Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Report on a Study Trip to Japan for High School Teachers
Report on a Study Trip to Japan for High School Teachers

Report on a Study Trip to Japan for High School Teachers

Report on a Study Trip to Japan for High School Teachers


The following report is based on the experiences of participants of the 2018 Study Trip to Japan (June 21 – July 5, 2018), co-sponsored by the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. The trip was supported by a grant from the US-Japan Foundation.

To review lessons plans prepared by participating teachers, click here.

For the past 20 years, the Foreign Policy Research Institute has sponsored what is now called the Butcher History Institute for High School Teachers, a series of weekend-long intensive workshops on topics in American and world history and international relations. We’re proud to say that teachers from 47 states have participated in these programs. In addition, for the past few years, we’ve begun conducting study trips abroad for groups of high school teachers. Below is a report of our Summer 2018 trip to Japan.

Led by Paul Dickler, Associate Director of the Wachman Center for Civic and International Literacy at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and Frank Chance, Emeritus Professor in East Asian Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, the Study Trip to Japan sought to immerse 18 American high school teachers (from 9 states) in Japanese culture, history, and politics through a combination of lectures before and during the trip as well as with site visits and access to relevant resources. (A report on our 2016 trip to Japan can be accessed here, while a report on our 2015 study trip to South Korea can be accessed here.)

Prior to the two-week study tour, an online program of lectures, readings, and recommended activities were provided exclusively for study tour participants. Presenters included Robert Pekkanen, Jacques DeLisle, Frank Chance, Linda Chance, Mark Peterson, and Gil Rozman. Topics ranged from minorities in Japan to Japanese history, culture, and politics. Relations with China, Korea, and the United States were also explored.

The participants journeyed from across the United States to Japan, and met as a group for the first time in Narita, Japan. They spent one week in Hokkaido and one week in the Tokyo area. The Naritasan Shinshoji Temple in Narita was a great introduction to traditional Japan for a group of teachers who had never been to the country. Narita is a town that has preserved the past while incorporating the modern.

Upon arrival in Tokyo, participants visited the Edo-Tokyo Museum, Asakusa Kannon Temple, Nakamise shopping district, and the Kappabashi District. The second day in Tokyo included the Yanaka Cemetery, the Tokyo National Museum, the Meiji Shrine, the Harajuku District, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Building.

After arriving in Hokkaido, participants visited Kaitaku no mura “Pioneer Village,” not far from Sapporo, which gave the group the perspective of the Japanese dominant culture concerning the settlement of Hokkaido.

Visiting to Hokusei Gakuin Middle and High School was a major highlight for all participants. The teachers were given a full tour of the school as well as time to observe classes and interact with students and teachers. The American teachers quickly saw the differences between their own schools and this school in Sapporo. The cleanliness of the building, the student participation and responsibility for lunch and the facility, the uniforms, and much more, all had an impact on the participants.

After leaving the Hokusie Gakuin School, the group paid a visit to the Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium and Olympic Museum. This glimpse into Sapporo’s past as well as the superb view of Sapporo with its present population of 1.7 million was another highlight. Participants also visited the Hokkaido Prefectural Museum. This free museum is loaded with both past and recent history. The museum itself is housed in an historic building filled with reminders of the past.

The participants next visited the fishing town of Otaru and the Yoichi Nikka Whiskey Distillery, steeped in both Japanese traditions and Western influences. Another seaside stop was made near Shakotan.

On June 28, the group departed for Asahikawa. Here, the group visited the Otokoyama Sake Brewery Museum and Brewery. The visits to Mt. Asahidake, Mt. Daisetsu, the Sounkyo Ropeway, and other viewing points illustrated the natural beauty of Hokkaido. The beauty of Daisetsuzan National Park surrounded the group. Departing from Sounkyo early the next morning, the group headed for Noboribetsu via the Tomita Farm and Flower Gardens as well as the Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum. Beautiful landscapes and plantings, along with lavender ice cream, were followed by an immersion into the lives of the Ainu. Their story was told, and their perspective was learned.

