Bowdoin Japan Trip ‘An Unforgettable Learning Experience’

A group of seven students and three faculty recently returned from a twelve-day field trip to Japan, described by one student as an “unforgettable learning experience,” and by another as “a journey of a lifetime.”

The trip, which was supported by a Bowdoin Humanities Initiative grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, gave students the opportunity to research topics related to the theme of “Japan and the Environment.”

Students came from a variety of academic backgrounds, said Associate Professor of Asian Studies and Director of the Asian Studies Program Vyjayanthi Selinger, and they used the trip to take a close look at how Japan has been dealing with the range of environmental problems that sprung up in the wake of the country’s explosive postwar economic growth. They looked at issues such as fisheries, environmental pollution, wildlife conservation, and public health.

Hiroo Aridome (senior lecturer and Japanese language coordinator) offered these reflections on behalf of the faculty members who went on the trip: 
“The visit to Tokyo Sea Park was one of the high points of the trip. The students not only experienced hands-on learning (literally in the case of the dead frozen bluefin tuna that they were able to feel and examine), but they also engaged in challenging questions about the ethics of aquariums. Is it ethical to capture and keep animals in captivity for the purposes of education and conservation? How can we create better environments for the animals that more closely mimic their natural environments?

“Our visit to Meiji Shrine revealed connections between Shinto (“the way of the gods”—the indigenous system of beliefs of the Japanese people), and the environment: connections that the students could not have understood without experiencing them in person.

Then we attended a private purification ritual ceremony at Meiji Shrine. Finally, we toured the sacred forests surrounding the shrine with one of the custodians of the forests. The students brought up questions about nature and what is natural. Can a hundred-year-old, man-made forest be considered a natural ecosystem?

“Throughout the trip I saw how the students’ enthusiasm affected and influenced the experts who showed us around. They responded with equal enthusiasm—showing us more, giving more time to answer the students’ questions, and taking us beyond the typical tour sites. The students were able to experience things that many Japanese people have not even experienced.”

The group visiting Japan consisted of students Nan Ding ’19, Valeria Magallan ‘19, Ethan Barkalow ’18, Julian Garrison ’19, Karen Chan ’18, Gerlin Leu ’19, and Michael Amano ‘17. They were accompanied by faculty members Viyjayanthi Selinger, Hiroo Aridome and Sakura Christmas, and photographer Anna Aridome.

 

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