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Reece Emery: Student Report from 2019 Alternative Fall Break to Japan

Reece Emery wearing a kimono.

I had been wanting to travel to Japan for quite some time now. When I saw that the next Alternative Break was there, I knew I had to sign up. Of course, when you think of Japan, your mind goes to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and other large cities.  I had never even heard of Okazaki before, but I went anyway. I am very glad I did.

A few UT students pose with several new Japanese friends.

making new friends

The one thing that impressed me the most about this trip were the people. This area was not a hot tourist area, so most of them did not speak English; yet, everyone we met were among the nicest and most welcoming people I have ever been around. Some of the people we met actually invited us into their homes not only to eat with them, but to stay for a couple of days as well. On a couple of occasions, people that we had met only briefly a day before would find us to give us gifts. I just can’t imagine there being many places where that would happen so routinely, and people were so consistently kind. While we were there, we felt like mini-celebrities. We even made the newspaper and spoke with a couple of reporters. I, of course, cannot mention how wonderful everyone was without mentioning our hosts, Kuni and Naoko. They went above and beyond to make us feel welcome, and to make it the best trip possible.

At our first worksite, it truly was a community affair. We were in Okazaki during the Obon Festival. This is a Japanese holiday on the scale of Christmas in the West. Family members would come into town to celebrate. Our first project was to help set up for the festival at a local elementary school. This included setting up a central stage that everyone would dance around along with tables and tents for food, merchandise, and games. We took part in this project alongside a local community leader, and many community members.

Reece Emery and three other students stand in front of a Bon Festival booth.

preparing for the Bon Festival

As I said before, many of these people did not speak English and my Japanese language skills are non-existent. This made working together difficult at first, but we found ways to communicate and work together. I truly felt that I was a part of this community. Later, I learned that one community member remarked that he didn’t know Americans could work that hard.

UT students pose on a river boat.

on a river boat

Everywhere we went around Okazaki, I found this welcoming nature. We always felt welcome, wanted, and as though we were a part of their community. They wanted us to learn about them, and they wanted to learn about us. I learned so much about the Japanese culture, and their way of life that I don’t think I could have learned any other way. Out of the places I have traveled, I have never experienced anything like this trip. We got to travel to an area that most tourists don’t even know about, and experience true, modern Japanese culture while learning about the history of the country and the traditional way of life. I am so glad that I went on this Alternative Break trip to Okazaki, Japan.

Several UT students walking on a paved path in the woods.

a walk in the woods

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