Kakehashi 2023: Reflections from Amelia Gipp
Amelia Gipp, B.Sc. Geographical Information Systems, 2023
During the reading week of February 2023, I was one of 15 students from the University of Toronto that had the honour of visiting Japan as part of the Kakehashi project to learn about and experience Japanese history and culture. It was a week of amazing experiences and interactions with many people and sites which has most definitely left an impact on my life. I got the opportunity to make new friends and memories to last a lifetime and I cannot wait to visit again.
The University of Toronto cohort mainly stayed in Tokyo and the neighbouring Chiba district where we got to explore historical sites such as the Meiji Jingu shrine and the Imperial Palace, as well as more modern areas like Harajuku and the Tokyo Sky Tree. We visited institutions like the Washi Paper Museum where we got to see the old-time tradition of making washi paper, which is still made today the way it was hundreds of years ago. We also visited the TEPIA Advanced Technology Gallery to view the latest advancements in technology, things that I had never even considered possible in Canada.
The highlight of the trip for me was getting to know many people in Japan and I am honoured to have been able to do so. On our first full day in Japan, we got to meet with and talk to Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamodo. She welcomed us to Japan and talked about the country and its part in the modern world. Princess Takamodo's insights on Japanese politics and their relationship with Canada were deep and thought-provoking and made me realize just how close the two countries are. Our trip to the Kanda University of International Studies was another highlight of the trip, where we met students who were eager to become our friends and take us around their campus. They taught us traditional Japanese activities such as calligraphy, origami, and some of us even got the chance to try and play a few traditional instruments. I was happy to get the opportunity to see them again when they visited Canada in March. Moe and her family, as well as her best friend Kana were our host family for a day. They brought us to a local museum to see how the Chiba district had evolved into the place that it is today. At her family home, we were taught how to make Takoyaki and how to fold origami. Her family was very welcoming and eager to tell us about their home, as well as hear about our lives in Canada. Honestly, interacting with all of these people truly made me understand the meaning of Kakehashi, being a bridge between the two countries. I hope to have the chance to meet these wonderful people again in the future.
Funny enough, the things that surprised me about the Japanese lifestyle were the little things that I hadn’t considered before traveling there. I was fascinated by the different things their convenience stores sold, like the vast choices of snacks and drinks that I had never heard of. While confusing at first, I eventually got used to placing my cash or card in a plastic tray for the cashier to take and make the transaction. And yes, I wish that heated bidets everywhere were a thing in Canada now that I have experienced them quite literally everywhere in Tokyo.
I was blown away by this experience, and honestly wish I could relive the whole thing again. I wish to give a big thank you to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Japanese International Cooperation Center for making this trip possible. We got to visit a country steeped in traditional culture, yet also so modernized at the same time. Matsumoto-san, Shota-san, and Edo-san were wonderful tour coordinators, and I am grateful to them for everything they did during our trip. I hope to get the opportunity to visit Japan once again and learn even more about the country and its people.