Mid-May to Mid-June Fulbright Monthly Report

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:

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Nagoya University Festival (featuring a stellar performance from Darrin and co. in the rain):  2014-06-06 14.18.18

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Brazilian festival:

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Aichi Expo Memorial Park:

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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

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Odds and Ends: Part II (Trains, Ceramics, and Celebrations)

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.

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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

Sampling one of the 瀬戸市の名物 (Seto’s special foods) 焼きそば(yaki-soba; essentially fried noodles): 14099762912_3d69d0bbc1_b  14103246614_af58813cfe_b  13916165250_f9117262ab_b 14099675372_9ef3a1edc9_b 13916121239_ffccb3e492_b 13916102009_177d73ef72_b

This talented and patient volunteer helped us to make our own pottery, statues of the Seto city mascot. 14099606052_7cb5d535b5_b 14102665525_55ec175ed9_b 14122726993_36267c13ee_b 14102626355_073bc202e1_b

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.

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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:2014-05-06 13.19.33

We’re drinking Elder-flower cordial, something I hadn’t tasted since living in England.  2014-05-14 15.57.00 2014-05-14 15.57.25Upcoming 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?!).

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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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Nagasaki (長崎)

During our stay in Kumamoto, we woke up early and left the house before 5:00a.m. in order to take a day-trip to Nagasaki. We took a bus to Kumamoto Port, and then a ferry ride to Shimabara, then a set of local trains (one the tiniest train I’ve ever ridden), in order to reach Nagasaki.

It was cloudy all day and rained on and off, but somehow the weather seemed to suit a visit to such a serious and somber place, as we spent the majority of the day visiting the Peace Memorial museum and nearby statues and memorial parks.

Nagasaki Information: https://www.nagasaki-tabinet.com/mlang/english/

Because Nagasaki was one of the few places where quite a few foreigners (especially the Dutch) would come for trade and commerce, and some to live, before the Meiji Restoration officially “opened” Japan back up to the rest of the world, there are European influences that can definitely be observed still throughout the city. For example, Nagasaki was an important location for Christian missionaries, and several European style churches remain (or have been rebuilt) today.

The city also sits on a port and is cradled between many hills, which gives it a simultaneously cozy and rural feel. I’ve heard people voice a wide range of opinions in terms of how they feel about it as a city, but I quite liked it. I’d be happy to visit again, and I wish that we had stayed for nightfall, because apparently the view out over the port is amazing from higher vantage points up the hills.

Early morning ferry ride:

14059314202_d57d5029e7_b  14062918474_e574c7e94e_b 14059239201_c6ff99400c_b 14062414485_25da540408_b Local trains from Shimabara to Nagasaki (I actually slept through the majority of this part, but Hiraku tells me the ride was beautiful):14062399845_c93ecf5a71_b

Nagasaki:14039112156_1b87294cae_b

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20140330_134141‘Another unbelievably delicious and beautifully prepared lunch from Hiraku’s mom:

20140330_131919 20140330_13191314058928052_3ef9d7bb4b_b 14058874712_6eee61456b_b 14061965415_f486599f3f_b  14062333184_39ae15ff9d_b  14038734646_38819031da_b 14058664112_c1b339520a_b  14038699746_0a383efd7e_b 14058629812_2c1ef7de05_b 14062240914_44eab43eb2_b 14038612166_224981fe56_b These next photos were all taken from the gorgeous vantage point of an area called Glover Gardens, founded by a Scottish merchant named Thomas Blake Glover, who came to Japan in 1859, just nine years before the start of the Meiji Period. His life and establishment in Japan is actually pretty fascinating, and walking through the mansion in which his family lived (which has now been converted into a museum) felt just like touring palace residences in Vienna with Hannah two years ago.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Blake_Glover

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So that’s the end of my recap of our southern Honshu and Kyushu sojourn. I’ll try to begin catching up on some of the recent happenings since I’ve been back in Nagoya soon too.

