- International Mindedness
Surf with us, dance with us, experience Japanese high school culture with us, meet the SHS Principal and the Mayor of Makinohara alongside the four of us as we celebrate the Season 2 grand finale of the SHS x HIS Domestic Global Exchange!
Surfs up in Makinohara
The SHS x HIS Season 2 Finale
Text, Video, and Photos: J.Pangier
Photos and additional footage: Y. Michino
The SHS x HIS Domestic Global Exchange began last year when the Class of '21 Masayori Sudo Hasegawa initiated it alongside the support of the Makinohara City Hall. The exchange comes as a continuation of Japan's goal to foster international relationships, something that began during the lead-up to the 2020 (which would later become 2021) Tokyo Olympics. During that time, Makinohara was a gracious host to the US Olympic Surfing Team due to its fantastic waves in and out of the ocean. Located just across the water from the Izu Peninsula, Makinohara has Mt. Fuji Airport with views of the iconic peak, one of the largest green tea farms in Japan, a beachfront with consistent surfing waves, and Japan's only surfing stadium. It is these last two points that attracted the US Surfing Team. Following the Olympics, and Carissa Moore's gold medal, Makinohara asked for a way to continue the funding that the Government of Japan had provided to support their hosting. Their wish was granted, paving the way for this exchange. All of this led to the creation of a new but ongoing relationship between Sagara High School (SHS) and Hokkaido International School.
In the fall of 2022, SHS students came to Hokkaido for the first time. This followed our own visit to Makinohara in May of 2022. June 2023 ushered in the third in-person visit between the two schools and what a trip was it!
Upon arriving in Makinohara just after 8 pm, we were first met by the Makinohara City Hall staff and their van. Mr. Oishi led the group followed by Mr. Fukuyo and Ms. Michino (who captured all the beautiful moments in photos and videos).
After stopping at the local 7-11 for a late dinner, which was having a Hokkaido fair of all things, we drove to the Swing Beach Hotel. There, we were greeted with leis (a tradition begun with the hosting of the US surf team who had a number of Hawaiian athletes including Carissa Moore). The leis were put together by the SHS members of our exchange with the guidance of their flower arrangement teacher. I believe they spent three hours making them!
The next morning came early for two of us. Theo and I couldn't resist the lure of the ocean, deciding to wake up early for a run along the beach. It was worth the effort. The sound of the waves and the view of the hundreds of surfers both calmed and excited us.
This was followed by our hotel breakfast before departing for the SHS Cultural Festival (文化祭).
At Sagara High School, we were once again shown the beauty of Omotonashi, the famous Japanese hospitality that got global recognition during the 2022 Olympics. Students met us with a hand-made sign.
They led us straight into their gymnasium, directing us to special chairs prepared for us to enjoy the music, dancing, and entertainment. Following the SHS performances was a special treat. The Shizuoka University Soran Team would be dancing. The Sagara Principal, Mr. Asakura, worked his connections to bring these beautiful dancers, who normally perform at much larger venues, to his school. His own daughter had been a part of their team during her university days and Mr. Asakura kept that connection strong. This led to more opportunities for Theo and me to exercise as we were invited on stage, alongside other Sagara students, to dance alongside the highly professional dance team.
The gymnasium performances ended and a rotating group of SHS students brought us to other parts of the festival. We shot a bow and arrow, threw ping pong balls, did the squid game, attended a Japanese Tea Ceremony, and made slime.
By the end of it, we were both grateful for the SHS hospitality and hungry. Principal Asakura invited us into his air-conditioned office for a karage bento, which was followed by a visit to the food stands where we all enjoyed some strawberry shaved ice (shaved from frozen strawberries!). There, we even saw an SHS alumnus, who had been a part of the Season 1 exchange.
Before we left the bunkasai, we were invited back on stage to speak and to be thanked. We all said a few words and we left the stage and the school filled with joy (and with the cries from all of Theo's new admirers).
It was hard to believe that anything could compare to the amazing morning we had but if anything could do it, it was Japan's only (and possibly Asia's only) surf stadium.
At Shizunami SURF STADIUM, we were provided with a wet suit, a soft longboard, a jersey, and brief instructions to stand up. After that, we got six chances in one direction, followed by four more in the other. By the end of our hour-long experience to last a lifetime, each had found a way to at least somewhat stand atop our board, while at least one or two of us rode the wave just a bit longer:)
Arriving back at the hotel, which is just a three-minute drive away, we were hungry. It was 5:30 but dinner wouldn't begin until 7:00 pm. All four of us made our way to the ice cream machine on the second floor to tide ourselves over.
Dinner was at the hotel's own Amemi restaurant. There, we were met by Ms. Hasegawa (Masa's mother), who is also a liaison between Makinohara and HIS and serves as a cultural ambassador. She was joined by a couple of the City Hall staff, including Mr. Oishi (who just stayed to greet us and to cheers) and Ms. Michino, and one other staff member.
The dinner was delicious and fancy, leading to an unofficial sashimi-eating contest between Theo and Kate, both of whom had not really had much sashimi-eating experience. Unlike most eating contests, their goal was not to eat as much as they could but to just finish what was on their plates. Their first experience left an unusual feeling in their mouths but laughter in the rest of our stomachs as we watched on, having no trouble finishing our own portions. The dinner was a joy that only grew with the injection of Masayori, Zooming in from New York, morning bed-head and all. Even Iyori, Masa's older brother (Class of 2019) made a cameo. That night, we went to sleep with full stomachs and great memories.
The second day was nearly as special as the first. We enjoyed visiting a Green Tea Farm with a Samurai-blooded master who has created a new type of tea.
That was followed by the out-of-order ice cream and souvenir stop, preceding our lunch with the Makinohara mayor.
Mayor Kikuo Sugimoto was just re-elected this past year, which is great news for our exchange as he is a strong proponent of deepening intercultural relationships. Despite his busy schedule, with a planned flight later in the day, he made time to eat with us and honor all four with certificates commemorating our part in the connection between Makinohara and Sapporo. In the future, I have my own personal hopes that we might bring together Sapporo and Makinohara (and their respective mayors) at a more formal level.
The last stop of our trip, before boarding our bullet train to Tokyo's Haneda Airport for our flight back, was the Makinohara City Hall, itself. There, we got to see each and every floor of the building, learning all about the roles and responsibilities of various divisions: how they might meet in times of severe weather to issue warnings to the public or how they might have special press conferences to welcome special guests like they did when the US Olympic Team came in 2020-2021. Our last stop during our last stop was at the top of the building in the conference room where the mayor, who we had had lunch with earlier, would sit and hold meetings. There, we watched a video created commemorating the Olympic hosting, reminding us of the reason we could have the exchange to begin with. In the future, we, too, hope to establish an avenue of funding from Sapporo to develop our own ambassadors as we look hopefully for Sapporo's return to the Olympic stage in 2030 or 2034.
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