Kakehashi 2023: Reflections from Katie Bolissian
Katie Bolissian, Master of Public Policy, 2023
February 2023 marked the return of the Japan-Canada Kakehashi Project, and I was one of 15 students honored to represent the University of Toronto delegation on this special exchange. Throughout seven wonderful days, we became deeply immersed in Japanese culture, history, and hospitality firsthand, learning what it means to be a “Kakehashi” (bridge) between the two nations. For many of us, it was our first time in Japan and I can speak on behalf of everyone when I say that we are all very keen to return soon. Highlights of my trip included meeting Princess Takamado at the Imperial Palace, experiencing advancements in robotics at TEPIA, and meeting students from Kanda University of International Studies who made our stay in Japan truly wonderful.
We rose early on our first morning in Japan to travel to the Imperial Palace to hear a welcome speech from the honorable Princess Takamado inside her official residence. While the nerves of the group were evident, it was a surreal experience to go inside the perfectly manicured Palace grounds and to hear from the Princess about how important the relationships between our two countries are and will continue to become in the contemporary age. After the speech, we were able to have an intimate Q&A with the Princess and I left this experience with a deeper appreciation of Japanese history and opportunities present for collaboration in Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy.
From visiting the shopping districts of Harajuku to visiting major temples like the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, each day presented new possibilities to learn about different aspects of Japanese culture and lifestyle. The representatives of the Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) expertly crafted a wonderful itinerary that allowed us to learn about traditional customs like tea ceremonies and washi paper making while also allotting us free time every day to explore Tokyo ourselves. Sightseeing was made even better as the Kanda University students accompanied us to many of the outings, giving us a perspective on what sights and foods local citizens like to enjoy.
Although the entire trip was incredible, the most memorable part for me was the home visit with Chinatsu Ogiso of Kanda University and her family. The Ogiso family welcomed me with open arms into their home where I got to meet Chinatsu’s mother, sister, grandparents, and pet bird named Happy. We shared gifts and meals, and I felt very lucky to have tried traditional foods from her grandparent’s hometown in northern Japan and also to spend time asking and answering questions about the differences and similarities between our two countries. I additionally was honored to try on a kimono belonging to their family and learned about the historical origins of the garment. Although our trip was relatively short, it felt as if I had known Chinatsu’s family for a much longer time, and am so excited that I now have a lifelong friend in Japan.
Even though a month has passed since the Kakehashi project, I still have trouble articulating how grateful I am to have been chosen for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. There has never been a more important time for Canada to cooperate with Japan and to promote our shared values on the world stage. Although I have been studying Japan for four years, this trip has strengthened my personal and professional interests in the country and I hope to return very soon.