2011 Trip Diary

At the top of the Bluff in Red Wing, New Friends.

The following articles are impressions from the chaperons students of the students that traveled from Ikata to Red Wing.
The 15th Junior High School Student Overseas Delegation Program

Ikata-cho Misaki Junior High School  Vice-Principal
1) The Meaning of the Overseas Delegation Program
  It is without a doubt that the Ikata Junior High School Student Overseas Delegation Program (which is now in its 15th year and in which not only my own daughter but many other students have participated in) has deepened our exchange with the people of Red Wing, widened our view of the world, and expanded our dreams for the future. It is because of this program, in fact, that my daughter has chosen to continue studying English. Especially at this sensitive stage in their life when they are becoming young adults, more than just a opportunity to improve their English skills, the homestay exchange program offers the children a chance to study the lifestyles of a different society.  Moreover this was an especially moving experience because I had the unbelievable chance to present a Japanese Taiko Drum performance to the people of Red Wing alongside my students. That chance began on August 2nd when I and the 8 students of Ikata began our journey to Chicago for sightseeing and Red Wing for the homestay program.
2) Sightseeing in Chicago: A City of Architecture, Grain, and Tourism.
   The frightening image I always held of Chicago was that it was a place run by Al Capone, but when I arrived and saw breathtaking buildings all lined up, saw all the surrounding fields where corn, soybean, wheat and many other grains were harvested, all the tourists bustling about, and the beautiful downtown shopping center…I had to admit my frightening image was completely wrong. The population of Chicago is roughly eight-million people and of those about seven-thousand are Japanese. Our guide, Ms. Michiko, showed us such famous places as the Andora Planetarium, Buckingham Waterfall, Willis Tower, Chicago grain harvest place, Millennium Park, and the Chicago Museum of Art.
   The students went up the 443-meter tall Willis Tower and like so many other tourists, took pictures while sitting inside the glass viewing platform. Looking outside the window, below them the buildings and streets of Chicago stood in line while the students told stories about this world-leading center of commerce.

   What I was most interested in was the Chicago Museum of Art. It is said that the Chicago Museum of Art numbers among the top three Art Museums in the United States (alongside the Metropolitan and Boston Art Museums) and is especially known for housing numerous works of French impressionist artists namely Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Cezanne and therefore not worth missing. The famous self-portrait of Van Gogh, as well as my favorite Monet, Cezanne, and Renoir paintings were decorated throughout and I found myself entranced, walking swiftly through the exhibits. Just being able to see the real thing, see the detail of each brush stroke, I was able to understand and feel the emotions of the artist, a true learning experience. The students, on the other hand, found the Miniature Room in the basement of the museum to be the most amazing as they stood fixated looking through the glass at the miniature world.
   As for food, in Chicago we ate Chicago-style pizza, Chinese food, and Japanese food. The Chicago-style pizza is made in a deep-set pan in which the pizza dough, cheese, tomatoes, and many other ingredients are packed inside creating an enormous volume that is very delicious but everyone was just so tired that day we unfortunately only ate a little, leaving so much left over. This is definitely one thing that I want to eat again.

3) The Red Wing Homestay

   When at long last we arrived in Red Wing, there stood every host family ready to greet us with welcome posters and smiling faces. It was such a moving moment. Each student then headed to their appropriate families, and we headed off with Tom and Jude Brase to a nearby restaurant. The road to Red Wing from the airport seemed to be an endless cornfield on either side. To me, the beautiful corn looked as if it was calling to be harvested. We ate corn chips with salsa at the restaurant, and the smell alone was enough to satisfy.  The city of Red Wing is rich with grains such as corn and wheat, and is home to a truly massive agricultural operation.  Along the riverside you will find several buildings, countless trucks and numerous river barges that are designed not only to hold the various varieties of corn and grain but to operate continuously.  Picture the large trucks sent to pick up fruit during mikan (English: Satsuma Fruit) season in Ikata, and that is the image you have here.

