JCMU will be hosting the inaugural JCMU Symposium next year from June 3-4! To help promote the event, we reached out to Dr. Taylor Atkins, a distinguished scholar of Japanese history from Northern Illinois University and one of the speakers at the symposium, and asked him about his time at JCMU in Hikone.
I first came to JCMU on the Visiting Scholar Program in January 2013, to teach an elective course on the history of popular culture in Japan. I brought along my wife and two daughters; I’d had my eye on the JCMU program for some years because it seemed like a great way to give them the experience of living in Japan, without having to search for housing and all of the other attendant inconveniences. Plus, I did not want to live in a big city like Tokyo or Ōsaka. Before our children were born, my wife and I lived in Yokohama for 21 months (1993-95) while I was on a Fulbright Fellowship, studying intensively at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies, and doing historical and ethnographic research for my dissertation. I spent plenty of time in Tokyo and thought, “Mō ii!!” I wanted my daughters to live in a quieter part of Japan, to which I myself had never been.
Living and working on the shores of Lake Biwa, with a view of the majestic Hikone Castle out my office window, was one my family’s greatest blessings. My wife and daughters spent a lot of time exploring the area, riding bikes in the wind and snow to go to mass at the Catholic church right across the moat from the castle, finding dango and other local sweets, hiking, and even climbing Mt. Ibuki. We had a hanami picnic on the castle grounds at the height of the cherry blossom season. We were stone Japanese—except in the absence of alcohol, we were not stoned Japanese.
In mid-March while we were at JCMU came word that I had been named Presidential Teaching Professor at my home institution, Northern Illinois University (NIU). The award provided four years of extra funding that I could use for teaching projects. Almost immediately the idea came to me to use the funds—at least for the first two years—to develop a study abroad class for JCMU’s May Program. In May 2014 I returned for a couple of weeks to plan the course and scout out potential field trip sites. The following year I taught the two-week course—Crossroads of Japan—to ten students, six from the Michigan consortium, and four from NIU. It was a resounding success; the students had a blast, did their work, and adapted to life in Japan beautifully. I’d hoped to offer it again in 2016, but failed to get enrollments. Nonetheless, the resourceful Resident Director Ben McCracken made a way for me to return to Hikone, to co-teach the Japanese Culture and Society course. I will be doing so again in 2017.
I am excited to present at the JCMU Symposium and to meet other scholars who will attend. I will be presenting on my latest book project, a book for college course adoption entitled A History of Popular Culture in Japan, From the Seventeenth Century to the Present. It is based on the course I have taught several times at NIU and once at JCMU. Bloomsbury Press will likely put it out in 2017 for the fall semester.
Despite my previous extended stays in Ōsaka and Yokohama, and regular visits to Okazaki to see my good friends of over twenty years, Hikone has become my home in Japan. There are so many other places in Japan that I have not yet visited, and I certainly hope to do so. But it is for Hikone that I—and my family—pine. My daughters are eager to return to Japan someday, but if they did not make it to Hikone on such a visit, they’d be disappointed. I can’t wait until my next visit!