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Note:The information and opinions presented on this blog are mine alone. This blog does not represent the Fulbright Program, Department of State, Japan-U.S. Educational Commission or any other organization with which I am associated.
Though I still have two essays to write and submit before I’m technically finished with my work for the year, with my last Japanese finals behind me as of Tuesday, I devoted the majority of my last week in Japan to spending time with as many of the people who have made the past ten months so meaningful for me as possible.
Last Friday, some of the friends who I met on the Iwate volunteer trip from Tokyo came to Nagoya to visit to celebrate Rina’s birthday and my departure. One of my friend’s parents kindly hosted us in their lovely home for a maki–zushi-making party, which included viewing gorgeous photos of her recent wedding in Hawaii, lighting small fireworks in their garden, and loads of fun conversation and incredible food.
Monday I met up with one of the first friends whom I made after arriving in Nagoya, Shion, who works at Hostel Ann, where I stayed during my first ten days in Nagoya. After dinner we were planning to attend a Japanese comedy performance, but it turned out to be so popular that, despite being more than thirty minutes early, we couldn’t get seats. Instead, we ended up at her favorite bar, a tiny place nearby. It ended up being the perfect quaint place to catch up and make some new friends. Shion is really interested in Native American history and culture. I sincerely hope that someday she’ll be able to make it to America and we will be able to meet up again.
Tuesday night I went with friends from Thailand, Brazil, China, and the U.S. to an unbelievably delicious Thai restaurant. Diego and Jia two of the earliest friends I made after beginning studies at Nagoya University, and they were a huge part of the reason that I was able to survive the intensity of Japanese classes during my first semester. Thailand and Brazil are now at the very top of the list of countries that I deeply hope to be able to visit someday.
To celebrate my last night in Japan (for now), Hiraku and I went to the batting cages and then to a kaiten-zushi (rotater belt) restaurant for a huge dinner, and afterwards we walked the hour and a half back to our dorm through the streets of Nagoya; night is more or less the only time it’s cool enough to bear walking around outside in Nagoya lately. After taking a short break on the huge lawn in front of the auditorium on campus, we went to a fancy “French” restaurant that I had noticed during my most recent nighttime jog, where we had delicious crepes and cider for dessert. Afterwards we watched the first Harry Potter movie (which Hiraku had never seen) in Japanese, and I finished packing up my things.
As difficult as it is to say goodbye to all of the people whom I’ve come to cherish in Japan, knowing that my family and friends in the U.S. are only 22 hours of travel and one ocean away make the goodbyes bearable. Moreover, I feel extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to move soon to a new place once again and begin graduate studies at Purdue University, and I can’t wait to make the most of the few days that I have at home in the meantime.
Last Tuesday my adviser graciously invited our seminar group to her apartment to have a farewell party. It was a lovely night of fun discussions and delicious food, not to mention plenty of cuddling with her two precious dogs.
It was the first of a series of goodbyes that are consuming a large portion of my time these days. As sad as goodbyes are, though, I feel more fortunate than I can express that I’ve met so many wonderful, inspiring people during my time in Japan. My adviser’s courses, and our thesis seminar group in particular, were extremely productive for my research progress, and I’m so glad that I had the chance to participate in them. I suppose the tone of finality with which I’m writing this post isn’t quite accurate, as I still have one exam and two final essays to complete, but somehow, it’s saying goodbye to the people who have made my time here so meaningful that is really driving home the fact that I fly back to the U.S. in less than three days.
My adviser, who is from Osaka originally, taught us how to make Kansai-style sukiyaki.
Last Thursday evening I had the great pleasure of eating dinner with friends at a traditional Japanese sushi restaurant that is run by one of my seniors in my research seminar and her family. Though I’ve eaten at conveyor-belt sushi restaurants more than a few times since coming to Japan, this was my first experience with a traditional Japanese sushi restaurant, and it was incredible. The warm, friendly atmosphere was perfect for enjoying a long dinner with friends, and the sushi was, without a doubt, the most delicious that I’ve ever eaten. Although I will more than likely go back to being a vegetarian once I return to the U.S., it would be no easy feat if places like this existed in Missouri or Indiana.
