October 26, 2009

Students Will Visit the Far East in January Faculty-Led Course

The syllabus reads like a travel brochure: Visit the Imperial Palace and Nishiki Market–Make folding fan at Maisendo–Zen meditation at Kenninji temple–Hiking in bamboo forest in Arashiyama.

Those are a few of the experiences awaiting students enrolled in “A History of Japanese Culture and Government: 400-1600 A.D.” For three weeks in January, they will be immersed in Japanese culture through a new winter interim-abroad course led by Paul Barclay, associate professor of history, and Naoko Ikegami, visiting instructor of foreign languages and literatures.

The course is being offered as part of the College’s new interdisciplinary Asian studies major. Previously, Lafayette offered a minor in Asian studies. Ikegami is one of four new Asia specialists who joined in the College this fall.

Students will be in Japan Jan. 8-22. In preparation for the trip, they will spend four days on campus studying Japanese language, history, civilization, customs, and culture through readings, lectures, films, and documentaries.

While in Japan, the students will tour temples, shrines, gardens, monuments, and natural vistas of Western Japan, with a concentration on Kyoto. They will watch demonstrations of and participate in Zen mediation; the art of Kimono, ceramics, paper-making, and calligraphy; traditional martial arts; and fine Japanese cuisine and tea ceremony. They also will practice communicating using Japanese and Japanese-friendly English.

“I hope our students will develop a sense that a place outside Europe has a material and literary culture of sufficient depth and complexity to merit sustained study, and that such study brings its own rewards,” Barclay says. “We also believe that a crash course in conversational Japanese, coupled with a chance to try this out in a live setting, will give them a taste of what non-European language speakers go through when they visit the States for the first time.”

The trip includes a one-day excursion to Hiroshima. “When we visit the Peace Park and Museum at Hiroshima, we shall engage students in the discussion about the different perspectives on the meaning of World War II that are held depending on the country you are visiting,” Barclay says.

Students enrolled in the new major will take courses in anthropology and sociology, government and law, economics, history, religion, music, and art history. There also is a foreign language requirement in Japanese, Chinese, or another approved Asian language. Study abroad is a key component of the major, and the interim course in Japan will provide students with a valuable opportunity to experience Japanese culture firsthand. By visiting the country, students will be able to apply knowledge gained from reading, lectures, and other sources to their own observations of Japan.

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