The Great East Japan Earthquake was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded to have hit Japan. It happened last March 11, 2015 with the magnitude of 9.0 (Mw). Aside from the physical damages, Japan also suffered other negative effects from the disaster. One pressing problem that Japan has encountered after the disaster was more on how the world saw Japan at that moment. A negative stereotype that the country has become a danger zone because of the high radiation level that was caused by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, has been constructed by the global community. The country, which was one of the world’s premier tourist destination, has become one of the most feared go-to places. This stereotype has become one of the pressing issues that the Japanese government wanted to eradicate right away. The only way to eradicate the stereotype is to prove that it is not true. The Japanese government has launched many projects in order to support this cause. The Kizuna (絆) Project for the Philippines is one of those projects. It is organized by the Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) in partnership with the Philippine National Youth Commission (NYC) and it took place from December 2012 to March 2013 with 3 batches.The project does not only focuses on proving that Japan is indeed safe and is still as lovely as it ever was. It also focuses on building relationships with their partner countries and giving the participants the opportunity to experience and learn from the Japanese culture.
I was in my 3rd year of college that time when I was sent to Japan as one of Philippine delegation’s Ambassadors of Goodwill. I belonged to the 3rd batch of the program and it happened last March 18, 2013 to March 27, 2013 sponsoring 87 Philippine student leaders to Japan. I am so thrilled and happy to say that the Kizuna (Bond) Project is still so far my best out-of-the-country experience. Why? I have listed 5 out of my many reasons why this experience is still on the top of my best-life-experience list.
- I was able to experience the Japanese Traditional Culture at its best.
Starting from visiting temples to eating traditional foods, we had an amazing time getting to know the amazing and rich Japanese tradition. Allow me to tour you around all the pitstops that we went to so that you could also get a glimpse of what the traditional Japanese practices are.
Sensō-ji (浅草寺) Temple
It is an ancient Buddhist temple located in Asakusa, Tokyo. We were given an opportunity to tour the whole temple and watch the people pay their tributes. The temple has a fountain wherein you can drink water from it. Beside the temple is also a small market for souvenirs. What makes the temple so attractive is that it is surrounded with pink and white cherry blossoms trees and is always full of dedicated Buddhist practitioners.Aizuwakamatsu Castle (黑川城)
It is also called the Tsuruga Castle. It is located at the center of Aizuwakamatsu City in Fukushima Prefecture. We were also able to tour the whole castle. Now a museum, the castle features many traditional Japanese materials but it focuses on telling the world the history of Aizuwakamatsu City. And of course, the castle has a souvenir shop inside. 😀Samurai? Food? Yes!
The Samurai were the elite Japanese warriors of the medieval and pre-modern Japan. They are usually known for their extraordinary skills in fighting using swords or blades and of course, martial arts. The Aizuwakamatsu Castle features 2 Samurais roaming around the castle. They are equipped with original Samurai ornaments and an original sword. They are very friendly. 🙂
Japanese traditional cuisine will never be out of the list. Common favorite foods are noodles, raw fish, variety of vegetables, dried fish, tempura, and many more that I do not know what to call.
Aside from Hiragana and Katana, there is also Kanji in the Japanese alphabet. Kanji are logographic Chinese characters that are adopted in the Japanese alphabet. Kanji plays a huge part in the Japanese reading and writing style. The 3 types of characters are present in a Japanese sentence. Thus, if you would like to learn Nihongo, you should master all the three. As for our quick tour, we were taught how to write 2 Kanji characters. I swear it was very hard for me to write 2 Kanji characters using the brush. 😥
The art of paper-folding is often associated with Japan though it is very popular worldwide. Throughout the whole program, almost all the Japanese people that I have met are very skillful in Origami. I hope Origami is also taught in the Philippines. In the picture, that was my foster grandma there, teaching me how to create a Samurai origami. かわいいですね～ 😀
Even with today’s advanced technology and globalization, Japan’s traditions and rich culture remain intact. I hope that other countries, especially the Philippines would learn from Japan. I hope we, Filipinos, should also strive to preserve our culture and traditions and love them.
