a man with a mission
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Japanese Foreign Exchange Students
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A Tea-Lover's Search
for Japan's "Natural" Treasures
June in Japan
- a man with a mission -
by Terri Nii
On a rainy spring day, Eye-Ai reporters Ishiguchi Sanae and yours truly made the trip to the home and office of Fujioka Hiroshi in western Tokyo. Located in a quiet residential area, Fujioka's domicile has an adjoining atrium in which he received us. Made completely of glass and elevated about two and a half storeys above ground, the atrium is decorated with several large trees and plants surrounding a glass table where we were invited to sit. We could see the rain coming down on the glass roof and felt like we were in a tropical location rather than in metropolitan Tokyo.
While there, we were attended to by several staff members, the first of whom directed our attention to the monitor on which a video of Fujioka's budo martial arts performance was being shown. We knew that Fujioka Hiroshi's father was a master in the way of budo and, through watching the video, saw that the skill had been certainly passed along to the son.
Soon we were provided with freshly-brewed coffee that had been brought back from Ethiopia where Fujioka had gone for TV filming. Smelling a little like vanilla, and with a faint almond taste, the coffee was a unique feature to the already impressive environment.
Told that preparations were still underway, we were shown a video about Fujioka's volunteer activities, this time in Africa. Some years, Fujioka takes as many as four trips to provide assistance to people suffering from poverty or from a natural disaster. Depending on the needs, up to 30 people accompany him on these trips to distribute food and medical supplies. Later we were told about these activities.
While waiting, we leafed through the many photograph albums available for viewing. Black and white photos of Fujioka in his early, debut years, photos from films, the volunteer activities, album after album was supplied.
After being served a second cup of coffee, we were pleased to meet Fujioka Hiroshi in person. He was instantly recognizable as the handsome and deep-voiced actor who has starred in a wide variety of TV series and movies on both television and the big screen, and on variety shows.
Eye-Ai: We understand you are from Ehime Prefecture in Shikoku. What made you want to leave your beautiful hometown for the big city of Tokyo?
Fujioka Hiroshi: I guess it had to do with being able to see pictures of the world outside of our immediate surroundings. TV and movies showed us images that were completely different from what we knew, and they represented a sort of dream. What was happening in those images looked exciting ﾐ we could see large prairies in western movies from the US and sophisticated scenes in French films. The moving images and sounds created a kind of a dream world that led many of us from local towns to go outside to see what was happening in the world.
Eye-Ai: Your first major TV role was Kamen Rider, who changed from an ordinary human being into a superhero who wanted to rescue humanity.
Fujioka Hiroshi: Yes, for about the first seven or eight years in Tokyo, I attended acting school and appeared in some minor parts. In the early 1970s I was recruited for the role of Kamen Rider. Looking at the Kamen Rider pictures now brings back memories of the time.
Eye-Ai: We have heard that you did the stunts yourself. Is that true?
Fujioka Hiroshi: Yes, that's right. That was me in that costume (laughs). From inside the costume, it was hard to see out because the holes for the eyes were so small. The costume eyes are pretty large, but the actual area of vision is small.
Riding the motorcycle in this costume was somewhat of an adventure, because I really couldn't see very well. There was no sense of perspective, so I couldn't tell what was close and what was far away. It was pretty dangerous. There were no computer graphics at the time (laughs). Kamen Rider was high-tech in those days.
Eye-Ai: Kamen Rider was a huge hit. What about it do you think that attracted viewers?
Fujioka Hiroshi: Well, he was rather human-like and seemed familiar, for one thing. Secondly, he knew, and he taught, the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. Those are two important points. "I won't allow you villains to destroy the earth" was the phrase that Kamen Rider used. Although the setting was usually Japan, the scale in which he worked was very large.
I think that children are both with the ability to understand this fundamental principle. Even if they don't understand exactly the plot, they get and can relate to the moral of the story. I think that this is a universal attribute, which is why the series remains popular in various areas of the world.
Eye-Ai: We enjoyed watching the video showing you perform budo martial arts. Could you tell us about its aims?
