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From Washington to Japan: A Month of Discovery

Feb 16, 2017


Students in Japan During January Term (J-term) 2017, 14 Randolph-Macon College students enrolled in two in-depth courses traveled to Washington, D.C. before jetting to Japan. Both destinations provided travelers with extraordinary opportunities to learn and discover. Students gained an understanding of Japan's musical breadth and aesthetics, its noteworthy film composers, and its dynamic cultural and political history.

Music Professor James Doering (Film Music in Japan), and Political Science Professor and Dean of Academic Affairs Lauren Bell (Comparative Legislatures), led the trip, and Mayumi Nakamura, assistant director of international education, assisted with travel arrangements and served as translator.

In Japan, the travelers were joined by R-MC President Robert R. Lindgren and his wife, Cheryl Lindgren, who described their travel experiences with the group as inspiring and culturally enriching.

"What a great privilege it was for us to join these two J-term classes taught and led so marvelously by our outstanding faculty and staff. The experience left Cheryl and me prouder than ever of our Randolph-Macon connections," says Lindgren.

Film Music in Japan
Film Music in Japan focused on Japan's rich history of innovative film music. The course included a study of Japanese music, its use in film, and its connections to Japan’s historical and cultural history. In order to help students understand the aesthetic principles that have shaped Japanese film music, before departing for Japan the group studied the music of several Japanese films.

In Washington, D.C., they attended the Isamu Noguchi sculpture exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and also had a guided tour of Japan-related materials at the National Portrait Gallery.

While in Japan, the group visited the National Film Centre in Tokyo, Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum at Waseda University, the Toy Film Museum in Kyoto, and the Ishinomori Mangatten Museum in Ishinomaki. At Waseda University, the students participated in a seminar on Japanese film music led by scholars at Waseda University and the National Film Centre. At the Toy Film Museum in Kyoto, which houses an extensive collection of early cameras and films that circulated in Japan in the silent era, students were treated to screenings of several films, with Doering providing improvised accompaniment on the piano.

The students also attended a kabuki performance at the National Theatre in Tokyo, and participated in a taiko (drum) workshop with M's Japan Orchestra at Ishinomaki Senshu University. The visit to Ishinomaki was featured in several Japanese newspapers.

"The goal of the course," notes Doering, "was to use film music as a conduit for engaging students directly with Japan and its wonderfully rich culture. Once in Japan, the things we studied that first week on campus came to life in new and different ways, and the students had a chance to see and hear what makes Japan distinct. They also were exposed to how interconnected Japan and the U.S. are. It was an exciting and immersive experience."

Comparative Legislatures
Comparative Legislatures explored the differences between the presidential-congressional system of government in the United States and the prime ministerial-parliamentary system used in Japan. After several days of classroom instruction about the political systems of the U.S. and Japan, the class visited the Library of Congress, toured the U.S. Capitol, attended oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court and had a tour of Court and a special briefing with Supreme Court Fellow Cheryl Kearney. They capped off their trip to D.C. by meeting with Troy Lyons '05, manager of federal government affairs for Hess Corp., who talked with the students about energy policy and the role of lobbyists in government.

During the in-country portion of the course, the group met with the Hon. Ichiro Fujisaki, former Japanese Ambassador to the United States, toured the Diet of Japan (the country's national legislature), and toured the Supreme Court of Japan and the National Diet Library. At the National Diet Library, students received a briefing from one of the most senior members of Japan’s legislative research service and had the opportunity to ask questions about legislative procedure in Japan. They also had formal meetings and question-and-answer sessions with the mayor of Ishinomaki, and with the elected representative from Ishinomaki to the national House of Representatives.

While in Hiroshima, the students met with Ms. Keiko Ogura, an A-bomb survivor, who shared her reflections from August 6, 1945, the day that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, as well as the lifelong implications of the bombing for herself and other survivors.

According to Bell, many of the students found meeting with the A-bomb survivor to be one of the most important parts of the course.

