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:
Nagoya University Festival (featuring a stellar performance from Darrin and co. in the rain):
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