and shopping. I was also able to play basketball, which was what I most wanted to do in America, and it was a good, hard game. Lots of people waved at us when we walked in the River City Days parade. It was so nice that they didn’t seem to have any trouble saying “Hello” or “Are you from Ikata, Japan?” I thought that I’d like to tell lots of people about Red Wing, too. On our fourth day in America, I went to a sleepover at Hannah’s house (she had stayed with my family in Ikata). Hannah had learned a lot of Japanese, so we could talk to each other with no difficulty. She was also teaching her family about Japanese culture and lifestyle. Megan took us to see her high school. It was so big that I thought to myself, This is a highschool? There were lots of locker rooms and I was so impressed with the well-developed facilities that I wanted to study at a school like this, too.
During our sightseeing in Minneapolis, we saw a musical at the Ordway, where I was impressed by the intensity projected all across the stage, and by the audience’s standing ovation at the end.
Finally, to my host family I would like to say that it was a very short week we spent together, but I am so grateful for everything you did for me. Thank you very much. I want to study more English and go to Red Wing again. During this overseas trip, I learned so much. I am going to use what I learned to help me in the rest of my life. I would like to thank my family, the people in Ikata Town Hall, and everyone else in the Ikata student group for making this such a tremendous experience for me.
Seto JHS (Grade 9) Maho Tanaka
I went to America for the first time to take part in a homestay. Since Japan and America are almost completely different, I was both looking forward to it and dreading it.
The thing I was most nervous about was the language difference. I have been learning English at school, but I was not sure if I could speak it in a real-life situation. And although I say ‘learning,’ the amount of English I can speak is very small, so I was afraid that my conversations would be disastrous. As I thought, conversation was very difficult. But as I had heard, the people in Red Wing are really great. When I didn’t understand them, they would speak more slowly, use simpler words, and make gestures to communicate. They also learned a little Japanese, and we helped to teach each other Japanese and English. I was so happy when they did their very best to understand what I was trying to say. They were such kind people, I stopped feeling nervous.
There were various “happenings” during our trip, but each time I heard about a lot of people who were working to fix things for us. And it was thanks to some of those people that we were able to get to America even a little earlier than we’d thought. I would really like to thank them.
I became good friends with the other people who went with me to America. At first, I wasn’t sure if I could get along with kids from the other schools in Ikata, but just like in Red Wing, everyone from Ikata was also really great, and we had a lot of fun talking together.
When I first got to America, I was unsure of my English and was flustered a lot. But by the time we went home, everyone had come to love America. If I have an opportunity, I’d like to go again.
It was good to go to America during summer vacation this year. It was a very fun two weeks. To everyone who made it possible and who supported us, thank you very much.
The Best Memories
Misaki JHS (Grade 9) Mika Abe
During my first year in junior high school, my family hosted a student from Red Wing. It was her homestay that made me decide to apply to the program this year. Now, after my own homestay has ended, I am very thankful to her.
Summer vacation began, and it was finally the departure day for which we had been waiting so long. That day we had the misfortune to be held up in Tokyo. In the whole two-week period, nothing would be as big a shock as this. However, the time we were delayed made us even more eager to get going, and it made getting to Red Wing exciting on a whole new level.
I stayed with the family of the girl who had stayed with my family two years earlier. I was just bursting with happiness to see her again after so long, but thirty minutes later I was also filled with surprise. The reason was that dinner that night was only macaroni and cheese. During those two weeks I learned firsthand about the differences in American and Japanese food culture. I was also surprised that a kid about my own age was driving a car to get around. Even though I had heard about things like this, it was different to be seeing them with my own eyes and experiencing them for myself. This is true for culture and many other things. I spent many amazing days discovering new things.
What was best about going to Red Wing was meeting so many people. I am not very good at English, so I always carried my dictionary around. Even my pronunciation was so bad that people couldn’t understand what I was saying, which was frustrating. But I was very happy when people did understand, like when I used signs and gestures. I discovered that you can make friends with people even if your countries and languages are different. Those two weeks became my greatest memories to date. I want to take good care of my new friendships for the rest of my life. And I will work hard at English, so that I can go to Red Wing again someday. I hope that it will be useful to me later in life, too.
