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Field Trips & Other Events

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Field Trips & Other Events(2011-2013)

A UC Student’s Report on the Nov. 2013 Tohoku Trip

On November 23rd & 24th, 2013, students from the UC and MGU made an overnight study trip to view conditions in Otsuchi-cho, Iwate Prefecture. The town was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011, and the remaining residents continue to struggle with the magnitude of the recovery. Although the region was not directly affected by the fallout from the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster, the people of Otsuchi must contend with lingering assumptions that their town was also irradiated.

The tour’s goal was to examine present conditions in the town, including volunteer relief efforts by Meigaku students and NPOs, and to study issues facing the residents as they attempt to rebuild their community. The following description from Miya Sommers (UCSB) recounts the experience, and its impact on her perceptions of the disaster and the Japanese people she encountered.

A Reflection upon the Otsuchi Volunteer Trip By Miya Sommers January 2014

I packed my bags slowly, not knowing how organize the last four months into my large backpack. Choosing to study at Meiji Gakuin University in Yokohama, Japan was the best decision of my life, and I can hardly express what this experience has given me. But as I said goodbye to my dorm and boarded the night train to the airport, there was one moment that stood out to me as I reflected on my time in Japan. While every bit of my time at Meiji Gakuin University was life changing, it was the volunteer trip to Iwate prefecture that left the biggest impression on me.

Miya Sommers speaking to the evening workshop participants

Iwate Prefecture is part of the Tohoku region, the area devastated by the Great Japan Earthquake in March 2011. The scale of destruction was massive, and relief efforts are still continuing in this area. Meiji Gakuin’s Volunteer Center regularly schedules service trips for its students in the town of Otsuchi on Iwate’s coast. Otsuchi was completely destroyed by the tsunami and fire that followed the earthquake. The need for volunteers is tremendous. For the 2013 Fall semester, the Volunteer Center created a weekend trip that would be conducted in English for the benefit of the UC students.

Once this trip was announced, I immediately wanted to join. I remember watching the footage on TV, unable to register the gravity the disaster. Even though this had left the consciousness of US mainstream media, in Japan I felt Tohoku remained substantial problem without any concrete solutions. I was confused as to why Japan, a global leader, still needed help with reconstruction three years after the tsunami struck. To find some answers, I quickly signed up. And a few weeks later, I found myself on a night bus on its way to Tohoku.

Around 7 AM, our mixed group of Meiji & UC students and two faculty members, stepped off the bus. I remember thinking how refreshing it felt to be away from Tokyo. There was nothing but mountains and valleys, unlike the packed quarters in Japan’s urban neighborhoods. It was a gorgeous day as the early morning sun shone on a wide plain of brown grasses outlined by sprawling mountains covered in red autumn leaves.

However, this lighthearted feeling was quickly tarnished with the reality of the situation. I learned, to my complete dismay, that the emptiness was the not a sign of a rural community, but all that remained in the aftermath of the Great Earthquake. Where we were dropped off had been the heart of Otsuchi, once filled with houses, telephone poles, and stores like any other Japanese city. The force of the tsunami destroyed the city center, and the ensuing fire turned what was left into to ashes.

I hadn’t imagined the scale of loss these people encountered. Even though I had done some research before coming, nothing prepared me for the acres of barren flatlands that only contained the skeletal remains of a few buildings and some trailers. It was just overwhelming. At one point we climbed a hill to survey what remained of Otsuchi. The place where I stood had also been a refuge point as people fled from the tsunami. However, we learned that many of the elderly victims had been unable to climb the steep steps leading up to the hillside. From this vantage point, survivors watched in horror as their loved ones were swept away by the black waves. I can hardly describe my own grief in hearing these stories. So I can only imagine the trauma the townspeople of Otsuchi still carry today.

Yet, as we traveled through the town, speaking with locals and hearing their stories of survival and reconstruction, this sadness was absent. It was like moving through two realities. Visually, Otsuchi was a gaping wound. Few houses were being rebuilt. Rubble still littered the ground. And more than half the original population was gone, either deceased, in temporary housing, or had simply moved away. Reconstruction was tied up in bureaucracy and competing interests. But each person we met was warm, inviting, and driven by the will to take on the alarming task of rebuilding this entire town. They identified the many challenges their community faced, and were coming up with solutions, with or without institutional support.