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Kumamoto (熊本) & Cherry Blossoms (桜)

Though it took the better part of a day to reach Kumamoto from Hiroshima, and was nearly midnight by the time we arrived, the majority of the trip was alongside the ocean, with views like this: 20140325_170843With scenery like this, fairly uncrowded trains, and plenty of work to do, the time passed quite quickly.

Kumamoto is a prefecture, and also the name of a large city within that prefecture, in Kyushu, one of the four main islands of Japan. It’s where Hiraku grew up, and where his parents still live today.  They kindly not only waited up until nearly midnight on the night we arrived to pick us up from the train station, but also graciously hosted us for over a week. It was one of the most refreshing holidays that I think I’ve ever had (a close second after my week in Vienna with Hannah for her birthday/Easter break in 2012), filled mainly with local sightseeing, picnic after picnic (seriously so much delicious food), and cherry blossoms. So many cherry blossoms.

http://www.kumagaku.ac.jp/english/

CHERRY BLOSSOMS: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherry_blossom

Since arriving in Japan, I had heard people talking about cherry blossom viewing. It’s a time of year that people think and plan often months in advance. So, I had big expectations, and I wasn’t disappointed. There are so many types, variations of white and pink in color, and sometimes they’re so thick that they look like snow. (I think there’s even a certain variation called “snow cherry blossoms” actually.) I was, though, surprised by how fleeting they were. Perhaps it’s part of the reason that they’re so treasured here, because they can only be enjoyed for such a short time– less than two weeks, and they bloom in different areas of Japan at slightly different times. Therefore, it was really lucky that we happened to arrive in Kumamoto just a couple days after they’d blossomed.

We spent at least three full days doing low key sight-seeing around Kumamoto, having picnics in breath-taking parks under cherry blossoms, and eating delicious food that Hiraku’s mom packed for us. Seems a bit surreal now.

One of the first places we visited was Kumamoto castle:

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Another day, we visited one of the old homes of one of my favorite Japanese authors, Natsume Soseki, who wrote in the early 20th century. (I think the reason that he’s one of my favorites is mainly simply because his book Botchan was the first Japanese novel (translated, of course) that I read, when I was around 16 years old.) However, it’s become one of my “go-to” answers when people ask me about which Japanese authors I like (in part because when I talked about the modern, largely subversive Japanese women writers whom I like, people (even Japanese people) generally just stare at me like I’ve spoken a language they don’t understand. But I do, honestly, like his work too, and so getting to visit one of his old homes that has now been turned into a museum of sorts was really exciting for me.

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Another day, another incredible Kumamoto garden and picnic.20140328_144737

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In Kumamoto Prefecture, there’s a rural area called Mt. Aso, which is the site of a famous active volcano. It’s a about a 90 minute drive from Hiraku’s family’s home, but his parents drove us there and back not once, but twice, because the first time we attempted to visit it rained the entire day. (Though we still had a lovely time visiting a shrine and famous spring in the rain and eating a unique meal.) The second trip, though, we not only had perfect weather and were able to visit and see the volcano fuming, but also saw some incredible cherry blossoms.

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There really aren’t words to describe how kind and welcoming Hiraku’s parents were throughout my entire visit, despite my terrible Japanese. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe that this week of train-riding, sight-seeing, picnicing, and cherry-blossom-viewing really occurred.

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An Old Report, Hiroshima(広島), and Miyajima(宮島)

I’m going to start this post by sharing the monthly Fulbright report that I submitted for the period of March 16 to April 15 to JUSEC over a month ago, just in case anyone is interested in reading my reflections on my spring holiday travels in a more academic tone. After the report I’ll post photos of Hiroshima and Miyajima.

          Since submitting my last monthly report, I have only spent a handful of days in Nagoya; the vast majority of my time over the past month has been spent travelling. More specifically, I was able to visit the following places: Nara, Kyoto, Osaka, Himeji, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Nagasaki, and Kumamoto. As my academic, cultural, and personal activities and development this month almost entirely occurred in the context of these trips, my report will largely focus on my experiences and reflections while travelling. I feel especially fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel extensively over the past month because I have recently realized that I will likely have very little time, only one or two days, in Japan after my finals end on July 29th before having to return to the U.S.