Fujioka Hiroshi: Bushido is sometimes misunderstood. It is associated with Samurai, who were the warrior class. Actually, it is not an art for war, but rather is a way of maintaining one's own composure under pressure. It is an overall approach that balances the spirit, the emotions, and the physical. To achieve anything, it is first necessary to be in control of oneself.
Budo teachers that one's main opponent is oneself; similarly, one's best ally is oneself. Since this is true, it is important to be able to win, not against an enemy, but against oneself.
Long ago in Japan, there were four levels in society: the Samurai were at the top, then came Farmers, Craftsmen, and Merchants. In their role at the highest level, the Samurai were responsible for not only themselves, but also for the entire town in which they lived. They were obligated to make sure that the town's operations ran smoothly; to do this, they had to be prepared to sacrifice themselves should something go seriously wrong. It's from this Bushido legacy that the traditional Japanese culture derives.
Eye-Ai: Is this the kind of thing that you teach at the lessons in you Fujioka Juku study center?
Fujioka Hiroshi: Yes, it is. Much of Japanese culture has not been transmitted to the younger generation, and we see evidence of this in our society. The sense of responsibility that once exemplified Japanese culture, for example, seems greatly lacking. I would like to see a re-emergence of these fine qualities, not only for Japan, but also for the world. If we can achieve the objectives of raising young people with a sense of responsibility, decency, and altruism, perhaps they could travel the world and impart these same qualities to people of other countries. We are trying to raise young people who will dedicate their lives to helping other people. If this can be brought about, Japanese young people could contribute to the effort for people of the world to live in peace, liberty, and happiness.
Eye-Ai: We think that this is a very admirable, and unique, endeavor. We haven't heard of any other organization doing this kind of thing. Teaching bushido itself is not uncommon, but the aim of using bushido to effect positive change around the world is not being done anywhere else, is it.
Fujioka Hiroshi: Now, the trend is to learn budo to become strong as an individual, rather than to be of use to others. But a central point in budo is that there are bigger things than oneself; without this basic understanding, students miss the real meaning.
In budo, the two most important precepts are responsibility and effort toward living according to the principles of honor and sacrifice. One is required to be accountable for striving for the cause to which he is committed. It is not meant to be a source of pride but rather a sense of service. Although fundamental, this concept has not been sufficiently conveyed to young people learning budo.
Eye-Ai: Recently the movie The Last Samurai was released worldwide and made quite an impression in Japan as well as other countries. Did you see the movie, and if so, what did you think of it?
Fujioka Hiroshi: I thought that Japanese bushido (the warrior code of honor) was very well expressed in The Last Samurai. It's probably the movie that most accurately portrays the philosophy to date. I felt that the movie convincingly fused Western and Eastern thinking into an integrated work and was very impressed. It was a positive step toward bridging the cultures.
Eye-Ai: You too have been in American movies. How did you find the US while you were there for filming?
Fujioka Hiroshi: Well, for one thing, the great expanse of space is very striking. Added to that, I noticed the sense of freedom and creativity on the part of people I came into contact with. But the amount of space was the overwhelming impression that remains with me.
Eye-Ai: You worked with American actors and staff members there. What did you gain from your experience working together on a project with them?
Fujioka Hiroshi: The US is a country in which people from all over the world live, so there is a lot of energy. It is very inclusive. Americans are open-minded. And they are friendly. Even people whom you really don't know well greet and smile at you. Their smiles are very genuine and warm.
Eye-Ai: Your smile is also world class, you know. (everybody laughs)
Fujioka Hiroshi: It was really nice to be there. It seemed that the wide expanse of space was also expressed in the way that people were so open. The friendliness and warmth from people tends to extend to others around them and is very pleasant.
Eye-Ai: We notice that you have a distinctive way of writing your name in Kanji. After the name character for "Hiroshi," there is an added mark. Does this have a special meaning?
Fujioka Hiroshi: It is meant to remind me to reconsider myself and what it is that I need to achieve. It shows that I am not yet finished with my tasks and must continue working toward their accomplishment.
