Planting Hope

9 Jan Please watch this short documentary to see what life is like for people post-tsunami in Japan.  This documentary features the couple I mention in this blog and the main person speaking is someone who helped us volunteer weekly.

Snow fell as we kneeled onto the hard earth to plant flowers where a house once stood.  This was my last day in Ishinomaki and instead of considering the snow a cold nuisance, I looked at the powdered white snow as a symbol of purification and rebirth.  This was my last day of volunteering and on this day we planted flowers with a woman named Matsumura-san.  She had owned a sports shop and her house was attached to it.  During the tsunami her home and shop were in one of the areas most devastated, where the house was completely swept away.  Months earlier, as volunteers cleared the debris from where her house once was, she cried.  On this snowy morning there were not tears and Matsumura-san was smiling. She told us that she wanted to plant flowers to make the sad memory of where her house was a more hopeful place to visit now (they cannot rebuild on the land because it was so badly damaged). She has a new shop and a new house thanks to her enduring spirit with the support of the community and volunteers, but wanted to bring something bright and colorful to the spot of where her old life and old house stood.

As I try to reflect on my time volunteering in the Tohoku region, my thoughts keep returning to people’s spirits and their will to keep moving forward.  How do you pick up the pieces of a broken life?  How do you overcome a trauma?  How do you smile again?  The devastation of the tsunami left many feeling hopeless, but seeing the courage people have to move forward, rebuild their lives, and try to find joy again really left an impression on me.

These pictures can better encapsulate the spirit of Matsumura-san and the experience of volunteering more than words.  In one picture you can see the heart of flowers with the “Ghost School of Ishinomaki” in the background.  In another you can see Matsumura-san’s smile.  A fellow volunteer (who took these pictures  of us volunteering)  described it best: “Now there is hope and colour amid the desolation: A heart-shaped wall of broken pottery and rocks surrounds the little flowers. Bulbs now line the boundaries where the walls of this home once stood. Lots of warmth and heart for Matsumura-san (centre front), the lovely lady we helped today with her little memorial garden. I wiped away tears as I watched her crouched in the snow, planting a single small flower at the doorstep of an elderly neighbour. She hadn’t survived the tsunami.”  It may look like we were just planting flowers on this day, but to Matsumura-san we were also planting hope.  While that may not be the typical image of disaster relief it is a process just as important as rebuilding homes.  The wounds of the heart may never fully heal, but just as these flowers fight the cold and bloom in vivid color, so will the people of Tohoku.

I want to sincerely thank the National Cherry Blossom Festival from the bottom of my heart for supporting me to volunteer and in some small way be of assistance to people rebuilding their lives here and provide goodwill.  I also want to thank Jamie El-Banna and his crew at It’s Not Just Mud and all of the other NGOs working so hard in Tohoku.  A lot of these organizations’ members gave up their jobs and moved to Tohoku to help.  It is amazing to see people from all around the world coming together to help one another get through a difficult time.

To watch us planting flowers and hear an eloquent volunteer (who was also the first and only woman to row across the Indian Ocean) share her story please watch this short video: We are all one: a video from Ishinomaki, 9 months after the tsunami of March 11th 2011

Thank you again to the National Cherry Blossom Festival for sponsoring this Goodwill Mission to Japan.  Thank you for helping me volunteer in some small way in a country that has given me so many beautiful memories and friendships.  I will continue to support Japan during this difficult time and I hope you will to.  Please contact me if you have any questions about how to volunteer or donate.  I also look forward to celebrating 100 years of friendship between the U.S. and Japan at the 2012 Centennial Celebration of the National Cherry Blossom Festival in DC.  I hope to volunteer in Tohoku again in 2012.  Ganbatte Nihon!  Please do your best Japan!

Please do not forget about Tohoku.  There is still so much work to be done.  I would like to end this post by sharing a letter from an elderly couple who we assisted with It’s Not Just Mud who wanted to share their story:

“We were deeply moved and very happy that we managed to reopen our shop on 20th December after 9months. We cannot put into words how much the volunteers helped us and how much hope they gave us.

After the disaster on 11th March, we stayed in the evacuee centre for three months and in temporary housing for another three months. Through this depressing experience, we started to strongly feel that we wanted something to live for and would like to live life to the fullest while developing relationships with other people even if it would take many years.  But we, as a couple of 74 and 71 years old weren’t sure what to do. At that time the volunteers warmly extended a helping hand.

