The Gumi Comes Home

This post is by Alex Proimos, a 2015 Master candidate in the International Education Program at GWU.

The last few days have been a bit of a whirlwind. Between meetings, museums, and meals, Aki-san and the KAKEHASHI leaders have given us all we can handle before sending us back to the States. To be honest, I’ve spent most of the day sleeping with my face on a tray-table. Not the best way to analyze cultural dynamics.

Instead, I’ve decided to shine some light on the authors of this blog. These are truly some of the most insightful, enthusiastic, and determined people I’ve ever known. Discussing the happenings of the day individually or as a group amplified my understanding of topics, offered me alternative perspective, and enhanced my interest in the field of education. I also laughed. Pretty much the whole time. Here they are in no particular order:

Katherine is fearless. When we needed a leader, she stepped forwarded and represented our group in a way that made us shine.

Katherine with her Certificate

Katherine with her Certificate

I would place all bets on Cynthia, and would enthusiastically entrust her with my child’s education.  She taught me to never turn down.

Monica is soft spoken, but so well spoken. When she speaks, you need to listen.

Monica discovering a new for of Crunky

Monica discovering a new form of Crunky

Beth J. is insanely patient. Sitting next to me on an airplane for 14 hours is likely a nightmare, but she pulled it off well.

Sarah M’s ability to focus really enviable. She is actively listening all the time, and she can apply themes to specific people in the way they’ll find most digestable. Such a great skill.

Trish is a fighter. Always independent, confident, and strong willed.

Trish, Sarah M, and Maggie having a slurp of ramen

Trish, Sarah M, and Maggie having a slurp of ramen

Beth L. is a genius. An independent thinker and mover. Listen when she speaks, unless she’s trying to take you to a Cat Cafe.

Beth immersed in Japanese culture

Beth immersed in Japanese culture

Sara S. just makes sense. In times of varied opinion, she can synthesize information in a way that is objectively good.

Rachel taught me that there is always time for a nap or a dumpling.

Katie taught me how to say her last name. I mean, I kind of know how to. I think? So very comfortable in her own skin.

Maggie is one of the most fun-loving people I have ever known. Always excited, no matter how dull the situation may seem to others, which is contagious.

6 group members

6 group members. I learned the most from the Chicken

Post-Karaoke. We did not win any awards.

Post-Karaoke. We didn’t win any awards.












The lesson I’ve learned from Jim is to never stop asking questions, even if you aren’t getting answers.

That’s kind of the moral of the whole trip for me. There were so many times I witnessed things for which I had no explanation. Japan and Japanese culture drive the curious crazy, presenting opportunities to investigate every moment. It’s exhausting, but the neon lights will keep you awake.

Innovation and Reflection

This post is by Sarah Montgomery, a 2015 Master candidate in the Higher Education Administration program at GWU.

After a day of research and exploring (which for me included long awaited ramen and dumplings), we rested up for a day of reflection and looking towards the future.
We began the day at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) which houses a magnificent Earth display in the main room of the building. The music is soft and adds to the peaceful and awe inspiring view of this orb that depicts a slowly spinning world.


The rest of the museum was split between 2 floors, one for exploration and on for innovation.  There are exhibits on exploration efforts made in space and the deep sea and exhibits of innovation in the areas of green energy, medical research, and robotics.


 The most exciting display of robotics was the demonstration of Asimo ( and acronym for Advanced Step in Innovation MObility) a humanoid robot that can run, dance, balance, and kick a ball, designed and built by Honda.



After viewing this dazzling museum we were wisked off to lunch, which was incredible fried chicken, rice, salad, miso soup, poached egg, and pickled vegetables. Extremely delicious and filling lunch in a restaurant where we removed our shoes when we entered and were seated on a raised platform.


Moving through our day, we had a discussion with the CEO and founder of Teach for Japan, which is based of of the Teach for America organization, at the Japan Foundation. He discussed the general model and the challenges that he has faced mapping this system in Japan.  It was an optimistic lecture as change seemed to be possible to cultivate better classroom environments and inspire and support the Japanese youth and corps of teachers slowly through this organization. 

