Odds and Ends of April and early May

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:

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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.


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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.

Inuyama Festival

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.

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2 Responses to Odds and Ends of April and early May

  1. Lucas says:

    I’m wondering dear girl, where you are headed to when you reach the states? What grad program at what University? 🙂 Also, the park at night under the blossoms looks absolutely STUNNING, unreal, heavenly and I’m so glad you were sober to enjoy it so you can remember it with clarity always. So sorry your time there is coming to a close. I know your leaving must be bittersweet. And Happy Bday to Hiraku! Those pictures are a bit funky. Believe it or not, there’s one of those machines at the Mall of America right here in Minnesota. I’ve seen the pics my friends have done there. CA-RAY-ZEE!!!! 🙂

    • Paige says:

      Lucas– thanks again for being my most active and supportive blog follower. I think that even if I knew you were the only person to ever read this blog, I would still want to write it, because you always comment so thoughtfully.
      In the fall I’ll be starting grad school at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. But maybe I’ll have to make a trip up to Minnesota to try out the photo booth machine at Mall of America 😉

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