The organizers of the mission requested young people. We were able to fill our ranks with the leadership of B’nai B’rith’s Young Leadership Network and chapter leaders of Alpha Epsilon Pi, an international Jewish fraternity and a long-standing partner of B’nai B’rith. Japan’s government was especially interested in connecting with the Jewish community in the United States, setting an agenda for a seven-night program for twelve participants. I had the opportunity to serve as the staff liaison, coordinating the application and preparations process and serving as the group leader for the trip.
Each day we were briefed by representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from various roles on the situation in the Middle East, the votes that Japan cast at the United Nations and the relationship it continues to foster with the State of Israel. For these young leaders, we have shown them the respect that these diplomats have had for B’nai B’rith, many because of their interaction with Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin, as well as the access that B’nai B’rith can provide. We shared casual conversations over a dinner in our honor, hosted by a member of Parliament.
One goal of the program was to ask participants to think about the perception they had of Japan before the visit, and later report on their feelings after they had immersed themselves in Japanese culture. We went from big cities like Tokyo, to rural mountain areas. We went from hotel beds to futons on tamari mats. We ate Japanese food— fish and rice with consideration of kosher needs with the provision of fresh vegetables. We participated in a “home stay” visit at several farms as guests of families. Many did not speak English, but with phrase books, we were made to feel more than welcome. We decided that the woman of the house was definitely linked to our Jewish mothers, who wanted to make sure we were fed and comfortable. When we left, the guests and hosts both had tears in their eyes when we said goodbye. We also learned that you can get Baskin Robbins ice cream and Krispy Kreme donuts at the mall or a 7-Eleven.
We were taught the custom of not wearing shoes in the house or in some guest hotels, and different slippers are needed depending on the room used in the house. We were shown shrines that are part of their traditions and heritage, with blends of Shintoism and Buddhism. We saw carvings of the story, “see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil,” created as a life lesson from a mother to a child. We enjoyed the beautiful Japanese mountains, the same place where the poet Matsuo Basho created the Japanese Haiku. What I had learned as a school girl, as the poem with the 5/7/5 syllable count, was more than a name now. In that beautiful place we were inspired to exalt nature or express our thoughts with our own poetry that afternoon.
The days passed quickly, sad to leave, we returned home relishing an experience of a lifetime.
This project is called the Kakehashi Project- Japan’s Friendship Ties, and has been designed to help build bridges between Japan and the United States