While we were working towards a goal together with the young people, we realised that everything was turning in a good direction and our spirits lifted. We laughed a lot every day and the cheerful laughter started to echo throughout the empty town. We laughed a lot, talked a lot and had a lot of fun.

Young people and foreigners gave us warm hugs calling us “father” and “mother” (and “grandpa” and “grandma”). We didn’t have this custom before, but it was very natural.

We almost gave up restarting our liqueur shop which had been open for 85 years, but we managed to revive it thanks to the heartfelt support from the volunteers and we deeply appreciate it.

After we lost everything in the disaster, the young volunteers showed us people’s kindness and the importance of personal relationships. They suggested we put a table and chairs as a tea drinking corner so that volunteers could come and have a rest when they had time or when they were tired and showed us to help and support with other local people.”

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6 Jan

The National Cherry Blossom Festival has a great friendship with the city of Yokohama.  I was thankful to be able to attend an exciting event for the 100 year anniversary of the gift of trees in Yokohama and meet many new friends there.  In conjunction with the Civic Group for Scidmore’s Cherry Trees Centennial Commemoration, the Japan-America Society of Yokohama hosted a 100-day countdown reception in honor of the 100-year anniversary of the March 27th planting of Scidmore’s cherry trees.

In a simple ceremony on March 27, 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees from Japan on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park. Between the governments of the two countries, the financial backing of Dr. Jokichi Takamine, a world-famous chemist and the founder of what today is the global pharmaceutical company Daiichi Sankyo, Dr. David Fairchild of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Eliza Scidmore, first female board member of the National Geographic Society, and First Lady Helen Herron Taft, the trees arrived in Washington.

The city of Yokohama was excited to commemorate this day in history with the creative idea of having a 100-day countdown reception.  Attendees to the event included Mr. John Maher, Director of the Japanese Language Training Center, US Department of State, his predecessor Mr. Darrell Jenks, who worked for the US Department of State with Ambassador John Malott, CEO & President of the Japan-America Society of Washington  DC, and members of the U.S. Embassy in Japan, Yokohama City Council, Kanagawa Prefectural Assembly, and more.

Stories were shared and many presentations on the history of the trees were given.  I was able to represent the National Cherry Blossom Festival in D.C. as a 2011 Goodwill Ambassador.  I gave a presentation on what events NCBF has planned for the epic 5-week spectacular in honor of the 2012 Centennial Celebration in DC.  I also talked about my experience volunteering with the relief efforts in the Tohoku region.  After the presentations we danced a traditional Bon Odori dance (a dance performed during the Obon festival to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors), sang a song about cherry blossoms, and had many wonderful conversations.  I made a lot of new friends and I am excited to see them in DC during the Centennial Celebration.

A special thank you to Mr. Nakada Kunihiko, Executive Office Staff of The Japan-America Society of Yokohama, who helped to arrange my visit and presentation.  To read more about the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s 2012 Centenial Celebration of the Gift of Trees in DC please click here.

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Rebuilding Community in Tohoku

23 Dec 376593_10150956974445093_601695092_21809059_563767805_n

When people think of disaster relief they often think of debris removal and home renovation.  A part of disaster relief that is not as obvious, but just as important, is rebuilding community.  Volunteering in solidarity with the people of Tohoku has been a way to volunteer with both of these aspects of disaster relief.  During my time volunteering we were able to participate in the reopening of a park and volunteered with children in the community.  We planned a day activities with children from an orphanage and played games with them, made bubbles, and had a pizza party.  We volunteered in conjunction with the organization All Hands Volunteers, a US-based non profit dedicated to empowering disaster relief volunteers around the world.  You can read more about the background of the All Hands Volunteers Project Tohoku and see pictures from the day of the event by clicking here.  It was great to see smiles return to the faces of Japanese people living in the Tohoku region on this day.

My main duty in Japan as a National Cherry Blossom Festival Goodwill Ambassador is to promote international friendship and volunteer with the relief efforts in Japan.  I feel thankful to have found the organization It’s Not Just Mud (INJM) and have decided to focus my volunteer efforts with this organization, based out of Ishinomaki in the Tohoku region.  INJM was formed in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 2011 and works with community members and other volunteer groups to help with disaster relief efforts. The tsunami destroyed much of what it came into contact with, and covered pretty much everything else with a thick layer of foul mud. Much of the cleanup is focused on removing this mud… but it’s not just mud. It’s about people who are living through this terrible tragedy and helping them get back to a normal life.

