Confessions of A Simple Traveler

IAC 1988 Tomamu

Cultural infl uence occurs in a variety of ways. From the 1980’s up to the now, for many people, Hollywood represents the dominant culture. In my youth, I was exposed to other cultures through fi lm, magazines, like National Geographic, and books. During this time, for whatever reason, Japanese culture played a heavy role. It may have been because I practiced the art of Aikido, or that my father introduced me to the fi lms of Akira Kurosawa fi lms, like “Seven Samurai.” For whatever reason, Japan was calling. When I was 11 years old, my world changed dramatically. Portland,

IAC Expo 1988

Oregon, my hometown, was sending delegates to the fi rst (or possibly second) Junior International Art Camp (IAC). It is still a wonder how I managed to be acceptance into this group. First, I was below the cut-off age. Second, I was just a budding artist & writer, while the others were highly regarded musicians in the Portland Youth Philharmonic Orchestra. However it happened, this visit to Sapporo, Hokkaido, where the art camp took place, was my introduction to the expansive culture that the world had to offer. During a month-long series of events, we visited historic buildings such as Akarenga (the Old Red Brick Building), art gardens, schools, host families, the Expo Center and even the former Olympic training facility in Tomamu. Delegations from sister cities in Korea, New Zealand,

IAC Sapporo 1988

Singapore, Canada and China, among others, had opportunities, both formal and informal, to share their cultural songs, dances and stories. I remember creating a handspun helicopter out of bamboo, and being part of a group assigned to create a large mosaic out of our experiences at the camp. We were not allowed to talk to delegates from our sister city in China, our delegation was given more freedom to roam than others, so we presented a cloth patch of a red rose to them (a rose is a symbol representing Portland) which they accepted. Here I began to believe that we could change the world if we wanted to. How is all this about Japan or travel? Folks here in Kuala Lumpur might not be aware that the only sistercity pairing between Malaysia and Japan is Ipoh and Fukuoka. Why is that? There must be a lot of trade happening between the two countries. From my own personal experience, these associations help to build important cultural ties. I still feel beholden to so many people involved with IAC for their kindness. It was as if I was in the dark and Japan was the switch that turned on the light. I wonder if cross-cultural programs have become another tourism ploy instead of a bridge between cultures. But we are independent beings, and it is possible to create our own exchanges. Any one up for postcard pen-pals in this digital age?

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