A two-week goodwill adventure is just a memory now for seven excited teenage students from Kurashiki, Japan, who recently visited Kansas City– their sister city – through the auspices of The Heart of America-Japan Society.
The lasting memories these students took back to their homeland is because of such host families as Bruce and Sue Marston, who opened their spacious Raytown home to Tatsuyoshi (Tatsu) Arakawa – the only boy on the trip – whom the Marstons call an “absolute delight” in that they had an opportunity to learn more about Japanese culture and how the Japanese do things in their country.
“It was nice to be able to show Tatsu Kansas City and Independence, and how they do things here,” says Bruce, who grew up in Independence and graduated from Van Horn High School. “And it is kind of exciting to see them understand what we do.”
When members of the Kansas City-Kurashiki youth delegation arrived in Kansas City on July 25, they spent the first of two nights at an airport hotel and their first day enjoying Kansas City's two biggest amusement attractions – Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun. Then, on Day 2, after an interview with Kansas City Mayor Sly James, they toured a large farm and then met their host families at a big dinner where all the students were recognized.
“There are two host families for each student,” Bruce says, explaining that after the first six days, students swapped families for another six days. “But with my student, he didn't have a host family the first week, so I took him for both weeks. So, I am having him for a total of 12 days.”
With Tatsu living and interacting with the Marston family for 12 days, it didn't take Tatsu long to bond with his host family and their grandchildren. Speaking in broken English at times, Tatsu was able to convey his hometown of Kurashiki was about an hour's drive from Hiroshima, where the first atomic bomb was dropped on Aug. 6, 1945.
Yes, Tatsu visited Hiroshima in the second grade with students from his school, he says, but feels no hatred or animosity toward the United States for dropping the bomb that directly killed some 70,000 inhabitants. When informed he would be visiting the home of President Harry Truman and the Truman Library, Tatsu says, “Good. I would like to see them.”
As Tatsu shares his young life, the shy, soft-spoken teenager tells of living with his divorced mother and two sisters in a small house and sleeping on a mat on the floor with his mother and two sisters – a far cry from the living conditions at the Marstons' home. There he has his own bedroom, his own bathroom and sleeps on a queen-size bed. He also has access to five TVs, a swimming pool, a pool table, an air-hockey game and other amenities.
“That's a lot, and he can do anything he wants,” says Bruce, who finds it hard to believe what Tatsu's mother said about her son when she telephoned the Marstons, informing them that her son was“very shy.”
“Not around me,” he says, telling Tatsu's mom he found her son to be outgoing. “He plays the piano; he's very good. And he is a very good singer. And I am going to teach him the national anthem before he goes home so he will be able to sing it.”
And Tatsu was up to the challenge.
“I taught him to sing our national anthem and he sung it at the final go-home dinner. In addition, the Japanese students already knew the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and they sang it in their own language at the farewell dinner.
Asked if Tatsu would like to return to the United States some day and spend more time here, the soft-spoken teen, who was quietly creating an origami dragon during our interview, looked up, flashed a warm, broad smile meaning only one thing: “You betcha.” Upon completion, Tasu presented his artwork to me as a gift to remember him by.
When Tatsu's not sightseeing and soaking up all the culture in historic Independence and beyond, “He loves helping me around the house and the garden,” Bruce says. “He helps me fold clothes, clean up and cook; he wants to do it all. He is very, very good helping others.”
Showing off his culinary skills, Tatsu prepared two authentic Japanese meals for his host family. One was okonomiyaki, which Bruce says resembles a pancake with eggs and bacon on it. The other dish was chirashizushi, which the young chef prepared with rice that he brought over with him. What else was in the dish? Bruce doesn't know. But it was authentic.
With a music degree from the Conservatory of Music at UMKC, Bruce has taught music for years. He directs the choir of the First Christian Church of Independence, where he worshipped as a youth. And on the two Sundays Tatsu was here, Tatsu attended both services at the historic church and participated in the first service he attended by helping Bruce with the hand chimes and talking to the children about his country.
“And the children were in awe; that was wonderful.”
-- Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.