One chilly February morning back in 2003, I woke up to prepare for my day – just another groggy rise before heading off to my morning high school classes.
Except… I woke up on the floor. And as I sauntered sleepy-eyed out of my room, it felt like I had to duck just to fit through the doorway. There were other strange things that morning, too. There were slippers in the shower and the toilet, when I found it, had all sorts of buttons. Soon, this woman (who looked nothing like my mom, by the way) brought me downstairs for a bowl of seaweed soup while saying things I couldn’t understand.
Was I dreaming? In a way, I was. Waking up in Japan, even when it’s for real, can feel like a dream. It probably didn’t hit me until later that morning while staring out the train window at a jungle of buildings: I really wasn’t dreaming. It really wasn’t an average morning. I was in Tokyo.
Many months earlier, my high school band director, Mr. Gray, broke the news that our BHS Wind Ensemble would be making this trip across the Pacific. For 10 days, we were to live with Japanese host families, perform at community festivals, visit schools, and tour Tokyo. As you might imagine, the trip was the adventure of a lifetime.
Looking back on this trip, I can see how much it shaped my thinking. What I learned on this trip was not just how different another country and people can be, but how much we have in common. Many things in Japan were foreign to a Borderite, to be sure. The cars were tiny. The trains were fast. There were stunning temples, tranquil gardens, and a six-story Hello Kitty shop. School kids wore spotless uniforms and my Big Mac looked just like the picture on the menu. Oh, and it was really, really crowded.
Yet what I took back with me on the flight home were not only memories of the exotic sights, the delicious new foods, and the hilarious moments of culture-shock. I also took home a realization of how two places on the globe so seemingly different could in fact be so similar.
Like my friends back in Whatcom County, the Japanese students I met were more interested in videogames or sports than in stressing about exams.
Pizza nights at my Japanese host family’s house were familiar. Not only did my host family watch the Simpsons, but they would laugh at the same parts I did.
One night my host brother, who I hadn’t talked to much before, even came home with a speeding ticket. His parents were less than thrilled, but from that night on, we “got” each other! What I mean to say is, the people I met in Japan had darker hair and spoke a different language, but we were alike in more ways than we were different.
The Blaine High School Wind Ensemble is currently preparing to make its third trip to Tokyo in January. This opportunity will be an invaluable experience for such an interconnected generation. Gone are the days when countries and communities could afford to be isolated and unaware of the rest of the globe. As the planet’s population closes in on seven billion people, this generation will need to be able to relate and empathize with people from all sorts of backgrounds, from all walks of life.
Taking five-dozen high schoolers on a 10-day trip to Japan is no simple field trip. But, it is so profoundly beneficial, and this is why the band needs your support. As someone who learned greatly from this experience nearly eight years ago, I can tell you that every penny and every yen was worthwhile. I encourage you to donate money or time to help the BHS Wind Ensemble students explore the foreign and experience the familiar.