Monday, March 18, 2013

Thank you and keep checking in!

The blog has been an enormous success thanks to all of you who have followed LHS on this incredible journey! The team is back home safe and sound, but the Kizuna Project doesn't end here. At the end of this week, the school will welcome a team from Japan into their homes for a brief home stay experience. Please check in on the blog periodically throughout the following week to see the LHS team in action on their own turf. Thanks!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Final day in Tokyo

The day began with the team visiting the Edo-Tokyo Museum, a museum dedicated to the 400+ year history and culture of Edo-Tokyo.  The museum features both miniature and life size dioramas.

The dioramas depict the lifestyles of the Edo-Tokyo region over the series of a few decades, giving the team insight into the architecture, fashion, marketplace, and general interactions that the Japanese people experienced during that time.

"I really liked the replicas that the museum had," said junior Mallory Werth. "It was neat to see the differences and similarities between the home stays we had and the homes were like then. You can still see some of the connections but you can also see some of the improvements that they've made over time. Some of the similarities are the wooden floor mats and the fact that some things are still homemade."

"One of the exhibits that I thought was pretty interesting was the recreation of a theater production with the white paint and the different costumes," said senior Evan Shigaya. "Mr. Emmons was talking about how the productions in Japan and the operas in Europe all have the same basic elements of over exaggerated characters and costumes as well as similar plot lines. It was cool because, even though the two didn't have any contact with the other, it shows that both cultures were able to figure out a way to get people's attention."

The infamous "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" print.

After a brief time in the Edo-Tokyo Museum, the team was able to visit Sensō-ji, Tokyo's oldest Buddhist temple. It was founded in the 7th century and has since grown to become one of the world's most famous temples.

"The whole atmosphere was very rich and very energetic, and it felt very nice to be able to connect with the scene and the surroundings in a way that you wouldn't be able to in a city," said senior Thomas Kennedy.

"It was very inspiring and sobering to go in and see people actually taking part in their ritual. It was very open and inviting; I didn't feel like I was joining a club or going to something exclusive. I felt like I was going to a very public event and I felt welcome," said Kennedy.

The group had the opportunity to navigate their way between the swarms of people and various buildings found on location.

"There were a lot of tourists and people who were doing their prayers," said senior Jana Starks. "The architecture of the Shinto shrine and the Buddhist temple is very similar."

Senior Evan Shigaya partakes in a Buddhist ceremony involving the burning of incense
at the Sensō-ji temple.

After visiting Sensō-ji, the group enjoyed a tempura lunch. With a group almost completely composed of music students, some of the students were able to find a way to play music without their instruments.

The group spend the afternoon in Mirikan, Japan's national museum of emerging science and innovation.  There, they were able to view Honda's ASIMO robot perform a series of ticks, such as waving and talking to the crowd, kicking a soccer ball, walking, and dancing.

Students speak into microphones and watch as robots mimic their facial movements in a
technology-heavy conversation.
In addition to robots, students could learn more about the future of science in areas such as the environment, medicine, DNA structures, and space exploration.  They could also view sound and light rooms as well as learn about the practical application of extremely large numbers. There were many interactive stations so the group could learn more about the world at large, including the tidal affects of the March 2011 tsunami (below).


The team concluded their final evening by visiting a scenic point overlooking Tokyo's own Statue of Liberty. They then gave a quick debriefing speech about their participation on the Kizuna Project before heading back to the Keio Plaza for their final night halfway around the world.

Tokyo by map

The LHS team has covered a lot of ground during their brief stay in Tokyo!  All circled areas indicate where the group has toured or visited since March 13.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

LHS visits the American School in Japan

The group spent the majority of their day in the American School in Japan (ASIJ), a K-12 school modeled after American school systems. Unlike schools such as Ushiku High School and public schools in Japan, students are less focused on passing Japanese university exams and more focused on American studies and its respective standardized testing.  Students who attend the school hail from many corners of the world, including Australia, Holland, Hong Kong, and, of course, the US.

Isao Tsujimoto
While at ASIJ, the group had the opportunity to tour "Voices from Japan," an exhibition composed of tanka poems. Tanka is a form of Japanese poetry that is five lines and 31 syllables long. One of the poets featured in the exhibit described in his biography that tankas force you to strip anything in access.

"This exhibition was collected by myself and others," said Isao Tsujimoto, who curated the exhibit. "It is a kind of Japan's response to the help of many people all over the world."

Tsujimoto collected 100 tanka poems to include in his exhibition. The poems follow the emotional disaster that occurred during and after 3/11. 

"This exhibit is particularly very unique because it features poems of ordinary Japanese people: teachers, housewives, students, fishermen, etc.," Tsujimoto said. "I wanted to hear what the people of Japan were thinking and feeling."

The exhibit was very simple: poems were printed onto poster paper and taped onto metal music stands. Photos of the featured poets and disaster locations were framed throughout the narrow gallery, and flowers grew in tiny pots below each stand.

