This year marked the 50 Anniversary Friendship Exchange between Kiryu Japanese Girl Scouts and Yokosuka American Girl Scouts. Six Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland and two chaperones were privileged to participate in the festivities.
Our first stop was to Tokyo Tower allowing us a bird’s eye view of the city. It was fascinating. We walked across Shibuya Scramble, the busiest intersection on the planet where every three minutes hundreds of people cross the street! A stone’s throw from the Scramble stands a statue of the most famous dog in Japan, Hachiko. Our scouts were excited to see the statue since they’d read about the dog at school.
We were introduced to the West Pacific Overseas American Girl Scouts stationed with their families at the Yokosuka Naval Base. Three gracious host families shuttled us around and shared in our experiences. Our service project? Donating 30-pounds of coupons to the base. (Military can use coupons up to six months after the expiration.) Living with our Japanese host families was a highlight of the trip. We toured, slept, attended camp and ate with them…we really became a family! There’s no better way to understand the customs and way of life, than to live with the Japanese a few days. I’ve never taken off my shoes so much! But that’s another story.
The Japanese sure put on a great Girl Scout ceremony – scouts and leaders were in full uniform, Japanese dignitaries were invited and a flag ceremony which included the Japanese, American and WAGGS flags. One Japanese dignitary spoke of how we were making lifetime friends and making the world a better place by fostering world peace. This phrase made me realize the importance of bridging differences and that through Girl Scouts we can have an impact on world peace! After the ceremony, our girls went with their Japanese host families and troops. Each girl did something different from trying on kimonos, arts and crafts, games, archery etc. Chaperones toured an Obi silk weaving factory, tie-dyed a scarf and participated in an on-the-floor lunch. One memorable activity was visiting a Japanese elementary school. The students sang a welcome song, we toured the classrooms and paired our girls with fifth-grade students. They taught them how to write their name in calligraphy. Then the students served us lunch.
Another highlight was camping. It was the most beautiful campsite. We were surrounded by mountains and babbling brooks. We played games, ate, had a bonfire and sang songs with the Japanese Scouts. It was a wonderful setting to end our time with the Japanese Girl Scouts. Then we were off to Yokosuka Naval Base again. We tried sushi and sweet potato, green tea or soy sauce ice cream. Green tea became my poison…of which I HAD to get every day. It was YUMMY – a word I taught the Japanese.
Most fascinating to us, the toilets! There were squatty potties and westernized toilets (more like our American toilets) however, they had special features. The front and rear bidets of which you could select the pressure and temperature of water you desired and the seats were heated. Most interesting was the music you could play or flushing sound while using it. The purpose? To block unfavorable sounds you might make. There were toilets that had a faucet on the back of the tank, so when you flushed, you could rinse your hands with the water from the faucet and then the water went right into the tank. (Toilets were in a separate room in the houses, so you could rinse your hands before opening the door, then do a thorough washing at the sink. How smart is that? AWESOME!) We were surprised no matter where we went that Japanese students LOVE getting their picture taken with our girls. There were many students on field trips at the Great Buddha…with homework. The lesson, find a tourist, ask where they are from and get a picture with them. Needless to say, we quickly learned what stars deal with daily.
We made wonderful friends that we share one special commonality – Girl Scouts. This trip allowed us to live by our mission statement: “Building girls of courage (traveling abroad), confidence (living with Japanese families and learning their way of life) and character (being open to other cultures) who make the world a better place.”
*Huge thank you to Jenni Casey, former Girl Scout of Kansas Heartland, for providing this opportunity for us to experience.
**Thank you to Gwyn Birk for providing coupons at the last minute for us to take to the military base!