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April 25, 2012

Students Explore Japanese Culture and History in Faculty-Led Course

Lafayette students pose in Japan during their study abroad course thereJonathan Dever ’13 (Fairfield, Conn.) has been spending much of his time intently studying Japanese history and culture, so when presented with the opportunity to go to Japan, he jumped at the chance.

“I’ve spent close to three years of my life studying the country, and being there was beyond description,” says the history major. “I learned about Japan’s imperial past before the Meiji Restoration and managed to fit all the pieces together to form a somewhat coherent history of the country from the beginning of its imperial past.”

Dever is one of 17 Lafayette students who traveled to Japan for an interim (short-term) study abroad course taught by Paul Barclay, associate professor of history, and Naoko Ikegami, visiting instructor of Japanese.

Students in the study-abroad class in JapanThe class focused on the history of Japanese culture and government between 400 and 1600 A.D. Students toured major temples, shrines, gardens, monuments, and natural vistas of western Japan, with a concentration on Kyoto.  They also learned about Zen meditation, traditional theater, fine Japanese cuisine, and the tea ceremony.  The course included a one-day side trip to Hiroshima to visit the museums and monuments dedicated to the story of the atomic bomb.

Preparation for the trip included basic Japanese language training, lectures and readings on Japanese history and civilization, and films and documentaries about Japanese customs and culture.

“In a classroom, you might introduce the historical figure Sakamoto Ryōma with a picture on a PowerPoint slide and some basic facts,” says Barclay. “But when we’re in Kyoto, his name comes up when we see the monument that marks the place of his assassination. Gathered around that marker, we discuss not only what he did to usher in the birth of modern Japan, but we also get to talk about why people are still fascinated by him.”

Japan pond

Computer science major Marc Singer ’13 (Armonk, N.Y.), who has taken elementary level Japanese, has always been interested in Japanese culture and history and was excited about the chance to learn more.

“Learning about the history itself, and how the past events created the Japan we know today, was definitely interesting,” he says. “A very memorable moment was seeing Osaka Castle for the first time. Its size, as well as the art of its construction, is much easier to appreciate when you are staring up at it. I think the experience opened my eyes to how little I knew about Japan.”

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