Today was a day filled with joy, sadness, pride, hope, and gratitude. Students had one final language class to help propel them forward as much as possible in our short two weeks together. Then, we gathered for our graduation ceremony. Students and staff alike expressed their thanks. Thanks for having this time together. Thanks for working hard for each other's sake. Thanks for being great people and treating each other so well. Our theme this year has been 唯一無二 (yuiitu muni) - the one and only. For us, in finding that we are all so unique, we saw that we are all very much the same. Suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by friends with the same interests and goals. And so it's hard to leave, knowing that we will be scattered all across the Commonwealth. But now, we are different. We know that many people share our love for Japan, and we've seen how powerful that love can be in bringing people together. We can be the ones to bring that experience home and share it with those around us. So it is our turn to be the one and only - to take the next step with these gifts we've been given, and create our own new path forward. We go forward empowered with knowledge and bonds that will always be with us. And just as all paths lead to Tokyo, our paths can always be traced back to this one moment together. Our Academy.
Check back for some great pictures from our final day!
What's the best way to learn about every aspect of Japan? Go there! What's the second best way? Research an area of Japan and teach your peers about it. Then, listen to their presentations as well! That's what our Chiri Project is all about. Students showed off their pride and their knowledge regarding their own group's chiho, or geographic area, as they presented information about all the amazing things one can find there. Foods, goods, places, buildings, mascots, and more. And by more, I mean much more! Festivals, music groups, fashion, and yes, even more. Our Academy members took the reigns and performed their own research, discovering interesting things to share in a presentation that was as unique as each member. This year, we all enjoyed learning for the sake of learning. It certainly wasn't for the sake of taking first place in the no-holds-barred Kahoot Quiz battles that followed each presentation!
Clearly, constantly clicking Kahoot quizzes wasn't enough physical exertion for our Academy members, as many of them eagerly joined our final evening activity of ソーラン節 (souran bushi) dance. Others joined an open forum chat to learn more about a number of topics, and just get to know everyone a little bit better before our final day of the Academy. Whether dancing together or chatting together, it was clear that our members have become a very tight-knit group. It's amazing what a short span of two weeks can mean when you spend it among wonderful people!
Japanese people dress up in yukata for many summer festivals. These traditional outfits, along with the more complex kimono, are a well-known and admired part of Japanese culture. But did you know that the yukata started off as aristocratic pajamas? That was just one of the many interesting facts shared today by the Academy's own Ichikawa Sensei. Ichikawa Sensei's presentation is especially interesting because the demonstration photos she uses to display the many kinds of kimono and yukata are actually photos of herself! Academy members really got drawn in by Ichikawa Sensei's deep understanding and first-hand experience. Then, they got drawn in to drawing kanji! Students got to create custom kimono avatars and draw their own favorite kanji with a digital paintbrush. The interactivity of the lesson really made it one that students will surely remember. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking as students headed into afternoon lessons and put the finishing touches on their research project presentations. Tomorrow, we'll all share what we learned about each of the different areas of Japan, as the students become the teachers!
America and Japan have had a very tumultuously intertwined history together. It comes as a wonder that our countries are such strong and committed allies now. That is certainly thanks to the efforts of great and wise people on both sides of the ocean. It is also thanks to the individual efforts that we all make, learning about each other. Japanese study leads to an appreciation of the language, the culture, and the people of Japan. Today we learned that one of the most culturally significant revolutions in the history of Japan was sparked, in part, by the U.S. threatening Japan with gunboats in an attempt to force the country to open up to trade. We also learned that, ultimately, a tremendous amount of good came of these events, as Japan began to import science and technology from the outside world. Emperor Meiji even began to wear western-style clothing. Studying these important events in history is always a fascinating endeavor. We learn about the fallibility of humans and the fragility of peace. We see the opportunities that embracing change can bring. We are reminded that there are two sides to every story. Betty Brown, one of the Academy's instructors, kindly and eagerly shared some of her vast knowledge about the events surrounding this time of revolution known as the Bakumatsu. For many Japanese history aficionados, this is an extremely intriguing time period. It seems many students today were convinced to spend some of their future study time turning their eyes towards the pages of history.
However, the workings of the Japanese government in modern times are equally interesting, as we learned thanks to an informative lecture by Dr. Lauren Bell, Professor of Political Science and Dean of Academic Affairs at Randolph-Macon College. Dr. Bell helped our members learn not only about Japan's government, but our own U.S. government as well. She followed up her presentation with some valuable advice about college admissions and applications during an open Q&A forum. As expected of our bright and motivated Academy members, they were keen to learn from Dr. Bell as they look toward their own futures.
