The Graduate School of Education and Human Development (GSEHD) at the George Washington University (GW), Kakehashi II Cohort – 2015
“None of us are as smart as all of us.” ~ Japanese Proverb
The Japan International Cooperation Center (JICC) must have had this Japanese proverb in mind when they founded the Kakehashi Project – a program that invites approximately 1290 American people annually to Japan in an effort to promote and foster cultural understanding and intellectual exchange. Today, November 24th, GW’s second Kakehashi cohort departs for Tokyo as part of the Kakehashi Project 2015. Led by Dr. James H. Williams, UNESCO Chair in International Education for Development and Associate Professor of International Education & International Affairs, we are twelve GSEHD student scholars who have spent the past several weeks getting to know each other, exploring cultural aspects of Japan, developing research projects, and preparing for our journey.
During our first class Dr. Williams invited us to introduce ourselves and suggested we include a tidbit specifically related to our previous travels. Rodrigo set the tone when he noted he’s a “go-with-the-flow” traveler and each of us echoed this sentiment as his or her own. In fact, members of our cohort have “gone with the flow” while visiting or living in Great Britain, Colombia, Spain, Israel, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Canada, Greece, Morocco, Ireland, Serbia and Nicaragua – and this is just the “short” list of international destinations. We have also left our footprints all across the United States, from Alaska to Puerto Rico. Of course, a few of us have been to our next destination – Nippon, the land of the rising sun! Lauren and Emily have passed through Tokyo briefly on their way to other places. And, after Dr. Williams of course, our cohort’s de facto expert on Japan is Katie, who taught English while living in country for a few years.
While Dr. Williams and Katie provided tutorials in various aspects of Japanese culture, including basic Japanese phrases and the essential “how to use the towel” etiquette when participating in Sentō (public bathing), each member of the cohort has researched and advised the group on a different cultural aspect. A sampling (in brief) includes Katherine familiarizing us with “J-Pop” – a multi/mixed-genre pop musical phenomena inspired by post-WWII American popular music and reinforced by Western musical influences over many decades. And Lauren acquainted us with trends in youth make-up, including the Decora and Kawaii trend (decoration and “cuteness”), which creates a “young as possible” look on the wearer. Christina narrowed our focus on an icon that has become the embodiment of the Kawaii culture – “Hello Kitty”! Introduced in the 70’s, “Hello Kitty” is a huge youth-oriented brand recognized around the world. Apropos to our upcoming journey, Grace turned our attention to historical and contemporary perspectives on sacred travel in Japan, including Junrie (a pilgrimage circuit of 33-88 sites) and the practice of Osettai (charitable giving to pilgrims). Tyler shared that there are many sub-styles of Japanese Jujitsu, a style of maritial arts originally developed for fighting while unarmed and utilizing your opponent’s force against him during the encounter – it’s now practiced around the world as sport. And, Tess introduced us to Ikigai – in short, the concept of finding one’s “reason for being.” Ikigai resonates not only within the context of what drives our individual explorations of self and the world, but also in our academic and research endeavors.
Our cultural aspect interests, as well as our travel experiences, reflect a diversity that is also apparent in our research projects. Topics range from Emily’s study of educator and familial attitudes towards disabilities in elementary/pre-elementary school aged children, to my own interest in attitudes of life long learning and the experiences of non-traditionally-aged students in higher education. Katie is exploring social and political effects of the declining population in Japan at both the secondary and tertiary educational levels, while Clark is investigating the relationship between various social factors and cram school participation rates and entrance exam performance. Ricky is researching intellectual property rights for faculty in higher education. And Rodrigo is examining the causes for the drastic decrease of Japanese students studying in the United States since 2001 (a trend of interest to the Kakehashi Project as JICC sends approximately 300 Japanese people to America to study each year). These are just half of the research projects underway!
We have explored many cultural and academic aspects of Japan during these few short weeks of preparation, and the collective energy, intellect and momentum of our cohort is inspiring. We invite you to stay tuned for daily updates, reflections and details as we continue our Kakehashi adventure on the ground in Nippon. And finally, during this week of Thanksgiving, we want to say how thankful we are in three regards: first, we are thankful to our families, friends and GW/GSEHD colleagues who are supporting us in many, many different ways during this adventure (hosting early Thanksgiving dinners, caring for our rabbits, cats and dogs, covering for us at work, etc.!); second, we are thankful for Professor Williams-sama, who fearlessly leads our way with calm and great humor; and, third, we are thankful to JICC and the Kakehashi Project for this tremendous opportunity that brings us together and reminds us that “none of us are as smart as all of us.”