   On the 5th they threw us a Welcome Party. The tables were set with all the host families bust by that time you could see on the faces of the students that they were no longer nervous and so everyone had a great time eating together, smiling all the while. We all received gifts and handmade cake made with love as a token of the hospitality of Red Wing. I can not even begin to say how happy I was to realize too that not only did Mayor Egan but State Senator Howe came to the party to welcome us! It was during this event that we were able to display the Japanse Taiko tradition of Ikata and in this way communicate a bit of our Japanese culture to the people of Minnesota. We only had a bit of time to practice but all the students really gave it their all, memorizing the performance and putting on quite a show which was received with such a big round of applause that I could not help but to be moved.

   Two days later, the seventh of August and the day of Red Wing’s River City Days parade finally arrived! The festival was even more bustling than I had expected: People came to Red Wing from the day before, shops were set up, and even a concert was held. That day, spectators completely filled the streets and forty or more groups took to the parade with floats and performances. This year as the group representing the International Exchange Association we presented Japanese Taiko.  More specifically, we presented a kind of taiko that is distinct to the Okinawa region, dawning Eisa-style costumes, while we walked along the streets behind Tom’s convertible where the music was being played. The route was more or less two kilometers but the entire time we were greeted with applause by the spectators along the street. We all took turns handing out fans, candies, and other souvenirs from Ikata to the children watching from the sidewalks. The students respectfully passed out the souvenirs, and the children received them with smiling faces, a beautiful experience for both the students and the children, I thought. We even went to a local retirement home where we presented them with a special and boisterous performance. What’s more, there was even an open-air performance by the orchestra! It really was a very bustling day.

   Thanks to the Association’s welcome party picnic as well as the many parties put on by the host families themselves, within the ten days we had in the United States we were able to see and be with the students quite a bit.  No matter which host family, the experience was rich: we worked together to create a lot of really dynamic events like swimming in the Mississippi, going to watch a baseball game, a trip to the Mall of America, and even ice skating, and through it all really get a feel for all of the exciting things that America has to offer. To think that the families did all this for us, teaching the kids so much every day, while still continuing their jobs! I would also like to mention how grateful I am to the folks from the Association, who took turns to come pick us up from the hotel, take us out to eat, meet some of their friends, and just have a good time (while speaking as best we could). Whether we liked it or not, for ten days we listened and spoke in English and because of that I believe that in the end we were able to comfortably listen to spoken English. Even in just this amount of time, I felt that my English ability improved to a point where not only could I understand an occasional joke in English but from time to time even say what I wanted to say.  I finally really understood what is meant when people say that total immersion is the best way to learn a language. I’m bet even I could be fluent if I stayed in Red Wing for a year!

5) The End

   As I understand it, all eight of the students were driven and motivated to actively try their best every day to communicate with their families through listening and speaking and, because they had such a mindset, a good relationship was born between them and the host families. Furthermore, each student demonstrated fantastic independence and a wealth of individualism as they actively and fearlessly participated in Taiko, volleyball, rock climbing, swimming in the Mississippi, ice skating, and communicating with people in general. I bet even the members of the Association thought “These kids from Ikata, they’ll try anything!” On the last day even an article was published in the local paper that documented our sister cities’ exchange program and the impressions of the students. More than I previously thought, it seemed like the people of Red Wing really understood and took to heart the significance of this exchange program.

   Additionally, not once did I ever hear anyone complain during the trip; on the contrary, students often muttered things like “I don’t want to go home.” and “I wish we could stay here longer.” And because several of the students told me that they were able to overcome barriers in language I believe that it truly was an enriching home-stay program. I said it at the town hall meeting and I say it again here, in addition to being truly grateful for all fourteen exchanges before, I honestly believe that for the students of Ikata Junior High School this was a chance for them to widen exchanges, widen their world view, and a chance for personal independence and sincerely hope that this program continue from here on after as long as possible. Lastly, this experience has made me realize once again that we must raise our children with kindness and pride as they go spreading their wings in this world.

