Japanese students experience Jamaican warmth
"I met so many Jamaican people, and I felt their kindness during my stay in Jamaica," said Yukino Tsubokura, a 17-year-old student from Yonago High School in Tottori prefecture in Japan. She and her nine classmates had a chance to visit the island in October, spend time learning about Jamaica, her people, customs and traditions, and to make friends.
For these the youngsters, it was an experience of a lifetime - enjoying the company of their new friends as they whipped up new recipes, danced up a storm, learnt a few phrases in Patois, and spread the messages of love as young ambassadors of Tottori prefecture, which has a twinning agreement with Westmoreland parish.
"Both Jamaican and Japanese students were so shy," said Ryosuke Yamaguchi of the Tottori Prefectural Government, one of the officials who accompanied the school students.
"But," Yamaguchi said, "They tried to overcome their shyness and introduced themselves to each other, eventually becoming good friends."
Yamaguchi attributes this ice-breaker to some well-considered programmes organised by the Negril Education Environment Trust (NEET), which included teaching simple words and phrases of their own language and dancing.
Japanese students learnt to say 'Hail, wah gwan?' and Jamaican students responded with 'Kon-nichi-wa' (Hello in Japanese). They had already set the ball rolling to a meaningful interaction.
It is also a universal fact, more than the words, that feelings and gestures of kindness connect people.
"We used simple sign language or hand gestures to communicate with each other, and we were able to do it effectively," said Samantha Stewart, a student of Grange Hill High School, Westmoreland. "It was very interesting, and we learnt a lot from each other."
The Japanese students participated in cooking sessions in Little London High School in Westmoreland. They collaborated to cook ackee and salt fish, yam, ripe plantain, dumpling, and rice and peas. The Japanese students demonstrated how to cook Karaage (Japanese style fried chicken) to their Jamaican buddies. They recreated Karaage with jerk seasoning and named it 'Jam-Jap chicken'.
It was celebration time at Grange Hill High School as they welcomed their Japanese friends. This was the second time that a group of Japanese students were visiting the school.
"The students from Grange Hill High served lunch for Japanese students," Yamaguchi said, adding that there was a great deal of camaraderie, and friendships were formed. "Japanese students and Jamaican buddies walked around the school hand in hand."
The students from Tottori also stayed with three different host families. The families, Yamaguchi said, welcomed the students like their own children and made them feel at home.
"One of the host families made tasty bun for her daughters from Japan as a gesture of appreciation. We were moved by this gesture and her warm hospitality," he said.
These exchanges are going to peak in many ways as the city of Tottori, which is the capital city of Tottori Prefecture, is the host town for the pre-training of the Jamaican national team in the year of 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Yamaguchi said that the Tottori Prefectural Government has been donating sports equipment to schools in Westmoreland.
The students participated in a host of activities, meeting dignitaries, dance performances, and touring schools. There was a farewell party at Royalton Hotel, where chefs from the Japanese restaurant of the hotel collaborated with the Japanese and Jamaican students to whip up a storm; students from Grange Hill High and Little London High participated it.
There were 30 students who helped in making Makizushi rolls which had an eclectic mix of ripe plantain and jerked chicken as filling. "It was a quite unique style of Makizushi," Yamaguchi said, akin to the coming together of youngsters from two distinct cultures - there could not be, perhaps, another delectable metaphor ... Instagrammable perhaps.
At the residence of the ambassador of Japan to Jamaica, before their departure for the Tottori Prefectural Government/Jamaica Olympic Association Friendship Exchange Reception - five students from Tottori schools got the guests to clap in sync as they danced to the Japanese version of '70s classic YMCA, proving, yet again that music has one universal language, and like this cultural exchange, it was felt from the heart.
"I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience at the age of 17," said Tsubokura. "I feel regretful that I couldn't speak what I want to tell in English, so I will study English harder than ever, and I want to come to Jamaica again."
Amen to that!