Now that winter is approaching we also delivered donated electric heaters and blankets to families in the community.  Many people’s houses were completely destroyed and families had to move to temporary housing while others are living on the top floor of their houses since the bottom was ruined by the tsunami.  It was hard to hear stories about people losing their homes and loved ones.  When I saw the tsunami on the television back in the U.S. it was so horrific and made me feel such pain because I had lived in Japan, but now that I have been living in Ishinomaki and have made friends in this region it has become more real and even more tragic.  It reminds me that life is very fragile and in one moment everything you know and love can be gone.  As a young person I can forget to appreciate being alive, healthy, and having loved ones in my life.  It reminded me to tell people in my life I appreciate them and to take nothing for granted because we are not guaranteed tomorrow. The people I have met and talked to in the Tohoku region touch my heart when I saw their hope and their courage to keep moving forward to rebuild their community.  It reminds me we are all one human family and need support one another.

A lot of people in the community also lost their businesses and are now left with the task of rebuilding their way of life.  Supporting local industries is very important and we volunteered with some fishermen on a hoya “farm”.  Hoya are sea squirts and they take two to three years to cultivate.  The fishermen lost their entire crop of hoya after the tsunami.  It is a time consuming process to string oyster shells onto ropes and create blocks where the hoya can grow.  We helped the fishermen by drilling holes in the shells and threading them onto ropes.  I talked with one of the fishermen and he told me about his experience with the tsunami.  He said that most people in his community made it out of the area before the tsunami hit.  Afterwards many people went back to search for friends and family, but they did not realize the tsunami wave would return a second and third time.  The people who would have been safe died from the second and third wave.  He wanted to share this story and talk about the decision one has to make in a time of crisis.  Hopefully none of us will ever be faced with a situation like that.  He said that before the disaster that this region of Japan did not receive many foreign visitors.  He said that is was nice to meet people from around the world and sometimes easier to share stories about the tsunami with strangers.  It was a small release of the trauma and a hopeful way to see the world as an international family that helps one another during times of crisis.  Piece by piece, and with many helping hands, I hope and pray people can not only rebuild their homes, but rebuild their lives in Tohoku.

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The Gift of Trees Patch Program: Girl Scouts in Japan Celebrating International Friendship

22 Dec Gift of Trees Patch Program

Giving out patches

When people think of the National Cherry Blossom Festival (NCBF) they of course think of the cherry blossom trees that line the Tidal Basin in D.C., but what makes the National Cherry Blossom Festival truly unique is how much the organization gets involved with the community.   One of my main duties as a 2011 NCBF Goodwill Ambassador in D.C. was to give presentations on Japanese culture to classrooms and teach young people about the history of the gift of trees and the friendship between the U.S. and Japan.  NCBF has continued this tradition of youth-centered community involvement by creating “The Gift of Trees Patch Program”

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouts and the gift of the flowering cherry trees from Tokyo, Japan to Washington, D.C., Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital (GSCNC) and the National Cherry Blossom Festival developed “The Gift of Trees Patch Program”. This program commemorates the gift of 3,020 cherry blossom trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, D.C. in 1912 – the same year Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scout movement in Savannah, Georgia.

“The Gift of Trees Patch Program” focuses on three key themes—international friendship, arts and culture and the environment. Girl Scouting’s Three Keys to Leadership—Discover, Connect and Take Action—are incorporated through program activities.  The National Cherry Blossom Festival decided to bring this program from D.C. to Japan to celebrate 100 years of friendship between the U.S and Japan.

As a part of my NCBF Goodwill Mission to Japan I offered “The Gift of Tress Patch Program” to National Girls Scouts from Atsugi Naval Air Base and Yokosuka Navy Base.  Both of these programs were done in collobaration with the Girl Scouts of Japan and in total we had approximately 100 Girl Scouts of Japan and about 50 US Girl Scouts participate.  We focused on the “Honoring Intercultural Connection” and “Cultural Connection” elements of the Patch Program by having a Friendship Making Party for the U.S. and Japan Girl Scout troops.

