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Jane Berry’s cultural exchange to Japan

Guider Jane Berry visited Japan in February 2009

We were greeted by the Japanese Girl Scouts at Osaka Airport – they had even put up a message on the big screen for us. They whisked us away to a glorious welcome tea, where many speeches were made. This was the first time, of many, that we remade our promises with the Japanese Girl Scouts, and an indication of how ceremonial Japanese meetings are.

Our second day in Osaka, Saturday, saw us visiting the Water Museum, where we took part in a Japanese Tea Ceremony (the tea was bitter, green and frothy, but not half as bitter as Argentinian Maté).  In the evening, we spent some time with the Japanese Girl Scouts – we learnt what they knew about England, and they learnt what we knew about Japan.  Then we talked about how water is used, and how water can be conserved in the two countries.  We have very different ways of using water in cooking, for cleaning etc.

On the Sunday, we got the Bullet Train to Hiroshima.  We visited Miyajima, the Itukushima shrine, which is a World Heritage Site. It’s very peaceful, on the sea shore, and it was relaxing to explore the temple, and to watch the tide come in as we visited.

That evening we had a very traditional meal, and that defeated some of the most adventurous eaters – I discovered that the fish that was most troublesome was raw bream. Before bed we learnt origami from the Japanese Girl Scouts, inluding cranes to take to Hiroshima on the morrow.

One of the Japanese Leaders, Jo, told us how she was born close to Hiroshima, in the same year as the bomb was dropped, and how many of her school friends had died from cancers, when they were young.  We were all affected by this: very rarely do you meet someone who was directly affected by something so big, and so awful.  We visited the children’s peace statute, and we left our 50 or so cranes there. The city has made peace its raison d’etre: Japan has no nuclear bombs, despite being the only country in the world to have been on the receiving end of one.  The work done by Hiroshima goes a long way to shape our prejudices regarding Japan.  Where once we saw a people who were warriors: the Ninja, the Samurai, the 5th Division, the Kamikaze, we now think of the Japanese as being a peace loving people.  It has taken only one generation to change our perceptions so drastically and so positively.

The next few days we spent living with a Japanese family, the Hiranos, in a town outside Osaka.  I learnt a lot about the way Japanese people live. We were very lucky that our ‘Mum’, Tomako, spoke very good English, and she was lovely.  She fed us really glorious food, and made sure we were warm in bed.

We visited the local Girl Scout units – all the ages, from Brownies to Rangers meet at the same time, and we tried origami, and played Japanese card games, and dressed up in kimono.  It was reassuring to find out that that I’m not the only Guider in the world who overruns at meetings because everyone’s having so much fun!  We had a scramble to tidy up and everyone pitched in, so we were able to leave the Community Centre on time.

Our last Sunday in Japan was UK Day.  I taught the Japanese Girl Scouts how to do English Folk Dancing.  I must have taught the dance to about 100 people, in a queer polyglot mixture of Japanese and English.  They looked like they had fun, but it was very, very tiring and extremely warm.

Our final days were spent in Tokyo.  We paid a visit to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and were lucky enough to meet the Minister himself. We visited the Headquarters of the Girl Scouts of Japan, and there I made a contact which led to a visit from a Japanese Girl Scout to my unit in London – this was fantastic, as we were able to have a Japanese evening with sushi and origami.

We were also able to spend some time exploring Tokyo – we visited the Arts Museum, and saw some extremely beautiful kimonos and glass, as well as the Sony Centre, where we took part in a James Bond competition and taking a trip up the Tocho and there was karaoke.

I am extremely glad to have had this opportunity to visit Japan, and I would like to go back one day.  The best part of the experience has been having the confidence to lead a Japanese evening with my Guides when I got home. I learnt a lot while I was away, both about myself and about Japan.

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