By Jean Gasperini
I thought I had had a very interesting cultural experience hosting two Japanese women last summer, who were part of the Toyokawa Delegation visiting us here in Cupertino CA. I thought that nothing could top the feeling of meeting two people for the first time and making our way through a week together not speaking each other’s language or knowing much about each other’s culture. At the end of that week, things I knew intellectually had become a reality; we all became special friends as a result of our shared experiences and had many fond memories in common.
I now have had the complementary experience of my two new Japanese friends. My husband and I traveled to Toyokawa, Japan in November with a delegation of adults from the Cupertino-Toyokawa Sister City Organization. The two women we hosted last July met us at the train station in Japan, excited about their turn to host us. My former summer experience was about to be expanded a hundred fold. It was now my turn to be in a foreign environment, not understand what was being said around me, and have to deal with important issues such as which way to point my shoes when taking them off upon entry into a private home. I say this rather ironically, because our hosts were so gracious and accommodating, that this was really my only concern! They were thoughtful, patient, and instructive as my husband and I bungled our way through learning what footwear is acceptable on tatami mats, how to navigate in the Japanese bathroom, how to coordinate sitting at a table only one foot off the floor, and how to prepare our futons for sleeping and waking times each day. The larger concerns such as how to get around town, what to order in a restaurant, how to use Japanese money, etc. were completely taken care of by our personal hosts and the incredibly hospitable city of Toyokawa.
We spent a Saturday with Emiko and her husband, Monji, traveling to their countryside hometown where we met Monji’s 94 year old mother, and attended a Hanamatsuri, which is a festival to celebrate fall. We saw the land where Monji’s rice paddy is planted each year, as well as his beautiful carp pond (his pets, as he says). Then, back to their Toyokawa City home to be transferred to our other host, Kazue, where we spent one night and a day of sightseeing, including visiting an ancient Shogun’s Castle.
Monday was the start of three days of scheduled activities hosted by the City of Toyokawa. We were greeted at City Hall with the Cupertino flag flying proudly alongside the Japanese national and city flags, as well as the city employees all holding placards proclaiming “Welcome Cupertino”. We toured City Hall, a new city hospital, the Sebo Junior High School, where our daughter visited when she was part of a student delegation in 2005, a Miso factory, a Toyota Motor Company plant, a 600 year old Inn on the ancient Tokyo-Kyoto Road, and the highlight, the Ise Jingu Shrine, among other places. There is not enough room to describe how interesting and enjoyable it was to not only see these places, but to meet and talk to the people who work and live in Toyokawa and the surrounding area.
Our group’s counterpart, the International Committee in Toyokawa hosted a BBQ and had invited many people who have participated in past student and adult delegations to Cupertino. My husband and I were reunited with one of the adults we had hosted in 2008 as well as one of the students we hosted in 2005. It was an amazing party, with so much good will and happy reunions, not to mention the delicious food they were preparing on open BBQ’s.
The centerpiece of the week was a banquet hosted by the City of Toyokawa. Many members of the Toyokawa City International Relations Division were there, as well as members of the International Committee and Cupertino Circle, all involved in sponsoring our wonderful visit. We felt like celebrities and the party was lively and very entertaining. I can’t speak highly enough of the wonderful hospitality and respect extended to our delegation, and to the power of cultural exchange. I feel more dedicated to the Cupertino-Toyokawa Sister City Program and the student exchanges than ever, now that I have seen how one’s mind can be opened by visiting and getting to know people from another country and culture.