In order to teach students about the rich history located in and around Hikone, we teamed up with Visiting Scholar Taylor Atkins (Presidential Teaching Professor in the Department of History at Northern Illinois University) to offer a short history-centered program called “The Crossroads of Japan”. The program includes site visits around Shiga Prefecture, including tours of an original 17th century castle, an 18th century ninja dwelling, a fishing village that harbored medieval pirates, and a mountaintop temple known for the ferocity of its monastic army, in addition to many other fascinating and beautiful sites.
JCMU and Dr. Atkins will be teaming up once again in May 2016 to provide students with another opportunity to participate in this unique, excellent short program! To provide more information about the what life is like on the program to prospective students, we caught up with many of the 2015 Crossroads students and interviewed them about their time in Hikone.
Abdullah: “For me, I asked a Japanese friend about any Japan study abroad programs and he mentioned JCMU. I went on the JCMU website and saw it was the cheapest program, and decided to do it.”
Lukas: “There was a small mention of the program on my university’s study abroad page, and I decided Japan? No Japanese language required? I was in.”
Jordan: “I go to Northern Illinois University and at the study abroad fair, I saw Professor Atkins’ table and decided to participate.”
Mike: “I heard about it through at the study abroad fair at my university from Professor Atkins. I thought it was the coolest thing, and decided to participate.”
Before you arrived in Japan, what were your expectations of the program? In other words, how did you expect the program to go?
Abdullah: “For me, I expected it to be a lot of sightseeing. But I didn’t really expect there to be much class material, so that was a little bit of a shock.”
Lukas: “I expected more sight visits to museums, but we went to a lot more varied, cooler places.”
Mike: “Before, I thought the program was going to be on a smaller scale than it actually was. I didn’t think I would meet many other people outside of the program. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how many people I actually met and became friends with.”
Would you say that the field excursions benefited your historical understanding of Japan?
Abdullah: “I think the site seeing eased our thinking with the readings we did, so it illustrated what we read in our texts.”
Lukas: “It really brought the readings to life.”
Jordan: “Really, I got to experience a lot than I would’ve with just photos and the text alone because seeing the sights is more engaging and interesting than what I would’ve otherwise experienced.”
Are there things this program showed you that would have been impossible to learn in the States?
Abdullah: “Yeah, the shrines and the temples illustrated the differences and similarities between Shinto and Buddhism. We wouldn’t really be able to get into these things in the States and wouldn’t see how Shinto and Buddhism work side by side in their architecture and proximity to each other.”
Lukas: “Seeing everything firsthand does it so much more justice than seeing the locations in photos and reading about the material in books.”
Jordan: “I think you could learn a lot of the materials in the States, but seeing it in Japan has really helped me retain the information. In addition, being in Japan has made the learning experience feel like a vacation.”
Mike: “I think that this program gives you a firsthand, organic experience that a lot of science and engineering students can make use of because they can directly work with their subjects by looking at museums and the other sites we went to. I think it’s open to whatever you want, whether you’re a history major, art major, whatever – even though it’s history themed, it’s great for everyone.”
Would you say that the program has been beneficial to your academic and professional goals?
Abdullah: “For me, yes, definitely. My major’s mechanical engineering, but since I get into Japanese stuff I wanted to have a background in the Japanese culture. I’ve never studied about Shinto so studying it for the first time was a bit overwhelming, but it helped me get deep into Japanese history and let me practice my Japanese language skills.”
Lukas: “I think the most valuable thing for me was being on a study abroad program by myself. It’s been a learning experience and allowed me to mature as a person.”
Jordan: “In terms of my Japanese studies, this trip showed me how much more I have to go. I only finished the beginning of my studies and understood a little more than I thought I would, but now I feel like I have a better idea of what I need to do. In addition, as an art major, I wanted to improve myself artistically and improve myself for further pieces. All the pictures I’ve taken and all the sights I’ve seen have really made me want to capture what I’ve seen, both in terms of natural and urban landscapes.”
Mike: “I think this program was a great way for me to benefit a future career in studying about Japan and the Japanese language, particularly meeting Japanese people and having them help you learn the language. Through this, you can get a really good start with learning about Japanese culture, language, and the country. So if you wanted to teach or have any other further professional opportunities in Japan, then this program would be a good way to get you started.”
Was the way in which Professor Atkins taught the course easy to understand and instructive?
Lukas: “He taught very clearly, spoke clearly, seemed knowledgeable, and was willing to learn with his students.”
Jordan: “I felt it was really beneficial to stick by Professor Atkins for everything we did, because if something caught his attention that he thought would be invaluable to our learning, we’d be right there to hear it. He was flexible with the trips, which I thought was cool.”
Mike: “I think he always tried to include things that were not specifically on the trips, especially with the Korean procession through Omihachiman. He would connect things directly to the bigger picture to so you get a full context of Japanese history as a whole so you’re not just learning about specific things so you learn about Japan’s history from a local and national perspective simultaneously. I feel like I learned more about Japan generally and specifically at the same time, so it was the best of both worlds. You could tell he put time into the program, no trips were wasted and he was always willing to modify plans for the students.”
For those that aren’t history majors, would you say that the program was accessible?
Lukas: “It was very accessible, this information was interesting regardless of what career path you’re on.”
Jordan: “Some of the chapters we read were hard for me to get through, but actually going to the sites and discussing the material with my classmates and Professor Atkins more than made up for the confusion I sometimes had with the readings.”
For those that are history majors, do you believe that the material in the program helped you become a more well-informed student of history?
Corey: “Yeah, I would say the coolest thing about was having a connection in the readings to the locations we visited, unlike typical history classes on campus.”
Mike: “Yeah, I would say so. I think in a way you get to practice your historical skills right away. You’re not just reading about it in a textbook, but you also get to experience. Especially with the omi joufu and the butsudan, I think those trips were valuable because you get to see the thing being made so you get to see how it might have been done traditionally and at the time we were studying and you don’t usually see things actually being done, so it was really cool as a history major.”
What was your favorite thing about the Crossroads program?
Jordan: “My favorite trip was probably Chikubushima, out of all the trips, I thought that it was the most interesting and full of Japanese culture. I liked all of the trips, though.”
Robert: “The camaraderie with my classmates was great. We became very intimate in a matter of days.”
Lukas: “I enjoyed seeing all of the various sites in Japan and meeting all sorts of new friends.”
Abdullah: “The site seeing was amazing. The ninja houses, Chikubushima… it was all great.”
Mike: “I think my favorite part was meeting and talking with Japanese speakers (both American and native speakers). It made the program much more culturally integrated, and let me learn even more about the class materials.”
Overall, would you recommend the program to other students?
Jordan: “Yes, absolutely! Anybody who’s interested in the culture would find it interesting.”
Arley: “I know it’s cliché, but it was a great life changing experience and I would recommend it.”
Lukas: “It’s a great program, especially as an introduction to studying abroad.”
Mike: “Absolutely. I think for people who haven’t taken any Japanese or know nothing about Japanese history, this would be a great program because it’s short so not too long if you don’t like it, but if you do like it it’s a great introduction to the information.”
We would like to thank all of the 2015 Crossroads students for taking the time to talk to us about their time in Hikone! To learn more about what the program entails and how to apply, please check out the Crossroads webpage.