For any of my friends in Nagoya or planning to visit at any point, I urge you to find a way to visit this restaurant someday. I promise you’ll be glad you did.
I won’t bother apologizing for the fact that I don’t have time to write a proper blog post at the moment due to being too busy trying to soak in my last week in Nagoya, as well as pass my finals, write my end reports, box up my room, etc., because I know that all of you wonderful people want me to be enjoying my final days in Japan as much as possible. And by “all of you,” I realize that I may only be referring to my mom, Lucas, and Hannah, as they are the only people who I am more or less certain will at some point read these words. So, thanks for understanding, guys 🙂
Even though I’m not posting many words this time, I thought I’d still share some photos of some of the more exciting moments to take place in my life over the past several weeks.
Stopping by Nagoya’s very own “Oktoberfest,” which for some reason takes place in mid-July, and drinking the most expensive mug of beer I’ve ever purchased (although I suppose there haven’t been that many to compare it too):
Baking (cookies!) for the first time since coming to Japan, thanks to Hiraku who let me borrow his oven as my dorm doesn’t have one:
Watching a Japanese baseball game:
Lately life has been especially busy with end-of-term and about-to-move-across-the-world things as well as quite a few other exciting outings; however, at the moment I’m still too busy writing final reports and research papers to give adequate descriptions to everything that has been going on in my life. So in the meantime, I thought I’d use this blog as a platform to share some recent articles that I think raise extremely important issues about current happenings and trends in Japanese society, which also happen to be directly related to my research on feminism.
Firstly, a few weeks ago there was an awful occurrence during a meeting of the Tokyo assembly when a female assembly member (one of the very small percentage of women holding political positions in Japan) was attempting to give a speech about the need to offer more assistance to working pregnant women and mothers, and was interpreted by sexist remarks from male assembly members from the ruling party (making statements such as “Before you say things like that, you’re the one who needs to get married quickly!”「そんなことを言う前に、おまえが早く結婚しないのかっ!」 and “Can you even bear children?!”「子どもは産めないのかっ！！」.
This event received harsh criticism from people in Japan and internationally, leading one of the hecklers to end up apologizing at a later date. All of my Japanese and international friends with whom I discussed this occurrence had similar attitudes of anger and disappointment; however, on a social media site I observed and interacted with some ex-pats living in Japan who both explicitly and implicitly supported the sexism being espoused by the assemblymen in their jeering comments.
On Facebook, one such acquaintance of an acquaintance asserted that while he agreed that the assemblymen were “wrong to make those comments,” he thinks that criticizing the assembly men and arguing for the necessity of gender equality in Japan is “just the same type of thinking that has fucked up Afghanistan, Iraq, etc…. Go in there with guns blazing, and expect them to pick up our own values overnight.” Further, he states, “And…. this may get me in trouble, but… It is nice to live in a country where women look like women, and politcal correctness isn’t always at the top of the agenda when it somes to the sexes[sic]”. Of course, I think that this analogy between the U.S. military involvement in the Middle East and international criticism of sexism in Japanese politics could not be more absurd. And I was just as troubled by his mocking of those who have spoken up against this act of sexism as merely being obsessed with “political correctness,” which is a common tactic to try to belittle those who are working for social change.
However, the unfortunate fact remains that there still are many people in Japan, both native residents and otherwise, (and in other contexts around the world of course) who agree with this notion that “women ought to look like women” and that sexual discrimination is acceptable. To me, such responses to occurrences like this one only further underscore the need for feminism in Japan, and serious dialogue about these issues everywhere. To that end, I’m going to share some articles about the assembly heckling, as well as some other feminism-related articles that I’ve come across recently:
If these articles happen to spark anyone’s interest about current feminism in Japan, I’d love to have a conversation with you about what I’ve been learning from my research lately. Alternatively, I think these books are excellent introductions:
Once again, I’ll begin this post by sharing my most recent Fulbright monthly report, which covers the period from mid-May to mid-June, getting us nearly caught up to present time!
