“Japan: Its History and People” is this year’s theme for the Wyatt Exploration Program. Japan has a very long and rich history. Ruled by chieftains during antiquity, aristocracy emerged and established the imperial system that governed all of Japan. After centuries of rule, the samurai (aristocratic warriors) grabbed hegemony of Japan and maintain their hegemony until the mid 19th century. Faced with the rapidly changing world of 19th century brought upon by western nations’ thrust into the Pacific, the samurai dismantled their own world and instituted various reforms and changes for survival. Not only did Japan survive but also became the first Asian nation to form a constitution that called for a constitutional monarchy. By the beginning of the 20th century, Japan became a world power but this century was one of turmoil. The democratic tradition was derailed and the militarists gained control of Japan. The Second World War resulted in Japan’s first defeat and occupation by foreign powers, its industrial base and cities destroyed, and its people starving on the streets. However, in less than a decade after the war, Japan was rebounding back and saw what is commonly known as an “economic miracle.” This economic recover resulted in an interesting dichotomy; Japan and the United States clashed viciously over trade issues, but at the same time acknowledged that the alliance between the two countries were indispensible. The post war Japan also saw a boom in American popular culture. Initially, fashion, movies, and music poured into Japan; then, in 1971, MacDonald’s opened its first Asian store in Tokyo. MacDonald’s became part of the Japanese vocabulary. By the late 20th century, Japanese culture became much more visible in the United States. Generations grew up with Sony and Nintendo and some immersed themselves in anime. As things Japanese became more common in the United States, people to people contact increased as more Americans went to Japan.
Japan is a country that has experienced a number of changes, but despite these changes, tradition remains strong and the Japanese have a strong sense of history. As we journey through this year’s Wyatt Exploration Program, we will experience this history and its people. The ancient capital of Kyoto retains much of its past. You will navigate through streets that were walked by those in the 10th century and visit Buddhist institutions that have been visited by the Japanese for centuries. In contrast to Kyoto, Fukuoka is bustling city with its high rises and subway. It is also a city with great history. Fukuoka has always been a gateway to Asia, but this was where the Mongols landed in their effort to invade Japan. The magnitude of this invasion can be felt by visiting Borui (sea wall). There is Daizaifu Tenmangu, a Shinto shrine built in the 10th century, outside of Fukuoka that is visited by 1000’s of students each year. Daizaifu’s deity is for scholarship; perhaps, a must visit for us.
Besides history, this Wyatt Exploration Program will be exploring the Japanese people through the lens of immigration and war. In Honolulu, we will visit the Hawaii’s Plantation Village to catch a glimpse of the conditions surrounding the Japanese immigrants in Hawaii. In Japan, there will be lectures in Fukuoka and Okinawa on the Japanese immigration. A very dark chapter in the US-Japan relationship is the Second World War. This trip will take place during the 70th anniversary of the ending of the Second World War. We will see how this war is being remembered by visiting Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima Peace Museum and various sites in Okinawa, including where the last battle of the Pacific War took place.
Visiting historical sites are meaningful. It is possible to feel the past. Another important aspect of this program is for the students to meet their Japanese counterparts. Thus, this program includes activities with students from Kitakyushu University. The value of understanding each other’s culture is immeasurable, and hopefully, students would engage in building bridges between the two countries.