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Japan Day 1 - An Eye-Opening Experience

My first day in Japan was an eye-opening experience.
by Michelle Sutherlin Modified: July 7, 2014 at 9:48 am •  Published: July 7, 2014

ODAWARA CITY, JAPAN – A Japanese boy, about 6 years old, whipped around a corner and saw me sitting on a bench outside a Japanese store in Odawara City. His eyes grew big and he must have realized he was staring. He mumbled “Konnichi wa,” which means hello in Japanese and ran out of sight.

A few moments later, he was back, this time with his 4-year-old brother. “Hello,” they both said to me excitedly. “Hello,” I said back and waved with a smile. They had spotted me, a red haired, freckled, blue-eyed American and got to practice their two English phrases. “Bye-bye,” they said and darted out of sight.

Moments later, they brought a 2-year-old bother around the corner. His eyes widened, too. The 6-year-old said softly, “hello,” prompting the little boy to say it to me. All three brothers then sang a chorus of hellos and bye-byes before their parents shooed them along.

Those brothers gave me the same interested stares as a car full of Japanese soccer players. They must have been about 10, my youngest son’s age. They stared at our group of Americans, so my friends and I waved to them. They giggled and asked us a question in Japanese. My friend told them that we didn’t speak Japanese. After a quiet discussion, one shouted “USA?” “Yes!” I said, and they all cheered.

It was truly an eye-opening experience to be the only Americans in sight during our first full day in Japan. As a part of the Hitachi Teacher Exchange Program, three educators from the Norman Public Schools were selected to travel to Japan to grow a better cultural understanding of our friends here. We will visit schools, sightsee and tour Hitachi here in Odawara City.

Jeannie Green-Lacroix from Hitachi is traveling with us as our host. We are so grateful to her and to Hitachi for allowing us this amazing experience. The other educators with me are Calypso Gilstrap, a Norman High School Librarian, and Ellen Kraft, and English Language Teacher at Truman Primary.

After a long day of traveling, Thursday and Friday, we settled in and slept in a beautiful Hilton resort on the side of the mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We are now 14 hours ahead of our Oklahoma friends and families, so our Saturday was still Oklahoma’s Friday, July 4. So Saturday in Japan, we rode the train to Odawara City and shopped and saw the sights.

I enjoyed being an obvious tourist. It helped me empathize better with people who might not speak English in Oklahoma or those who are visiting. Just eating the food from another country can be a challenging experience if you aren’t willing to try some things you aren’t used to eating.

I could write a blog post about many things that happened today, but instead I will just share some of the highlights:

Food – We ate well today. We started with a breakfast buffet at the hotel. While they had scrambled eggs, bacon and waffle bites, they also offered sushi and several fish choices. I kept it pretty American, but did add rice porridge, which I will need to learn how to make.

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by Michelle Sutherlin
NewsOK Contributor
Michelle Sutherlin is a middle school counselor in Norman, OK, who works with students ages 11-15 daily. She is also a mom to two boys, Ryan (12) and Will (9). She and her husband have been married for 16 years. She loves middle school students so...
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