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Exploring Education, Culture and Longevity in Japan

Exploring Education, Culture and Longevity in Japan

The newly established Hibbitt/Rockwell Fund Travel Fellowship is an opportunity for faculty and student-facing staff to engage in a travel experience that will energize and enrich their professional lives. The intention of this program is to promote enthusiasm and creativity in their work with students. Silvia Campbell, Upper School Spanish teacher recently went to Japan. Below is her story. 

A lifelong dream of mine has been to visit Japan––I had always been fascinated by this country where its culture and deeply rooted ancient traditions intertwined with cutting-edge technology. Thanks to the generous Hibbitt/Rockwell Fund Travel Fellowship, my dream came true this summer!

My journey began in the capital, Tokyo. I was incredibly impressed by the convenience and efficiency of the public transportation system, the cleanliness of the city (everyone carries their trash and public trash bins are few and far between!), and the warmth, friendliness, and hospitality of the people. From its skyscrapers and the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing (Shibuya crossing) to its tranquil temples, shrines, and gardens, I found that Tokyo offers a unique fusion of tradition and innovation.

I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the culture and engage with locals by taking lessons in the art of ikebana, kimono, and sushi from local Japanese instructors. Besides learning about the individual crafts, I was able to see the common underlying values shared by these art forms: (1) appreciation for aesthetics, simplicity, balance, and harmony, (2) respect for nature and its symbolic meanings, (3) preservation of cultural heritage and rituals, and (4) focus on mindfulness and being present.

I also had the chance to gain valuable insights into the Japanese education system. Over the span of a week, I visited the Friends School in Tokyo––a wonderful experience where I shared meals with the students, participated in classes and clubs, learned about after school club activities like the service committee and International Friendship committee, and even gave a speech to the school community during the morning worship. It was valuable to see different pedagogical approaches and curricula in action. I was able to witness the way that Japanese values (discipline, punctuality, duty, respect, and many more) were instilled in the school environment. For example, the students respect and care for community spaces by partaking in the meticulous rituals like removing outdoor shoes and changing into indoor shoes and cleaning their classrooms every day after school. An example of the school’s commitment to fostering these values is found in the recurring accessibility lessons––every few months, a session is designed to cultivate an awareness of various disabilities and handicaps, as well as to inspire the creation of inclusive and accessible spaces.

From Tokyo, I explored the natural landscapes of Mount Fuji and the Five Lakes region, as well as those of the Ishikawa and Gifu prefactures. I was particularly enchanted with Shirakawa-go, known for its village of thatched gassho-zukuri houses and green landscapes.

I was excited to ride the Shinkansen bullet train (which reaches 320 km/hr) to arrive in the greater Kyoto area. This region is home to over 2,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines built throughout Japanese history from the 8th to the 19th centuries. I was particularly impressed by Fushimi Inari Shrine (with its 10,000 vermilion torii gates) and Todai-ji Temple (the head of all provincial Buddhist temples built over 1,200 years ago) in Nara, a city with free-roaming deer.

I traveled west to Hiroshima for a somber and thought-provoking visit to places of remembrance: the Atomic Bomb Dome and the Peace Memorial Park and Museum. The city is a powerful reminder of the need for peace, and its recovery to its present state exemplifies Japan’s spirit of resilience.

I also traveled to the subtropical island of Okinawa. Upon my arrival, I noticed the slower pace of life in comparison to mainland Japan. Generally, there were many cultural differences that emerged, a testament to foreign influences throughout history; specifically, the Ryukyu Kingdom having strong ties with China and the region’s governance by the U.S. military for 27 years after WWII. I later visited the remote and forested village of Ogimi (also known as the village of longevity, due to having had the largest population of centenarians) to assimilate lessons in longevity. I learned about the importance of self-reliance and commitment to stay active, “shikwasa” (the citric fruit of longevity), and traditional events to express gratitude, joy, and reverence. I had discussions with locals about “ikigai,” motivation and purpose to live, and a healthy lifestyle, meditation, and diet.

This Hibbitt/Rockwell Travel Fellowship has been truly educational, not only in terms of learning about Japanese culture and international pedagogy, but also as a wonderful opportunity for personal growth. I look forward to sharing these enriching experiences and valuable lessons in my classes.