Eye-Ai: Where did you get the idea to express that sentiment in this way?
Fujioka Hiroshi: In terms of my own understanding, I mentally had the image for a long time. The determination to actually show it next to my name came about through an experience I had.
While in the US, I tried to explain the Samurai spirit to Americans. Although it is something very familiar to me, I found it very difficult to express. It really required a lot of effort and art to explain the various aspects of the Samurai way. While in this process of trying to convey its meaning, it became very clear to me how much more I myself needed to study and prepare. It was at this time that I decided to visually express this notion by the existence of an additional mark after my name.
It's not a circle, so does not express completion; rather it is a sort of a point, to symbolize stopping and reconsidering oneself.
Eye-Ai: You have been doing volunteer work now for over 10 years. Where have you been recently?
Fujioka Hiroshi: The most recent country was Sudan, which I have now visited twice. It faces extreme poverty with emaciated children and terrible conditions. We transported food and medical supplies, and toys. Toys are very well received and seem to provide the children with comfort and relief.
As it's sometimes difficult to trace the path of the funds that were donated, we generally deliver goods rather than money. But transporting these supplies within the country is a big job because the infrastructure is not good, and neither is the security. We have to be careful of robbers along the way. Also, due to the diseases in the area, sometimes staff members traveling with us get sick and have to return home before the end of the journey.
We go hoping that we can be of help to people but in many cases come back with the feeling of helplessness, as the problems are so overwhelming. But still, I think it is important to do what can be done, so we continue. Having seen the terrible conditions, one feels compelled to do something. But in our volunteer efforts, we, too, are learning new things and gaining insight. Actually, it's hard to tell who is benefiting more: the person volunteering or the people receiving the help.
Eye-Ai: In your travels, you must have seen many impressive circumstances and events. Could you tell us one that was particularly moving?
Fujioka Hiroshi: The world news event that most moved me was the fall of the Soviet Empire. People reacted to this monumental change in their lives like it was something close to a miracle. In the space of one moment, suddenly people were free to do as they pleased. Watching them express this was very exciting. Some started playing musical instruments; others erected a cross. There was singing and dancing ﾐ the realization that they had achieved liberty motivated the people to express themselves freely, each in his own way. It brought home to me again the recognition that freedom, peace, and happiness are desired by all people.
And this event was meaningful not only to the people directly involved, but also foretold of major changes in other places in the world as well. It was like a light suddenly lit up the darkness. It signified that change was coming to those countries long bound by control and oppression. I felt really privileged to be able to witness such an epoch-making event.
Eye-Ai: How do you connect the work you do in budo and the spirit of the samurai that you want to convey with the volunteer work you do overseas?
Fujioka Hiroshi: I think that Japan's role in world affairs is to help diffuse the conflict that erupts between peoples and cultures. Japanese people can take advantage of the traditional culture of responsibility and sacrifice to stand between the cultures in conflict to contribute to world peace. Besides the core cultural elements, we have the economic and technological power to be of great assistance to countries and peoples worldwide. We should exercise that positive influence to try to eliminate conflicts by changing peoples' consciousness toward their lives and toward each other.
I feel that it is my mission to travel to countries that are suffering from conflicts or poverty and return to Japan to tell people here about the situation. My role is to make use of the experience I have gained and the exposure I receive to try to bring about a greater understanding of the problems being faced in other countries. This is what I believe that I should contribute.
Japanese Foreign Exchange Students
story by Gwen Henry
Photographs courtesy of John Henry Photography, Inc.
Everyone seems so busy these days. Despite all our modern conveniences and computerized technology, there never seem to be enough hours in a day. As I parent, I spend a good part of my day driving kids to and from school, Japanese language classes, piano lessons, dance rehearsals, sports practices and ballgames. Daily life is especially challenging in our household because we also run a business from our home on Maui. The work never leaves us, the phone calls come in all hours of the day and night, and finding time to relax is a rare luxury.