It was a really fun experience for the girls and they all received a special Gift of Trees participation patch.  U.S. and Japanese Girl Scouts made paper cranes and friendship bracelets and exchanged them with one another.  It was amazing to see friendships forming thanks to the girls having a shared experience together.  The language barrier may seem difficult to overcome, but when the girls were making their cranes and bracelets they were able to interact with each other (with the help of some translators as well!) and make a good memory together.    The girls celebrated the 100 Anniversary of the Girl Scouts and National Cherry Blossom Festival by creating posters with cranes in Japanese (see photo).  They also made posters for the disaster victims in the Tohoku region of Japan.  It will be really exciting to keep this program going in D.C. and Japan.

This was a really special experience for me as well because I was a Girl Scout when I was younger.  The Friendship making Party also struck a chord with me because when I was in second grade my family made friends with a family from Hiroshima, Japan.  They had two daughters the same age as my sister and I named Tomomi and Megumi.  Tomomi became

Tomomi and I with our friendship bracelets

one of my best friends and we remained pen pals (and the by e-mail as the Internet made keeping in contact even easier).  This year I also visited Hiroshima to have a reunion with my old friend and to pray for peace at the Children’s Peace Monument, which is a monument for peace to commemorate Sadako Sasaki and the thousands of child victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.  Sadako is remembered through the story of attempting to fold one thousand origami cranes before her death, and is to this day is a symbol of the hope for peace. We made paper cranes together include in the memorial.  Later Tomomi and I exchanged friendship bracelets.  To this day we are still friends and it all started thanks to international exchange.  I really think these frienships and connections made at a young age will stay with these girls all their life.

“The Gift of Trees Patch Program” is an fun way to promote international friendship among the Girl Scouts and I am very proud to have been a part of the program here in Japan.  This same program will take place next year with two more local bases – Camp Zama, Army and Yokota Air Force Base.  The program will also be offered to Host Nation Girl Scouts.  As an NCBF Goodwill Ambassador I have a true passion for international relations, community involvement, and the National Cherry Blossom Festival.  I am really thankful to have been able to use all of my passions for the Patch Program.  A special thank you goes out to Patti Howard, Director of Membership & Marketing for the West Pacific Girl Scouts for helping me coordinate these events and to all of the Girl Scouts and Leaders who participated.

For more information on “The Gift of Trees Patch Program” please click here:

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It’s Not Just Mud – Volunteering in Ishinomaki

2 Nov

On March, 11, 2011 the Great East Japan Earthquake and resulting tsunami devastated life in the Tohoku region of Japan.  I was volunteering as a Goodwill Ambassador with the National Cherry Blossom Festival in DC at the time and I remember feeling a strong physical and emotional pain in my chest.  I studied abroad in Nara, Japan for one year and made many wonderful memories in Japan.  It was hard to see people suffering so much and not be able to help.  When I mentioned that I wanted to volunteer in Tohoku the National Cherry Blossom Festival warmly supported my mission and provided me with the finances to make this a reality.  They truly embody the goodwill and friendship between the U.S. and Japan that is represented with the gift of the cherry blossoms trees from Japan to DC.  I may only be able to lend a small helping hand in solidarity with people affected by this disaster, but I hope it makes some small, positive difference.

Even though it has been seven months since the disaster there is still a lot of debris in the area, including large ships.  It was very emotional at times to talk with residents living in the temporary housing facilities and to discuss how you can pick up the pieces of people’s lives after a disaster situation such as this.  It reminded of volunteering in New Orleans and the many different factors that disaster relief truly involves.  Many people do not want to continue living in the area because it is difficult to heal the memories of the trauma they experienced.  Others fix up their homes only to find their neighbor’s home still in a ruined condition and the community resembling a ghost town. I cannot imagine being in this type of situation, losing family, friends, your home, and precious momentos.  It reminds me how fragile life can be and to appreciate family, friends, having food to eat, and a place to call home.

Clock stopped at the time the earthquake hit

There are many volunteer projects currently recruiting volunteers. Projects include helping collect and restore photos that were damaged during the tsunami, removing the sludge from people’s homes, cleaning up debris from the area, helping fisheries, rebuilding homes, delivering food, and also offering emotional support and encouraging community regeneration.  It is interesting to see so many foreign volunteers in a region of Japan that is not used to interacting with so many foreigners.  It reminds me of my passion for international exchange, specifically service-learning exchanges, and how that can change perceptions and help create a sense of global family.

