On Tuesday the 18th, we flew out of Seoul and, about an hour and a half later, landed at the Osaka Kansai airport. From there, we took the bus to Kobe (yes, the place famous for its beef), where we had the use of a pretty spacious house that would act as our “base” during the time we spent in Japan. Most of us were there, anyway. Simon and Haejung were using an apartment on loan from the church, but the other seven of us were borrowing the house of a (currently absent) family.
Speaking of which, maybe it’s time for a little dramatis personae. Joining me on this journey were not only Simon, Haejung, Katie, and Jenny, but also three Korean volunteers from Hannam University and their chaplain. Soo-min works with me on the Hannam blog project, as she has excellent English (she spent a year in the U.S., at Warren Wilson). Okdeuk (also known as OK) taught with me on Fridays when I was still working at the Youngrak Church. Deogil (a guy) has been working with Jenny at her children’s center, specifically helping out with the soccer class she teaches on Wednesdays. Then there’s Hannam’s chaplain, Rev. Choi, who’s shown us three Americans a lot of kindness since we arrived in Korea in September. He’s in charge of the Korean YAVs who work with us, and has listened to our feedback about the program and taken it very seriously.
When we arrived on Tuesday, it was already getting late, so the day’s agenda consisted mostly of a delicious dinner with Bill and Ann Moore, P.C.(USA) missionaries to Japan for more than 20 years. They live in Kobe now, and as our gracious hosts for the evening, provided us with a scrumptious spread as well as the pleasure of their company.
Then we headed to our home-away-from-home(-away-from-home) to fight over who got which room, and what order people were going to shower in. Our house was an interesting mix of Japanese and western styles: some people got beds, but others (including me) bunked down on the tatami mat floors.
The next morning, we hopped on the local train and headed out to Kansei University in the city. This was to be the site of the first of three international youth forums. Kansei was founded by missionaries and identifies itself as a Christian school; however, only around 1% of the student body is actually Christian. (This is an accurate reflection of the Japanese population generally – 0.8% of Japanese people are practicing Christians.) We were warmly received there by the staff, and treated to both a campus tour and lunch. The campus itself was very interesting, its architecture having been based off of the Spanish mission-style buildings of southern California. And the lunch was amazing! We ate with the university chancellor in very high style indeed – it was the sort of meal where you need to know which fork to use when (I admit, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing; I ended up mistaking my spoon for a butter knife [What? it was totally a weird, angular spoon!]). We enjoyed some very fancy food while being waited on hand and foot, so absolutely no complaints there.
In the afternoon, we moved into the actual purpose of our visit: a discussion of environmental issues. I represented the U.S., giving a brief overview of the current policies we have and the challenges we face. I was followed by Soo-min, who told us about the programs the exist in Korea to try and protect the environment, and one of Kansei’s own students, who talked about Japan’s policies. I have to admit, I was very impressed (although not really surprised) that Korea and Japan both have so many environmentally-friendly policies in place. For example, both countries have programs that award consumers “eco-points” for buying green products. These eco-points can later be exchanged for free stuff. They also do much better at sorting their garbage and recycling. Case in point: you eat at an American McDonald’s, you throw all your trash into one big can afterwards. You eat at a Korean McDonald’s, you throw your food waste here, your leftover drink and ice here, your paper stuff here. It’s like a puzzle, trying to figure out where everything goes! And don’t even get me started on the whole public transportation issue.
Afterwards there was general discussion, and while we hardly came up with a solution to global warming or any such thing, many interesting ideas were shared and there were a lot of opportunities for the us to talk with the Japanese students and bond. Not bad, for our first attempt at this kind of thing!
More pictures of Kobe can be seen here. Next time: We go to Nagasaki!