Ms. Rituparna Raichoudhuri
Executive Director, Early College and Career
Chicago Public Schools
I fell in love with Japan as a child – the far-away land of mystique, beauty, tradition, and harmony that I read about only in history books and stories. Then, years later, I became a history teacher and taught about Japanese history and Feudal society to 7th graders – inspiring the same admiration and awe in my students that I experienced as a child and continue to experience today. Fast forward to the present where I have left the classroom but am in a role where attending to the various cultures and backgrounds of our students in an attempt to ensure their success as adults is vital. My education about Japan and its people was sorely lacking despite my history book knowledge. I believe that in order to achieve deeper understanding and better appreciation of a culture, one has to fully immerse oneself in all aspects of that culture. I believe that participating in this amazing experience provided just that opportunity.
Through the IEJ2019 event sponsored by JCCC, we were able to immerse ourselves fully in all aspects of the Japanese culture: its people and their customs and traditions; its schools; its temples and shrines; its delicious food exquisitely presented; its state of the world transportation systems; its divine natural beauty; it’s shopping malls; its national heritage parks, monuments, and museums; its clean and orderly public spaces; its technology; and much more.
I learned that it’s possible for millions of people to live in densely populated areas and still have profound respect for each other’s personal space and comfort while respecting the environment to the fullest. I never saw trash on the streets, and the public bathrooms were always spotless. Despite Tokyo being one of the most congested metropolitan cities in the world, there was intentional attention paid to preserving vast tracts of green spaces. The reverence towards nature and mother earth was apparent everywhere in Japan.
Not only was the food delicious beyond measure, it was so artfully presented, that I almost didn’t want to eat it. I realized the amount of pride and perfection goes into always attending to the aesthetic elements of life – which was clear not only through the presentation of food, but through the display for just about anything in Japan. From the beautifully manicured parks to the exquisitely crafted artistic man-hole covers that had its own unique artsy stamp from prefecture to prefecture.
I especially enjoyed my stay with my host family who are true examples of Japanese hospitality that we have all read and heard about, but I got to experience first-hand. The world would be such a more loving and peaceful place if everyone loved others the way I felt loved and respected by my host family. I equally enjoyed visiting the three different types of schools that we visited. It really gave me an appreciation for how much the Japanese government is paying attention to creating a well-rounded education system for the next generation. The students were amazing and talented and so gracious, as were their educators and administrators. I’m really looking forward to when the Japanese Ministry of Education unveils their next Education plan in 2020.
Visiting Hiroshima was humbling and gave me a new-found respect towards the Japanese people. Instead of letting that insanely tragic incident in their collective historical memory incite feelings of resentment, hatred, and revenge towards Americans and other Allied forces, they instead turned all that passion into beautiful messages of peace, love, and perseverance. It was symbolic, then, that the G20 Summit was commencing in Osaka at the same time we were visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and Museum. We even ran into many of the delegates from the G20 Summit who were immersed in the augustness of the message of love and peace at Hiroshima at the same time as our group.
It was a trip of a lifetime and I feel that I came back home a changed person – a person with a whole different perspective on life, ways of living, education systems, ideals of peace and respect, and deep appreciation for everything beautiful, spiritual, and natural. I want to express my sincere gratitude and heartfelt appreciation to the JCCC in Chicago and the IEJ organizing team in Japan for making this amazing growth opportunity available to me. Arigato Godaimatsu.