Yet, if you were to ask me to take a teenager from a foreign country into our home for a homestayﾑI would answer with a resounding YES! Hosting a foreign exchange student can be a rewarding experience not just for the foreign student, but for the hosting family as well.
Over the past few years, we have hosted a number of foreign exchange students, ranging in ages from 15 to 30 years old. Their length of stay has varied from a short weekend to a whole school year. Some organizations offer monetary compensation to the host families, and others do not. They come to us through a private worldwide exchange organization, a community college program, and our local Japanese cultural society.
Our first experience was hosting a red-haired, 16-year old boy from Germany. Daniel spent an entire school year with us and attended a local public high school. His English was fairly good and he was an avid mountain biker.
It is interesting and amusing how things we take for granted can be a totally new and exciting experience for a foreigner. Daniel had never tasted chocolate brownies before, and now they are his favorite American snack. At his request, I mail him boxes of brownie mix for his birthday and at Christmas every year. One evening, as I was making root beer floats for everyone, Daniel was anxiously waiting beside me. As I offered my younger kids and Daniel the root beer floats, he looked so excited and happy. As he took the glass, he asked, "This is alcohol, yes?"
Daniel gave us our first insight into the teenage years. Our own children were still only 6 and 8 years old at the time. His appetite never ceased to amaze me. Breakfast included three large ramen bowls full of cereal with milk. At dinner, our family of four would eat half a casserole, and Daniel would eat the other half. Daniel gained 15 pounds during his first three months with us.
Having a teenager live with us for one year was a great learning experience for us as parents. The first few months were spent trying to deal with a teenager that seemed to know it all. Friends told us it was due to his red hair. Others said it was the typical German male persistence attitude (i.e., "if I persist, I will get my way"). Then one day at Dairy Queen, I saw a number of amusing signs posted on the walls. As I waited for my order, one particular sign caught my attention. It said, "TEENAGERS, GET OUT OF THE HOUSE NOW WHILE YOU ARE STILL SMART AND KNOW EVERYTHING." Everything then became crystal clear. I realized that, to this teenager, I was an old woman (still in my 40's but considered "old" by teen standards), and that I didn't know anything; he was a teenager and he knew everything. Ohﾉ so that's how teenagers think. Okay! Once I understood that, it was smooth sailing for the rest of the year.
One of the last excursions Daniel took before returning to Europe was an overnight camping trip in the mountains with his church youth group. Coming from Germany, Daniel had lots of experience with cold weather. I asked him twice if he had enough blankets because I knew how cold it could get. He showed me his lightweight pajamas and sleeping bag, and both times he insisted he didn't need anything else. I started to explain to him that he needed more, but stopped myself, remembering those words at Dairy Queen. The following day upon his return, I asked him how the camping trip went. He quickly replied, "It was so-o-o cold!" I smiled.
Japanese Exchange Students
In Japan, people usually greet one another with kind words and a bowing of the head. Physical contact, especially when meeting someone for the first time, is frowned upon. When the Japanese students first arrive in Hawaii, they are greeted by their host families with the customary flower lei and a hug or sometimes even a kiss on the cheek. At first, the students are somewhat stiff. At home, watching their host father openly show affection towards his wife and children is an eye opener for the Japanese girls. By the end of their short homestay, the students get accustomed to the parental hugs and even appear to enjoy it.
Stephanie Ohigashi is the Maui coordinator for the student exchange program with the Fukuyama Chamber of Commerce. Our two girls from Fukuyama, Aiko and Mai stayed with us for a little over a week during the month of July. Their program included daily English conversation exercises in the morning, and cultural excursions in the afternoon. The excursions included hula lessons, a luau, meeting with our mayor, and canoe paddling.
On one evening, we took the girls to the driving range. It was their first time ever swinging a golf club. Another time, we stopped at Costco (wholesale warehouse store) to buy ingredients for an outdoor BBQ cookout. Later that evening during the BBQ, we celebrated Aiko's 16th birthday with a homemade cake. On their final evening, the girls treated our family by cooking an okonomiyaki dinner for us. At the end of their stay, I asked Aiko what her most memorable experience was, this being her first trip abroad. Her answer to me was "Costco." Coming from Japan where things small and cute are the norm, seeing gigantic containers of food was overwhelming. Her favorite omiyage gift she took home was a two-pound bag of M&M Peanuts. She couldn't wait to show it to her family back home.