After our meeting, we attended a debriefing session where we had the opportunity to provide feedback about our 10 day trip and present on what each group though the strengths and weaknesses of Japan are, and what concerns and solutions that we had for the the Japan – US relations. Each group did a great job communicating what they learned and identified through the lens and background in which they came from.


Certificates were passed out and we left the Japan Foundation a bit sad that it was all over and looking forward to spending our last night in Tokyo!



Living it up in Tokyo

This post is by Trish Makovsky, a recent alum of the International Education program at GW.

Today was our independent research day here in Japan. I was feeling sleepy until I got to the metro station and was bombarded by the mass of people – it was, in fact, rush hour in Tokyo. The chaos of the experience certainly woke me up! It was a complex commute to my first appointment at a primary school, as we had to take the metro, the train, then a bus. Luckily, our fabulous guide, Aki, was with me so I didn’t have to worry about getting lost (yet).

Here is a picture of Aki - what a lifesaver!

Here is a picture of Aki – what a lifesaver!

We arrived at the school and were immediately asked to take our shoes off and put on slippers. We proceeded to the Principal’s office, where we were served green tea. We were able to speak with him, take a tour of the school, talk with a fifth grade English language class, and eat lunch with the children.

The children at this primary school were very polite and well-behaved. According to the Principal, discipline is not a primary responsibility of the teacher; it is the family's role to discipline in Japan.

The children at this primary school were very polite and well-behaved. According to the Principal, discipline is not a primary responsibility of the teacher; it is the family’s role to discipline in Japan.

When arriving at lunch, we witnessed the meals being set up. Surprisingly, the children were the ones doing the lunch preparation. There they were, dressed in their white smocks, masks and hats, dishing out the food and distributing it among each table. I have never seen such efficiency, especially in young children! They even cleaned up after lunch was over. I was impressed by how much responsibility is taken on by these children.


After the primary school visit ended, I attended meetings at Waseda University and the University of Tokyo. Even after such a busy day, the group and I wanted to make our second last night in Tokyo awesome. I was able to do a lot of things that are very typical of Japan:

Eat sushi off of a conveyor belt…


Go to an arcade…


and sing karaoke in a private room…


Finally, I learned about the story of Hachiko. Hachiko was an Akita dog that met his owner at the Shibuya metro station every evening after work. One day, Hachiko’s owner never returned home – he had experienced a stoke at his workplace and passed away. The story goes that Hachiko continued to go to the Shibuya metro station to wait for his owner to return after work. This went on for ten years. Today, Hachido is a symbol to the Japanese people of loyalty and devotion. This is a true story the turned into a legend.

A statue of Hachido can be found right outside of the Shibuya metro station

A statue of Hachido can be found right outside of the Shibuya metro station

Japan’s Education System

This post is by Sara Skillman, a student in the Higher Education Administration program.

Today, our group had a quick but comprehensive overview of the education system in Japan. We started with a lecture at the National Institute for Educational Policy Research to learn more about the K-12 education system in Japan. The purpose was to gain a better understanding of what a typical student experiences at school throughout his or her childhood and adolescence, which proved useful as we also visited a Japanese high school (more on that a little later).

One important observation of this particular lecture was the emphasis on students being involved in their nutrition. The following photo explains the lunch menu for an elementary school in Japan. The first graders shelled the peas that went into the rice dish and worried that they wouldn’t be enjoyed: “1st graders were worrying if peas are good enough and ‘would everyone eat them up?’ 1st graders did the work for us. Let’s not leave them unfinished.” They clearly put a lot of thought into the overall well being of their students.

IMG_0658Explanation of school lunch

Akihiko Hashimoto

“School Age Life in Contemporary Japan”

We also had another lecturer talk to us more about their evaluation of English language curriculum. Improvements are being made to strengthen English instruction. There is a strong emphasis on communication abilities and how it is important for teachers to engage their students and provide proper linguistic support for student success.

At our next destination, we had the opportunity to talk with students at Kanagawa Sohgoh High School. I think I can speak for our group when I say that this was the highlight of our day. Being able to talk to students about their individual experiences in the Japanese school system is an invaluable foundation for our research interests. The students were insightful and answered some difficult questions about their thoughts on Japanese education and society. Since these particular students had at one point lived in another country, this added an important dimension to our interest in international education.

