To help promote the sister state relationship between Michigan and Shiga, every year citizens from both states are invited to visit each other’s state in the MI-Shiga Goodwill Mission. Participants of all ages and all walks of life join the program to learn about and immerse themselves in each other’s amazing cultures.
As such, it’s never to late to immerse yourself in Japanese culture for the first time! Take it from Shar Mohr, a Michigan mother that first participated on the Goodwill Mission earlier this year.
Like any good adventure, my journey to Shiga began with a simple spark of curiosity.
The thing about these sparks is they don’t usually happen when it’s convenient. Like when you’re a busy home educating mom of five with a modest single income who’s barely traveled outside of a 25 mile radius of her home, let alone across the world. My spark also happened to come at a time in my life when things were a bit dark, and little did I know, following that spark would serve a sort of North Star to finding my way to a brighter place and memories I’ll cherish for life.
I found the Michigan-Shiga Sister State Program webpage back in November of 2015 during an internet search for Japan-related activities or attractions in Michigan for homeschool. I meant to start putting together some Japanese-themed lessons and activities for the school year months earlier but got a late start after my father was placed on hospice care earlier that summer, then ended up passing away in July, the day before my birthday. Getting back to “normal” was a healthy distraction for all of us, especially with the holidays just around the corner.
Before then, I’d never heard of the Michigan-Shiga Sister State relationship or the Goodwill Mission trip. As I read through the Goodwill Mission trip details, my grief-stricken heart filled with a new and equally overwhelming feeling: wanderlust. If ever in my life I wanted to be as far away from reality and the daily demands of life, it was then.
The next Goodwill Mission was scheduled for September of 2017. That gave me nearly two years to make it happen. I doubted more than anyone the trip would ever happen, even though I pretended otherwise. But I figured if I made it through that horrible summer, I could do just about anything. And I knew if my dad was around he’d be giving me two thumbs up and the occasional kick in the rear to make sure I didn’t make any excuses to back out.
On January 3, 2016 I started a blog called “Shiga Shar” to write about my plan to get to Shiga and all the things my kids and I were learning about Shiga, the Michigan-Shiga Sister State relationship, and Japanese food, language, and culture. Nobody really read the blog, but it didn’t matter. It was a cathartic outlet and a good way to keep myself accountable for learning, teaching, and following through with my plan to get to Shiga while balancing motherhood, home life, and helping run our small business. Outside of being a wife and mother, my time learning about Japanese language and culture has been, and continues to be, one of the most satisfying and rewarding parts of my life.
When it was finally time to fly over to Shiga, I almost couldn’t believe it.
No one was more shocked than myself that it was actually happening. After all those months of reading, learning, and dreaming, Shiga felt like a home away from home.
However, nothing could have prepared me for the rich and remarkable experiences I had in Shiga. The thrill of practicing Japanese for the first time with native speakers, the power of human connection despite language barriers and cultural differences (especially with my wonderful host family), the breathtaking landscape and beauty of Shiga Prefecture and Lake Biwa, the sweet relief of a cold Japanese beer after a long day of walking through the heavy summer humidity, and my favorite: the life-long friendships I’ve made through the shared love of Shiga.
If curiosity about studying in Shiga or taking the Goodwill Mission pays you a visit, I hope you’ll consider the possibility it’s a cue to pursue the adventure. If I was able to make my trip happen despite my odds, anyone can. And maybe one day we’ll all be reading your Shiga story.