We have safely made it back to the U.S. The last day started later than usual but it involved a lot of traveling. But there were no delays or accidents. It was a fantastic trip. We had a few bike accidents with one being serious enough to require a hospital visit but aside from that, all was good. Students did very well, too.
As soon as we made it back to the U.S., they commented how loud people around them were. They were told to be quieter than usual while in Japan because people are a lot quieter in Japan. We told them that Americans tended to be louder. Now they could see that it was really true. They also noted how authority figures asserted their power. In the U.S., immigration officers and police officers both look intimidating. But in Japan, they do not. They ride bikes and mopeds. They don’t look scary. But in a nation where “guilty until proven innocent” is true, they don’t need to look intimidating, probably. It was nice to hear my students comment on those differences that they did not see before.
I still have one more flight to go to make it back to Grand Rapids. The rest of the day will be unpacking, doing the laundry, mowing the lawn, and just relaxing with Nicki.
Spending two weeks abroad with three staff members during this Freshman Study Abroad has really showed me how much work university staff did. There are many support staff members that enable classes, research, and meetings to happen during the regular semester. Without them, I wouldn’t have a classroom to teach, there would be no agreed-upon time slots, etc etc. So I, as faculty, rely on them all the time. But their work is almost in the background and faculty members rarely see how much work they do. In many ways, faculty are also at the front stage. We teach, we research, we publish, etc. I equate it to being the referee of a match, He or she makes calls and is on TV all the time. But it is only thanks to his/her assistant referees that the referee can do his/her job well. During this trip in Japan, staff members worked so hard. I tried to be of help and be available, but I could focus on teaching and grading. They really made the trip happen and successful. I also got to see how much work goes into just one program. It was a great experience for this reason, too.
We went to Miyajima today. It is known as one of the most beautiful places to visit in Japan. It was definitely so. There is a shrine gate that stands in an inland sea. There was a lot of nature, too. After the visit, we made our way to Nagoya where we would stay our last night. We had a farewell dinner at an izakaya. Students got to try so many different things to eat.
The group has been very good. Other staff members with more experience told me that I should not expect as good of a group in my future study abroad programs because the students we have this time are exceptional. They, indeed, did a great job. Nobody was excluded. Everyone was with everyone else. The group was small, but there could have easily been small groups of friends. But that did not happen.
It was a day filled with a lot of site visits in Hiroshima. We started with a tour of the Peace Park. We had a guide who showed us around. We were able to see the atomic bomb dome, many memorials, the hypocenter, etc. We were also able to have a private meeting with a hibakusha who told us her experience. A few of the students were crying. It was a very emotional story. Our students asked several very good questions. After quick lunch, we visited the Peace Museum. It was also a great experience for all of us. I had never been in Hiroshima so it was a great opportunity for me, as well.
I’m not sure what my students’ reactions are. I have not had a chance to talk about the day with them. I hope there is something more than “it was very bad,” or “we should not do this again.” I’m also interested in asking what they will actually do to put their emotional reaction into practice. I really hope they were able to learn so much from this visit today that will help them think about the meaning of peace.
We checked out of JCMU and headed to Hiroshima. It is a bit hard to believe it has already been over a week since we got here. Time flew by. The bullet train ride was smooth. We didn’t have to transfer, so that helped us a lot because we have big luggage.
Once we got to Hiroshima and after we checked into our hotels, we had a few hours of free time. I didn’t do anything in particular but we then met as a group for okonomiyaki. I prefer the Tokyo style better. At night, we went to a baseball game.
Dr. Naomi Kagawa from Shimane University was with us most of the afternoon. She and David have worked together for study abroad. I’m also trying to do something similar. I will also have Naomi’s students in my class in February. Hopefully I can provide my MSU students more study abroad experiences in Japan and Japanese students more experiences to study in the US. There is a lot of planning but I think it is very much worth it.
It was a field day. Some of my students went to Osaka and the others went to Kyoto. Either way, they had to complete an assignment. I went to Kyoto for a few hours. David, the other faculty member, had something to do there so I was with him. And then, there was a sushi place I wanted to go to, so we went there. After that, we came back to Shiga. For us, it was an uneventful day, but for our students, it could have been a day with a lot of adventure. Some students that went to Osaka did not come back until 9 or so, so I’m sure they had a lot of fun. But either way, our students had to find three kinds of places: somewhere they can see old Japan, somewhere they can see new Japan, and a good place to eat. They had to explain why those are good places to visit and recommend them to future American college students that will visit Japan. It allowed them to think why certain places are important to visit than others and how that reflects and constructs what Japan stands for.
August 11 was a free day. It was supposed to be on August 10, but because of the typhoon, it got moved. I took 13 out of 16 students to Tokyo with the other faculty member. The other 3 went to Kyoto. The trip started early but all went well. All the students said they had a great time in Tokyo. So I was happy. I didn’t care what they did as long as they had fun especially because it was a free day. I didn’t want them to worry about their assignment or anything.
As for me, once I left my students, I headed to my mom’s apartment. I had lunch with her and my grandparents. Then I hang out at my mom’s for two hours. It was a very short visit, but it was really nice. I saw her last in May and I won’t see her until December.
My grandfather has some medical issues, so it was nice to see him. He was doing well. It was so nice.
In our class, we have discussed deconstructing mascots. Japan has a lot of mascots popularly known as yurukyara. Hikone City where we are staying has one called Hikonyan. It is one of those cute characters. Some of our students are huge fans. But we also want them to see those characters a bit more critically.
When we started questioning how such a character could still embody different ways in which various forms of power are exercised, it seemed like our students understood how a mascot is not just a mascot. In other words, a cute mascot is nonetheless is an attempt to revitalize local economy or tourism industry. It represents a certain part of the city but of course, not all. Having a yurukyara allows Hikone Castle to have more visitors but they may not be very interested in history or heritage. They’re simply there to see Hikonyan because they show up a few times a day there.
Of course, in a freshman class, you cannot analyze a cultural text too deeply but I think the class was a good start.
It was supposed to be a free day today, but because of the typhoon, we decided to have two lectures today and have tomorrow as the free day. So at 8:30am and 2:00pm, we had lectures, We talked about how Japan has dealt with disasters. I shows how Japan actually suffers from natural disasters disproportionately more than many other countries based on the landmass. We also had a lecture on mascots. I wanted students to see mascots for more than something that is cute.
The rain and wind was strong all day. Students weren’t allowed to go out till 2pm. I took a short walk to grab lunch around noon and I broke (someone else’s) umbrella. It was so windy.
Most students went to the bath house in the evening because they were stuck in the building all day. I’m really happy to see them get along well.
We are going to Tokyo tomorrow!