San Bernardino-Tachikawa Student Exchange Experience Summer of 1962 - Sherman Abe
Thank you for the opportunity to write about my experience as one of the three original exchange students from San Bernardino to Tachikawa in the summer of 1962.
Vicki Brown, Van Dunlop and I were greeted at Haneda International Airport by NHK news coverage (the Japan national TV network similar to the BBC) since, I'm not mistaken, we were the first ever exchange students to Japan under the auspices of a Sister City program.
Our month was extremely well planned with visits as far away as Nara and Nikko and as close as the recently built Tokyo Tower (higher than the Eiffel Tower!) In Tachikawa, we were feted by numerous gracious social groups and spoke to several community organizations. We seemed constantly in motion.
Our Japan-tied Tachikawa city activities were supported by American families living on the American air base nearby, led by a wonderful woman, Jean Lovering. Tachikawa Air Base represented a totally American world apart form the daily life of Japanese citizens. In 1962, the American military was a visible presence in Japan.
For me, the most memorable experiences were the 10 days spent at Tachikawa high school and the personal time with my host family, Mr. and Mrs. Kenkichi Inoue, and their two children, Hozumi and Maya. I can still remember eating a full Japanese breakfast (but also with toast), then walking to Tachikawa High School with Hozumi. Vicky, Van and I were placed in different classrooms, and we were treated in a warm, friendly and inquisitive way every day even though we spoke no Japanese. It's remarkable how well you can communicate with a very few words, a smile, body language and a pocket dictionary in hand. We ate curry rice in the school cafeteria, we cleaned the school grounds with the other students, we played volleyball, and we joined the English club after school hours. What a great experience to be together with Japanese students your own age! (years later I learned that Tachikawa High School was one of the most prestigious high schools in the Tokyo region.
I developed an extraordinary closeness with the Inoue family and I found it difficult to leave them in Tachikawa after a month. The farewell at Haneda was very tearful. Although I didn't know it at the time, my sister city student exchange experience became an important factor in developing who I would become and what I would do later in life. In fact, I returned to Japan in 1969 and since then have spent over 25 years living in Tokyo on three extended assignments. Since 2000, I have been teaching at Hitotsubashi University Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy (www.ics.hit-u.ac.jp).
I am 64 years old. My wife Yoko is a Japanese national from Okayama. We have three grown children and our oldest boy lives and works in Tokyo. I consider a summer spent in Tachikawa as the catalyst that set the direction for my life as it is today. I always will be grateful to the San Bernardino/Tachikawa Sister City Program for giving a precious and unique opportunity in 1962 to a 17-year-old American boy.