I am very thankful to everyone in Red Wing, to everyone in the Ikata student group, and to my parents. Thank you very much.
The Children of Ikata and Red Wing Bear the Future
Osamu Asano, Teacher of Social Studies at Misaki Junior High School
Part One: I Want to Go to Red Wing
About 150 years ago, when Nakahama Manjiro of Tosa was 14 years old, he was cast adrift while fishing and was subsequently rescued by an American whaling ship, landing eventually in America itself. After acquiring a plethora of skills and knowledge he returned home to Japan, and from the end of the Edo era through the Meiji period, he had a significant influence on the formation of friendly relations between Japan and America.
Sakamoto Ryoma, from the same province of Tosa, heard Manjiro’s stories, and was strongly impacted by the idea of America, so different from his hometown and Japan in general. His desire to learn more about the world grew stronger, and he began to forge a new Japan.
Regardless of era, learning about the world brings one’s birthplace into a much clearer view. In 2003, I myself experienced this firsthand when I spent three months living in America as part of a young teachers’ delegation there. So I naturally began to hope that the Ikata junior high school students, who will determine their hometown’s future, would have the same kind of experience. If you consider it this way, the students’ trip to Red Wing becomes an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In the end, what kind of people would these students turn out to be?
There were four from Ikata, two from Seto, and two from Misaki: all together, eight ambitious junior high school students were chosen to go to Red Wing. The door of dreams slowly began to open.
Starting with the travel information session in May, we began our preparations and additional English conversation studies. Summer vacation began and we hosted the Red Wing students, showing them around and allowing them to experience Ikata. When addressing our friends from Red Wing, whose culture and experiences are so different from ours, we asked “What do you want to do?” and “What do you want to know?” Seriously thinking through these questions from our friends’ perspective became a way to see ourselves and our hometown in a new light. The bonds of what will probably be lifelong friendship slowly began to grow stronger.
Then, on Friday, July 30th, our day of departure for Red Wing was suddenly upon us. We were seen off by many people as our departure coincided with our Red Wing friends’ return home. The children’s faces were shining with joy and hope, having driven off any feelings of unease. At this time, however, no one could predict that only eight hours later, the shine of expectation would become clouded.
Part Two: An Unexpected Occurrence
The airplane from Matsuyama Airport to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport was more than one hour late. After landing at Haneda and traveling to Narita, it was already 4:15pm. As we got in line to begin ticketing procedures, the inconceivable message came: “Ticketing for Minneapolis ended 15 minutes ago, so you can not board the plane.” Meanwhile, our friends from Red Wing had a flight 15 minutes later than ours, and were able to continue on according to plan. Left all alone, we waited and waited with high hopes for a flight on a different vessel, but in the end we were told we could depart in two days’ time. What? Why? No way! The children’s faces clouded over all at once. We felt that the difference between luck and misfortune was paper thin.
From here on out, however, our inner worth would be tested. We could not change what had happened, but we could change our attitude toward it. Surely one’s life can change greatly over one idea.
We went to a hotel and began a series of discussions about how to spend the next two days, with the understanding that we would need unanimous agreement. That is because, while expressing my own opinion, I aimed for a perfect balance in which I would never make a selfish decision for the group. Sharing trust and understanding with one’s companions is an incredibly heartening thing. Thrown together almost randomly, we ended up bonding over this incident. In addition we received messages of encouragement from many people, which helped to lift the children’s spirits. I have no doubt that this experience had a major impact on our actions and attitudes after we got to Red Wing. On another day, after a traumatic robbery on a Minneapolis bus I was proud to observe the children bounce back. At that moment I reflected that even unexpected occurrences are all there to help us grow.
