By Dylan Ramos
From the Fukagawa Edo Museum’s reconstruction of 19th century Tokyo, to a connection in Hiroshima with one of humanity’s darkest moments, Loyola Marymount University’s 2017-18 TOMODACHI Inouye Scholars actively engaged with a wide range of Japanese culture over spring break.
Coordinated by the U.S.-Japan Council (USJC), the U.S. Embassy in Japan, the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE), and a host of other public-private partnerships, the TOMODACHI (“friend”) Initiative promotes youth exchange programs and international solidarity.
The diverse group of 23 undergraduate leaders represent all five LMU colleges. They were accompanied by Assistant Dean Czarina Ramsay of Ethnic and Intercultural Services and Curtiss Takada Rooks, a USJC council leader and BCLA professor of Asian and Asian American Studies.
Highlights of their time in Tokyo included the famous Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, shopping in Harajuku, and stopping by the Pokemon Center. Students also attended a presentation on Japanese foreign policy by Yamaji Hideki, senior coordinator for MOFA’s First North America division.
Additionally, LMU scholars reconnected with their Sophia University counterparts, who visited Los Angeles from Feb. 18-24. In Japan, the Sophia students showed their LMU friends around “Jōchi Daigaku,” as Sophia University is called in Japanese, and talked about diversity in Japan. The two groups later met for sightseeing, more shopping, and even some nights of ramen and karaoke.
After traveling to Hiroshima on the shinkansen (bullet train), scholars learned what life is like outside of Japan’s more condensed capital. They ate the region’s famous okonomiyaki (a pancake-shaped, omelette-like delicacy, typically filled with noodles, cabbage, and meat), toured Miyajima — the island with the roaming deer — and explored the stores around Hiroshima Station.
With the help of JICE, the group’s fourth night included a home stay with Hiroshima host families. Host mothers showed their “new children” around their neighborhoods, cooked dinner, modeled traditional Japanese wear and played music, all the while talking about their homes and Japanese life.
“Spending time with the kids at my homestay and noticing the joy we brought each other reminded me of why I have always enjoyed working with and being around kids,” said Karla Ramirez, a junior double major in psychology and Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies. “[It] assured me that it really is what I want in my future.”
Students later found out that all the host mothers held some connection to the Aug. 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, whether personally or through their families.
“We always talk about bombing Japan but not the repercussions that extend from this,” said Chrystal Shek, a sophomore psychology major. “We went with our homestay families into a museum where [an exhibit donor] explained how she was not on duty that day, which allowed her to live while her classmates did not.”
The next day, after a long set of hugs, trading contact information and final goodbyes, the group left to tour the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which walks visitors through the days leading up to and years proceeding the atomic bombing of Aug. 6, 1945. Students walked slowly and silently through the multilevel museum, soaking in the information.
At the end, students met with Teramoto Takashi, a hibakusha, or survivor of the atomic bomb. His story was too vivid to do justice in an article such as this, but suffice to say, his account of the bombing and the devastation it wrought reminded everyone in the room that preventing nuclear warfare is profoundly important.
Michael Muñoz, a junior double major in screenwriting and Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies, said, “I was in awe about the forgiveness and the compassion that was made as Hiroshima began rebuilding. I saw how humanity could be so evil, but I also saw what programs were created and the good that they can do.”
Sophomore Devon Elmore said, “I think our visit to the museum came with a lot of emotion, especially coming from a homestay.” Double majoring in psychology (premed) and African American Studies, Elmore also serves as president of the Black Student Union. “This makes me think of my host mom,” he said, mentioning how they bonded over a love for choir. “Had [the atomic bomb] happened now, what would I have done?”
Toward the end of their trip, LMU students held a reporting session to reflect on what they had learned. Austin Raymundo, a sophomore political science major, shared a similar insight as Elmore when he thought back to his homestay experience.
“One of the ideas that hit me really hard at the peace museum [came when I saw] the tattered remains of the school uniforms. My homestay brother had the same outfit and was of a similar age. This was the raw, unedited version of what the peace museum symbolized. This experience gave me perspective of what could have happened 70 years prior to the people who I connected so well with.”
Those connections Raymundo mentioned will continue to grow now that the class has returned to LMU. Each student belongs to a small working group that will implement an action plan over the next three months and beyond, utilizing and sharing the lessons they learned in Japan.
Through articles, exhibits, student events, public outreach and more, LMU’s 2017-18 TOMODACHI Scholars are just beginning their journey as members of the “Tomodachi Generation,” as the USJC calls it, prepared to create a more united and peaceful world.
Political science major Dylan Ramos is a junior and 2017-18 LMU TOMODACHI Inouye Scholar.