This biggest development in terms of all three areas, academic, cultural, and personal, progress for me over the past month occurred in the context of a four-day conference that I participated in from May 29 through June 2 in Osaka, Japan. This conference on Cultural Studies, hosted by The International Academic Forum (http://iafor.org/iafor/), brought together scholars from all over the world and from a range of disciplinary backgrounds to present and discuss their research. I gave a thirty-minute presentation, and subsequent Q&A session, on the research that I have been conducting throughout the course of my Fulbright grant. As this was the first international conference I’ve participated in, I was rather nervous about presenting my research and responding to questions. However, it turned out to be an extremely supportive and productive environment. Although my presentation was during one of the last sessions on the final day of the conference, a surprisingly large number of people attended, and many of them asked encouraging and thought-provoking questions. Though I was undoubtedly the youngest and least experienced conference participant (everyone else I met was already an established academic or at least a PhD candidate), they all took me and my ideas seriously. It was an encouraging and inspiring opportunity to get to talk with so many researchers throughout the weekend who weren’t only impressive academics but also kind and passionate (and often very funny) individuals.
In addition to bolstering my confidence in my ability to present my research and explicate its importance in front of a large group of people, this conference experience was productive and meaningful for me because over the course of the four days I had the opportunity to listen to over twenty different scholars present their research from a huge array of disciplinary and methodical approaches. Many of the participants were Japanese Studies experts currently researching and teaching at Japanese universities. Many others, however, came from other countries and focused on other national contexts and had little familiarity with Japan. I listened to presentations that ranged from sociological research of Bhutanese refugees in the U.K., to a textual analysis of the archaic min’yō, or “folk song,” collections of the Heian Period, to an anthropological feminist critique of gender inequality in the Japanese family registry (戸籍). It was fascinating for me to learn about the diverse research areas from scholars who literally came from all over the world, and listening to their presentations also often encouraged me to conceptualize the relevance of my own project in different ways. This conference (the fourth annual of its kind) was one of the most stimulating and rewarding academic experiences that I’ve had to date, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who happens to be within a reasonable distance of, or willing to travel to, the Osaka area around this time in coming years.
Over the past two weeks since the conference ended, I have conducted two more interviews with current PhD students at Nagoya University, though my primary research recently has been trekking through several collections of literary conference programs and journals for the Women’s Studies Association of Japan （日本女性学会） and the English Literary Association of Japan （日本英文学会）dating back to the early 1980s, which were kindly loaned to me by a professor here. I also continue to attend Japanese classes every weekday morning, and am happy to report that I successfully passed all of my mid-terms last week. My graduate courses are also going well, though they are increasingly busy, and it has been decided that I’ll give a presentation of my research during the next department-wide meeting on July 2. In my free time I’ve also been trying, though largely failing to devote much time, to studying for the JLPT which I will take on July 6.
Noteworthy personal developments and experiences this month have included celebrating my 23rd birthday in Osaka (which happened to fall during the conference), attending the annual Nagoya University Festival (and getting to see my very talented fellow Fulbright fellow, Darrin, perform with his band), 花火viewing at 熱田神宮 (Atsuta Shrine), attending a Brazilian festival in Nagoya with several Brazilian friends whom I have made throughout the year (and especially getting to sample a wide variety of food from Brazil), and a day-trip to Aichi Expo Memorial Park (where you can visit a life-size replica of Satsuki and Mei’s house from the 1988 Miyazaki film, My Neighbor Totoro, and rent bicycles to ride along a scenic wilderness path, as well as watch young children playing about any sport imaginable).
