One week of sushi, robots and cultural investigation
By Wanda Praamsma, Communications Officer
One week doesn’t sound like nearly enough time to explore Japan.
But for three Queen’s students, it proved to be plenty to delve into the culture, both academically and socially.
There over reading week in February, the students spent their days working on a cultural project with Japanese students at the Japan-Canada Academic Consortium (JACAC) forum and the rest of the time wandering the streets of Tokyo, eating the “best sushi,” and making new friends.
“The experience went far beyond what I expected,” says Cory Bentley (Artsci’14), who attended the forum with Meagan Berlin (Law’16) and Hasina Daya (Artsci’14). “I was so impressed with how the whole week went, but especially the level of connections JACAC cultivated for us.”
At one event, the students had the opportunity to meet with Princess Takamado, a member of the Japanese Imperial family and widow of Norihito, Prince Takamado, and were notably inspired by her graciousness and confidence. Students also had the opportunity to chat with Mackenzie Clugston, Ambassador of Canada to Japan, and his senior staff. For Mr. Bentley, these meetings were especially significant, as he plans to spend the next year (or more) in Japan through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme.
But, it wasn’t just the high-level connections that captivated the Queen’s students.
The JACAC forum is designed to bring students from both countries together to exchange ideas about a common topic of interest, and this year students were split into groups to discuss the challenges of an aging society, comparing both Canada and Japan.
“I really enjoyed the group work with the Japanese students,” says Ms. Berlin. “Everyone took each other’s background into consideration and we worked together to understand one another. Canadians and the Japanese have different styles of communication and at times the Canadians, who are much more direct, had to back off a bit to give the Japanese students the space and time to communicate their views.”
Ms. Daya agrees: “The Japanese are extraordinarily polite and won’t leap into a conversation like we would. I am someone who talks a lot, and I learned that traditionally, people who talk a lot are not trusted in Japanese culture. The students explained that this applies more to older generations, but it still helped me to better understand the social context.”
At the end of the week, the groups presented on various aspects of the aging question. Mr. Bentley’s group, who investigated economic short- and long-term solutions to dealing with an aging population, won first prize for best presentation, an honour that garnered his team a photo with Princess Takamado. In addition to the group work and presentations, students also heard lectures from various university faculty on topics such as the challenges, and opportunities, of an aging society.
The students also went on field trips. A highlight was the trip to Cyberdyne, a Japanese company that specializes in creating robotic suits that strap onto human bodies and work on neuro-electric impulses. The robots are particularly designed to help the elderly conduct daily tasks when their own bodies are failing.
I wanted to do something academic over reading week, but I was not expecting how beneficial this ended up being. The whole thing blew me away.
Meagan Berlin (Law'16)
Outside conference hours, students were free to do their own thing and much of the time they ended up hanging out with their Japanese counterparts, in the morning going out to eat a traditional Japanese breakfast (miso soup, grilled salmon, rice and a raw egg) and in the evening visiting izakayas, where they say much of the Japanese business world gathers after work. On the weekend, Ms. Berlin and Ms. Daya got an early start (2:30 am) to visit the famed Tsukiji fish market, which only admits 120 tourists per day to view the tuna auction.
“I wanted to do something academic over reading week, but I was not expecting how beneficial this ended up being. The whole thing blew me away – the group work, the quality of the lectures, the connections with Japanese students,” says Ms. Berlin.
The JACAC forum is held alternately in Canada and Japan each year. Member universities of JACAC are guaranteed one student spot in the forum each year, but this year Queen’s secured three spots. Altogether, 14 Canadian students and 14 Japanese students participated in the forum.