"In their journals, many of the students reflected on how much it meant to them to have a chance to talk with someone directly affected by the political decisions that were made during World War II," says Bell. "They were especially moved by her comment that 'we all have the same destiny,' which meant different things to each of them."  Bell adds, "To me that comment sums up one of the most valuable things a travel experience teaches—which is that people are much more the same than they are different, no matter how many thousands of miles separate them."

Exploring Japan's Rich Culture
While in Japan, the group visited many of the country's most important historical and cultural sites, including: Tokyo's ancient Buddhist temple, Senso-ji, and the Yanaka neighborhood, one of the only parts of Tokyo that was not bombed during WWII; Kamakura, one of the ancient capitals of Japan and the medieval political center of the country, which has temples and shrines that date back hundreds of years; Kyoto, including the Toji Temple and its massive pagoda; Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion); and Fushimi Inari shrine, with its thousands of red lacquer gates.

Altogether, the group visited five locations that have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites, and four others that have been submitted for consideration for that status. They also got to experience three other aspects of Japanese culture—the food, the traditional paper, and kabuki theater that have been designated as UNESCO intangible cultural heritage practices for Japan.

Bell notes, "The students had the chance to visit several places that have contributed to the world’s culture and history. Of course they can see images of these places or read about them in books or online, but nothing can compare to the opportunity to see and even touch these places in person. That is the wonderful thing about our January Term travel courses—the incomparable opportunities to engage with the world firsthand."

Yellow Jacket Connections
The R-MC group spent three days in Ishinomaki, where Taylor Anderson '08 had lived and worked.

"We visited the city of Ishinomaki, on the northeast coast of Japan – a place ravaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami where our spirited alumna, Taylor Anderson '08, perished as the first known American fatality in that horrible tragedy," Lindgren recalls.  "Her legacy lives on there, in great part through the heroic efforts of her parents, Andy and Jean Anderson of Richmond, who have dedicated themselves to preserving her mission of better U.S.-Japanese relations, at every level. At Ishinomaki Senshu University, we met college students who Taylor had taught in middle school. Our group was very moved as her former students spoke of the profound impact she had on them."

Vincent Borrero '17 says that traveling gave him memories he'll have for a lifetime.

"Seeing the many shrines of Kyoto, whispering a prayer of peace at the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, and seeing the hearts that our very own Taylor Anderson touched in Ishinomaki are among some of the highlights of my journey through Japan," says Borrero, a computer science major and English minor.

Bailey Holland '18, a political science and sociology major and women's studies minor, was deeply affected by the visit to Ishinomaki.

"Hearing people's stories of loss—and hope—was really powerful," says Holland. "A travel course gives you firsthand experience you can't always get in a classroom. It's an amazing way to travel: not only are you sightseeing, but you're learning about a country's history and culture."

Randolph-Macon College and Ishinomaki Senshu University have developed an ongoing partnership. During summer 2015 and summer 2016, students and faculty from R-MC and ISU visited one another's campuses and participated in a research exchange supported by the Taylor Anderson Memorial Fund and the U.S.-Japan Council’s TOMODACHI Fund.

"We met with many people who knew her or were inspired by Taylor," says Doering. "We visited the Taylor bunko (reading corner) at Ishinomaki Senshu University. We also had a beautiful dinner with members of the Kiwi Club, an English-language club for adults in Ishinomaki. Taylor was an instructor for the Kiwi Club during her time in Ishinomaki."

An Invaluable Resource
Nakamura was an invaluable resource for the group throughout the planning process and the trip.

"Before the trip, she helped us negotiate with Japanese contacts and also offered her insights into the logistics," says Doering. "Once in Japan, she did an incredible job translating in all sorts of settings and helping us direct the students to the right places. She is amazing and we are so lucky to be able to work with her."

Nakamura says, "This was our fourth opportunity to travel to Japan with R-MC students, and each time we have been blessed by meeting new friends and building on established relationships. I am proud to have been part of this team and grateful to Professors Bell and Doering. They are true cultural ambassadors, and wonderful role models for our students."