The first day started with a continental breakfast in the basement of our hotel. Austin arrived as soon as they opened, determined to try as much as possible and fill up for the day. The rest of the group was still either getting ready or sleeping, so he made friends with a group of students from Rutgers that was also participating in the Kakehashi Project.
After checking out of the hotel, we left for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). During our ride in, we finally got a chance to see the city during the daytime. We arrived at MOFA and were quickly ushered up to a large conference room. Our group from Fisher as well as students from Rutgers, University of Kentucky, and UNC Chapel Hill all gathered to be addressed by the ambassadors from Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) on the nature of the program and what to expect. Immediately following the orientation, Mr. Ogiwara Hiroshi, an economist from MOFA, gave a presentation on the Japanese economy. He highlighted the current state of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) as well as the trade relationship between the United States and Japan. Some of the PhD students from University of Kentucky asked him very insightful questions to promote a good discussion.
We departed MOFA to eat lunch at a local Tokyo restaurant. There were two long parallel tables for our group, and without any sort of direction or conversation, all of the males sat at one table and all of the females sat at the other, not unlike a middle-school dance. We were extremely impressed with the quality of the meal; Pat from OSU liked the Edamame beans so much that he ate them whole – shells included!
After lunch, we attended a lecture from Professor Taniguchi Tomohiko, a professor at the Keio University Graduate School of System Design and Management (SDM), teaching international political economy and Japanese diplomacy, as well as a Special Adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet. This presentation was by far the most impactful on many of us.
As he tried to summarize Japan in 23 PowerPoint slides, what resonated with us was the way in which he divided Japan’s identity into three pillars: resilience, continuity, and maritime identity. As an example of Japan’s historical resilience, Professor Taniguchi alluded to the 2011 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tōhoku, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan and the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since modern record keeping. This devastating natural disaster caused 15,895 casualties, left 6,156 injured, and 2,539 missing. According to the MOFA, 116 countries and 28 international organizations offered assistance, including the United States. Despite the damage, Japan persevered through the tragedy and carried on as a stronger nation. Today, Japan remembers the date of the Tsunami, March 11th, in remembrance and in honor of those suffered.
The second pillar was continuity. Japan is well-known for bridging the gap between tradition and innovation. This is best exemplified by how Japan has the world’s two most longstanding operating hotels, the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan and Hoshi Ryokan, which were founded in 705 and 718, respectively. In addition, Japan is home to the world’s oldest sake brewery, Sudo Honke, and the world’s oldest family business, Kongo Gumi, which has been building temples for 14 centuries. And yet, Japan has been on the forefront of innovation in major industries such as the technology and the automotive industry. Still, traditional Japanese culture has been passed on through generations and remains important to people in the modern day, such as their tea ceremonies (which we got to experience later in our trip, so keep reading our blogs).
The third pillar of maritime identity has shaped Japan’s economic positioning in the world. As it pertains to global trade, Japan’s importing and exporting operations are shaped by Japan’s maritime positioning. Furthermore, much of Japan’s most well known dietary delights are facilitated through Japan’s oceanic proximity.
We walked out of the presentation really starting to wrap our heads around what Japan really is. As Americans, we grapple with what America is and what it means to be an American; the lecture from Professor Taniguchi Tomohiko gave us a significant amount of insight into what Japan is and what it means to be Japanese. Fittingly, the next stop on our trip was the Imperial Palace. The landscape reminded us a lot of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as there was open gravel walking space in the middle of the city. Most of the group stayed in front of the entrance and saw the guards changing out, and a small group of us walked around the park area.
Chandler thought that it would be a perfect photo opportunity with the sun at dusk and the city in the distance, so we quickly posed; the picture ended up looking like an early 2000s boy band album cover, which we were all extremely pleased with.
Miho rushed us off to the Tokyo airport for a domestic flight to Oita, a seaside prefecture on Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island. We were told that dinner would be on our own in the airport, and we were handed ¥2000 each (the whole idea of the exchange rate hadn’t fully set in yet, so we initially thought we were rich. It was about $20). Erica decided to use her money to get a haircut in the airport, using Kevin as a translator. The flight to Oita was roughly 90 minutes, but it went very quickly as we all slept through it. After a quick bus ride to our hotel, we again went right to bed, beat from the day.
Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 3: Operations, Onsens, and Aesthetics
Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day