By: Meret Beutler
The Seward Sister City Exchange to Obihiro, Japan was the highlight of my summer. It was such an exciting experience and so much fun! The food was amazing (except for some odd flavors once in a while), and the people were great! I hope that one day I will have the chance to return. But until then, I will have many great memories.
I got to experience many great foods while visiting Japan. Of course I had a few interesting ones, but there were mostly great meals. Because of endless heat ice cream was the main dessert. There were so many different types of ice cream; Sesame Seed and Green Tea were my two favorites. There was also a lot of rice, in sushi and Ohagi. Ohagi, or botamochi, are sweet rice balls which are made with glutinous rice and covered in either soybean powder or red bean paste. Obihiro also has delicious dairy products, as it is located in the middle of farm country.
During my time in Japan I experienced many traditional activities. One was the Banei Horse Races. The horse races are not only for tourists, but the locals will often visit, too. While we were there, we also visited the Banei Horse Museum. The museum showed many pictures and the history of the famous race horses. I also participated in a traditional tea ceremony, which was a lot of fun. However, drinking hot tea on a really hot and humid day is interesting. The Japanese use a special type of tea called Matcha. A type of powdered green tea, especially made for these traditional tea ceremonies. Special candies are served, too.
The famous Bon Dance was one of my favorite experiences in Japan. On the night of the Bon Dance the streets were crowded with people in yukatas. At the welcome party in Japan, I had been presented an amazing Yukata, which is a light version of a Kimono. I went with the Friends of the World group, and two hours before the actual dance we met in a room to put on our Yukatas and practice the dance moves. They seemed really easy at first, but once you’re in the streets, it gets a lot harder. There are so many people and everyone bumps into each other all around, but still, it was so much fun!
A very close second favorite were all the beautiful botanical gardens. This was a great way to experience Japans native foliage. The botanical gardens are amazing with many exotic trees and flowers. All the smells and sounds were so intense! While we were there the cicadas were the noisiest. The Tokachi Region in Japan, where Obihiro is located, is famous for its farmland. There are many potatoes, soybeans, red string beans, eggplants, sweet potatoes, and corn fields. There are also many dairy farms in the area, which of course means lots of ice cream!
Overall travelling to Japan as an ambassador for the City of Seward was a great experience, and I recommend it to everyone who has the chance to go! Although there were a few foods that were odd, and there was a small language barrier, I had lots of fun. It was great to experience a different culture, and I got to take part in many traditional Japanese events, which was very exciting. I would like to thank everyone who made our exchange trip to Obihiro possible, all the residents of Seward, who supported our fundraising events. I am grateful to the City of Seward, Seward Community Foundation, and Holland America for their generous scholarships and grants. I would also like to thank SIFA, especially Jim Herbert who contributed to the exchange trip in countless ways, for their help.