Summit participants experience Bay Area culture

EATING WELL — The grassroots summit participants learn about the Edible Schoolyard Garden at Malcolm X Elementary School in Berkeley. photo by Ayako Mie/Nichi Bei Weekly

BERKELEY, Calif. — Kazuki Miyamoto has a dream. His trip to the United States for the America-Japan Grassroots Summit reaffirmed his resolve to realize that dream.

“I want to learn to speak fluent English and come back here for graduate school to become a robotic scientist,” said the 19-year-old Fukuoka college student while he was visiting the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.

Japan used to be the largest exporter of students studying in the U.S. in the 1980s. According to the Institute of International Education, the number of Japanese students coming to American colleges decreased by almost 40 percent in the last 10 years, as Japan suffered one of the worst recessions in its history.

The participants of the America-Japan Grassroots Summit had a unique opportunity to learn how cultural experience can enrich life through three-day homestays with American host families.

One of the groups visited Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard garden and the University of California, Berkeley. At Malcolm X Elementary School (where the garden is located), the Japanese participants and their American host families learned the history of sustainable gardening and healthy eating education in the Berkeley Unified School District, spearheaded by Alice Waters, the owner chef at Chez Panisse.

“I’m impressed with how schools in Berkeley succeeded in incorporating healthy eating into their curriculum,” said Tomoko Higo, who has been an elementary school teacher for almost 20 years in Fukuoka. Higo said Japanese schools are having a hard time teaching students what to eat.

“Now our goal is to teach children how to wake up and go to bed early, and have a nutritious breakfast everyday.”

For some participants the opportunity worked to broaden their perspectives.

“This program allows us to meet different people and help overcome stereotypes I had against people from different cultures,” said Saori Hayashida from Fukuoka Prefecture. “I realized we are foreigners when we go to foreign countries,” said the 40-year-old, who works for the city of Fukuoka.

American students also benefited from the cultural exchanges they had through the program.

“It sounds corny, but it was an eye-opening experience for me,” said Christopher Fischer, whose family hosted Kazuki Miyamoto. He was an exchange student to Fukuoka when he was a high school junior at the College Preparatory School in Oakland.

“The experience made me more curious about world affairs,” said the 20-year-old student, who is now a junior at the University of California, Santa Barbara, majoring in sociology and Slavic studies. He even visited Japan when he graduated from high school.

Rosa Melero agreed with Fischer.

“I learned so much about Japanese culture,” said Melero, who goes to Skyline High School in Oakland.

With regard to her first-ever visit to a foreign country, Melero said staying with a family in Chiba prefecture one year ago was a “funny and scary experience,” because she had injured her leg before she went to Japan and she did not speak a word of Japanese.

This year her family hosted the Japanese family’s son, Kensuke Onozawa, as they kept in contact.

“They made me feel as though I belong there,” said the 15-year-old Melero, who is planning to go study abroad in Japan.

Now Miyamoto feels ready to spend one month at an American college attending summer school next summer.

“Many Japanese students aren’t courageous enough to study abroad. I’m not like that. I have to master English if I want to be successful in my field,” said Miyamoto.

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