Part Three: The Red Wing We Saw Even in Our Dreams
After two days came our long-awaited departure. The children’s faces were even brighter than they had been on the day we left Ikata. After a long 14-hour flight by way of Detroit, we arrived at the airport in Minneapolis. There, a crowd of host families and others who had been waiting for the children welcomed us with signs and placards. There were emotional reunions and first meetings.
Among them were Tom, who had just been to Ikata as the Red Wing chaperon, and former CIR Elisha Tamura [Beattie], whom I had not seen for about 10 years. With expressions of joy and some amount of nervousness, the children went home with their host families.
I had also asked for a homestay, and was honored to stay with the Reese family. Thereby I was able to experience Red Wing life for myself, and at the same time observe the children and get to know their host families and other citizens of Red Wing.
Looking back at the many people I met and impressions I had, I have decided to write particularly about families and regional development.
Part Four: Families in Red Wing
Observing everyone’s host family, I thought they were all fantastic. They show each other mutual respect and love. They don’t have major quarrels, and they are always smiling. Parents work hard and also make a lot of time to spend with their children. They eat dinner together and have meaningful conversations. Living with families like these, it’s natural that the Ikata children would want to get in touch with their own families.
Also, in Red Wing, parents take their children’s ideas very seriously and respectfully. They support them in whatever they want to do, whether that is sports, musicals, biking, band, adventure camp, or a part-time job. It’s as if they are saying “Since it’s your life, live it with no regrets.” And as a result their children’s exuberance shows through their faces.
My host family, the Reeses, were a fantastic host family in all of these ways. Every once in a while they would ask me, “Aren’t you sad to be so far away from your family? Do they miss you?” They were always kind enough to show concern for my family.
All of the Ikata children had a hard time saying goodbye. The reason they want to go back to Red Wing is undoubtedly because of their wonderful host families. We made a second home, a second family, in Red Wing.
Part Five: Regional Development in Red Wing: “Small is Beautiful!”
Red Wing is a small and pretty town. One can sense that it treasures its history and the environment. While taking care of their water and greenery, people lead pleasant lives. In the downtown area, fairly old brick buildings are still carefully preserved and used. Adding splashes of color to the town are Red Wing’s trademark hanging flower baskets.
Many people work for Red Wing Shoes and Red Wing Pottery, companies with local history. Corn, soy bean, and dairy farming are also vibrant industries. While their products of course are different, this emphasis on primary and secondary production is quite similar to Ikata. That is why, while the entire atmosphere feels fresh and different, there is still something familiar underlying it.
One person said this. “My family and I love Red Wing. We have no desire to live anywhere else. Out here in the country, you can really live a full life as a human being.”
Interpersonal relations are not limited only to the neighborhood but extend also to coworkers and a variety of friends with similar interests. Sometimes, people even make an effort to strike up friendship with someone they’ve just met for the first time. They greet people with heart-melting smiles.
“Hey! Welcome. I’m so happy to meet you!”
Greetings like this are the foundation for the atmosphere of a pleasant community.
Even the appearance of the Ikata children became more and more cheerful and sociable.
“The kids this year are so nice and outgoing.”
I was delighted to receive this compliment from a number of people.
People would have informal home parties, and everyone would bring some food or beverages. I was invited to several of these, and really enjoyed myself. Because everyone contributed to the preparation and clean-up, it was not burdensome on anyone, and everyone could enjoy themselves. Impressed by this sort of gathering, a lot of the children said they would like to try it in Japan as well.
One morning, as I was taking a walk through the neighborhood, an elderly couple about to pass me called out, “Are you Mr. Asano?”
I was very surprised. They explained that they asked because they had heard from the neighbors that our group was coming from Ikata for this sister city exchange. We stood there on the sidewalk engrossed in conversation, and a little later they invited me to their home, where we were able to enjoy it even better.
The couple has continued to foster their connections with members of the Ikata friendship delegation that came to Red Wing a few years ago. In the past, they had also been approached by many people with connections in Ikata. I feel that over its more than 13 occurrences, the continuation of the exchange program has certainly deepened the understanding of the people of Red Wing and Ikata for each other, and shortened the distance between the two places.