Clock stopped at the time the tsunami hit

That is especially needed when a community has suffered a terrible trauma, because you need support to help pick up the pieces of your community and your life.  Standing with a woman as she watched her home being knocked down because it was so badly damaged by the tsunami and seeing her hands jump to her face in shock and sadness, even seven months later, reminded me how so many lives were affected so deeply by this natural disaster.  It was a very emotional experience, but people in Ishinomaki have such strong spirits and hope.

I would like to say thank you to Jamie El-Banna and to all of the volunteers involved with It’s Not Just Mud (INJM) (click on this link and check it out!). It is such an impressive group of people, with warm spirits, crazy senses of humor, interesting backgrounds, great organization of volunteer activities, and even greater hearts. Anyone looking to volunteer in Japan, but not sure how to do it (I definitely felt that way before) should contact Jamie and his awesome team! Just get out there and volunteer if you have the time and resources, and then you will become a much needed resource to help a community in need. I am so thankful to have found this organization and really looking forward to being able to continue to help in any small way I can. Everyone works so hard and really puts all of their hearts into helping rebuild people’s lives. “It’s not just mud, it’s people’s lives.” Thank you for giving so much of your time and energy to this project.  I look forward to continuing to volunteer with them during my time in Japan.  Anyone want to learn more about the project or thinking about volunteering? Just click on this link to learn more:

Other organizations volunteering with the relief efforts include Peace Boat, Tsunami Corps, All Hands Volunteers, JEN, Foreign Volunteers Japan, and many others.  Thank you to all of these organizations, to the volunteers, and to the community for their giving hearts and strong spirits.  And thank you to the National Cherry Blossom Festival for helping me come to Japan and volunteer.  Please contact me if you have any questions about the current relief efforts in Tohoku.

Please see the gallery and slideshow below.  The pictures are part of the outreach to share the reality of the situation in Tohoku.  Please do not redistribute these photos without permission.

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Great-Grandson of Mayor Ozaki

2 Nov

With Atsushi Ota, holding the newspaper with the article about the 100 year anniversary of the gift of trees

Each year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC. The gift and annual celebration honor the lasting friendship between the United States and Japan and the continued close relationship between the two countries.   This friendship continues in 2011 and I was able to meet with Atsushi Ota, the great-grandson of Mayor Ozaki.  On this same day there was an article in the newspaper about the Centennial celebration of the gift of trees and the National Cherry Blossom Festival.  Atsushi-san was kind enough to purchase a copy of the paper for me, which I will pack in my luggage and bring back to DC.

We also had another connection because this summer I participated in a peacebuilding and conflict resolution program in Switzerland with Initiatives of Change and Atsushi-san also participated in this same program when he was in his 20s.  It gave us a lot to talk about as we discussed the gift of the cherry blossom trees and our philosophies on peacebuilding.  We both agreed that international exchange and community dialogue is a very important aspect of peacebuilding.  The National Cherry Blossom Festival’s Goodwill Ambassador Program is a wonderful program that encourages international exchange and goodwill.

When I think of my family’s history and the history between Japan and the U.S., I am amazed by the positive power of international exchange, time, memorialization, and conflict resolution.  My grandfather was in the navy and survived the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  When I was 10 years old my family became friends with a Japanese family from Hiroshima on exchange with Mazda in Detroit.  The family had two daughters the same age as my sister and I.  This was my first international friendship and we kept in touch by sending letters.  Last year when I was living in Japan my mom was able to visit and we were able to reunite with the Yamashita family in Hiroshima.  Together we visited the Hiroshima Peace Park and Peace Memorial Museum, holding hands and learning about the past between our countries and, two generations after the war, feeling hope for the present and future.

Atsushi-san and I talked about how the cherry blossom trees remained even during WWII.  The cherry blossom trees and ultimately the hope for reconciliation and friendship, remained even during the time of war and now their beauty will serve as a symbol of goodwill in friendship for the 100th anniversary next year.


Celebrating with Our Friends in Ise City!