Click to see a complete map of all the places the Ikata kids went to see in Ride Wing (Japanese)

"People Form the Environment, The Environment Forms the People"
Seto Middle School Teacher: Mr. Takegami

   No matter what the subject, the mind has a tendency to become fixed on an image. Like how it is said, for example, that Shinto shrines are always located in beautiful towns, or how actors and actresses all have beautiful teeth. Such things are also said of the many countries of the world: Japanese people are courteous, Germans are resilient, Brazilians are skilled at Samba, and of course America, a country of freedom, advanced and resource-rich, but whose people’s sense of independence is overpowering, their sense of the other person is weak, and who behave as if the only thing that is important is to do things their way. That is the kind of image that I had held, at least until I participated in this year’s homestay program.

   The City of red Wing, Minnesota, is such a beautiful place. The waters of the Mississippi flow slowly and gently by, surrounded by green trees and lined with quiet homes. The beauty of nature abounds and that’s not all, while I was living there I had the opportunity to walk along the streets of Red Wing and never once saw trash littered among the streets. What’s more, every home had such beautifully trimmed lawns! All in all there was a strong sense that everyone living here wanted Red Wing to be a beautiful city to live in.

   In fact, I couldn’t help but feel that the very hearts of the people that lived there were beautiful. Frank and friendly, even complete strangers would come up and ask me “Where ya from?” or say “I hope you have a great day!” smiling all the while. 

   Even in Chicago that was the case. For example I noticed that whenever someone opened a door, they would always hold the door open and wait for someone coming up behind them. It was a modest but kind sign that they were thinking of those around them. Because the kids get to see that kind of adult, I think they will remember how friendly people are in the United States.

   But going back to out homestay in Red Wing, I couldn’t help but notice how friendly the children of our host families were. Always with a smile on their face, the children were always so excited and energetic considering the children from Ikata in everything they did. Even I, who would always boast about how morally conscious and considerate the Japanese people are, felt myself all at once embarrassed at how until now I had held such a mistaken image of the people of the United States.

   From the massive buildings of Chicago to the never-ending cornfields of Minnesota; from its vibrant support of art to the sense of material abundance and rich lifestyle of its people; indeed, the might of America overwhelmed me. However, more than the material, I was surprised at the overflowing kindness of the people that live there.

   On the morning we were scheduled to leave Red Wing (knowing that our departure was 5am and that we probably wouldn’t have much time to eat breakfast) Jude baked a cake for us. Chris, who three years ago sent one of his own children to stay in Ikata, also prepared a present for us. Not to mention Charlie, who just last year went to stay at the home of Mr. Asano, invited us (and of course Mr. Asano!) to come back any time and visit and go on a boat ride. Even the Red Wing Exchange Association president Tao Peng brought pot-stickers for us all to enjoy! I can not even begin to number how many acts of kindness I was touched by during my days there.

   It is said that the environment you are brought up in shapes the person you become.  This summer I saw in a new light how children’s personalities really are shaped by those adults around them.

   Chris, who has been to Ikata many times, said to me, “Tokyo and Hiroshima really are amazing, but I like Ikata the best.” Of course, Chris’ image of the Japanese people is mainly his image of the people of Ikata so I was very happy when he told me he would love to visit Ikata as much as possible. It went without saying at that point that we both hoped that this exchange would continue as long as possible.

   In closing I would l would like to offer my most sincere gratitude to not only the Ikata International Exchange Association but also the Ikata Board of Education for making such a valuable experience possible. Thank you all so very much.

   This year I participated in the overseas delegation program and I would just like to say I am so grateful for to have had the chance to experience such many an amazing time full of so many wonderful experiences.

   On the day of our departure, I left Japan with a heart full of expectations and uncertainties. I don’t know how many connecting flights we had that day but when we finally arrived at the airport in Minneapolis I was so excited my heart felt like it was dancing. “We finally made it!” is what I felt like saying. When I finally met my host family, all my tiredness from the long flight vanished. When I was greeted with a hug I was a little unsure of what to do exactly, but I was happy.

