Japan

Japan

The blend of tradition and innovation in post-modern Japan provides a window into one possible future for the world.

Adopt, adapt, adept.

Throughout history, the Japanese have followed this three-step approach to localizing and improving ideas and artifacts to fit within their cultural milieu. This tradition of refinement has created a culture that is both uniquely Japanese, and reflective of the world. Envoys’ programs in Japan explore the social issues affecting the nation, examining post-modern Japan in its position as a nation in some ways like no other, and as a nation in some ways like every other.

Our fourteen-day learning tour takes students to two cultural centers: Tokyo, the bustling capital, for its history, development, and urban present; and the Tohoku Region, for its position as a center of farming and manufacture, its window into middle-class Japan, and as the recovering site of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami.

Envoys students pursue rigorous research projects during our programs in Japan. Project themes and research questions are identified during the pre-trip online courses through a process of consultation with school leaders, academic experts, development practitioners, and business professionals.

Potential Project Themes

Preparation for natural disasters
How to feed a densely urban population
Japan’s changing role in international business
Implications of a declining population

Sample Itinerary

We spend our first day together in Narita City, situated just outside of Tokyo. Following a thorough health and safety briefing, we meet student guests from Waseda University, and begin our exploration of Japan with a snapshot of its pre-modernity at a living museum.

During the evening, Envoys students and staff work together to review the content covered and learning goals set during our online courses. Students set out goals for learning about Japanese culture, interacting with local citizens, exploring the country, and sharing the adventure with their families and classmates. This process empowers students to take responsibility for their own development during the trip, both for their research outputs as well as their individual growth.

On this first evening, we get to know each other and overcome our jet lag with group karaoke in Narita.

Traveling to Tokyo together is a short but impressive trip: a local train from a city of less than 130,000 to its close neighbor of more than 13 million. Our first visit is to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, one of the highlights of Tokyo architecture, for a brief Q&A about the challenges that Japan faces and their proposed solutions. We continue our exploration of Japan’s history with a visit to the Edo-Tokyo museum, carrying us up to the period surrounding the Second World War. Dinner, however, is the pinnacle of modernity applied to tradition: conveyor belt sushi.

We make an early morning pilgrimage to the largest fish market in the history of the world: Tokyo’s bustling Tsukiji Fish Market, large enough to supply fresh fish to all of Tokyo. Afterward, a visit to the Showa-kan Museum gives us an opportunity to discuss life for the Japanese during and after WWII, and how that war affected the country and the lives of the average citizen.

Then, focusing on the present, we meet with foreign businesspeople in Tokyo to discuss the risks and rewards of doing business in the Japanese marketplace as a non-Japanese.

Today, we visit two of the most talked-about shrines in Japan. The first is the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, dedicated to Japan’s war dead, where all (including war criminals) are revered as national heroes. We take this opportunity to explore the museum’s right-wing revisionist museum, the Yushukan, and discuss its implications on personal, national, and international levels.

Next, we visit the iconic Meiji Shrine: the most heavily visited shrine in the country, yet still an oasis of serenity in the center of Tokyo. In the area surrounding Meiji Shrine, we explore Yoyogi park, a massive wooded public space where weekend musicians escape their confined apartments; and Harajuku, the teenage fashion center of Japan.

After spending the morning visiting one of the largest and most beautiful Buddhist Temples in Tokyo, Senso-ji, we spend the day immersed in Japanese crafts through the ages. We visit the Aoyama Traditional Craft Center or the Japan Traditional Craft Center to learn about ceramics, mosaics, and paper products, and then take a short trip to the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka City to learn more about the magic of Japanese animation. Finally, we spend the evening with student guides among the bright lights of Akihabara’s “Electric City,” Tokyo’s massive electronics district.

Today, we wake early to travel by Shinkansen (bullet train) to Sendai City in Miyagi Prefecture, the largest city in the Tohoku (Northeast) Region of Japan and the largest city to sustain major damage from 2011’s earthquake and tsunami. We visit the Miyagi Prefectural Building to learn about issues surrounding prevention and mitigation of such large-scale natural disasters in such a populated area, view some of the major progress Sendai has made, and take in a Rakuten Eagles baseball game.

We take this opportunity to explore some of the industries that contributed to Japan’s economic prosperity, and visit the factories of Megumilk and Shinkansen, before talking with students in Tohoku University’s famous semiconductor laboratories.

We also speak with a Sendai police officer about the complex challenges of policing during a major natural disaster, and how to prepare for it.

We take a short trip just outside of Sendai to Shichigahama, a small beach town which lost 4,000 houses in the tsunami, to understand some of the precautions against tsunami, and the difficulties of recovering from a major natural disaster with a limited budget. We tour destroyed areas and landfills, but also a rebuilt power plant and new neighborhoods, before participating in a free knitting class that began as a project in the town’s temporary emergency housing.

For dinner, we enjoy a barbecue on the beach and are joined by local residents and other visiting foreigners.

The Tohoku Region produces rice for consumption across Japan and the world, and we meet with farmers to learn about the policies that dictate how they distribute their crop. We also get to try our hand at some of the daily tasks of farmers.

We are joined by Matsushima Goodwill Ambassadors on a trip to Matsushima, one of the Three Views of Japan. There, we tour some of the local specialty aquaculture (oysters and nori farms), experience the uniquely-shaped islands which partially protected the town during the tsunami, and hike up local hills to get a wide view of Matsushima Bay. We also tour the temple and grounds of Zuiganji, and visit its mausoleum caves built in the 13th century.

Today, we explore issues with demographics and aging. We visit a nursing facility to speak with residents and nurses, meet with “home helpers,” who provide assistance to patients all over the area, and visit a child-rearing support center, which provides support to new mothers and young children.

We spend this day doing informational interviews about disaster preparedness. We tour Minami Sanriku, which was affected greatly by 2011’s tsunami, and talk about the preparedness drills that they performed, understanding that they were susceptible to a tsunami. We learn about their early warning systems and visit a school to experience the tsunami drills that the students have to practice.

The northeast of Japan produces food for the domestic and export markets, and on this day, we visit a farm for one of Japan’s luxury foods: designer beef. We experience how the pampered cattle live, and talk with the ranchers about what it takes to differentiate and market a specialty product like beef. While we’re in Yamagata, we also get to experience an ephemeral summer treat, a giant field of sunflowers, before heading off to climb the 1,015 stone steps of Yamadera Temple, perched at the top of a Mountain.

Today, we explore Japan’s fishing industry. We begin the day with a trip to Shiogama Shrine, overlooking Shiogama Bay and the Pacific Ocean beyond, which offers blessings to the many fishing ships who call at the port. Next, we browse the cavernous Shiogama Fish Market, where we speak with fishermen and vendors to gain a deeper understanding of the significance of the fish industry to Japan. We also add to our new knowledge of fish with a sushi making class, utilizing some of the fresh catch from the market. We spend our last evening together back in Narita City, where we first got to know each other as a group. After a thorough review of the trip, we take the opportunity to do last-minute shopping, before finishing the evening in a Japanese way: sharing a meal and then singing karaoke together.

International flights home.

Envoys Testominals