By: Kayla Sheridan
Last December when I applied to be a participant in the Kakehashi Project, I was not sure exactly what I was getting myself into. In total, 23 University of Montana students and 2 chaperones were sent to Japan for 8 days to learn about the rich culture, politics, society, and history of the country. The trip kept us busy everyday with a thoroughly planned schedule with time slots reserved for visiting the government ministries, Japanese businesses, and many wonderful culture tours. As I sit here now, surrounded by the never ending assignments I’m attempting to catch up on, I’m also still trying to process everything I learned while there. The one thing I know for sure is that the people of Japan are some of the most welcoming people I have yet to meet!
Our JICE coordinator, Mika, stayed with us the entire trip and acted as our translator, resource, and friend. We were able to learn the many political, social, and economic challenges Japan is facing today during our meetings and tours. A great deal of these challenges arise from the declining population of Japan and the increased the need to reach a steady population. Due to this pressing need, there is a high demand for expats in Japan and importance of creating international partnerships with Japanese companies. After spending 8 days learning as much as we could about Japan, I now understanding why certain trade agreements exist between both of our nations and how increasing ties between US and Japan would benefit both nations. Globalization is more evident now than ever!
At UM I study International Business and Sustainable Agriculture so I was especially interested to learn more about the import/export challenges for a country so dependent on agriculture. Our group participated in a home stay for 3 days where my friend and I were paired with a family of 7. Our family lived in house on rice fields that have been in their family for generations in the village of Kami-machi. Our Host Grandpa was the age of most farmers in Japan, roughly 65 years old, and told us he planned to pass the rice fields down to his Grandson who is currently 17. This is a rare phenomenon – as seen in Montana- because the younger generations do not normally stay on their family farm when they are able to move in the city and find work. As a result, the declining population and decrease in Japanese farmers are beginning to impact the agriculture industry and hurt Japan’s economy. Creating trade agreements that both countries can agree on is a top priority for the Japanese and should be for the US.
The Kakehashi Project taught us not only the challenges Japan faces, but how resilient the Japanese have been in the past. We were in Japan on the day of the 7 year anniversary of the Great East Japan Tsunami, a day where many lost their lives and homes. Our day consisted of visiting memorials and a university to learn more about how the Japanese have come together to promote research on disaster prevention learn from this tragic event. It was moving to see the people come together on this day and turn this disaster into an opportunity to learn and hopefully prevent future disasters from happening again at such a large scale.
Being a participant in the Kakehashi Project has been a definite highlight in my life, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the wonderful people who made our experience so amazing. This trip has sparked my interest in creating more ties with the people and businesses in Japan and I look forward to I applying everything I learned during this program to my daily and professional life! Arigatogozaimasu Japan!