Kakehashi 2023: Reflections from Leo Zhu
Leo Zhu, Bachelor of Arts, Political Science, 2023
It was on an unusually cold day walking to my next class on the campus of the University of Toronto, St George when I had the pleasant surprise of being notified that I was selected as one of the thirty honoured students to participate in the Kakehashi program. The news came as a surprise due to when I was handing in the physical applications at Munk School I initially doubted whether I could get in. But upon receiving my acceptance, I was extremely pleased to know that I would become one of the many “kakehashis” between Canada and our neighbour across the Pacific Sea. Being one of the fifteen honoured students from the University of Toronto cohort that was invited on behalf of the Foreign Ministry of Japan to visit the country of Japan, I believe I would be speaking on behalf of my entire cohort that this program was an extremely eye-opening and valuable experience for us.
The most important and memorable event during our stay was on the first day when we visited Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado. Our conversations with Her Imperial Highness defined our position as “bridges” between our two nations and the exchanges we had became the most valuable of the program. Our questions were answered passionately and we learned thoroughly about Japan’s desire to continue cooperating with Canada in the contemporary era.
Our visits to Harajuku, Akihabara, Chiba, Kanda University of International Studies, Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, Meiji Jingu, and many other places showed how diverse the country of Japan is. It was at the same time, as displayed in Harajuku and Akihabara, an extremely advanced and modern cosmopolitan society with international influences. On the other hand, Narita Sensoji Temple and Meiji Jingu displayed the uniqueness of Japanese culture and the Japanese people’s pride in their history. It is in the Kanda University of International Studies with its students who graciously hosted us that we found its likeness with our Western society, yet on the opposite side we find in the streets of Chiba and the homes of fellow students an almost alien society with its own rules and way of life.
Kakehashi's project showed me a different Japan, not the one portrayed in popular media or perpetrated by Japonism fantasies. Rather, the Kakehashi project displayed the real Japan. A country just like any other country, a country with contradictions. No film, book, or single method of communication can portray the realities of Japan, the real Japan. And it is through this reality, that allows our cohort to forever become the “Kakehashi” between the two nations of Japan and Canada. I once again thank all staff members that helped in organizing the Kakehashi project, I am honoured to be able to participate in this incredible experience. I hope the next generation of Kakehashi participants will continue where we, the 2022 cohort left off, and continue to fuel cooperation and understanding between the peoples of Canada and Japan. I hope I can visit Japan again soon.