Today’s article was written by 17 year old Mariana Castro: a member of  SF Camerawork’s First Exposures program. Last Fall, Mariana had the opportunity to travel to Japan for the first time and brought her trusty film camera with her.

Ever since I was little I had always dreamed – and still do – of traveling around the world. Canada, Japan, the Philippines, Norway, Ghana, you name it! I wanted to go everywhere and my constant urge to see the world never died so, after many daydreams and nighttime fantasies my first and second, BIGGEST dreams had finally come true: Canada and Japan.

 Photograph by Mariana Castro Photograph by Mariana Castro

I was probably still in elementary school at the time, but one day I had gone to my friends house and had noticed that he was moving. I had then asked “Where to?” which was followed by his surprisingly casual response “Oh, Canada.” (Tch) Obviously I was devastated at the fact that my second family was moving far away, and of course I couldn’t convince my parents to let me go with them so, from that moment I had VOWED to go out and see them again. After about 7 years of constant “I’m going’s” and working in a farmers market to scratch and save up for my ticket, my first big dream had finally come true. I was in Canada.

It was an awesome two filled weeks that I will never forget however, after two weeks had passed I was already back in school. Back to doing a ton of work, hanging out with friends, and attending Shimada club meetings every Wednesday during the short lunch period we’d have everyday. I didn’t know how I’d get to Japan until I had joined the Shimada club during my freshman year of high school.  “So we’ll all get the chance to travel to Japan if you work hard and attend every meeting” is what I remember hearing my first day there. Of course to everyone in the room I looked sane, but in my head I was all like: “Wait. Travel to Japan? You’re kidding! I… I…THIS IS THE BEST MOMENT OF MY LIFE! THIS IS CRAZY!”

 Photograph by Mariana Castro Photograph by Mariana Castro

(Cough) So, as you can tell I was having like, the biggest…I don’t know how to even put it. The biggest…oh! THE BIGGEST WHOO-HOO MOMENT IN MY LIFE! Like, the part in Napoleon Dynamite where Kip’s all like “Yes~”. (Ha ha ha) Mmm-hm, just like that. Anyways fast-forwarding a bit, I basically worked my heart out until senior year rolled by, and my second BIG dream had finally come true. I was going to Japan.

I didn’t go alone of course. I actually went with 6 other club members plus 2 old teachers that I used to have before I moved back to the city. I was so happy when we boarded that I could’ve died right on the plane! ª Good thing I didn’t though, otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten to: meet my host family, make new friends, practice my Japanese, tell two old men riding their bikes that they were cool, eat awesome food, take pictures of newlyweds while I was on a fieldtrip, and the list goes on and on. Take off was fun because one of our friends had never been on a plane, so she was kind of hyperventilating in the back rows. After a few short naps, playing games, watching movies, and bathroom breaks, we finally landed in Japan.

 Photograph by Mariana Castro Photograph by Mariana Castro

The next small moments passed like running water. It was all so dreamy. That is until morning came! Breakfast was fresh and served in small portions at a time so it could be nice and hot for the guests. Everything tasted so GOOD! After breakfast my friends and I went on a small excursion around the hotel. IT WAS AWESOME! Men and women were walking in their business suits, the youth and the elderly were riding bikes, school kids were in their super stylish school uniforms, vending machines and convenience stores were a ton of fun, AND HERE I WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET DUMBSTRUCK AND HAPPY AS A MOUSE WITH CHEESE! We even walked in the station just to look at people. It was great.

After a while of walking around it was time to head over to Shimada, the place where we would be staying for the remainder of our time eating and having fun with the coolest people in the world. We had a few more small tours and stopped at a few rest stops – where I had my first experience with their high tech toilets – before we finally arrived at the school. It was like we were super star players walking into the stadium being welcomed by an awesome band and clapping from the crowd. The welcome we received from the kids and teachers was the best I had ever experienced in my whole life. I felt so loved, and knew that I was at home.

 Photograph by Mariana Castro Photograph by Mariana Castro

The next few days were filled with engaging conversations, icebreakers, happy kids, awesome food, fieldtrips, and much, much more. It was truly an experience I could never forget. Days would mainly consist of me waking at the crack of dawn, my mom making me and my host sister breakfast and lunch, a ride on the train to meet our friends to walk to school, going to class rooms, meeting more people, laughing and learning new things, and falling more in love with the country I was continuously getting to know. Everyday seemed so natural. Maybe it was because I was, surrounded by tea bushes, a ton of nature, mt. Fuji and small local farms all day. One morning I even walked around my neighborhood to take pictures before breakfast.

I didn’t want to leave, but then reality had SLAPPED ME THREE TIMES and told me that I had to. It was at the farewell party two days before we had to actually leave. I felt like a train wreck, and time seemed to slow down all of a sudden. It was an excruciating time for everyone. I didn’t want to leave, but we had to go. The last day was very hard, and when I got on the bus…more crying. We went on a couple of small tours around Tokyo and at first we just wanted to go home already, but eventually we got better. We saw the Tokyo Sky Tree, Tokyo Tower, the Edo prefecture where a ton of people went to get steam on their heads, and a lot more.

After all that we finally arrived at the airport where we said our final good byes to our driver and tour guide. The last two people we’d have to part with. We then boarded the plane and were off on our way, back to California. It was a painful ride back because I got sick, but when I looked out the window the clouds were amazing. It took my mind off of the pain and my new friends for a while. It gave me relief. Then we finally landed at SFO. I was home again.

Since opening our C-41 color negative processing department, Dickerman Prints has been developing and scanning film forSF Camerawork’s First Exposures program. The weekly photography class for underserved youth aged 11-18 has been a staple of the San Francisco photographic community for years and we’re proud to be part of the team.