   In Red Wing it felt like we passed all our days playing, playing, and playing to the point that I thought I was getting a bit thinner! When I think about it now, to say simply that it was “fun” would not even begin to describe my time there. I became close to the Stegora family, made many friends, and every day that we shared together was immensely fulfilling, I felt.

   On the night that we arrived at the Stegora household, Emily’s older brother Mike had a bunch of his friends over and we all played baseball in their big yard. Just as I thought, I really wasn’t able to say much, but we were able to get the meaning across and have a pretty good conversation just using gestures. I’m pretty good at baseball so I was able to hit a few home runs but Mike’s friend, wow, it seemed like all he did was hit home runs, it was great! Thanks to this chance we had to play baseball together, I think we all quickly became good friends. They were happy that I was able to teach them some Japanese, too. I was so happy especially when they would try to use words that I taught them, like “Konnichiwa”, “Ohayō Gozaimasu”, and “Itadakimasu”, at the appropriate times.

   For the River City Days parade, we put on a traditional Japanese Taiko performance. All the people that came out to watch were waving and cheering us on.  We were not able to communicate with words but I think that what we were trying to say got across to everyone. We also went to watch the Twins game against the Red Socks at Target Field. The field was wide and I just had this feeling that it was a field where the old and the new history coexisted peacefully. I think that everything in Japan tends to be new but here was a place where the past was preserved artfully alongside the present. I also felt that many of the spectators really knew the rules of baseball well, standing and cheering on all the good plays, that they must have had such a good time.

   One of the things I had never tried before going to the United States was water skiing. What’s more, the first time I tried it was on the Mississippi river, bigger and wider than any river in Japan. On that day we saw a rainbow and we were told that it meant we were lucky, and soon everyone was looking up at the sky.  I guess that’s one thing that we have in common: the feeling we get when we see a rainbow…
Skiing really was very tough. Simply standing up was a challenge, but once we got going and started getting used to it, it was a lot of fun.

   Also, we were able to meet up with the Red Wing kids every day and got to hang out a lot together. We went skating, skiing, watched some DVDs, and in the end I always had a good time when we all got together. They really became my wonderful friends.

   I just want to thank everyone that that made this homestay possible. At this point I know that I want to continue to study English and hopefully one day return to Red Wing again.  My heart is full of gratitude. Thank you so very much.

"American Homestay"
 Seto Junior High School Student       Shouta Hōe

From the 2nd until the 16th of August, about two weeks, I went to Red Wing, Minnesota.

   At the time, my English was not very good. So when I first headed off with my host family I was worried about whether or not they would be able to understand me at all and if we would be able to communicate what we wanted to say. 

   Before going on the homestay program, the students from Red Wing came to Ikata for their part of the exchange program at the end of August. I could tell that all the girls were so cheerful and excited to be here. I’m not very good at speaking with people that I’ve only just met so at first I didn’t say anything. However, the students from the United States started talking to us and they made it seem so easy and natural! Thanks to them we were able to have a great time talking.  I was very happy.

   My older brother, too, a few years ago had the chance to go to Red Wing. So I was excited because we had planned for me to meet up with his host family from then. Also when I gave my present to the person that was staying at our house, I was surprised because actually they were taller than I had imagined…and they were so nice.

   There was something else that I was excited about before going to Red Wing: American culture (especially food!). I always had this impression that all Americans ever ate was meat. Now after going there, I can say that my impressions were not quite right and that there are many types of foods in the United States. There were pizza, pasta, cereals, and many other things besides meat. To say the least, it was all delicious.

   There were many other things that surprised me during my trip to Red Wing. I was surprised at how wide the fields of corn were and that people’s yards were so wide that they actually had pools in their backyards and space enough to even play a baseball game! I thought it was so cool how things like having a basketball court, golf cub set, and pool table were so common that not having them would have been surprising. Best of all, having such things made it so easy to have a great time with everyone.