Recently I have also had a handful of especially memorable cultural experiences (which have also been good language practice) of the sort that are only possible from living day-in-and-day-out in another country. For example, within the past six weeks, I’ve visited the dentist twice. The first time was because my mom has been pestering me via e-mail to find somewhere to have my teeth cleaned for several months now, and the second time was because I felt that there was no way for me to refuse scheduling a subsequent appointment after the receptionist had been so patient with my very limited Japanese skills. Filling out an unbelievably detailed questionnaire about my oral hygiene and general health habits in Japanese, as well as attempting to understand the hygienist (who insisted on speaking to me only in keigo) explain the condition of my teeth was more than a little challenging, however, also very satisfying when it all worked out in the end. Similarly, the process of donating blood (mainly the Japanese paperwork beforehand) was surprisingly difficult at times; however, now when someone asks me what my blood type is, I finally know and can answer properly! (I’m A positive if anyone is curious). For one final example, a couple weeks ago I went for an evening jog, and when I arrived back at my dorm I realized that I had lost my keycard to get into the building. Frantically retracing my steps and asking for help was very practical (albeit very stressful) Japanese practice, which I do not think I’ll be forgetting anytime soon. (Don’t worry, though—I did find my keycard in the end.) Before arriving in Japan, I did not think much about these sort of daily-life experiences; however, after I return home I imagine that they may well be some of my most vivid memories, and though my Japanese is far from great, being able to express myself effectively in such situations (which I certainly could not have done at the start of this grant period) is very rewarding and encouraging.
Although I am looking forward to the new stage of life that will begin once I return to the U.S. at the end of July, the thought of leaving Nagoya, a place that now unequivocally feels like home, is very bittersweet. I am planning to savor the rest of the time that I have left here.
A few additional notes about this report: (1) the incident in which I lost my keycard was actually much scarier than I described it above (I dialed down the tone in an attempt to sound less irresponsible and foolish), in large part because it happened late at night and there was a brief period of time when I thought I might have to sleep outside until the office people arrived in the morning. To the kindness of a front-desk worker at a sports club and an understanding mall security guard, it did all work out in the end.
(2) Recently I assisted the office staff in making an informational video for new dorm residents, in which I put my English abilities to good use describing the multifaceted rules and procedures of garbage sorting and recycling in Japan. At the time, I didn’t realize that anyone would see the video before I returned home. However, it seems that it’s already being utilized as instructional material because in the last week I’ve had no fewer than three strangers stop me in the dorm hallway or lounge with statements like, “hey, aren’t you the trash girl?” Yes, I guess I am “the trash girl.” Awesome.
Okay, now some photos that prove the things I described above really did occur:
Festival at Atsuta Shrine:
Aichi Expo Memorial Park:
A few more photos from my trip to Osaka for the conference:
If I haven’t mentioned it yet, the hostel where I stayed, though a little expensive, was awesome– probably one of the best I’ve ever been to. I’d definitely recommend it: http://u-en.hostelosaka.com/index_en.html
There are way too many things that have happened that I’ve forgotten to include on this blog. Scrolling through photos from the past couple months on my phone and computer fills me with a slight sense of dread, because I know that I will never do justice to describing all of the incredible things that I’ve been able to do or see since arriving in Japan. But writing something is better than writing nothing, and sharing pictures is probably the best of all, right? So here are some more (increasingly sporadic) photos of things/places/people that I’ve encountered over the past month or so.
Nagoya JR Museum : This place is so cool.
Several weekends ago, Hiraku’s best friend who is currently living in Osaka came to visit, and it so happened that one of his friends is now working at the huge Japan Railway Museum in Nagoya. If it wasn’t for this connection, I probably never would have ended up making it out to this museum during my time here, which would have been a huge shame, because it was a fascinating place. Hiraku’s friend’s friend gave us a personal tour, explaining things about the mechanics and development of the trains (of which I actually understood very little). We were able to see models ranging from the very earliest trains in Japan to current day bullet trains, and he ride a simulator of what the bullet train 10 years from now will feel like. The entire time I was walking around this museum, I was wishing that Neil and especially my Grandpa who worked for an American railway company for many years, retiring when I was in elementary school, could have been there with me, as they both would have found it fascinating and probably would have understood much more than me.