Why do students study Japanese? Why do teachers teach it? Is it because the language itself is beautiful and interesting? Is it because learning a language can improve your cognitive abilities? Is it because learning about other cultures can make you a better, more well-rounded person? Yes, certainly all of those thoughts occur to us all. But one thing that we want to make very clear to our Academy members is this: Japan is within your reach. In fact, the language skills that you are working so hard to improve over these two weeks will take you several steps closer. Seeing Japan with your own eyes is not an impossible dream. Today, we heard from Kyle Sensei, the Lead Teacher at the Academy, and learned about how his life changed completely when he decided to make his dream of going to Japan a reality. We learned about the possibilities that available to all of us, both in terms of getting to Japan, and what can happen once we get there. Hopefully, many of our Academy members will see their path to Japan more tangibly. Perhaps one day we will see some of our members back again, as teachers.
Here at the Academy, we are blessed with some very talented and learned RAs, some of whom were once Academy students themselves. In Japanese, they are called 先輩, senpai. These kanji mean "go before" and "comrade". Today, they had the opportunity to pass some of their knowledge onto the 2021 Academy members. Each RA has a unique background that encompasses at least one other language beyond Japanese, and they shared that in several interesting presentations today. We learned about Vietnamese, Korean, Portuguese, and even Japanese Sign Language. We gained insight into how they compare to Japanese, and also saw how they influence modern Japanese language. Students could also see common occurrences among languages, such as the development of regional dialects. These insights certainly helped deepen our learning of the Japanese language, as everyone completed their fifth day of core language study. Friday was also our chance to learn some origami! In just a few minutes, students were able to turn humble squares of paper into beautiful butterflies. And what Friday would be complete without a little karaoke? Despite some yokai sabotage to our original plans, the RAs managed to create a setup in Zoom that allowed our members to sing their hearts out. Impressively, every song sung was in a foreign language! These students already clearly understand that the best way to learn a language is to incorporate it into every part of your life, especially your recreation!
What made that noise in the next room? Why does one sock always disappear? Why does my internet always crash when I try to join a Zoom class? Well, the answer is simple. It's the yokai ! The yokai are various supernatural creatures found in Japanese lore, and they often are there to explain many of the unexplainable (or downright annoying) occurrences in our lives. We learned about this unique aspect of Japanese culture thanks to a visit by Dr. Todd Munson, Professor and Director of Asian Studies at Randolph-Macon College. As part of his engaging lecture, we all created some yokai of our own to help explain away some of our modern-day problems, from chronic neck pain, to spotty internet, to... to.... hmmm I forgot... darn you yokai !
COVID affected all of us in different ways. Even now, as we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, we start to instead look back at the time we spent in isolation and wonder if we could have spent it better. We sometimes feel guilt for not wanting to do anything except be alone. We have so much technology, allowing us to be connected in an instant, and yet we often feel that we don't have the energy or motivation to make use of it. When we feel critical about ourselves in this way, it helps to hear from others who feel the same. Many students found that they shared these same experiences and feelings as we spoke with each other in a valuable introspective class. Hopefully many students felt a renewed drive to reach out to old friends, and to support the new friends they are finding here at the Academy. Students also spent the first class of the day building their Japanese language skills, which will in turn give them greater confidence and motivation to reach out to Japanese speakers both here in Virginia and on the other side of the world. This evening, we did exactly that. We were reminded yet again of the wonders of technology as we paired our entire Academy with the TUINS school in Japan to speak live with each other over the internet. Now, more than ever, we have the means of reaching out across any imaginable boundary, as long as we have the desire to do so. As the world begins to recover, language and communication will be the bridge that leads us forward together.
Today we were joined by two special guests from the Embassy of Japan - Alyssa Katindig, Event Coordinator for the Japan Information & Culture Center, and Tomoko Nakamura, Second Secretary of Public Affairs. Both of these women have had successful and interesting careers that began with time spent studying abroad. They shared their stories with us, and we learned how a love of global languages and cultures has shaped both of their lives. The students of the Academy are all highly motivated students with a love of Japan, and seeing where those interests can lead, and how they can blossom into a whole career, was certainly very valuable food for thought. Everyone was very thankful to our guests from the Embassy for taking time to come be with us.
After our morning meeting with our informative guests, it was on to our first core Japanese language classes of the Academy. Students put forth a wonderful effort to meet the expectations of our staff as they began to learn and use new vocabulary and grammar right from the start. This first day of language classes will set the bar for each of our Academy members, and everyone is clearly ready and willing to rise to the challenge.
One. In Japanese, ichi. One is the simplest of all kanji to learn - it's one single stroke. But it is said that mastering this kanji is the critical foundation upon which all other kanji study is built. Indeed, in any undertaking, nothing is more important than that first step. Today, all of our Academy members took their first step on a journey that will be entirely unique to them. We took this first day as an opportunity to learn about each other, share our stories, and talk about what brought us here. We learned what makes each of us unique, and also what makes us all similar. This is our team. These are the people we will make this journey with. Tomorrow, we will begin the heavy lifting of our core Japanese language classes, and learn from some very important guests who will share their own fascinating language learning journeys with us. In the Japanese language, when meeting someone for the first time, we use a set phrase: よろしくおねがいします！ Yoroshiku onegaishimasu! It means "please look after me." This phrase is a simple reminder that we are a community. We work together, we grow together. We are one.