High School

GW group with students from Kanagawa Sohgoh High School

We then traveled to Waseda University to learn about their internationalization efforts on campus as well as between the US and Japan. Many of us on this trip are interested in how Japan aims to send more students abroad and bring in more international students through various efforts. It was useful to learn more about the steps Japan is taking to build international partnerships for student mobility.

This blog entry wouldn’t be complete without a picture of our dinner – the best meal I’ve had in Japan so far. I love how much care is put into each dish. Itadakimasu!


All for me!


From Traditional Kyoto To Contemporary Tokyo

This post is by Maggie Appel-Schumacher, a student in the International Education Program.

Sunday, May 25, 2014 was certainly the day to celebrate some of Japan’s remarkable traditions. Kyoto’s uniquely traditional atmosphere provided our group with a deeper understanding of Japanese culture and tradition beyond Sake making and the like. Today we learned the intricacies of dyeing cloth and serving Japanese tea in a Tea Ceremony.

But first, we visited one of Kyoto’s most noteworthy Zen Buddhist temples- Kinkakuji Temple. The Golden Pavillion with its surrounding gardens and tranquil pathways are representative of the pure lands of Buddha.

George Japan

George at the temple!

Hippo Japan

GSEHD Hippo goes to Kinkakuji Temple!

After our delightful walk through the temple grounds, we were introduced to a lovely form of Japanese art, traditional dyeing of cloth. Each group received directions on how to successfully create the pattern outlined for us. Through paints and brushes, we created our own souvenir to take home!

cloth dyeing

Cloth Dyeing in Kyoto


Next step, tea ceremony! Our groups were invited to the Kokoan Tea Room, where a wonderful woman (a tea master) guided us through the steps to successfully make and serve Maca Green Tea! Rachel was even allowed to make and serve tea to other group members, allowing us to dive into the tradition first hand!

After a day of experiencing traditional Kyoto we were back on the Shinkansen to Tokyo. Dinner was a first experience for most of us, we were guided into the basement of a shopping mall to find an “all you can eat in one hour” Korean BBQ place. Albeit untraditional, it was a unique experience to say the least. All of us ate enough to last us for the rest of the trip.

Our Sunday night ended on a perfect note after a smaller group of us decided to explore the region of Roppongi after dinner to find ourselves in front of the brilliant Tokyo skyline! Reality set in that this country filled with wonderful traditions alongside its contemporary innovative spirit.

skyline Tokyo

Tokyo Skyline

To experience some of Japan’s most traditional cultural elements was a treat- we thank our Kakehashi guides and all who made this trip possible!

Be calm and stay Zen

This post is by Cynthia David, a recent graduate of the International Education program.

I was definitely looking forward to our weekend excursion to Kyoto and Kyoto has yet to disappoint.  The hills, the bikes, the people and the atmosphere leaves me wanting more! Here are some of the highlights from our adventures.



Our morning began with a pre-selected meal. I wonder why they (the hotel) assumed we wanted a western breakfast :). If you are curious to know, a western breakfast consists of scrambled eggs, sausage links, salad, yogurt and grapefruit.

We definitely had to make sure that we ate because our next stop was the well renowned sake museum. Did someone say SAKE? Yes sake at 9:30 in the morning! If you didn’t know, now you know, sake comes from rice…lots of it. The presentation was very informative and we received a tour of the facilities. Let’s not forget the samples, gift shop, and the exhibit.

Aki, our wonderful guide translating the tour.

Aki, our wonderful guide translating the tour.

Next we went to the Kiyomizudera Temple. I must say, I have never experienced such beauty and peacefulness. After getting over the trek up a hill and many steps, all you can do is admire the view of Kyoto and take in the holiness.



Map of the Temple

Map of the Temple

My favorite part of today was experimenting with Zazen Meditation. This was a first for me and I must say that the 1st 10 minutes okay. The 2nd round was a struggle but I made it.

Be calm stay Zen

Be calm stay Zen

Of course we had to end the day with shopping and now I can add a new accessory to the collection; head bows!! After a tutorial I was so SOLD!!! Check it out!!