   The very first morning of my homestay, my host father Steve made breakfast.  He is so good at cooking, breakfast that day was delicious. After breakfast we went for a bike ride. We rode for about 20 minutes around the block. The house that I stayed at was right on the river so it was nice and cool, it felt great.

   There were so many things that I tried for the first time on this trip to the United States; I played pool, went water-skiing, and tried wakeboarding. I was especially happy because I was able to actually stand up when I tried wakeboarding. 

   I thought that I would try out the English that I learned during my time in the United States. However, I found that more than speaking, the hardest thing to do was to understand what was being said. No matter what my host family was trying to say to me there were just so many words and things that I couldn’t quite understand that I couldn’t quite respond as much or as well as I wanted to. I regretted not trying my best to study English before I came.

   Of all the things that I thought that I would see and feel in the United States, the thing that sticks out from among the rest is how no matter who I was talking to everyone seemed to be so nice.  I quickly became good friends with so many people that I couldn’t help but thinking how nice and friendly everyone is. Like I said, I’m not very good at speaking with people that I’ve only just met but I know that I would really like to be more like the people that I met in Red Wing: people who can strike up a conversation easily and quickly become a friend of anyone and everyone.

   During my time as a homestay student, there definitely were many things that I was nervous to try at first but everyone around me always did their best to help me out whenever they could. They were so nice to me so I decided that from here on out I want to really try my best and study English and, hopefully, someday return to the United States again.

"Lifelong Memories"
Misaki Junior High School Student       Yūmi Yamashita

   Being that this was my first time traveling abroad, there were many things that I was uneasy about.  Questions like, “Will I be able to communicate skillfully with my host family?” and “Will I be able to make any friends with the people of Red Wing?” filled my mind and made me worry.  All of that worry disappeared the very first day I arrived in Red Wing, as I met so many new people and as I broadened my outlook. More than that, it was the kindness of the people there that really made it such a comfortable and enjoyable place.

   There are several things in Red Wing that I realized you can not experience in Japan. For example, going over to a friend’s house to swim in their pool, playing volleyball in someone’s backyard, and seeing wild deer cross in the middle of the road! Within the eleven short days that we were there the number of great memories that I made are without number but to me the most impressive of them all, the one that sticks out in my mind the most, was riding on the rollercoaster in the park inside the Mall of America. I really thought that I would go my entire life without riding a roller coaster but this one in Red Wing was an experience that I thought was “scary but fun”. In fact, it was so much fun the first time that I rode it again and again.  I can’t even remember how many times I rode it. I am so thankful for these memories.

   I’m so happy I decided to participate in the homestay program this year. I knew that I really wasn’t all that good at speaking English, but when I got to the United States I realized how many times when I tried to speak I had no idea what to say or how to say it. Still, even with my broken English, I was so happy to see everyone trying so hard to communicate with me that I tried more and more to speak as much as I could. Even in those times when we couldn’t understand each other I thought “What can I do to say what I want to say?” and decided that I would try me best to get my ideas across while using gestures.

   At first I was really down and full of worries, but the kindness of my host family cleared away my cloudy disposition. When the last day arrived all wanted to say was “Do we already have to go back?” and “I wish I could have stayed longer.” and I knew that as soon as I got back to Japan that I would want to turn right around and come back. 

   A lot happened in two weeks time, but I valued every moment and because of that I think these became the best and most wonderful two weeks of my life.  From here on out I will try even more effort than before en everything I do and in my English studies because I want to go to Red Wing again. Also, I would like to express my gratitude for my host family, my parents, my teachers, and everyone that helped to support me and this program and make these two wonderful weeks so fun, safe, and go on without a hitch. From the bottom of my heart, I am so happy that I was able to participate in the exchange this year.

   Thank so very much for everyone for these memories that I will never forget. From now on, I hope I can live every day holding tightly to the valuable experiences I gained in Red Wing, Minnesota.

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