At the summer festival’s River City Days parade, we were given a great welcome from both sides of the downtown streets. As if responding to that welcome, the children smiled and talked to people as they handed them Japanese candy and fans from Ikata. Their yukata and jimbei, cool in both senses of the word, attracted attention, and they were brimming over with happiness and confidence. This activity left the strongest impression on me.
It is precisely because Red Wing is small that its uniqueness is so well developed and maintained, and its people enjoy such good relationships with each other. “Small is beautiful!”
Part Six: Looking at Our Home from the Outside
On the verge of our return to Japan, one of the boys said this: “It’s important to look at Japan from outside Japan, isn’t it?”
These words hit at the core of our trip. The children had enjoyed the good things of Red Wing to their hearts’ content. At the same time, they also became aware of the good things of Ikata. I’m sure they were not expecting that.
The seas around the Sadamisaki Peninsula are much bluer and clearer than the Mississippi river, with its source in Minnesota, and they offer us many blessings.
Using ingredients from nature and enhancing its taste with salt and soy sauce, Japanese cuisine is enjoyable and builds a healthy body.
With its adaptability to any body type and use of natural colors and patterns, Japanese yukatas are well liked by everybody. It seems that they were popular souvenirs with the Red Wing children who had come to Ikata, too.
Things that we think of as utterly common actually turn out to have a special attraction. The children became aware of this wonderful fact.
Part Seven: At the End of the Journey
From the airplane window, many boats and ships began to come into view. As I thought to myself that we must be getting close to Japan, I spotted land, and the Bōsō Peninsula with its lush paddy fields spread out beneath us. From the bottom of my heart I thought it was beautiful. After landing the children were all energetic, and from the Japanese language that they heard all around them, the sense of being home again seemed to bubble up inside them. They had more baggage than when they had left. More than that, their hearts were full of many memories. I have no doubt that this was a life-changing experience for them.
In retrospect, we had had rather an inauspicious, inconceivable beginning, when the first domestic JAL flight had been late, and we were unable to go to America as we planned, stranded in Narita for two days.
But on the very last flight we would take, from Haneda to Matsuyama, again via JAL, there was a touching moment. That is, although it had taken place two weeks prior, all of the cabin crew knew about it, and offered heartwarming and genuine apologies. Even further, the chief flight attendant came to my seat to apologize in person. Thanks to this, we were able to complete our journey with a refreshed state of mind. If you really think hard about it, as the reason for our delay had been to ensure a safe flight, it is really impossible to blame anybody. Thinking of the warmth of that cabin crew in such a situation, I was touched by the beautiful sincerity and the organizational strength which Japanese people possess.
It had been a journey full of meetings and discoveries. I wonder how Ikata appeared in the eyes of the children coming back home from Red Wing.
When I think that the children’s view, like the seas of Sadamisaki themselves, reflected and magnified a deep, intense, warm brightness, I am filled with anticipation for the future of Ikata.
Finally, from the bottom of my heart I would like give my deepest appreciation to the many people whose support allowed us to have this wonderful experience. Thank you very much.
It’s All About Attitude
Coordinator for International Relations Jessamine Jensen
The exchange program between Ikata and Red Wing is one that has touched the hearts and broadened the perspectives of many people. The student delegates go overseas, and each and every day they must get up and deal with all that a new environment offers, both good and bad. This is naturally a good way to study a foreign culture, but it is also a good way to build one’s own character.
From July 31st to August 13th, I went as a chaperon with the Ikata Junior High School Student Delegation to Red Wing. Right off the bat, on the 31st we met with some trouble when we were unable to get on our airplane, but thanks to that very problem, I saw adaptability and a positive attitude emerge in all of the students.
At Narita Airport, our travel agent tried to set up a new plan for us, while we waited for a few hours. After recovering from the initial shock, though, the students began to talk cheerfully with each other, laughing and looking on the bright side. They even reached out to me, saying things like, “Don’t worry, it will be ok.” I was really impressed by their good attitudes.
