“I can be myself.” A junior high school student whose experience in elementary school enabled her to be confident about herself and begin picturing herself in the future joined the Girls Unlimited Program (GUP) for junior high and senior high school girls supported by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.
Urara Sato, 14, a second-year student at Mita International Junior High School in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, participated in a performance of “The Young Americans (YA)” for the first time when she was in the third grade of elementary school. YA is an American non-profit organization consisting of young people and dedicated to help children to put together a three-day show that involves singing and dancing.
YA’s members encourage children by saying, “All you have to do is enjoy,” and sometimes dancing poorly on purpose. They say, “Give a big hand to yourself.” Sato was fascinated by the atmosphere in which everyone breaks out of his or her own shell and became a frequent participant of YA’s performances. Last summer, she invited her friends to the group and stood on the same stage with six classmates.
Sato is now trying to newly set up a “YA club” with her friends as she wants to make a place at her school where students can express themselves through singing and dancing and respect themselves and others just the way they are.
Sato was hospitalized for one year for an illness when she was in the fourth grade of elementary school. And she has fulfilled her dream of studying in the U.S. and becoming YA’s cast. Now she says, “I want to work for Disneyland and make hospitals which allow hospitalized children to expand their own world.” She has set a high goal of “trying to become CEO” in order to bring her dream into reality.
Remi Murai, 13, is a first-year student at Kamakura Junior High School affiliated to the College of Education at Yokohama National University in Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture. She has been participating in YA’s performances since her second year in elementary school. She was repeatedly told, “You can be just yourself.” She began to think to herself, “It’s good to respect [each other’s] differences.” Her dream is to become a global musical actor.
Murai is the youngest of all GUP participants. She was surprised when she saw everyone accepting each other’s opinions without denying them while maintaining their “own opinions” during group discussions. “Many students not only thought ‘I agree’ all the time but also added, ‘But I think this way.’ I have stopped denying my friends’ opinions at school and begun thinking about my own opinions.” Murai feels that such days are fresh and fun.