Each year, the Osaka Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International sponsors a trip for the winner of the Annual Japanese Language Speech Contest in Chicago to our sister city of Osaka. The recipient travels to Osaka as a kakehashi or “bridge” between the two sister cities, building friendship and mutual understanding.
The 2015 winner, University of Chicago student Hassan Awaisi, stayed with a local host family from June 13–27. Some of the activities he participated in include joining a yoga class and after-party at a local Indian restaurant, giving a presentation on Islam and Muslims to a group of students learning English at Minami High School, taking a flower arrangement class, and visiting the Osaka Museum of History, Osaka Castle, Osaka City Hall, Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Kansai American Center, Museum of Fine Art, Osaka International Peace Center, and Fukai Elementary School.
About his stay in Osaka, Hassan says: “It was a truly wonderful experience to have been able to explore Japanese culture and language through such a diverse range of programming graciously sponsored by the Osaka Committee. In addition to living with a Japanese host family for two weeks, I worked with Japanese elementary school students, high schoolers, and business innovators alike and learned a great deal about the unique history, art, economy, and cuisine of Osaka, Japan’s second largest city.
Every interaction I had become an opportunity for meaningful cultural exchange. I carried with me a pocket notebook at all times which locals were more than eager to help me fill with new terms like ōkini or ‘thank you’ (Kansai dialect), mottainai or ‘wasteful,’ and onigokko or ‘demon play’ (a Japanese version of the game of tag), not to mention points of clarification such as never to place your chopsticks upright in a rice bowl, an act resembling a traditional funeral rite.
At the same time, everyone I met was particularly fascinated by the idea of an American student of South Asian heritage studying Japanese and always wanted to know what drew me to their native language and country as well as what differences I noticed between Japan and the United States.
As a major connoisseur of everything from yakisoba to katsu-karē, I was certainly in food heaven and already miss being able to purchase inexpensive, high-quality sushi any time of the day from the neighborhood convenience store. I will also never forget trying delicious okonomiyaki, zaru soba, and takoyaki for the first time with my host family.
Most of all, however, I was impressed by the incredible detail-orientedness, politeness, and considerateness of the Japanese people, which I think can only be appreciated fully by traveling to Nippon in person. I very much hope to return someday in the near future!”