Student Story: Micah Mizukami

September 11, 2012 

Willamette University student Micah Mizukami studied at Tokyo International University all last school year. He sent us an essay describing his time there, excerpted here.

“Coming from an island home, going to Okinawa for three weeks before starting my time abroad at Tokyo International University (TIU) in Saitama, helped to lessen my sense of culture shock. Most of the time I felt like I was back home inHawai`i and the only thing that was different was the language. In Okinawa I also made many friends from all over Japan who were all so incredibly kind and supportive of my research and study abroad plans. Although I arrived in Okinawa alone, by the time I left I had made many friends and cried as I read the messages of encouragement and thanks from the many friends I made as my airplane took off for Tokyo.

In Japan I was able to experience so many things that it would take pages and pages to describe. The two experiences that have had the greatest impact on me are volunteering in the disaster-stricken Tohoku area and living with the most incredible host family. Having many Japanese friends back at Willamette, and a passion for community service, I wanted to volunteer in Tohoku since before arriving in Japan. A graduate of Willamette and former JSP student is currently working in Iwate Prefecture in the Tohoku area where she is also actively involved in the volunteer relief effort, which is how I was able to volunteer twice in Iwate. I was truly grateful to be able to help contribute to the relief effort directly through physical labor. I will never forget the kindness of those affected by the tsunami, sharing what little they had out of appreciation for our efforts. Seeing their expressions of gratitude was overwhelming, especially when we, as volunteers, were grateful for being allowed be a part of the recovery effort. Working with many volunteers in Iwate inspired me to fold 1001 Hawaiian paper cranes, arranged in a picture representing the ties between Hawai`i and Japan through cherry blossoms and Hawaiian sea turtles that I sent to the volunteer center I worked.

Finally, my host family is what made my Japan experience complete and worthwhile. They truly treated me like a member of their family. We would always talk at dinner, sometimes go out on day trips, but most importantly my host family was always a pillar of support I could come back to and rely on. Thanks to the efforts of my host family, I was able to hold three origami exhibitions in three different prefectures – Saitama, Tokyo, and Kanagawa. I was also able to learn a traditional dance, Awa Odori, from the day I first moved in with my host family. Through my experience with Awa Odori, I have learned a lot about Japanese culture and history, met many kind people, and also volunteered dancing in many places including Niigata, Fukushima, and Kanagawa Prefectures. We have also danced at care homes and various festivals. My host family has truly offered me many opportunities that I would I have never been able to experience with another family or living alone in an apartment or dorm. “