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!
Did your professional career take you back to JCMU? For our twenty-third installment in the “30 Years, 30 Stories” series, re-read the story of JCMU 2007-08 alum Eric Michaelsen (originally posted on December 20th, 2017), and learn how his career as an acupuncturist gave him a chance to travel once more to Hikone.
My name is Eric Michaelsen, and I am a Doctor of Oriental Medicine practicing in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I am a 2007-2008 JCMU program alum. During that time, I took 2nd year with Aizawa-Sensei and completed my Integrative Cultural Project (ICRP) on craft beer in Shiga!
I graduated from Kalamazoo College in 2009 with a double major in East Asian Studies and English before going on to join Teach For America, which placed me in New Orleans as an English teacher. However, despite some time apart from Japan, it never left my heart and I became the neighborhood source for the best izakaya (Japanese pub) and karaoke advice in New Orleans. We had frequent back yard screening parties of samurai films as well, including Yojimbo and Seven Samurai. My school, O. Perry Walker High School, had a relationship with Yoshio Toyama and the Wonderful World of Jazz Foundation, and during my time there, the students were able to complete an exchange trip to Japan!
Entering the World of East Asian Medicine
Eventually, my interest in wellness and healing led me to investigate East Asian Medicine. To be honest, I planned to leave Japanese behind and began to study Vietnamese and Chinese, more convinced of their extraordinarily deep needle techniques. As time went on, however, I was pulled back in with an introduction to my teacher, Kuwahara-Sensei, who taught me a Japanese method to get optimal results without harming the body with deep needles.
Now, I’ll be honest; my Japanese level is a comfortable N3 as determined by the JLPT. I used the Heisig method and memorized the common use Kanji, but I will say in earnest that I am far from fluent. However, my Japanese language has become incredibly content specific and I am able to understand teachings from practitioners in Japan. In the U.S., that gives me a leg up, as most of the research and advanced techniques are neither translated nor taught here. The benefit of travel of Japan and my understanding of the Japanese language is that my toolkits for diagnosis and treatment are far wider than some of my American peers without access to the Japanese language.
Returning to Shiga and JCMU
This past November, I was able to visit JCMU during a study trip to learn with some amazing practitioners. During that time, I wanted to return to Shiga because it is the home of Mount Ibuki, famous for its mugwort (mogusa or yomogi in Japanese), an important herb in the practice of East Asian medicine. In fact, Hikone’s “Kampo no Yado” hotel even has a mugwort bath on the top floor!
During my trip, I was able to swing by JCMU and give a presentation on my profession. We discussed the foundations of East Asian Medicine, including the differences between Traditional Chinese Medicine and the less commonly known Classical Japanese Medicine. I talked to students about diagnosis and treatment, and gave some examples of assessment. I was so floored to find a group of students excited to hear about something that falls outside the realm of “normal.” When I was 20, I am certain I would have rolled my eyes at my own presentation!
I was amazed by the time I spent in Shiga this time around. Hikone is a living, breathing city. Some places dear to me had transitioned; they were new businesses that I’m sure are dear to a new generation of students. Of course, there is always that bittersweetness in any homecoming. But the castle was amazing. When I was last in Hikone, it was celebrating 400 years of Hikone Castle. Now, celebrating 410, I was greeted by a new wave of Hikone Castle enthusiasm. The town is beautiful, and for those who have had the chance to visit, they will know what I mean when I say that the smell of Hikone was the most incredible and nostalgic part of the entire experience; the specific sweet fragrance of leaves and wood and lake that fill the air in Hikone are unlike anything else.
A Second Home in Japan
One of Kalamazoo College’s slogans is “at home in the world.” Yes, Kalamazoo is a home, but Shiga is also home. I love Hikone and JCMU, and to this day, some of my best friends in the universe are from my half-year at JCMU. Recently, on a trip to New York, I synced up with a friend who is a film producer and another who was the photographer aboard the Japanese Peace Boat at the same time that the ICAN, a Peace-Boat affiliated organization, won the Nobel Prize. When we were all in New York City by coincidence but huddled on a couch in a dive bar in Hell’s Kitchen, it might as well have been the student lounge in Hikone.
I can’t really say enough how much I love Shiga, the connection I feel as a Michigander to Lake Biwa. I think of Shiga as a second home, and I hope I always will. I was thrilled to visit Hikone again and I can’t wait until next time!