Note by Barry McDonald: Travel is a character changing experience. When we return home, especially from a major international trip, we view our home town, province and country differently than before we left. Ian Ruskowsky will be a changed person when he completes his two year term in Ashoro, Japan as coordinator of the Wetaskiwin/Ashoro exchange program. The Pipestone Flyer is proud to be working with Ian to create a series of articles and follow his experiences while living in Japan. The Flyer is proud to be able to share these with our 23,000+ readers.
“On Christmas Day 2012 I had one of the more memorable and unique Christmas presents that I am sure I will ever receive in my lifetime,” states Ian Ruskowsky. “It was through having an Alberta farm couple from Falun, my parents, (Lorne and Verna Ruskowsky) stepping off a plane to spend 10 days with me in Japan. I knew that if I ever could peel my parents away from the farm for an extended period to come to Japan, there would be some heavy-duty preparation to be done prior to their departure.”
Wetaskiwin’s Sister City, Ashoro, Japan has been Ian’s home for the past sixteen months while serving a two-year contract as the Coordinator of International Relations in September 2011.
“Growing up on the farm for 18 years of my life really allowed me to understand how much work goes into preparing for a holiday away from a ranch with 200 cows. So, knowing this, I planted the “visit me in Japan” seed early so they could mentally get their minds around all the logistics. To my surprise they decided that the middle of winter would work best for them. With that, Mom and Dad got to checking fences, hugging their five grandkids every chance they got, asking neighbors to check in on the herd and the house, ensured all the watering bowls were functioning perfectly and made sure that the tractors were ready to start in the Canadian winter.”
Since his arrival in Japan Ian has fallen in love with the country. “Everything from its traditional temples and foods to its wacky new age fashion and nightlife. This country was something that I had to share with my parents. Seeing the two of them step off the plane in Japan Christmas day, both wearing Santa hats, they really had no clue for the change externally and internally they were about to experience.”
The journey began with a warm welcome from the Mayor and some hot coffee and rice sweets in his office overlooking the town of Ashoro. A farm tour was lined up to provide an opportunity for Lorne and Verna to witness first-hand farming practices in Japan and compare machinery size, farming methods and a battle of wits. “Despite the language barrier, watching my Dad interact with Yasuda san, a local farmer was like watching him with an old Canadian farming friend including the friendly shoulder jabs and high-pitched laughter.”
After a roundhouse tour of Ashoro the Ruskowskys set off for the South of Japan. “My plan was to drop my parents right in the heart of the action… tranquil temples to the hypermodern pulsing nightlife that we have all seen on TV and movies. I got to witness my Mom and Dad master the art of the chopsticks while eating octopus and squid in Hiroshima and verse them in the art of how to wear a Kimono and sip green tea in Kyoto. I would laugh hysterically watching them scurry across one of the busiest intersections in Tokyo for fear of being run over. The latter was the most perplexing, as they both are fearless when it comes to wrangling an unpredictable cow on the farm but are unsure of a Japanese intersection.”
Lorne and Verna’s reaction to Japan through Ian’s eyes “I think if you were to ask my Dad and Mom the question, ‘So, how was Japan?’ you might get a superficial ‘…the beer was good’ from my Dad and a ‘…the people were lovely’ from my mom.”
But as Ian peers through the posturing remarks of his parents he feels, “what they learned about another culture, about their son and about themselves is indescribable. I noticed many little things, like their ability to catch on to bowing at the appropriate times, taking their shoes off in the correct room and learning how to wipe their hands with the complimentary wet towel before every meal. These were extrinsic things that can be seen and measured proving how they were aware and culturally sensitive.
But the biggest change for them I think was on an internal level and truly immeasurable. They had a chance to change their perspective. Instead of them having to tell their son to open gates and do chores on the farm, their son was now the one telling them to scramble onto a Tokyo train and teaching the art of eating a piece of sushi. Instead of sitting down for coffee at the neighbor’s house to discuss the weather, they knelt down at a table for rice wine with their international neighbors. Instead of getting in a car to go to the local restaurant, they joined the hordes in the Tokyo sub