There is an idiom in Japanese tea ceremony “ichi-go ichi-e,” which refers to the kind of experience happens only once in a lifetime. For me, the two months at the Japan Foundation Japanese-Language Institute, Kansai (Kansai Center) could exactly be described as a once-in-a-lifetime occasion that is memorable and treasurable.
Memories unfolded as I was writing in Tokyo during my extended research trip, bringing me to the first day of the two-month journey. The fruitful and unforgettable summer at the Kansai Center began with the warm welcoming from the front desk and the view of sunset seascape when I just got into my room. The next day upon our arrival was the orientation, when I met the other ten cohorts of this year’s program and our tutors. Eleven of us came from all over the world, from various cultural backgrounds and have different expertise, but we all got together for the same purpose – to improve our Japanese-language skills.
The training program was well-designed, tailored not only for improving our language skills but also for conducting research during our stay in Japan. We were divided into different classes based on the result of a placement test. Classes were from Monday to Thursday, while Fridays and Weekends were usually reserved for self-research and other cultural activities organized by the center. There were both required classes – academic writing, grammar and presentation – and elective classes – kanji and conversation. In addition to the regular curriculum, there were also workshops designed to improve our practical skill, such as email writing, cultural understanding, Japanese typing, academic terms and database research. To help us reflect on our study progress, each of us was assigned a tutor, with whom we met every two weeks for a personal tutorial, and on weekly basis for personal academic reading or writing tutorial based on our research needs. In my case, I met with my tutor for academic reading tutorial, doing close reading and transliteration of Meiji-period articles under her instruction.
When we were equipped with these basic skills, we went for a three-day research trip to Tokyo (or other cities of your choice) as part of the program. Prior to the research trip, tutors and librarians at the center helped us to get prepared, set up plans and got in touch with archives, libraries or specialists that we planned to visit. For me, it was an invaluable opportunity to collect archival materials and look at original artworks in Tokyo’s various collections. It was also my first experience to conduct archival research in Japan, which would not have been going so smoothly without the generous help of our librarians at the center who offered us workshops on database research and got me in touch with Tokyo University libraries and Tobunken Library. What I have been rewarded during the short research trip was not only the research materials collected from the libraries but also the experience to work with Japanese archives in the future. I applied for extension of stay upon finishing the program, staying in Tokyo for another week to conduct archival works before going back to U.S.
In addition to improving my Japanese skill and conducting field research, the gem of this program was about connecting me to the culture that I am working on and to the people that I will definitely be working with in the future. During the program, we had the chance to take part in a Japanese calligraphy class and a traditional tea ceremony, and also went on a one-day cultural exchange program with students from Kobe University, and a watch a Bunraku play. At the end of the program, each of us presented our research project at the final conference in front of the teachers and the staff of the center and the local community. For many of us, like me, it was the first time to present our research in Japanese in public, and it was so rewarding to get the comments and questions from the peer students and the Japanese audiences.
All in all, the most treasurable part of these two months were the people that I met, talked to, got to know. I was so glad to have studied under the instruction of the teachers at the Kansai Center, who were not only monitoring my problems during my study, but also offering me advice and study materials for continuing learning Japanese in the future. It was also difficult to say how much I have benefited from the kindness and professionality of the librarians at the center, they guided me through my archival work in Japan from the beginning, introduced me to the center’s collection that is related to my research. Every staff at the center was kind and helpful, supporting our life with great care throughout the two months. Last but not least, the peers of the course, the great researchers from all over the world, were absolutely treasures I found during the program. Some of us were able to establish intellectual friendship for our future academic careers. I always felt that it was really lucky for me to have participated in this program at the early stage of my doctoral study. The program itself was “ichi-go ichi-e,” a gathering that was unrepeatable, but the experience and connections established during the two months will never fade out.