BY NYREE DER MEGERDICHIAN
For all of us for all these years, Japan was a mystical and foreign place, an idea, home to samurai and sushi. But in an instant, we found ourselves transported there attending the Pacific Rim International Model United Nations Conference (PRIMUN), representing Holy Martyrs Ferrahian High School, the first Armenian day school founded in the United States. We were proud and excited that we were participating in a conference where students from different parts of the world would be attending and defending their stances in regards to global issues.
While we were there, what struck us was how culture played a vital role in the everyday lives of the Japanese people. Their distinct cuisine, music, architecture, values, beliefs, and speech set them apart from other races. Life seemed to pass quickly, lots of hustle and bustle, and it was difficult to relate to, although we were coming from Los Angeles, notorious for its fast and hectic pace. Getting used to it would be extremely difficult. But as our days were spent in the industrial city of Tokyo, we as a group soon began to awaken to the realities of all that is Japanese. The people were welcoming, polite, generous, and hospitable, treating visitors like us with the utmost kindness and consideration.
One day when a group of friends and I were strolling through the city attempting to find a place to sit down and eat, after walking countless blocks in search of a restaurant, we decided to ask a local for help. He spoke fluent English and could have easily explained to us how to get to the restaurant he recommended, but instead walked us there personally. This was such an eye-opening experience because this man who we had just met on the street set aside his personal responsibilities and time to guide a group of young tourists to a restaurant ten minutes away. Once we got there, we were told to take our shoes off, a mandatory exercise in most restaurants in Japan, to avoid dragging in dirt, which is a sign of disrespect and a degree of uncleanliness. After we were finished eating, a bill was presented to us. In Japan you are expected to pay the exact amount without tipping. Leaving a tip is considered rude and may be understood as an insult. We had not realized the seriousness of this custom until we left a small tip for the woman who kindly waited our table. As we left the restaurant to rendezvous with the others in our group, a friend of mine felt a tap on her shoulder and we realized it was the woman whom we left a tip for back in the restaurant. She had chased us down the block in order to return the extra money we had left her. Truly remarkable!
We spent more time in Japan sightseeing, with beautiful temples and shrines, with historical museums and serene gardens everywhere to be seen. As we visited the city of Hiroshima, all of our cheer and exuberance were lost and we were filled with sadness, remembering the history of Japan and what had happened during World War II. The people in Hiroshima value the crane above all else as it represents happiness, longevity, and peace, and as we were strolling through a museum, an old man called us over with the intentions of teaching us how to make origami cranes. Of course we could not refuse, and after various failed attempts, the man decided to give us the ones he had already prepared (obviously, doing origami was not one of our strong suits).
What was surprising to all of us was the existence of an Armenian Embassy in Tokyo, which we had the chance to visit. There we learned about the kind of work the Armenian consul occupies himself regarding Japan-Armenia relations and how the Armenians living there try to maintain their identity. The embassy itself was decorated with the Armenian flag, crosses, books, and an endless collection of miscellaneous Armenian artifacts. It was interesting having a conversation in Armenian with a Japanese man who identified himself as Sarkis. He took us to a small garden on the premises where a khatchkar was located. It made us feel nostalgic, like we were in our homeland.
As the sightseeing came to an end, it was time to attend the PRIMUN conference. At a typical Model United Nations (MUN) conference, students represent various countries and present their country’s stance on a certain global issue. Countries with similar views on a particular topic come together and prepare a resolution paper where possible solutions are discussed. This paper is then presented to the entire committee and voted upon.
The most rewarding part for us was trying to understand the unique approaches the international and Japanese students had toward solving global issues. It was an exercise to think out of the box. After the first day, a social was held where all students participating in the MUN conference met and mingled with one another. We learned about other students’ lifestyles and hobbies and how they kept busy in life. We made new friends and exchanged information and continue to stay in contact.
As the conference ended and the awards to delegates were announced, our school received quite a few. Aleen Kuyumjian and Nareg Kuyumjian received an Outstanding Delegate award, Kevin Aclan and Sophene Kevorkian were presented with the Honorable Mention award, Lucy Minasian and Alexia Movsessian got the Research award as partners, and Nyree Der Megerdichian brought back the award of Best Delegate.
After nine truly remarkable days in Japan, it was time come home and deal with reality. As we reflect on the trip, we realize the amazing opportunity we had and thank the school and our parents for allowing us to partake in this journey. We now understand that the country of Japan is not only about samurai and sushi, but also home to hospitable, hard-working people who value culture and treat others with dignity and respect. We will never forget this trip because we were introduced to a new people, participated in an international event for students and had a unique taste of our Armenian heritage. There really isn’t anything more we could have asked for…