This is a side of Japan that the average tourist doesn’t get to see. A side that is imperfect and riddled with struggles. Seeing this gave me a fuller picture of Japan, especially for its marginalized communities. I was humbled witness their resilience to endure, or gaman, in the most dire of situations. I would no longer dwell on the sadness I felt for the people of Otsuchi and Tohoku. They were not asking for pity, but looking for opportunities to rebuild.

We ended the trip with a group dinner including our guides at a makeshift restaurant along the main road. Even though we had only know each other for less than day, that small trailer was filled with laughter and warmth in the cold night, creating an intimacy that was unlike any other I would feel in Japan. And as the volunteer group boarded the same night bus to head home, we all hugged and made heartfelt promises to return to the Otsuchi townspeople who saw us off. I know I will come back.

It’s been a few months since I stepped foot in Otsuchi. I recently chanced upon an article that talked about Fukushima’s ghost towns and the unbelievably slow reconstruction efforts. Instantly, I was flooded by memories of my time in Iwate. But I remembered that these amazingly strong people didn’t need my sympathy. That sadness was already apparent. In their choosing to move forward, they taught me they need action.

Since it will be some time until I can go back, I’d like to start my commitment to action by to urging every UC student who will be studying abroad in Japan, especially those amazing individuals who chose Meiji Gakuin, to take the opportunity to volunteer in the Tohoku region. There is too much work that needs to be done for this region to be forgotten. Given the diverted attention towards the 2020 Olympics, many feel as though they are already cast aside. To keep things moving forward, the energy and vibrancy of UC students will surely be welcomed. And you will become a different person because of it.

UC, Meigaku and Otsuchi-cho students at a presentation and discussion program

UC students’ English Tutor Program

In the fall semester, twelve UC students gained valuable teaching experience through the GTS Department’s KC4007 Internship course (4 units). Many of them served as assistants in English language classes, while several others were assistants for lecture courses. They prepared for the internship by studying curriculum development and effective instruction methods that enhance the learning experience of students in mutli-cultural and multi-lingual classrooms.

A number of UC students also led the Meiji Gakuin & University of California English Tutor Program. Whereas the classroom assistants joined courses taught by the full-time faculty, students in the tutorial program developed and implemented their own plan for daily mentoring sessions. They primarily worked with full-time MGU students who wanted to improve their English speaking and writing skills. Occasionally the interns mentored students who were studying other languages such as Spanish. The mentors were paid for their tutorial work, and they had the satisfaction of helping other students to reach their education goals.

last updated on 2014.05.12

Experiencing Traditional Japanese Agriculture (2)

Two weeks after the harvest in Maioka Park, UC students and their Meigaku hosts threshed and winnowed the kernels from the stalks using human- powered machines that date from the mid-20th century. Working in the warm fall sunlight, the team produced approximately 20 kg of rice. This is combined with the yields from other paddies, and shared by all members of the park’s agricultural communities.

The variety grown in Maika is suitable for mochi, a highly glutinous paste made from pounded steamed rice. On December 1st, UC students along with Meigaku graduates and their families gathered to celebrate the harvest season by eating fresh mochi. Other dishes made with fresh produce from the park’s dry fields completed the meal.

The Maioka Park system offers Yokohama residents a unique urban venue to grow and enjoy organically raised vegetables. Given its close proximity to the university, it is also a one-of-a-kind open-air classroom in which students are able to enhance their academic studies of Japanese culture with a hands on experience with traditional farm life and methods.

last updated on 2014.05.12

Fall Semester Kamakura Field Trip

On November 10, faculty and students from the UC, the ISP program and Meiji Gakuin took a day to study Japanese history in Kamakura. A center of political power during the 12th~14th centuries, Kamakura’s Buddhist temples were centers of Japanese-Chinese cultural and religious exchange. The theme of the walking tour was “A Back Road to Kamakura.” Rather than seeing the main tourist sites in the downtown area, the field trip started with Kenchoji (one of the earliest Zen temples in Japan), followed by a visit to the “Kings of Hell Hall” at Ennôji. The group then made their way into northern Kamakura via the centuries-old Kamegayatsu kiridôshi, a hand-cut pass in the hills surrounding the city. After seeing several other temples, the field trip finished at the JR Kamakura-station.

