30 Years, 30 Stories: Vivid and Quaint

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2018 marks JCMU’s 30th anniversary since our founding in 1988. To celebrate, we will be posting 30 JCMU stories of 30 different JCMU alumni from 1989 to 2018 every Thursday from mid-February through September!

Was Shiga’s countryside location special to you? For our fourteenth installment in the “30 Years, 30 Stories” series, read the story of JCMU summer 2011 alum Robert McEwen (originally included in our winter 2012 newsletter), and discover how being away from the big cities gave him a new outlook on Japan.


As a wheelchair user, my journey to Japan from Missouri was an arduous and trying experience for my mother (who accompanied me) and I. Despite testing my determination, going to Shiga and attending JCMU was the best time of my life.

I grew up on a farm, so I have a certain appreciation of quaint things. Seeing the countryside of Shiga and observing the people there gave me a perspective of Japan that few people talk about. It showed me that we are different but on some level we are also the same.

I met many people that will always have a place in my heart. JCMU staff members Nishizawa-san and lga-san were like angels and did everything they could to help me. When I went around Hikone, I met an old man who talked to me. I was nervous because I knew only a little Japanese, but the things I could understand were very encouraging and it made me happy. The other students and I had the opportunity to meet school children. I will always remember the boy that treated me so kindly and even gave me a hug. Junko Yamaguchi and a group from the Lake Biwa Culture Center also took me on a day trip around Shiga, where we visited a village with thatched roof houses and the Hikone Castle Museum. I will always remember their kindness.

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Robert (center) with his summer 2011 classmates

I was unable to go to large cities like Kyoto or Tokyo (mostly because of my anxiety), but in being unable to do that I could see things about Hikone more in depth. Something that stands out vividly in my mind is on a seldom-used road close to JCMU. Hidden in the bamboo grove at the base of the mountain there is what I think is a small storehouse. It looked both modern and traditional with its wooden frame, tile roof, and a skeleton of metal painted red. The bamboo bowing and swaying in the breeze appeared to be hugging the building, and light filtered in beautifully. It was as though that building was meant to be there, stuck in time. I think that exemplifies Hikone perfectly: it’s a fair-sized city but seamlessly marries the natural beauty of Japan with the modern world. This is one of the many images of Hikone and Shiga that I will remember and hold dear.

I witnessed things that I may have never seen had I been able to visit the bigger cities. What I experienced remains vivid in my mind. I went to Japan loving Japan – and I left loving it even more.

Robert McEwen
JCMU Summer Class of 2011

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