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Japanese leaders worry that few American college students are interested in visiting their country. But how else can this generation come to appreciate a culture so different from its own, find common ground, and become vested in the future of U.S.- Japanese relations? With those goals in mind, the Japan Foundation’s Center for Global Partnership offered a grant covering nearly all of the travel expenses to bring a group of Washington College students to Japan over Spring Break in March.
Under the direction of Andrew Oros, associate professor of political science and international studies, and Noriko Narita, lecturer in Japanese, 18 students visited the museums and shrines of Tokyo, and met with Japanese politicians and government workers, but they were most affected by the time they spent with the villagers in Tsukihama, a scenic tourist destination and fishing center outside Sendai that was hit hard by the tsunami one year earlier.
In April, Oros and four students in the class presented key findings from their experience to a policy-centered audience at the Stimson Center in Washington, DC. We offer at right a sampling of the observations the students shared in their reports to the Japan Foundation after their return:
“It has been one year since the tsunami and the people are still living in prefabricated houses. When I asked a villager how he felt about this …he said that he was grateful that he had a place where he and his family could be safe and could start to rebuild the life that they used to have. I can’t even begin to explain what the villagers taught me.”
— Rachel Dumbolton ’13
“Throughout the concrete jungle of Tokyo, there are serene Shinto shrines that are almost separate from the never-sleeping city. People from all over go to pay their respects in these fields of tranquility and, from my observation, pursue a means to keep close to their cultural identity.”
— Cowles Gaither ’15
“The beach was only a short walk from where we were working, and I had never been to the ocean in winter before. I could see it all perfectly from the top of the shrine: no buildings obstructing my view, just the ocean, the sand and a flat gravel area littered with debris. What did it look like before? How many people lived here? Where are they now?”
— Caitie Dailey ’15
“It is a great pity when a nation, with the fifth largest purchasing power parity in the world at 4.4 trillion dollars, and a GDP per capita of 34.3 thousand dollars, cannot formulate a relief program that in a year would ensure substantially measurable progress is achieved.”
— Beverly Frimpong ’12
“One thing I found particularly disconcerting was the lack of respect the government seemed to have for the way of life the people of these destroyed villages had before the tsunami hit. … From our limited interactions with the hotel owners, local fisherman and the mayor of Murohama, the special character of these small villages was apparent. Everyone we met seemed intent on maintaining life as they knew it, and were willing to put in the work to do so.” — Emily Hoyle ’14
“We made it to the library in the village of Tsukihama of the Miyagi Prefecture where we had sent our donations.
The gratitude we received was overwhelming, and only made me more excited to be working the next day.”
— Stacey Massuda ’12
“While socializing with a few locals in a prefabricated building meant to be the community center, a fisherman presented a picture of what the town had been before the disaster. In that moment I understood the enormity of what had happened. … I realized that their sense of pride was in their community and their ability to sustain themselves regardless of the circumstances.”
— Jessica Klein ’13
Originally published in Washington College Magazine, Summer 2012