"I felt like the tankas were particularly powerful because they were all so concentrated. You have the emotion of a certain period of time compressed into this one, five line push," said senior Ryan Dinneen. "They all had varying affects and varying meanings, but overall I would say that I have gained a better understanding of the emotional events of the triple disaster and the people who were affected by it."

he hangs up
saying "you don't have to worry" --
my strong-minded child
staying behind
in Fukushima

-- Mutsuko Sawada, Kanagawa  May 2011

"This tanka really touched me because the way the poem was written really conveyed the fear that she had about his life," said senior Catherine Patton. "While we've been hear, I feel like one of the main things that we haven't been able to directly experience the disaster that the people have been experiencing. That's why I really liked this exhibit with the poetry because it really spoke to me and it really gave me a sense of the deep emotion they were experiencing; it sort of completed the picture for me.

as we air the bedding
I wonder, "could I protect you
at such a time?" --
my child who turned off
the news in fear

-- Yuka Sato, Niigata  April 2011

"I'm home," I cry
as I enter
the empty house --
my voice responding
to the familiar smells

-- Keiko Hangui, Fukushima  May 2011

in one glance --
reduced to a bottled wasteland
narcissus blooming heroically
in a garden

-- Keiko Hangui, Fukushima  March 2012

After the exhibit, students write letters to poets whose tankas spoke out to them.

from the muddy stream
he saved three children for us --
a diver
with eyes wild and bloodshot
like a wandering samurai

-- Fujiko Suda, Miyagi  June 2011

"That poem was very powerful and very vivid," said senior Sam Martens. "I wrote a letter to that poet, and I told him that his poetry was very vivid and that I could see it in my mind's eye. I thanked him in kanji."

Afterwards, students were able to tour ASIJ and meet current high school students.

"ASIJ is pretty much like an American school," said senior Joe Encinias. "It's way more modern than the Toyo school we visited; there's way more technology. It seemed like [students] moved classes like we do, but in Toyo students stayed in one class."

After their tour, students were taught how to make origami cranes with a twist -- students taught them while speaking Japanese.  Other ASIJ students sat with LHS and translated for the team as they created their birds.

After visiting ASIJ, the team participated in sight seeing activities around Tokyo by visiting a Shinto temple and shopping in the local district.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Home stays in Toyo and returning to Tokyo

**Note: Due to the extreme variety of the opportunities students had for their three day, two night home stay experience, it has been decided that it is virtually impossible (and logically impractical) to give an accurate summary of the team's home stay experience. All students had unique and life changing experiences with their "buddies," and I encourage you to talk to any of them to hear about their time spent in a Japanese home.

The team was sent to Ushiku High School in a suburb of Tokyo, Japan. Ushiku, dotingly nicknamed "Toyo" after its affiliation with Toyo University, became a large part of the team's life as it became the central hub for the home stay experience for the students.

One of Ushiku High School's many courtyards.
The school has multiple academic and extra curricular buildings on campus.

The first day at Toyo (11 March), the student musicians had the opportunity to practice their music. Students of Toyo High School made a surprise guest appearance and played music with the LHS team. The local students were able to play alongside the LHS crew by sight reading. Even though they had never seen the music before nor could they speak English, they were able to speak the same language as the heart of the LHS team: music.

The second day at Toyo (12 March), students gave their first of two school performances and attended classes with their host brother or sister (nicknamed "buddies"). The team left their buddies' classes for the afternoon to participate in a special calligraphy class and help local students practice their English.

Students practice writing Japanese characters (kanji) in a calligraphy class.
They were able to write words such as "love," "happiness," and "flower" on paper fans.
Senior Thomas Kennedy practices his kanji before transferring the characters to his fan.
Junior Austin Sonju practices an answer and question conversation with an English student.

On the third and final day, students gave their fourth and final performance in Japan at Toyo during a closing ceremony. The audience included the students' buddies and their host families, as well as the Toyo administration and a representative from the Laurasian Institute.  A crowd favorite was their performance of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," narrated by senior Kurt Schreiber.

Principal Amy Oaks and music instructor Don Emmons had the opportunity to participate in a gift exchange with Toyo's school administration.

LHS receives a scroll with calligraphy writing.

In return, they gave Toyo the Coloradan flag and a book that has
photographs of Colorado.
After a tearful goodbye, the LHS team left Ushiku High School behind and headed back to Tokyo, where they had begun their Japanese adventure.  On their way, the team stopped at a natural disaster safety awareness center, where they were able to experience earthquake simulations and work their way through a smokey maze to practice escaping a fire.

"In the fire simulation, you couldn't see at all,"senior Tom Sehon. "There were things knocked over so you would fall."

The earthquake simulations ranged from scale 4 to 7, giving the team a hands-on experience of what it would be like to undergo an earthquake.

"The experience was pretty shocking," Sehon said. "If I had to go through [an earthquake] when things weren't secure and there were aftershocks, it would definitely be devastating."

"If I had to experience a real situation, I would definitely be scared out of my mind," said junior Leroy Lodewyk. "The idea of buildings falling over and hurting somebody is scary for me."

Afterwards, the team enjoyed dinner at the Tokyo tower, a radio tower designed after the Eiffel Tower in France. The next few days during the remainder of their stay, the team will continue to sight see in Tokyo and interact with locals before flying home Saturday.

The Denver Post finds the blog!

Thank you to Kevin Simpson of The Denver Post for giving this blog a huge shout out online on the anniversary of the March 11 disaster! I believe I can speak for all of us participating from Littleton High School when I say that we are extremely thankful for the opportunity to be heard.  Please see his article here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Home stays!

Please pardon the next few days. Students are at a home stay and will have limited access to Internet. Hannah will post once we are back in Tokyo.