by Michael Dock
As I sat down to write about this, I thought about my summers here in Georgia. Normally, each summer is uneventful as I work throughout planning and setting up for the end of the year. During my childhood, my family didn’t have the income to take trips or vacations anywhere. Outside of the church circuit that my dad would drag me along for every day during the summer, I had not been outside of Augusta, Georgia. And then everything changed the summer before my senior year of high school. I was afforded the opportunity to travel to Takarazuka, Japan.
Summer 1994. My high school was providing an opportunity for band members to travel to Japan for two weeks to perform with the sister school there. Although I was in the band and heard of the opportunity, I didn’t take it seriously. As I said before, my family didn’t have the income to allow me to go. And the more I thought about it, the more I set my mind to just accept working at the South Augusta Flea Market for Mr. Nam as I always did. While sitting in my home, I received a call from my band director, Dr. Drake, asking me if I still wanted to go. I told him that I didn’t have the money to go on the trip. Dr. Drake stated that money had been raised to give scholarships to kids who could not afford to go and that I was selected to go. Immediately my heart raced as if I won the lottery! I remember Dr. Drake laughing as I screamed into the phone!
The next days raced as I hurried to gather up spending money and a suitcase to take overseas. As quickly as I had received the phone call, I was boarding a flight to Seattle and then heading to Tokyo. From Tokyo was another flight into the city of Takarazuka. My entire impression of Japan when I saw my first sunrise in another country. My immature thoughts of ninjas jumping from roof tops of homes atop rolling hills of green grass were dismissed as I made my trek to school with my host brother as we walked the paved streets of the hill that led to the school. My side of town was well to do and looked like a small version of downtown Augusta . . . . .without the prostitutes on the corner.
The next two weeks were filled with rehearsals, sight seeing, and appreciation for my culture, as well as the Japanese. My family made sure that I took in their culture and they attempted to learn about mine. I had to respect their values of men and women as I actually saw the wives walk behind the men. Even in a car, if there is a male child, the woman rode in the back while the males sat in the front. The weeks there were also filled with trying to defend that I was not related to O.J. Simpson as footage of the notorious chase was on the television at my breakfast table and were a common question in gatherings. I remember there being vending machines literally everywhere that sold everything from beer to cameras to condoms. The advancements in technology could be seen in the stores. From the game systems to the Ipods that they already had . . . and it was only 1994!
As much as I was amazed at how high tech the city was, it still faced issues that we do back in the states. The sewer systems were non existent in areas as you could see the waste run down below the curbs is if it were rainwater. Schools were still fighting for funding, as we do here. Due to the space and crowding, having multiple children was discouraged although it was not law. Men were misogynistic as seen in the comic books that normally showed women being raped or subdued by wealthy, strong men. Sad to say, I purchased several of those comic books.
As I boarded the plane to head back to the states, I smiled as I said goodbye. What I thought was going to be just another summer, turned out to be the best cultural experience of my life . . . . thus far.