Monday, 24 June 2024

Middletown students experience Japanese culture firsthand

Jennifer Harte (second from left) and her homestay family at Kyoto. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Harte.



MIDDLETOWN – On Aug. 13, Middletown Middle School arrived back in America from an adventure they will never forget.

Twelve lucky students who were chosen after a long selection process along, with three chaperones, traveled to Naka-cho, Middletown's sister city in Japan.

I am one of the students who was lucky enough to go on this trip. This was definitely a big deal for both towns involved in the exchange.

When we arrived in Osaka we took a bus to Naka-cho community center. We were taken to a welcome party which had all of the town council waiting there for us. Every member made a speech including some members from their school board. It was a strange but exciting feeling being in a foreign country surrounded by people who you can't understand.

After the party we met up with our homestay families who we'd stay with during the week. Some of the students got to stay with the same students who visited Middletown last summer, but some students stayed with families they had never met and had no problem getting friendly and comfortable with them. The whole town showed nothing but hospitality and tried to make our stay as comfortable as possible.

It was odd getting used to all the differences in Japan, especially the little things, like instead of lifting the faucet up to turn it on you lift it up to turn it off, using a toilet you had to squat over and driving on the opposite side of the road.

The houses there were very simple as well, but constructed beautifully. There was not much furniture in each room but my favorite room was the living room with the sunken table. There were many shrines everywhere and religion seemed very important to them. Every time we went to a shrine they would pray.

Everyone on the delegation had to be open about trying new things because there was definitely some strange and unfamiliar food. They took us to a creek were we caught fish with our bare hands, cooked them then ate the fish, ungutted. I even ate the fish head, eyeballs and all!

At one point toward the beginning when we all meet the students we had to catch our lunch, noodles with soy sauce, with chopsticks which were being shot down a bamboo shoot. The following day we got to watch a Kabuku (type of dance) play done by the elementary school students. With such grace and beauty they performed!

We got to go on a tour of their schools and see what the normal school day was like for them. Their main sport was Kendo, which we got to try out as well. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's like fencing but with bamboo sticks. Also we got to enjoy visiting some temples like Jogoji Temple, where we did Za-Zen meditation and took part in a traditional tea ceremony followed by a trip to Kyoto's Golden Temple.

The trip was way more then any of us had expected. Many of the delegation stated that we were "rock stars" during our stay. Some funny experiences happened that proved that point like constantly getting stared at, teens wanting our autographs and many people wanting pictures with us as well.

Our chaperones have stated many times that the group of students that went were so wonderful and they wouldn't have wished to replace any one of us.

When asked his favorite part of the trip, the first thing Middletown Middle School's principal, Dan Morgan, said was, "I really enjoyed getting to know the students who made the trip on a completely different level. Traveling with our students, experiencing another country and culture with them, and observing them mature and grow through the experience was really rewarding. I also really enjoyed getting to know these students on a more personal level ... we had a lot of fun together."

Troy Brierly, the school's wrestling coach, our other chaperone, said, "Not even the 1,000-degree heat could have taken anything away from that trip. I will never forget one second of it or the other delegates who shared the experience with me."

I think we all agree that there wasn't one part of the trip any of us would have wished to change. It was perfect and hopefully someday you too can get the chance to go visit this wonderful country.

Jennifer Harte, 14, is a freshman at Middletown High School. She lives with her mom and dad and two cats, and enjoys playing piano and guitar, drawing, writing short stories, reading and spending time with friends. She is an aspiring journalist.



The student delegation with their chaperones and the Naka-cho Town Council. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Harte.




The community of Naka-cho, Middletown's sister city. Photo by Jennifer Harte.




Jennifer Harte tries on a traditional kimono. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Harte.




The Kyoto Golden Temple. Photo by Jennifer Harte.




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