Yokohama is well known as an important site of multi-cultural contact from the 19th century onwards, but Kamakura played an equally vital role in Japan’s long relationship with continental Asia. A short train ride from Totsuka Station, it offers students a unique opportunity to explore Japan’s pre-modern history.

last updated on 2014.05.12

Experiencing Traditional Japanese Agriculture (1)

On Sep. 29th, the UC faculty and students at MGU participated in a fall rice harvest at Maioka Park in Yokohama. A short walk from the university, the park is a city-owned, citizen-managed nature preserve that provides paddies and dry fields to residents who wish to grow their own food. There are stringent guidelines to ensure the use of natural growing methods, and the community shares a strong commitment to preserve the heritage of Japan’s pre-mechanized agricultural legacy. The park also maintains a traditional Japanese farm that is open daily to the public free of charge. A group of Meiji Gakuin graduates annually grow rice in the park, and they invited the UC community to help with this year’s harvest. The participants had a unique opportunity to study a Japanese approach to ecologically sound agricultural methods while helping with the cutting activities. This was followed by a meal prepared from food grown by the Meigaku graduates.

last updated on 2014.05.12

A Tea Ceremony held by the Faculty of International Studies

On January 17th, we invited a tea ceremony master and held a tea ceremony with FIS students. After having enjoyed Japanese tea, the students learned how to serve it in a traditional way.
The next event will be held in March. We look forward to seeing many students next time, too.

last updated on 2014.05.12

Field Trip to Hiroshima, 2012 Spring

UC students and Prof. Yoshii’s seminar students visited Hiroshima to study Japanese history and the peace movement in modern Japan.

This semester, they visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and park, Okuno-shima (the site of a WWII era weapons plant), and Kure. They also had an opportunity to hear the story of an atomic bomb victim.

Experiencing traditional and popular culture was also a theme for the tour.
The students took an excursion to Miyajima to see the famous Itsushima Shrine. Unfortunately, the main gate of the shrine was under construction, but they still had good time exploring the island.

Hiroshima is one of the famous places for okonomiyaki which is a kind of Japanese style pan-cake with vegetables and special sauce. They all enjoyed eating this dish during their free time.

They enjoyed the field trip!

last updated on 2012.07.13

Field Trip to Hiroshima, 2011

The voices from students

We had the amazing opportunity to meet and hear the story of a survivor of the atomic bomb, Ms. Shizuko Abe. She was a young girl training to be a nurse, when the bomb hit. …In my opinion, I feel like getting to hear a first person account of such a gruesome event in history was not only educational but also added a personal connection to the victims of the bomb. Everything we had seen and learned while at the Hiroshima Peace Park instantly felt even more heart breaking and poignant. (Elizabeth Mitropoulos)

I thought the most chilling part of the exhibit was the constant repetition of exactly what time the bomb went off. For some reason, this hit me really hard, especially when there was a display case with a wristwatch frozen at that exact time for decades. For the people of Hiroshima, time stopped at 8:15 in the morning, and that unsettled me. (Carolyn Ma)

Not only did I learn more about the history of the atomic bombing and World War II from local guides and professors who dedicate so much time to educating about events they find important, but I also experienced the culture of the region. (Jennifer Arimoto)

I have to say that my favorite part of the trip was Hiroshima itself. It’s an awe-inspiring city with an effective blend of natural beauty and urban delights. To think that a city could be devastated by a force as powerful as an atomic bomb and rise from the ashes to become a sprawling, modern center like it is now is almost beyond comprehension…It must have taken immense strength and unity for the Japanese nation to have taken a catastrophe of this magnitude and turn it into a monument of world peace. (Dustin Nguyen)

UC Field Trip Report, September 2011

Every semester, UC students begin their residency at Meiji Gakuin with a four-day trip to the Hiroshima region. These events help new students to settle into the program by providing them with an opportunity to study Japanese history and the peace movement in modern Japan. This semester, they visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Okuno-shima (the site of a WWII era weapons plant), and Kure. Experiencing traditional and popular culture was also a theme for the tour. The students took an excursion to Miyajima to see the famous Itsushima Shrine, and they attended a professional baseball game. Everyone enjoyed these events, and they were ready to start their studies upon returning to Yokomama.

last updated on 2011.09.27