The Koriyama Kaisei Gakuen in Fukushima is an all-girls private school starting from kindergarten through college. After a chance encounter with Ohigashi, the directors of the Koriyama school implemented a mandatory English study abroad program for their students during their junior year of high school. Their homestays are held in mid-October on Maui each year.
One of the major events which is always a big hit with the Koriyama girls is a Halloween party. Everyone is encouraged to dress up in costumes, chaperones and host families included. The evening includes going door-to-door trick-or-treating. Although the party is held in mid-October, Ohigashi arranges for several families living within a block in a residential neighborhood to pass candies out to the students. Children of the host families are invited to go along. After a potluck dinner, prizes are awarded for costumes. Our two girls both received prizes; Hiromi went as an angel and was tied for first place with another angel, and Ayaka dressed up as Raggedy Ann and won third place. Our own two children also won honorable mention prizes for their costumes.
We took Ayaka and Hiromi to the beach to try surfing for the first time. Within an hour or so, and with the help of a couple of surfing instructor friends, the two girls each managed to catch a few waves standing up on the surfboard. Later that evening, I prepared banana splits. The girls were in disbelief at the sight of whipped cream foaming out of a can.
Culture Shock for the Host Families
One of the first unusual things we noticed with most of the Japanese girls was in their bathing habits. Initially, I always give instructions on how to run the bath faucets and make sure they do not pour water outside of the tub like they do back home in Japan. While bathing, we would hear the water faucets being turned on only for a fraction of a minute, then turned off. This would be repeated over and over many times until they finally emerged from the bathroom done with bathing. We later found out that they were told in Japan that costs of electricity and hot water are expensive in Hawaii, and they needed to be considerate of the host family by conserving hot water.
A mistake that a host family might make is treating the student as a house guest rather than a family member. The student wants to become part of your American family and is not looking to be wined and dined. Especially in longer homestays, assignment of household chores can be shared with other family members. The student will want to call you "mom" or "dad" just as your own children would. It may sound awkward hearing yourself being called this by another child with a heavy Japanese accent, but for them it only seems natural. One of our first girls kept calling us "mum" and "daddy" repeatedly until I finally realized she was talking to us. Ohigashi suggested that we give the Japanese students an American or Hawaiian name. This has been so popular with the students that they still write us letters addressed to "Dear Mom and Dad," and signed with their English or Hawaiian name. Likewise, I sign every letter with "Love, Mom."
Saying goodbye to these girls is always heartwarming and predictable: girls will cry! Every one of our high school girls has left us in tears. It usually happens at the time of our final goodbyes and bear hugs at the airport. Some bawl their eyes out.
According to Ohigashi, there was one unforgettable episode at the airport with one student. During the week-long homestay, the girl had developed a strong bond with her host father. On the day of her departure, the host father who had to go to work, was unable to see her off at the airport and said his goodbyes at the house. While at the airport, the girl was still hoping that her host father would change his mind and see her at the airport. She refused to board the airplane, wrapping her arms and legs around the chair inside the airport terminal. The airplane was delayed for 15 minutes. Ohigashi and a chaperone who unsuccessfully tried to get the girl out of the chair finally convinced her that the host father would visit her one day in Japan. The host father never came to the airport, and the girl finally boarded the airplane.
Become a Host Family
If you are interested in hosting a foreign student, the exchange programs are always looking for host families. Hosting exchange students can be a fun and enjoyable experience. In general, the Japanese students are polite, well-mannered, and have a good attitude. They rarely complain and are considerate of others in the household. Problems can still occur, but so, you will always have the full support of your program coordinator.
Additionally, if you have your own children, they will reap the many benefits of having a "brother" or "sister" from a foreign country. Most importantly, you and your family will be providing an unforgettable and rewarding experience for these young people that will last for many years to follow.