Centre for the Study of Global Japan

Kakehashi 2023: Reflections from Grace Ho Lan Chong

Grace Ho Lan Chong, Master of Global Affairs, 2023

During the Fall semester of my second year in the Munk School’s Global Affairs program, I took a Japanese Bilateral Diplomacy course where we covered Japan’s role in the global world order and its socio-political history. When the opportunity to apply for the Kakehashi program came up, I was excited to combine what I’d learned in the class with a visit to the country. “Kakehashi,” which means “building bridges” perfectly described our role in strengthening the cultural and social ties between Canada and Japan.

No one encapsulates that better than Princess Takamado, who spent an afternoon with our cohort. She answered our many questions regarding youth culture, politics, and bilateral and multilateral relations. Having spent a part of her education abroad, she was able to provide insight on the importance of cultural exchanges, and why she encourages Japanese youth to pursue opportunities to travel abroad. It set the tone for the rest of our trip as we visited Japanese shrines and markets, along with university campuses and homestays.

One of the most interesting afternoons was spent at TEPIA Advanced Technology Gallery, where we dipped our toes into the world of Japanese robotic technology. As part of the exhibit, we did some coding to create commands for mini-robots to test on an obstacle course. Afterward, we watched a mini-documentary on the design and construction of the Tokyo Skytree. It was fascinating to learn about anti-earthquake technology days after we’d visited the Skytree. As a student of global affairs and public policy, it was a privilege to get a front-row seat to the solution-oriented problem-solving process within technology and design that Japan is famous for.

Headed into the trip, I also wanted to find my way to explore Japanese culture outside of the itinerary. I decided to use music, the ‘universal language,’ as the connecting bridge. During our first afternoon with free time, I turned to the woman next to me at a cafe. Through my Japanese translation book and Google Translate, we drummed together a short conversation. As she plugged in J-rock bands onto my Spotify playlist, she talked about living with her parents and being an office worker.

Over the next week, this scenario repeated itself - an old lady spoke excitedly about Miki Matsubara and Rina Sawayama, a shy high schooler got his sister to add some rock songs after she added a few J-pop songs. A few strangers I met at a restaurant were thrilled to discover that YOASOBI and ZARD were already on the playlist, a result of the university students who had taken us around their campus. Princess Takamado laughed and said I should speak to her daughters, a few days before our Japanese homestay family blasted Fujii Kaze and RADWIMPS on our drive to their neighborhood shrine as the sunset along the road.

This trip would not have been possible without the tireless effort of the Government of Japan, the Japan International Cooperation Center, the Centre for the Study of Global Japan, and the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. To not only learn about Japan’s unique history and culture but to also be able to experience it up close from the welcoming home of our homestay hosts was truly a humbling and amazing experience. The Kakehashi Project has encouraged me to continue learning about and engaging with Japanese culture, politics, and history.