I think that I’ve already described this next set of photos briefly in one of the monthly reports that I included on the blog earlier; they’re from a trip that Hiraku and I took to the nearby town of Seto, which is famous within Japan for its over 1,000 year tradition of pottery. We visited on the day of the town’s annual pottery festival, and despite intermittent rain, we wandered around the stalls, looking at beautiful handcrafted pottery. We also visited the local shrine and were later surprised to find ourselves in the middle of the festival procession while walking down the covered market alley-way.
City Website: Seto
Jumping several weeks forward, here are some photos from the lovely birthday that I spent in Osaka during my recent conference. Highlights of the day include a long list of my favorite foods and an amazing view of the Osaka city skyline from the top of a very tall building.
The past couple months have also included several wonderful tea and dessert dates with Lucy, my wonderful 先輩(senpai– this essentially means a more senior person at work, in a club, school, etc.; however, it’s implications are much more complex in Japan than in the U.S.), and some of our other classmates:
We’re drinking Elder-flower cordial, something I hadn’t tasted since living in England. Upcoming posts will inevitably contain more photographs of food (I hope you guys don’t mind), as I feel increasing pressure to eat ALL OF THE THINGS before I leave to return to the U.S. (in less than six weeks?!).
To help catch this blog up to speed, I’ll begin this post by sharing my monthly Fulbright report for the period between April 16 and May 15. And then below I’ll share some photos and maybe a couple more anecdotes about things that have occurred over that past two or so months.
16 April – 15 May monthly report:
When talking to friends and family from home, I have said on several occasions that I feel as if each month of this grant period passes by more quickly than the last. That sentiment has never felt more true than when looking back over this past month; I truly have no idea how time is passing so rapidly. The past four weeks have been busy in many respects, but especially academically, and it seems assured that this trend will continue until I return to the U.S.
My Japanese language classes as well as my graduate courses this semester are great. One of my graduate courses (taught in English), which focuses on the cultural and intellectual history of the Meiji, Taishō, and early Shōwa periods, has been a particularly stimulating and relevant course for my research project, as we have been studying a variety of literary and theoretical texts that address the issue of “Western” influence on Japanese literature as well as some nascent arguments regarding equality for women written during these periods. Attending my adviser’s weekly seminar continues to provide a useful context for receiving feedback on my research progress, and this semester I am also participating in a monthly seminar meeting which includes a much larger number of people in the department, most of whom are Japanese students working on the final stages of their PhDs. Our first two meetings for this seminar both lasted over three hours and were conducted almost entirely in Japanese. (My weekly seminar with my adviser is conducted primarily in English.) Though by the end of the meetings I am mentally exhausted, I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to participate in this additional seminar, as it is not only interesting for me to learn about the research my 先輩are conducting, but it’s also an excellent chance to practice Japanese in a context that is directly related to my research.
In addition to my regular coursework, my independent research over the past four weeks has been mainly focused on preparing for The Asian Conference on Cultural Studies (conference program available here: http://iafor.org/Programs/ACCS_ACAS/ACAS-ACCS2014_draft.pdf), which I will present at in Osaka at the end of the month. I am excited for this opportunity to share and receive critical feedback about the research that I have been doing throughout this Fulbright grant as well as the chance to meet and connect with other scholars, students, and non-academics who have an interest in feminism and gender studies (and a host of other disciplines) in Japan.
Although I spent the majority of Golden Week holidays in my dorm and the library, catching up on research and hiding from the crowds of travelers, I have had quite a few opportunities for cultural exchange. With the beginning of the new academic year in April, new international students from all over the world have recently arrived on campus, and I have attended several of the meet and greet activities hosted by the university. Two weekends ago, I attended a benefit concert/festival event at Nagoya Port that was organized to raise money for the areas affected by the March 2011 tsunami. I was invited to this event by one of my non-student Japanese friends, Sanami-san, a middle-aged woman (though she looks about my age) whom I met through one of the Japanese organizers of the volunteer trip that I participated in in February. Sanami-san works in a governmental office in Nagoya but was relocated to Rikuzentaka for a year after the tsunami. During her time in Rikuzentaka, Sanami-san participated in a Taiko group, and that group came to Nagoya to perform in the benefit concert. Because she knew that my grandmother was born in Rikuzentaka and that I hope to be able to visit the town someday, Sanami-san very kindly invited me to attend the concert with her and spend time with her friends from Rikuzentaka afterwards. It was a really special experience for me to be able to meet and talk with a group of people (of all ages—from only three to over eighty years old) from the town where my grandmother was born as well as to learn about their practice of太鼓.
