Bridging the Gap in Okinawa Through the Kakehashi Program

By TJ Gassaway
 
TJ is a student of Pleasant Valley High School. He visited Okinawa, Japan in January 2017 as part of the Kakehashi Project (Okinawa Program), a Japanese Government educational exchange program.

   Ever since I was five years old and started practicing karate I have been in love with the Japanese culture. My parents have always supported me and allowed me to pursue this love, pushing me to learn Japanese and even hosting Japanese students so that I have a more intimate understanding of Japan. I have been lucky enough to travel to Okinawa twice with my dojo and do a homestay once in Okayama, however, the Kakehashi program was unlike anything I have ever experienced.
   Throughout the week I managed to make new connections, learn new Japanese, and bring back amazing memories to share with my peers. I had an amazing time traveling around Japan, going to Tokyo and Okinawa, learning new things everywhere I went. Before I had traveled to Okinawa with the Kakehashi, I hosted a girl in America who would later be my host in Okinawa. The ability to make that type of connection and carry it out on a long term scale was very meaningful to me. The Otsuki family made sure I was always enjoying myself in Okinawa, I never felt alone or bored while I was with them. They always seemed to know what to do to make the trip exciting and memorable.

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   What really separates the Kakehashi trip from any other trip I have taken to Japan is the support of the Japanese government. Taking a trip to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and sitting in the giant meeting room filled me with awe. I learned so much about Japanese foreign affairs and how crucial the relationship between Japan and America is. With all of the political divisiveness and infighting occurring in America today, it was nice to step back and realize how much these decisions being made in the United States affects the rest of the world. The government officials who helped us in Japan gave us an endless amount of fun and educational activities to participate in, I learned more and tried more things on the Kakehashi trip than I ever had on a trip to Japan.
   Everywhere I went in Japan, I felt welcome. Even though many of the places I visited were very busy, especially in Tokyo, every place felt safe and tranquil. The blend of traditional and modern values astounded me. I could transition from a skyscraper to an ancient Shinto shrine just by walking for five minutes. The amount of history in each block of each city in Japan fascinated me and only heightened my love for Japan. In the end my favorite part of the trip would be standing in the middle of all the historic temples and castles and being in awe of the history behind each one. When I stood in the courtyard of Shuri Castle I felt as if I was getting a peek into Japan’s past.
   One very interesting experience for me was being able to attend school in Okinawa and getting the opportunity to put together a presentation to give in front of the school. The Okinawa school was so different from my American school, but it was very interesting for me to be able to compare the two. I really enjoyed sitting in on a geometry class where I was able to contribute my own math knowledge to the class.
   Overall the Kakehashi trip was a trip I will never forget. I made connections I will endeavor to keep throughout my entire life. This trip allowed me to understand Japan on a deeper level than I had beforehand. I would thoroughly recommend anyone to apply for the program and get the opportunity to go to Japan and open their eyes to an entirely new culture.

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