At last we arrived in Red Wing, and I spent each day curious about how the students were seeing my Minnesota home. The host families and the Sister Cities Commission put on lovely dinners and parties for us almost every day, so the students may have come away with the impression that Minnesotans just eat out and have fun all the time. Especially in Red Wing where there is a lot of land, there is a lot of personal space for each person, and the good people who take part in international exchange events tend to be fairly well off. I wonder if the students thought that all Americans live in big houses, keep pets, and have two or more cars in the driveway. That’s not the case, of course, but Red Wing and its people at least are particularly blessed in many ways. Furthermore, the Sister Cities Commission and the host families showed us very many kindnesses. Thanks to them we all enjoyed a very pleasant time.
For me, two things stand out from our tour of Red Wing. One of them was Hobgoblin Music, where folk music instruments are made and sold, and concerts are sometimes held. In addition to seeing harps in the process of being made, the students were able to try their hands at the hammer dulcimer, which they could not have seen in Japan. The proprietor also put on a CD to let them hear some of the beautiful melodies and the special, even unforgettable tonal quality of this instrument.
The second thing also has to do with music, but it was completely different from hammer dulcimers: Latin music! At the YMCA we were able to try a dance aerobics class called Zumba. As a matter of fact, Zumba has become so popular that it has even spread to Japan, but I was still thrilled that we could experience this fun way to exercise. Even the kids who didn’t want to dance, thought they couldn’t pull off Latin dance, or said they were too shy were laughing and having a good time by the end of the first track. I recalled that when you try something a little outside of your comfort zone, you can end up really enjoying it. That day, I saw the students grow up a little, in a fun way.
The day we began to sightsee in the Twin Cities, we had the misfortune to fall victim to robbery. Naturally, the students felt scared, and it seemed that all they could think about at first was theft and violence. But they bolstered each other’s spirits, and I think they were all able to bounce back quickly. I had never been so embarrassed of my home town, but at the same time, I had never been as proud of the students as I was at that moment. It was a difficult test to overcome, but through it their attitudes really shone, and perhaps they even became aware of their own strength.
After that, our last two days were very good. It was convenient for us that we stayed at a hotel on the University of Minnesota campus. We were able to meet with members of the Japan Student Association, which teaches about and promotes Japanese culture in the university. We heard some interesting stories and anecdotes from them, and enjoyed some fantastic pasta together. I think the Ikata students were able to imagine life as University of Minnesota students.
In addition, we had many opportunities to learn about American and international culture. The Minneapolis Institute of Art is a very large institution, displaying everything from the very old to the fairly new. It has special rooms designed according to different themes, so in one you can see a Japanese tea-room, and in others a 19th century Chinese study, a 17th century English sitting room, or an American East Coast parlor from about 1900. Besides the museum, though, we also went to a theater. We saw “Gospel at Colonus,” a gospel-music musical at the ritzy Ordway Theater.
In the blink of an eye all our time was gone, and it was time to go back to Japan. At the airport, Sister Cities Commission chairman Tom and his wife Jude came to see us off. The students all expressed variations of the same wish to go back to Red Wing and stay there longer. They were by no means turning their backs on their families and hometown, but they had had such a wonderful time that they did not want to leave the US.
On August 13th, we returned to Ikata, and everyone went back to his or her house. They were probably so happy to be home that they could have cried. Japanese tea! My own room! Japanese rice! On the face of it, they may seem to have changed very little from the young people they were two weeks before, but within each of them there is now a treasure. They crossed the sea, they joined a new family, they made friends and lifelong memories, and one “foreign country” came a little closer to home. And, if even for a short time, they will be able to appreciate the jewel-like worth in what other Japanese people think of as ordinary in their own culture and lifestyle.
I am excited for these students’ futures. These eight young people are steady and grounded, and I know they will be able to walk any path they choose. Thank you to the Ikata International Exchange Association for allowing me to share this precious international experience with them.