My Time in Hiroshima on the Kakehashi Project

Making friends with the Miyajima Deer
At Itsukushima-jinja
By Apanuba Mahmood
Apanuba is a graduate of Monta Vista High School. She visited Hiroshima, Japan in August 2016 as part of the Kakehashi Project, a Japanese Government educational exchange program.

From a young age, I have always loved Japanese culture and its people; growing up I had many kind Japanese friends, and I loved many popular anime and games, which further helped me develop my interest in the country. In high school, I started studying Japanese, and since then I’ve made many new friends, all sharing the same common interest. Learning Japanese helped introduce me to a new way of looking at the world, and immersed me in a culture that was very welcoming and certainly vibrant in its history and heritage.
Though I graduated high school in June, this August I was given the opportunity to go to Japan with some of my school friends as part of the Kakehashi Project, which sponsored a small delegation of students who had participated in the National Japan Bowl competition earlier that year. We went to Tokyo and Hiroshima, doing a short homestay in the latter - my host family, the Matsuwaki family, was so kind and hospitable, and truly made me feel like a part of their home in the short time I was with them.
I had been to Tokyo before, two years previously, and was happy to be back there again, however, this time, the true highlight of the trip were the days I spent in Hiroshima. Visiting the World Heritage site, Itsukushima-jinja and Miyajima was a very fulfilling experience for me, especially since before this, I had only seen pictures of the landmark online, or as scenery recreations in some of the video games I had played. Just like the Japanese expression, hyakubun wa ikken ni shikazu, I truly experienced that “seeing is believing” - I would have never thought that upon arriving on the island, I make friends with many of the cute wild deer! (Though, one of them did try to eat one of my bags of souvenirs that I bought.)
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial
Apanuba posing with friends
In addition to the picturesque sights, I was also very fortunate due to the timing of our trip; our stay in Hiroshima coincided with the anniversary of the denotation of the atomic bomb in WWII, and due to that, I felt that the atmosphere in the city, particularly when we visited the Peace Memorial Park and Genbaku Dome, was full of solemn tranquility and wishes for peace. Having studied much history, both Japanese and American, I was deeply touched by having the opportunity to actually see artifacts and victims’ memoirs first-hand, which documented not only their extreme sufferings, but also their remarkable resiliency even in the face of such hardships. 
I was able to feel the profound strength of the Hiroshima peoples’ commitment to maintaining peace, and how many around the world have been affected by it as well; I particularly was inspired by seeing the record books filled with comments from dignitaries such as Japanese Prime Ministers and foreign Heads of State who have visited the Park and were similarly touched. As I am planning to go into the field of international relations and diplomacy in my higher studies, I cannot express in words how grateful I was for this opportunity to be in Hiroshima at this time, to personally see things such as the statue of Sasaki Sadako (whose story had made me cry so much in elementary school) and all of the donated origami cranes from around the world, and even participate in tourou-nagashi/paper lantern floating with my host family, praying and remembering those affected by the bomb and war. I truly feel that the Peace Memorial Park and its vicinity is a place that everyone should aspire to visit at least once in their lifetime, regardless of ethnicity/nationality/etc.
Overall, I was left with a truly strong and impactful impression from my time in Hiroshima, having discovered a new lens of Japanese culture that included warm, friendly people, delicious foods, beautiful scenery, and a rich history of struggle and triumph. Though the time was short, I returned from Japan with my suitcases packed full of souvenirs and my heart full of precious, unforgettable memories. I hope to carry on and impart my experience in Japan with those around me, and use it as a motivation to help me pursue a diplomatic career that may lead me back to Japan once more in the future.

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