I was so excited to celebrate the Ise Matsuri with our friends from the Gakudo Kofu organization.  Gakudo Kofu gets its name from Mayor Yukio Ozaki, whose pen name was Ozaki Gakudo. Starting in 1996, a yearly Gakudo Award has been “presented to individuals or organizations active in issues including the promotion of democracy, disarmament and human rights”.  This is a part of the “Gakudo spirit” among the citizens and youth of Ise.  Each year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC. The gift and annual celebration honor the lasting friendship between the United States and Japan and the continued close relationship between the two countries.

There is also a lasting, beautiful friendship between the National Cherry Blossom Festival and Gakudo Kofu.  A U.S. Cherry Blossom Queen visited Ise in 1995 and in 1998 Gakudo Kofu selected their own “Queen of Hana-mizuki”.  Now they also select friendship and goodwill ambassadors as the National Cherry Blossom Festival now has a Goodwill Ambassador program.  They support and encourage international exchange and friendship as a part of “Gakudo spirit”.  I was so thrilled to visit with them as a National Cherry Blossom Festival Goodwill Ambassador and to create new friendships.  You can read more about Gakudo Kofu by clicking on this link.

Ise is home to the most sacred Shinto Shrine in Japan called the Ise Grand Shrine, which is actually a shrine complex composed of a grand collection of shrines.  Many people come every year to visit this sacred area.  Ise even earned the nickname Shinto, which can be translated to the “The Holy City”, because of the Ise Grand Shrine.  I met with Oka-san and Yagi-san upon my arrival to Ise.  They were so friendly and shared the “Gakudo spirit” with me by showing me around Ise. Oka-san and Yagi-san were kind enough to take me to this shrine.  I had to borrow a dress jacket though because you must be dressed properly to pray at the shrine.  The traditional way to pray at a Shinto shrine is to bow twice, clap your hands twice, and then bow one more time.

The sign says, "Cherry Blossoms are in Bloom for Welcoming You!" Kawaii desu ne!

After viewing the beautiful sites of Ise (and trying some local cusine including the famous Ise Udon and icecream made from soy beans) I met the members of Gakudo Kofu.  Doi-san greeted me with open arms and had a bright spirit.  The sakura trees blossomed unexpectedly upon my arrival.  It was such a surprise to see sakura blossoming in October!  The strange weather may have something to do with it, or it could just me a good sign for our friendship and for the 100 year anniversary next year!  Talking with all of the Gakudo Kofu members was so lovely.  There was lots of bowing and lots of tea!  They shared many wonderful stories with me.

The next day I was able to meet the Dogwood Queen, Princesses, Goodwill Ambassador, and Friendship Ambassador.  It was great to form a bond with them and share our experiences as representatives of the goodwill and friendship between the U.S. and Japan.  Even though it was raining they still got dressed in their beautiful kimonos and myself in my Goodwill Ambassador uniform to prepare for the parade.  I was able to ride in a traditional Japanese rickshaw for a part of the parade!  After I gave a speech in Japanese to thank the city of Ise and to invite them to celebrate the 2012 Centennial National Cherry Blossom Festival with us in DC next year.  I really look forward to seeing them in D.C. next year.

The festival itself was one of the most amazing festivals I’ve been to in Japan.  It celebrated everything Ise and we did our part by cooking and selling Ise Udon and Yaki Soba.  At night we saw a “Tedsutsu Hanabi” show (handheld fireworks), which seems really dangerous, but was spectacular to watch.  We were so close too!  It was a unique experience unlike anything I’ve seen before.  I will never be able to thank Gakudo Kofu enough for their hospitality and for everything they did to help make my time in Ise so wonderful.  I felt like a part of the celebration and hope they will have the same feeling when they celebrate with us in DC next year.

This trip reminded me of why I love international exchange and the Gakudo Kofu members were so kind, warm, and weloming to me.  Please view the video and see the photo album to learn more about what we were doing there.  It was wonderful to meet everyone in person, especially Oka-san, Doi-san, Yagi-san, the Dogwood Queen, Princesses, Goodwill Ambassador, and Friendship Ambassador.  The National Cherry Blossom Festival and Gakudo Kohu will continue our friendship and goodwill in Japan and in D.C. next year.

Please click this link to watch a video of my trip to Ise!  And be sure to checkout the slideshow and gallery of pictures below ^_^v

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