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Undergrads visit Japan - again!

05/14/2014

For the past three years, history professor Dr. Kailai Huang has brought groups of students to Japan over the spring break due to a steady interest on campus in Japanese culture, including pop culture/anime, the fine arts, cuisine and religion.

"Japan is on the forefront of globalization. It also thoughtfully pursues the balance between the adaptation of outside influences and the preservation of its traditions," Huang said. "Students see things foreign and familiar there."

The trip offered Katie Doolittle '14 of Syracuse, N.Y., the perfect opportunity to see how life in Japan differs from that in America. "I learned a lot about the religion, food, and architecture."

This semester, Doolittle and 10 other students embarked on the trip, which included stops in Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Matsuyama on the Shikoku Island. Some of the highlights were visits to palaces, temples, shrines and castles; a ride on the Shinkansen "bullet" train; a stay in a traditional Japanese Ryokan inn; a soak in the 3,000-year-old Dogo Onsen, Japan's oldest hot-spring spa; and enjoying a wide variety of Japanese food.

For Megan Casey '14 of East Brookfield, Mass., and Elise Carbonell '17 of North Andover, Mass., the best part of the trip was the opportunity to eat a diverse array of Japanese meals.

"The first day there I had a meal with a raw egg and knew I was in for a treat," said Casey.

"I am a huge fan of Japanese food and I eat it all the time here in the states," Carbonell said. However, "To actually eat actual Japanese food was a big shock for me. Their food is very different then what we typically see as Japanese food. The portions are smaller and a lot of it is pickled."

Miranda Phipps '15 of Monson, Mass., went at the recommendation of friends who had gone to Japan in previous years. The experience marked her first trip to a foreign country.

In addition to being "fantastic," the experience led Phipps to make some changes in her life. "I certainly exercise more, and I have learned the importance of faith - whether it's in a God or in some sort of belief. There's also the importance of tradition meeting the modern world, something that is quite difficult. But, Japan seems to make it work flawlessly."

The trip was not the first time Sarah Robinson '15 of Lanesboro, Mass., went to Japan. Because her mother is Japanese, she'd been there to visit friends and family on many occasions.

"Even though I've been there so many times, my view of looking at Japan from a educational view was very inspiring and pleasantly different from going there as someone who is visiting family," Robinson said. "I've been to most of the cities we visited, but I was too young to understand. Now that I'm older, I'm able to appreciate and love Japan for more than just their photo booths and food."

For Britney Blevins '16 of Boston, Mass., who has loved Japanese anime, manga and video games since her childhood, going to Japan was the realization of a longtime dream. She even studied the Japanese language in high school in anticipation of visiting there one day.

Tokyo was her favorite part of the experience.

"I felt very at home there because it was very similar to Boston. Being a city girl, I had no problems navigating the subway or asking for directions. Landmarks such as Tokyo Disneyland, the Pokemon Center and Tokyo Tower were all accessible by train," Blevins said.

Her favorite Tokyo destination was Akihabara, or "The Electric Town," where many stores are dedicated to technology and various aspects of pop culture.

"These places are talked about in many video games and anime, and being able to visit all of them was a defining moment in my life."