After visiting Nara and Kyoto with my mom and brother at the time of my last report, I returned to Nagoya for one day before a close friend from college came to visit. Like my mom and brother, she had never been to an Asian country before and had almost no knowledge of Japanese language or culture, though she was eager to learn. We spent three days in Nagoya and one very brief day in Osaka together before she headed to South Korea. Being able to introduce my family and one of my friends from home to my life in Nagoya and travel a bit together in Japan forced me to reflect on how much has changed in my life over the past seven months as well as what it means to be a “cultural ambassador.”

Firstly, being responsible for the well-being and daily logistics of visitors who literally speak no Japanese provided a sometimes stressful but very rewarding opportunity for me to see how much my Japanese communication abilities have developed. Secondly, through the process of being asked a million different questions about life in Japan (many of which I felt extremely unqualified to answer), I got a taste of what I imagine will be a common occurrence once I return to the U.S. So far, my experience of cultural ambassadorship has been focused on my role as a representative of the U.S. in my interactions with Japanese people and people from other countries during my time in Japan. I’ve given a lot of thought to the importance of being involved in the community and of seeking to support cross-cultural understanding through my interactions with non-American people while in Japan. However, I had not considered in much detail how my interactions and discussions with other Americans, while I am here in Japan and especially after I return home to the U.S., also provide an important opportunity for international understanding. During my time here I have experienced a wide range of moments of amazement and excitement, as well as frustration and disappointment, as I have adjusted to daily life in Japan. Though I hardly think that spending ten months here will make me an expert on Japanese culture and society, I am realizing that my friends, family, and acquaintances in the States might treat me as such, and, therefore, I ought to think conscientiously about the opportunity and responsibility that I will have as a cultural ambassador once I return home as well.

In my discussions and recollections about Japan after I return to the U.S., I hope to neither falsely romanticize Japanese culture nor overly criticize the parts of Japanese society that I find frustrating. Furthermore, it will be important to me not to make sweeping generalizations about Japan or Japanese people, which is a further reason that I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to travel to a variety of geographic and demographically diverse areas. During my recent travels I have also learned a great deal about pre-modern and modern Japanese history. For example, my mom, brother, and I participated in a Zen meditation class at Shunkoin Temple (春光院) in Kyoto, during which the monk discussed the development of Zen Buddhism in Japan as well as its relevance and practice today.

During my ten-day southern 本州 and 九州tour with a Japanese friend, we visited the atomic bomb museums in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These museums are, of course, tragic and moving beyond words. I was especially touched and impressed, however, by the great historical detail and analysis that both museums seek to provide to visitors. I learned more than I had ever known before about the historical events leading up to the atomic bomb attacks as well as the nuclear science behind these specific atomic weapons. Both museums also made note of the harm caused by Japan to other countries prior to and during the course of WWII as well as the number of people of minority groups living (some forcedly) in Japan who were killed or harmed by the atomic bombs, whose suffering has typically gone unacknowledged. Further, both museums presented this history and material evidence of the unthinkable devastation and suffering caused by the atomic bombs with the explicit goal of ending the production and use of nuclear weapons and of supporting world peace. At both museums when we visited, there were Japanese volunteers who were second-generation 被爆者(atomic bomb survivors). They were especially interested in speaking with the foreign visitors; they all thanked us profusely for coming, and several specifically asked me to share what I had seen with my friends and family back home. I already have and will continue to do so.

I appreciated getting to read about Cameron’s experiences visiting the homes of two Japanese families in精華町 recently in his report for this month, as well as Erika’s reflections in past reports about living with her old host family in Kyoto again, and I recall when Mr. Shepherd told us during the Fulbright Orientation (which seems like it was ages ago now) about what an honor and relatively-rare privilege it is to be invited into a Japanese family’s home. One of the most meaningful parts of travelling over the past several weeks for me was having the opportunity to stay with my friend’s family in Kumamoto for seven days. Their hospitality was more generous than I can even begin to describe. They did everything imaginable, including preparing some of the most delicious meals that I’ve ever eaten, to make sure that I was comfortable in every way. Communication was difficult at times, especially due to the prevalence of 熊本弁 (Kumamoto dialect). However, they were extremely encouraging, and it was without a doubt the most intense and practical week of non-stop language practice that I have had yet, especially in terms of learning to switch rapidly between polite and informal forms of Japanese.

