Reflections on Kakehashi 2019

In February 2019, seventeen U of T students travelled to Japan to participate in the Kakehashi Project. Promoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and facilitated by the Centre for the Study of Global Japan in association with the Canadian administrator of the project, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, the program aims to develop a network of exchanges to deepen mutual understanding and friendship between Japan and Canada. On Monday, April 8, 2019, ten students who participated in this year’s Kakehashi Project as University of Toronto delegates shared engaging academic and personal reflections on their experiences. The student delegates presented on three thematically grouped panels, discussing topics ranging from the Internet of Things, to contemporary feminism and gender relations, to politics and diplomacy in Japan. The public presentation event was attended by University of Toronto faculty, staff, and students as well as representatives from the Asia Pacific Foundation in Toronto and the Consul-General of Japan in Toronto, Ms. Takako Ito.

Benson Ompoc, Jasmine Wright, and Vijai Kumar Singh, three Master of Global Affairs (MGA) candidates at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, led the first panel. Drawing on their interdisciplinary academic backgrounds, the group addressed the growing presence of Internet of Things (IoT) and its cross-sectoral applications across healthcare, agriculture, and business in Japan. Outlining how the Internet of Things is a network of everyday objects connected to the Internet, Ompoc, Wright and Singh discussed the ways IoT can be mobilized to mitigate a range of socio-economic and demographic concerns in Japan. They discussed the example of IoT making healthcare services more accessible to Japanese citizens, particularly the ageing population located in remote areas. The panel also addressed the potential of IoT to increase agricultural productivity and promote sustainable farming. Lastly, the panel outlined the role of IoT in the business sector by focusing on small and medium-sized enterprises and stakeholders.

The next panel comprised of Khadija Ahmed (MGA candidate), Stephanie Xu (senior undergraduate, Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies), and Cydney Melnyk (MGA candidate) shared their burgeoning academic interest and personal reflections on the question of feminism in Japan today. The group structured their discussion by first addressing the limits of their knowledge of gender dynamics in Japan—as derived from pop culture, fiction, and art—prior to the Kakehashi Project. Through each of their personal accounts, Ahmed, Xu, and Melnyk examined their positionalities, realizing how their conceptions of feminist empowerment grow out of a North American context. They discussed various Kakehashi Project experiences, including attending an academic lecture by Professor Nakamura of Meiji University, communicating with peers from Osaka University, an excursion at the Panasonic Museum, and respective homestays in Japan. Melnyk reflected, “During my visit to Japan, I met many inspiring women and learned about the government’s plan to provide more opportunities for women to participate in the economy,” adding, “After returning home to Canada, I realized that feminism in Japan looks different from feminism in Canada. This has inspired me to continue researching and learning about women’s rights movements and gender identities in Japan.”

Four senior undergraduate students, Dennis Venslauskas, Kiara Sunho Lee, Yuna Ban, and Irish Marigmen, variously studying International Relations, Political Science, and Contemporary Asian Studies focussed on Japanese politics and diplomacy in the final panel. Venslauskas provided some brief historical background, outlining Japan’s postwar alliance with the American military. Kiara Sunho Lee presented her perspective on the status of foreign workers in Japan, suggesting possible pragmatic approaches to improve the workers’ agency. Yuna Ban shared her knowledge and personal reflections on modes of cultural diplomacy used by Japan, reflexively looking to the Kakehashi Project itself as one example. Irish Marigmen concluded the session with a presentation on Japanese public diplomacy and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, pointing to the ideological and cultural importance of the upcoming event in promoting a national identity and re-imagining the collective participation of the population.

Throughout Reflections of Kakehashi 2019: Creating Lasting Bridges between Canada and Japan, students synthesized their academic backgrounds with their Kakehashi experiences to cultivate deeper appreciation and understanding of Japanese culture, politics, and social affairs. As Khadija Ahmed noted, “My experiences through the Kakehashi project and my subsequent research [have] help[ed] me formulate more nuanced understandings.” — Irish Marigmen