Definitely enjoyed my stay in Kyoto. So glad I had the opportunity to participate in this experience #gratefulparticipant

From Tokyo to Kyoto

This post is by Katie Sukhomlynova, a student in the International Education program.

My blog post is about Friday, May 23, the day many of us were looking forward to the most-our trip to Kyoto! I learned through our trip from Tokyo to Kyoto that bullet trains are AWESOME. Roomy seats that recline-all the way back, and plenty of legroom. They even have a food cart that goes by so you can buy snacks or drinks if you need to.  If only airplane rides could be this comfortable.

Our Bullet Train to Kyoto

Our Bullet Train to Kyoto

My first impression of Kyoto was that it was smaller, greener and more peaceful than Tokyo.  It seemed like a very livable city and bike friendly, too. There were so many people riding on bikes along the streets and lots of tourists walking around-many more than in Tokyo.

Lots of bikes parked at Kyoto University

Lots of bikes parked at Kyoto University

Our first meeting here in Kyoto was so wonderful that it really set a positive tone for the rest of the visit. We had the chance to meet with professors and graduate students at Kyoto University and exchange ideas about several higher education and international education issues. They were wonderful hosts and clearly dedicated a lot of time in preparing for our visit. The discussions we had with them were the highlight of the visit so far and hopefully we can keep the dialogue going once we get back to DC.  I think it is safe to say that our impressions of places we visit are formed mostly based on the kind of interactions we have with the people there.  Because of the warm welcome we received from the Kyoto University, I’ll certainly remember this part of our trip and Kyoto for a long time.

Group picture at Kyoto University

Group picture at Kyoto University

Japanese people overall are incredibly hospitable.  Despite the language barriers, the locals always seem willing to lend a hand when we are looking confused, need directions or just can’t figure out how to order that sushi roll that looks so good. The front desk agent in Kyoto even gave us a tutorial on how to open our room doors, just to make sure we knew what to do!

Our key tutorial, courtesy of the front desk

Our key tutorial, courtesy of the front desk

All in all, it has been a wonderful trip so far and I’m looking forward to what the rest of our travels will bring!

Cultural Observations on Japan (so far)

This post is by Rachel Dorfman-Tandlich, a student in the Higher Ed Administration Program

Our trip to Japan has been amazing so far, and we’re all thoroughly enjoying getting to experience Japanese culture.   Here are a few of my observations (so far):

1. Japanese hotels are full-service operations

Everywhere we’ve gone so far Japanese people have been incredibly welcoming and hospitable.  This is even more true of our hotels.  Today when we arrived at our hotel in Kyoto we were greeted at the bus by a concierge, and then ushered into the hotel lobby to meet with two other concierges, one of whom gave us an incredibly detailed explanation of how to open the locks on our hotel room doors (see photo below).

lock demonstration

Explaining the key entry system

Each of the hotels has been equipped with all the amenities you would expect to see in the US (shampoos, etc) plus a few more you wouldn’t expect – for example, check out these slippers and jammies that come in each room:

japanese pjs

Japanese jammies supplied by our hotel in Kyoto

2. Japanese people take their toilets very seriously

Toilets in Japan are a high-tech endeavor.  First, the seat is sensitive to weight and the bowl fills with extra water when you sit down.  The toilets include buttons for a front AND back bidet, and also a button to make a fake flushing noise for the timid tinkler who doesn’t like to be heard. Some toilets also include options to heat the seat so you’re not plagued by a cold bum.

toilet 1

the toilet at our hotel in Tokyo

toilet 2

the command center for the toilet in the Tokyo National Museum











3. Japanese people like to know what they’re getting before they order in a restaurant

Many restaurants in Japan have wax or plastic displays outside the front door advertising exactly what the dishes they serve look like.  In addition, many restaurants have lots of pictures in their menus so guests can get an adequate visual before making their selection.

plastic food

fake food on display in front of a restaurant in Tokyo

4. A sense of humor is very important in Japan

One thing that has surprised me most about Japan is how funny everyone has been.  Humor is something that can often be difficult to translate across cultures, but so far several of the presenters we’ve heard from have kept our group in stitches.