During my travels I tried (though I often failed) to continue studying Japanese from my textbooks every day. I made some progress on my research project through reading new articles; however, in general, research progress was quite slow for me this month due to the time that I devoted to travelling. Now that I am back in Nagoya and the new semester has just begun, however, my research pace is quickly resuming to normal. For courses this semester, I have Japanese class every weekday morning, as well as two graduate classes that are loosely related to my research topic, and my adviser’s graduate seminar for students working on their theses/dissertations. As wonderful and impactful as my travels over the past month have been, in many ways it feels good to be back in a more structured academic context again.

Hiroshima:

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum website:  http://www.pcf.city.hiroshima.jp/index_e2.html

If you ever go to Japan, please, please, please make an effort to visit either the Hiroshima or Nagasaki (or both) Peace Memorial Museums. They are moving and educational beyond words. The cities are also stunning themselves.

Here are some photos from Hiroshima: 13636334154_8ee59fea7f_b 13636040713_9e072e3013_b 13636042885_7872c4f7f5_b   13641139354_2f7fdc24a1_b 13640887673_fe21ffa6dd_b 13641242094_39097ce9d1_b 13640940695_e9038c3859_b

There’s a small island off the coast of Hiroshima called Miyajima. I cannot say enough about how magical this place is. It’s the sweet baby dear paradise that I expected Nara to be and so much more. To get there, you take a short ferry ride with equally breathtaking views. We only spent a few hours here before heading south; however, I would be willing to consider moving there permanently. It’s that good. Really, about of all of the cities I’ve visited in Japan (or elsewhere), I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so instantly mesmerized by a place. Maybe you’ll see why from the photos.

Click here: Miyajima 13635964713_d745f8e92b_b  13635921555_413ed60d9f_b 13635793755_f7793dcd9a_b  13634233624_b422af4784_b  13634308344_14a9c84fd4_b 13634426054_939cbb0ae6_b 13634473404_0407b6babf_b13634019415_fb710db8b9_b

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Himeji (姫路市)

Our first stop after dropping Karen off at the Osaka International Airport, was a town in Hyogo Prefecture called Himeji. Himeji is especially famous for its castle (called Himeji Castle), which was first built in the 14th Century and then significantly remodeled and enhanced in the 16th Century by Toyotomi Hideoyoshi (a famous Japanese warrior and feudal lord).

About Himeji Castle

http://www.himeji-castle.gr.jp/index/English/

As soon as you exit the train station, you can see the castle up on a hill in the distance, and the main street of the city leads straight too it. Unfortunately, however, we immediately realized that the castle was under preservation construction, and so we were unable to see or enter the main building of the castle. (It turns out that this work won’t be finished until next spring.)

But you can take a “virtual tour” of the castle here:  Virtual Tour of Himeji Castle

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Although we couldn’t enter the main castle structure, we were still able to walk around the castle grounds, which were lovely, and enter some of the secondary buildings that connect to the castle and were once occupied as living spaces and look-out points, which have now been converted into a museum of sorts.

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One of the most fascinating parts about visiting Himeji Castle for me was learning about the history of Princess Sen, the granddaughter of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate who ruled Japan from 1600 until the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Princess Sen lived in Himeji Castle for several years, and the story of her life both before and after she moved to Himeji Castle is fascinating. If interested, you can read a brief description of it the legend of Princess Sen here: Princess Sen

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This is a really neat site hosted by Google that I just discovered. It has a detailed historical explanation of the importance of the castle and some great photos:  Google “Cultural Institute” Himeji Castle

Next stop: Hiroshima

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