Kakehashi 2023: Reflections from Jude Asare
Jude Asare, Master of Global Affairs, 2023; Master of Business Administration, 2023
Prior to being selected for the Kakehashi program, my impressions of Japan had been cultivated and shaped through a Bilateral Canadian-Japanese Diplomacy class I had taken as a Master's student at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. This class helped me to prepare for my trip by offering me a crash course on Japanese history, culture, and international relations. After a couple of weeks of anxiously waiting for the trip to commence, our journey took off without hitches on the 18th of February from Toronto, Canada. Our group consisted of students from the University of Toronto and the University of Ottawa.
The trip to Japan began on an important note. Our group had the privilege of meeting Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado at the Imperial Palace. This enlightening interaction set the tone for the rest of our stay as it allowed us to engage with the Princess on issues of mutual importance to Canada and Japan. After our conversation with the Princess, we were treated to some traditional Japanese snacks and desserts which were both savory and sweet. As a group, we were really glad to begin our trip on this note and that day is going to live long in our memories.
Another aspect of our trip that left a lasting impression on me was our daily visits to landmarks of historical importance in the Tokyo region. Of particular importance were our visits to the Sensoji Temple and the Meiji Shrine. These places of cultural and historical importance gave us a glimpse into Japanese religion and superstition as well as the bedrock of the modern Japanese state. I was particularly impressed by the maintenance of these sacred sites given that they were situated in the center of Tokyo. This allowed me to reflect on the excellent Japanese maintenance of and reverence for culture, religion, and national history.
One of the aspects of Japanese culture I was familiar with before the trip was that of “cool Japan”. As a child, I had some exposure to manga, anime as well as Japanese films. Thus, it was great to visit the famous Akihabara district which is home to venues focused on various aspects of Japanese pop/hip culture. This part of our trip introduced us to the duality of Japanese culture, which reveres the past but also celebrates modernity and cultural innovation. Indeed, our day in the district was a breath of fresh air and allowed us to snag up some Japanese souvenirs for friends and family back home.
The latter part of our stay was spent at the Kanda University of International Studies. This was another highlight of our trip that allowed us to immerse ourselves in Japanese higher learning culture through our interactions with students, professors, and staff. I was particularly struck by the attention to detail paid to the architecture and design of the campus; the language library had various sections which were built to mirror architecture from Korea, China, Brazil, and Spain for instance. This emphasized the institution’s openness to other cultures.
We capped off the trip with homestays with our host families in Chiba. As part of our homestay, we visited a community center where we had the chance to interact with other members of the community and were hosted at a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. We also got to experience some of the activities that were available to people of all ages which included a Japanese molding workshop, an English newspaper reading club for the retired, and basketball lessons for the young. This was interesting for me because the community center was designed to be a melting pot for people of all ages and all backgrounds. At my host family’s home, we engaged in traditional sushi making and I had the chance to try unagi and Japanese cheesecake for the first time. This allowed me to appreciate the effort behind the preparation of such Japanese delicacies.
All in all, our trip proved to be a memorable one; one that would live on in my memory forever. I look forward to visiting periodically in the future and would particularly like to visit other cities in Japan such as Osaka and Kyoto.