- Everything is ON TIME!I know that the whole world already knows that Punctuality is part of the Japanese culture. Well, let me stress it out even more, EVERYTHING IS ON TIME THERE! 😀 Starting from the beginning of all the activities in the program, to their public transportation, to the arrival of orders in restaurants. Because of their punctuality, I can never say that I wasted a single minute there. They are just on the dot. I was just so thrilled to witness everything personally. Let me introduce to you their famous Bullet Train or locally called as the Shinkansen. The cost per ride is somehow expensive, thus, it is advisable to ride this if your destination is far and if you are in a hurry. It does not only give you a fast and a bump-free ride but it also brings you to your destination on the dot. Wew. Punctuality at its best.
- I was able to witness their daily life.
During our 10-day program, we were given a chance to have a Japanese foster family for day. Meet my Japanese foster parents. My mama (かじゃん) and grandma (ばじゃん). They live in Aizuwakamatsu City, Fukushima. Even though I only stayed there for just a day, I learned many things not just about the Japanese culture but also about daily good practices. Let me share them to you. 🙂 First thing is, a very known Japanese stereotype. Spotless is a must! My mama’s house is spotless. Starting from the floor, the walls, the yard, the furniture, everything. Every corner is just so clean. They do this not just because of OCD but to avoid illnesses. Second is, always be kind. My mama told me that we should be kind to everybody because we do not know everybody’s story. A little kindness from the world would lift people up, strangers or not. Third is the power of helping each other. Because she was first shy to let me help with washing the dishes, she didn’t let me but I insisted so both of us cleaned the plates then fed them to the dish washer. She then shared to me how efficient the process will be if people would be helping each other. Fourth is about their favorite things to do daily or every other day. They love Sauna very much. They love making Origami. For the adults, they usually spend their night watching TV after they finish their chores. They also take a bath before they sleep and because of that, they usually do not take a bath in the morning. Can you imagine their daily routine now? My heart broke when the morning came and we had to say goodbye to our foster parents. The thought of them today always brings a smile on my lips. If I will be given a chance to go back to Japan someday, I swear I will be visiting them again. Let me share about food again. Japanese exotic restaurants are everywhere. My favorite restaurant was the Sushi restaurant we went to. ❤ Fresh fruits are aplenty in Aizu. We went to a Strawberry farm and they allowed us to just pick fresh strawberries and eat them right away.
Japanese people do not mind walking. In fact, they spend most of their time outside of their home walking or biking. In fact, they walk quite a long distance to their train stations or bus stations. I hope we also share that kind of patience. To walk to the nearest Jeepney Stops to avoid commotion at the streets.
- I built a new family.
The Kizuna Project allowed me to meet people with the same dreams as mine: to serve the people. I appreciated the activities more because I was able to share my ideas with them. We studied all the things that we learned together. We performed for the people of Fukushima. Most importantly, we created Fukushima Awareness Day (FAD). They are like my distant family that I will forever miss since the moment we separated and went back home to our provinces here in the Philippines.
The Fukushima Awareness Day (FAD)
This event was our way of saying Thank you to the Japanese Government for letting us experience Japan through the Kizuna (Bond) Project. The Fukushima Awareness Day (FAD) is comprised of 7 events that happened around the Philippines that are solely dedicated of spreading the truth about Japan and its condition after the Great East Japan Earthquake. You may check all our activities for FAD here. We are so happy to have created FAD together as a family. Most importantly, it is an achievement for us to have been given the chance to create activities that would manifest our love and our sympathies to Japan.
- I uncovered the real stories before, during, and after the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Perhaps this is the best thing about the event. Coming to Japan has been a great privilege for me not only because I get to explore Japan but because I got the opportunity to know the stories before, during, and after the Great East Japan Earthquake. We were able to meet the a few victims and sympathize with them. We cried with them and assured them that we will tell the whole world of their story and the truth of Fukushima and Japan as a whole. We were able to attend many seminars that feature (1) processes of the local government units of Aizu, (2) food processes from Aizu’s local food industry, (3) farms in Aizu, (4) Aizu’s Wood Artistry, (5) processes and the recovery efforts done in the affected areas, and many more relevant topics on Disaster Risk Management and Recovery.
The Kizuna (Bond) Project has opened my eyes to many things. Of all things that I learned, the most significant ones would be the importance of a country’s unity to reach a common goal and the importance of individual contributions to be able to reach this goal. Upon coming back here in the Philippines, I was inspired to give back to Japan by spreading the good news about their amazing country. More importantly, I was more inspired to work harder and be better to help my country become better as well.
Perhaps now you already know why this is my best trip abroad. 🙂
It was truly a trip that I will forever treasure.
Thank you Kizuna (Bond) Project. 🙂