A Kyoto University student provides a hilarious description of his former life as a second grade teacher


24 Hours Wiser

This post is by Beth L., an alumni of the International Education program at GWU.

A few things I’ve learned since arriving in Japan just one day ago.

#1: No, that’s not chocolate!
After our orientation and bento box lunch, our group took a walk around Asakusa today, visiting the Senso-ji temple. Near the temple, Monica (my travel buddy) and I spotted a line of Japanese teenagers around a snack stall. Through a series of hand motions, we each managed to procure a set of four adorably shaped Ningyo-Yaki: a bird, a dragon, a lantern, and a temple. We thought they looked like pancakes filled with melted chocolate, but we weren’t disappointed with the red bean paste we found inside instead.


Boxes of hand-made Ningyo-Yaki. Delicious!


#2: My luck is better than yours
In front of the shrine, we got our Omiguji fortunes told. We shook a box of chopsticks until one fell out of a hole the size of a pencil. On that pencil were markings, and we matched the markings to different draws containing fortunes. I got “good fortune” (Lucky me!) while Monica managed only a “regular fortune.”

Drawers containing my good fortune and Monica's regular fortune.

Drawers containing my good fortune and Monica’s regular fortune.

#3: Stand on the left!
We DC residents know that, on the escalator, you walk on the left and stand on the right (I’m looking at you, cherry blossom tourists). It had taken me nearly 3 years to fully hammer that into my DC brain. So you can imagine I was ill-equipped to deal with Tokyo escalators, where one stands on the left and walks on the right.

#4: We’re not in Kansas anymore, or at least not Kansas’ public transit
I have been around the world and seen a lot of public transit systems. Heck, I don’t even own a car in Washington, DC, relying solely on a mixture of walking, biking, metro, bus, and short-term car rental. But no amount of Metro Center transferring could prepare me for Tokyo’s labyrinth of a metro system:

A map of Tokyo's expansive metro system.

A map of Tokyo’s expansive metro system.

#5: Cat cafes are either amazing or disgusting and I’m not sure which
I think the title says it all. It had long been my dream to go to a cat cafe and snuggle cats while sipping a latte. Sadly, the cats did not feel like snuggling with me or anyone else. I’m not sure what those cats do like to do, but I am quite sure it is not any form of cuddling, playing, or purring. They seem to enjoy sleeping and stinking up the place. Still, a (smelly) dream fulfilled. In case cats aren’t your thing, never fear: They also have an “Owl and Parrot Cafe”

This cat does not care about you.

This cat does not care about you.

Thank you to the Japan Foundation and the Kakehashi Project for making this trip possible!


First Impressions: by Monica Hilliard

When I pictured Tokyo, I pictured the cityscapes I’ve seen in movies like Lost in Translation and, let’s be honest, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. I imagined a, loud, urban jungle with skyscrapers, crowded streets, and bright flashing lights. While parts of Tokyo are certainly all of these things, I have been struck by how serene, clean, and green it is!

We have only been here for one full day, so my first impressions could be proven wrong, but I love what I have seen so far! The peace and quiet are truly amazing. Cars don’t sputter or groan, and I have yet to hear them honk. People are aware and respectful of their surroundings, keeping conversations to a low level. There have been no sirens or blaring music. No barking dogs or screaming children. Even the noisier areas have hidden alleyways and side streets to escape down. Plus, Tokyo is clean! People take garbage disposal and recycling very seriously, with noticeable results. Streets are almost completely free of litter.

Tokyo is also incredibly lush. I was so pleasantly surprised by all of the beautiful green spaces. Parks, small and large, are everywhere, and trees line the streets. We even saw an office building with an entire side covered in a vertical garden. I’m looking forward to exploring more of these places in the coming days!


A serene looking Tokyo at sunset.

A serene looking Tokyo at sunset.

A Shinto shrine in Asakusa, Tokyo

A Shinto shrine in Asakusa, Tokyo

The bright lights of Tokyo at night.

The bright lights of Tokyo at night.

A typical Japanese restaurant and where we ate our first night.

A typical Japanese restaurant and where we ate dinner our first night in Tokyo.