Irkutsk State University
Comprehending Japan: from Theory to Practice
Crossing the border. Having crossed the Japanese border, you find yourself in the world of special helpfulness and kindness. For example, when you land and look through the window of the plane, you can see an employee of the airport bowing to the crew and passengers. At this moment all the negative feelings accumulated during a long flight tend to disappear. Crossing the border of Japan, you have a sense of harmony inside. All guidebooks seem to mention this feeling, but you have the only chance to realize it when you are welcome with a kind smile of attentive Japanese. And it makes you feel sincere and deep respect inside.
First acquaintance with Japan. Be prepared for the fact that a Japanese woman dressed in a kimono, opening a fusuma and greeting you, exists only in the imagination of the Gaijins who read a lot of exotic books. Modern Sapporo has no exotics. In this city you can find straight streets, gray buildings, skyscrapers, colorful ads, and etc. Nevertheless, many tourists from different countries and other cities of Japan visit this place. In the center of Sapporo there is a huge building of Sapporo Station with many cafes, restaurants, shops, and offices. Every evening we visited it about 10 or 15 times and started to think of it as «our second home». This feeling intensified after we had had a tour guided by its creator – an architect, prof. T. Setoguchi. He told us about other attractions of Sapporo – the Clock Tower, TV Tower, and Government Building. In the process of immersion in the history of the city, we also found out that the main purpose of our trip – Hokkaido University – is one of the most important places in it.
There is no siesta in Japan. The educational program requires a serious approach. Lectures by leading professors of the University lasted for 5 days from 9:00 to 16:30. In this regard, all you need is to have a good English-Russian dictionary, cash for coffee machines and big reserve of concentration. The course of lectures is a basic part of the program “The East Russia-Japan Expert Education Program” (RJE3). Its goal is a comprehensive study of the region of Hokkaido, and the Far East territory in general. During the week lecturers tried to make us understand such various disciplines as biodiversity, oceanography, archeology, anthropology, architecture, international relations and others. Students must have been prepared not only to grasp a large number of multi-disciplinary information, but also to form their own opinion on the issues mentioned. Working with Japanese professors, you certainly pay attention to their teaching methods: the lecture starts with a plan and introductory part, question-answering system, numerous illustrations and video material, summarizing part, and various questionnaires. Moreover, Japanese lecturers’ presentations were not deprived of the creative component. For example, the folk song «Hankirikiri» will never let participants of the program forget the lecture by associate prof. I. Tangiku about Ainu’s language and folklore.
Be sociable. The motto of the Hokkaido University is «Boys, be ambitious». And, indeed, ambition is a necessary quality for program participants. However, the more valuable one is to be sociable. Every day lectures ended with the discussion between representatives of different participating universities (6-7 persons in each group). Our experience proved that to build up a constructive dialogue and make a good report presentation (5 minutes to summarize all the ideas) can be successful only if you follow the principles – “Do not be afraid to talk, listen and find a compromise”. To demonstrate your uniqueness was possible in the final day of the program: each participating university was to prepare a presentation about own Alma Mater and the region. So, Irkutsk State University’s team did everything possible to produce the most favorable image of Lake Baikal, with «smiling» seal and «intelligent» sable shown in the presentation.
A New Generation. Leaving the university building on Friday, many of us shared similar feelings. It was sincere gratitude to the organizing team for the warm welcome and desire to promote our cooperation. Perhaps, keeping these feelings inside, we are bound to become the new generation able to change Russian-Japanese relations for better, as it was noted by one of the teachers at the closing ceremony.
Some Predictions (conclusion remarks). Having despaired to find “the Japanese exotic” in a real life, we suddenly found it three stops away from the Sapporo Station. On the territory of the ancient Shinto temple time seems to have stopped. Here you can see women wearing kimono and unusually dressed monks. Having paid only 100 yen you can measure your luck according to a six-point scale. And that is the feature of Japan: even the Gods are providently kind. If you appear to be dissatisfied with the prediction you have chosen, you can easily change everything just by hanging it on a tree. As for me, I took the paper with my fate to Russia, but left 50-yen-coin in the temple. This coin brings good luck, and I hope it will allow me to visit this wonderful place again.