Other especially meaningful experiences of cultural exchange over the past month include attending a special せともの祭りheld in the small nearby city of 瀬戸(Seto), which has been famous for its ceramics for almost a thousand years, where I was able to see more stunning pottery than I had ever dreamed of before and even try my (alas, unskillful) hand at sculpting a small figure, thanks to the patient instruction of the volunteers. On Easter I attended a small local non-denominational church service, where I met several fascinating and kind Japanese people and long-term foreign residents. One of the people with whom I especially enjoyed speaking was an older Japanese man who played the cello beautifully during the service; it turns out that he is a professor at a nearby university who is currently doing volunteer work and conducting research on music therapy for the mentally and physically disabled.
In addition to being a busy month of academic progress and the meaningful cultural and personal moments described above, in the past several weeks I have also started to have to make arrangements for after I return to the States. Some of this planning, such as registering for my first semester of graduate courses and receiving my teaching schedule for the fall, have been easy and invigorating processes. Other aspects of this planning, such as planning to move to a new city from abroad in a very short period of time once I return home, have been more challenging. However, I am excited about this next step in my life and enthusiastic to find ways to incorporate the research that I am doing this year into my future graduate studies, and once all of my plans for the fall are settled, I know that I will be able to focus even better on being productive and enjoying the rest of my time in Japan.
Here are a couple photos of the Taiko performance group participating in the benefit concert, whom I had the great pleasure of watching and spending some time with afterwards:
Cherry-blossom Viewing (花見)
I think I mentioned in the last post a bit about how serious of a deal cherry-blossom season (if a two-week period can be called a “season”) is in Japan. Well, I wasn’t kidding. There’s even a special word in Japanese 花見(hanami), which literally translates as flower viewing, that Japanese people use to describe the tradition of meeting up and going out for the specific purpose of viewing the cherry blossoms. 花見also typically includes a lot of alcohol and food and sitting underneath cherry blossom trees and spending time with friends. Though all of the picnics Hiraku and I had during our time in Kyushu (which could/should technically be described as 花見）were more or less impromptu, usually cherry-blossom viewing, especially when a large group of friends/family/co-workers are involved, takes a lot more planning. Oftentimes a couple people from the group will arrive at a park in the late morning or early afternoon and set up the picnic blankets and wait to reserve the spot for their friends for the evening, because otherwise they won’t be able to find a place to picnic under the cherry-blossom trees. Yes, it’s that popular.
Hiraku and I participated in one big-group 花見outing, which was organized by a couple of his friends. By the time we arrived around 5pm, the majority of the group was already pretty tipsy, as it seemed pretty much everyone in the entire packed park was. Two of the girls had been there since 10am, reserving the spot for the picnic, so they had had plenty of time to get started on the sake. As we didn’t know the majority of the people in the group, this actually in some ways made communication much easier; however, being the only sober people in a group is always a somewhat bizarre experience.
Because everyone is packed so tightly due to the lack of space/intense popularity, we ended up making friends with a couple of the groups of people nearby us, which was fun. And as soon as the sun went down, electric lights and lanterns had been carefully placed around the park to light up the cherry-blossom trees. If anything, it was even more beautiful at night.
Inuyama Festival (犬山祭り)
There’s a small castle town about 30 minutes away from Nagoya called Inuyama. I visited the town and the castle with an international exchange group my second weekend in Nagoya. I made it back again for the special festival that’s held in Inuyama twice a year.
There were loads of people, and it was actually extremely cold, despite already being spring. However, the floats were unreal, and Japanese festival food is never a disappointment.