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In Tennessee, Friends Camp, Drink Tea, Ring a Big Bell
By Betsy Abernathy
OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — A group of 12 Japanese Girl Scouts—teenagers and adults—from Naka-shi, Japan, arrived in Oak Ridge in July for a six-day visit with Girl Scout host families. Camping at nearby Girl Scout Camp Tanasi, visits to Oak Ridge’s Museum of Science and Energy, its famous pizza spot, Big Ed’s, and the local Girls Scout council, as well as a trip to East Tennessee's Dollywood amusement park kept visitors and hosts busy and entertained.
The group also gathered at Oak Ridge's Friendship Bell, a large, Japanese-style bell in a park in the center of town. The bell was commissioned by the city of Oak Ridge and created in Japan in 1992 as a symbol of friendship between the two nations and all nations of the world. In pairs, American and Japanese Girl Scouts used the traditional horizontal wooden striker to ring the bell.
Host families and their guests gathered for a farewell reception the night before the visitors returned to Japan. The Japanese girls were spiffy in their sky blue skirts and white blouses. The American girls were equally impressive in their patch- and badge-covered tan vests.
Translation on the Spot
Kelly, an American Girl Scout, left, and her Japanese guest, Miku, swing the log striker to ring the Friendship Bell in Oak Ridge, Tenn.Guest speakers included the head of the Sister City Support Organization and Oak Ridge's mayor. Shigeko Uppuluri, an Oak Ridge resident and Sister City Support Organization chair of Japanese events, served as translator.
Mayor David Bradshaw expressed his hope that his elementary school-age daughters, both Girl Scouts, would someday be able to travel to Japan. His wish, when translated by Uppuluri, drew enthusiastic applause from the Japanese Girl Scouts.
Jerry Luckmann, a longtime Oak Ridge Girl Scout leader and member of the Sister City Support Organization, for whom this event was the culmination of years of organizing, expressed her pleasure at seeing her ideas come to fruition. She pointed out that some girls in her senior Girl Scout troop had been corresponding with the Japanese Girl Scouts since second grade.
Each American girl and adult host then presented their Japanese guest to the room, introducing her and sharing a little bit about her. “This is Shino," said 17-year-old Tina. “She likes kyudo, which means archery, and…" she stopped to think, then finished simply, "And she’s my friend."
'Friendship Around the Campfire'
Two of the Japanese Girl Scouts also spoke, thanking the Oak Ridge Girl Scouts for their warm welcome. They said they enjoyed their weekend camping at Camp Tanasi, which included swimming, canoeing, horseback riding, and more. It was the first camping experience for some of the Japanese girls and adults.
One of the Japanese girls, who leads a younger troop in Naka-shi, appreciated the chance to canoe and horseback ride at Camp Tanasi. “These are things not easy to experience in Japan,” she said, adding, "We exchanged friendship around the campfire."
The Japanese visitors also presented a gift of 1,000 origami cranes, strung into colorful strands that hung down like an exotic flower. It is a Japanese custom to fold 1,000 paper cranes so that your wish will come true, and paper cranes have come to symbolize peace, good luck, and good wishes. Lucille Griffo, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Tanasi Council, accepted the cranes, which will be displayed at the council office.
Singing in Two Languages
At the reception, all rose to sing the traditional Girl Scout song, “Whene’er You Make a Promise.” The Japanese contingent started the round in Japanese and the Americans sang their part in English. Then the Japanese guests rose to perform a traditional Japanese folk dance honoring summer. The dance had been taught to the Americans over the course of the visit. American girls and adults joined their guests in a circle and they presented the dance together.
Next came a demonstration of a Japanese tea ceremony. Five American girls, one by one, carefully drank from a bowl of tea after it had been ritualistically and precisely prepared by a Kimono-clad adult Japanese Girl Scout. For more than 20 minutes that the ceremony lasted—a vastly shortened version of an actual tea ceremony—everyone was silent and respectful, appreciating the beauty of the ancient ceremony and the fellowship that accompanied this cultural sharing.
Many clichés have been written about smiles being a universal language, but one look at the faces of all in the room brought home the truth of that idea.
Betsy Abernathy is a Girl Scout leader and a copy editor for The Oak Ridger newspaper, where a version of this story was first published.