The trip to Hakodate from Nibutani had many stops. The bizarre Showa Shinzan was the site of one of two bear farms in Hokkaido. The bear, regarded as the most powerful of the Ainu gods, is celebrated throughout Hokkaido. Yet, the bear farm just seemed to be a somewhat cruel version of a zoo. The Jomon Archaeology Museum provided insights into the earliest settlers in what is now Japan. The Ropeway afforded views of the entire fan-shaped city and well beyond. The second day in Hakodate included Mr. Komagatke, the Hakodate Jomon Culture Center, the Hakodate Bay District, and the Museum of the Northern Peoples. This day amplified the role of minorities in Japanese history and provided a further examination of the roots of all Japanese people. Of course, Hakodate’s rich history, including its early interactions with the West, was also the subject of discussion.

On the final day in Hokkaido, the group visited the Onuma National Park. Goryokaku Star Castle and Park and the Hakodate’s Magistrate’s Office were the subjects of guided tours and history briefings. Participants also toured the Koryuji Darumadaishi Buddhist Temple and the Trappistine Convent. Professor Chance explained the history and religious practices involving the Temple, while the group explored the Trappistine Convent grounds independently.

Tokyo was again visited during the last few days of the study tour. Tokyo, of course, is the political center of Japan and a critical economic center as well. Tokyo afforded the group with very important cultural and political sites. On July 3, the participants visited the Imperial National Gardens, the Diet, the American Center of the United States Embassy, as well as the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At the American Center, Jeremy Edwards spoke of United States relations with Japan, including environmental concerns. Edwards was candid about the nature of his job and the frequent assignment changes faced by State Department diplomats.

Keiichi Iwamoto presented a paper, entitled “The Current Japan-China Relations,” at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Most of the paper has been reproduced on the FPRI Japan Teachers’ Workshop page on Facebook. This accomplished speaker of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also discussed U.S.-Japan relations as well as Japan-Russia relations. Keiichi Iwamoto was most helpful in clarifying Japan’s approach to foreign policy. While Japan has borrowed much from the West, almost anything borrowed by Japan becomes transformed into something distinctively Japanese, even the country’s constitution. Prime Minister Abe’s plans and policies were also discussed, including the dissonance between his widespread support personally and the limited support for changing Article 9. The significance of Emperor Akihito’s announced abdication was also discussed including its impact on the timing of the execution of the sarin gas subway attackers.

As the group traveled throughout the city to its many different regions, Japanese culture and traditions were always on display. Obedience to the law, concern for the environment, cleanliness, bowing, following procedures—these behaviors are an integral part of life in Japan. Visits to the Tokyo-Edo Museum, the National Museum, and the Shinjuku Prefecture Building afforded insights into history and urban geography. Harajuku, Ueno, Skinjuku, Shibuya, Asakusa, Minato, and many other sections of Tokyo provided a look at its varied neighborhoods but common cultural features.

Seeing how the Japanese had transformed American Baseball was fascinating and also served as a good example of one of the study tour’s main themes: cultural borrowing. Japan uses a larger, harder baseball, which changes the game. Teams and players focus on the short ball and defensive strategies. The fans were like American college football fans, with bands, cheerleaders, and wildly active fan activities. Notably, the pitcher apologized when hitting a batter. Games could end in a twelve inning tie. Safety netting really protected fans, and “excitement seats” were only available for the truly prepared, meaning helmets and gloves. One can see how many regular traditional cultural elements were grafted onto the culturally borrowed American baseball, ultimately making the game Japanese in style.

On the last full day in Japan, participants journeyed to Kamakura by train prior to attending the baseball game. After an intensive two weeks of travel and study, Kamakura was intended to be a relaxing visit. Participants saw Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine, Kotoku-in, Kamakura Daibutsu, Hasedera, and Enoshima. Buddhism’s and Shintoism’s place in Japanese life and culture was further explored at Kamakura. The theme of maintaining Japanese cultural values was thus on display again.

As teachers begin to teach their new Japan topics and courses, they are also expected to participate in transmitting their knowledge and lesson plans to other teachers through internal school meetings and at teaching conferences. In addition, some teachers will hold educator workshops at their schools, some will arrange special events engaging teachers and students, and others will form clubs or pen pal groups with Japanese students, as well as teach Japan-centered courses.

FPRI personnel and participating teachers continue to update the FPRI Japan Teachers Workshop Page on Facebook on topics ranging from music and lighting in Tokyo’s subways to flooding in Kyoto, from the Japanese perspective on abortion to Japan’s relationship with China, from Japanese professional baseball to Japanese vending machines.

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