Japan America Student Conference Scholarships
Past Participants' Experiences
2013 — Jeffrey T. Yamashita — JASC 65th Reflection
Attending the 65th Japan-America Student Conference this past August 2013 gave me a new perspective that will not only shape the direction of my dissertation but also inform my own responsibilities as a transnational liaison between Japan and the United States. Through a generous grant by the Center for Japanese Studies, I had the opportunity to develop meaningful friendships with other delegates from both Japan and the U.S. while exploring different topics like the regional security of Japan. As a yonsei-identified Nikkei from Hawaii, my desire to participate in JASC stemmed from a longing to reconnect with a culture that felt familiar and foreign simultaneously. Attending college in Minnesota, Minnesotans always identified me as Asian or Japanese and never American. However in Japan, people read me as American not Japanese. Although in Hawaii my Japanese American community still observes Japanese customs and holidays, JASC became a vehicle for me to fully bridge those two disparate experiences. While on a larger scale, JASC became a space for delegates to create bonds and relationships between the two countries. Personally, it became a political space for me to think through the role of Nikkei youth as cultural liaisons stuck in a liminal position between Japan and the United States. There were other delegates who identified as Nikkei or were Japanese nationals living in the U.S. and felt ambivalent between a solely Japanese or American identity. I strongly believe that the conference facilitated our growth in truly recognizing the synthesis of the two different cultures within our outlooks and perspectives.
I would highly recommend anyone who is interested in envisioning the future of U.S.-Japan relations to apply to the 66th JASC next Spring 2014. The conference will be located in four different cities in the United States, and it will give a prime opportunity for both Japanese and American delegates to discover together the shared responsibilities and goals in the maintenance of the environment and global security, to name a few. Although all the participants came to JASC with different goals and desires, at the end of the conference, I came to the realization that as a collective, we were able to effectively lay the groundwork for a transnational group committed to peace between Japan and the U.S.
2012 — Nobuko Masuno — 64th Japan America Student Conference
In the summer of 2012, I participated in the 64th Japan America Student Conference. I remember becoming more and more anxious as the conference neared. With my Psychology background, I was worried that my knowledge of my Round Table topic, "Cooperative Security in the 21st Century," was inadequate. Being Japanese and having lived half of my life in Japan, I thought I would let down some Japanese delegates who were hoping to meet their "American" counterparts. And most of all, I did not know how in the world I would survive living with complete strangers for a month.
As JASC started, however, it didn't take much time to realize that I had absolutely nothing to worry about.
What was great about JASC was that it provided a comfortable environment in which I could share ideas with friends about the differences between two great cultures. Through our Round Table discussions, lectures, and one-on-one talks at two o'clock in the morning, I learned a great deal about the two countries that have been such an important part of me. It didn't matter whether I was American, or Japanese, or whether I knew a lot about the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance. As long as I had a passion to learn, understand, and share, there was a place for me at JASC.
What I am most grateful for, however, is the sense of belonging and acceptance I felt in JASC. As much as I've enjoyed my college life at UC Berkeley, the constant assignments, stress of getting good grades, and some of the bad relationships with people, had taken a toll on me. But I didn't realize how much I had changed until participating in the conference. For the first time in a while, I was able to truly be myself, almost to the point that it scared me. I was able to reignite in myself the outgoing, confident, open, and energetic person that I had become increasingly distanced from at Berkeley. I have JASC and the friends I made there to thank for that.
My experience at JASC is something I will cherish for a lifetime. I hope that future delegates from Berkeley will also have an unforgettable JASC experience.
2011 — Emma Tome — Through distance and difference: Reflections on the 63rd Japan-America Student Conference
Being of Okinawan heritage and growing up in the United States has meant navigating some challenging questions about my ethnic identity. When my history professor told me about the Japan-America Student Conference in the summer of 2011, I was thrilled by this opportunity to visit Japan, a place where I had deep familial ties, yet a profound physical and emotional distance. The 63rd Japan-America Student Conference (JASC) traveled to Niigata, Kyoto, Okinawa, and Tokyo, four sites selected by the student-run Executive Committee. The conference has an illustrious history and alumni, founded in 1934 in the spirit of international cooperation and friendship, becoming a veritable launching point for Japanese and American business and political (and even romantic) partnerships. It has had the impressive power to withstand a world war, economic hardship, and a tenuous bilateral relationship. In large part, I would attribute this to students' inherent curiosity, vitality, and sincere interest in learning with humility.
At its core, JASC is simply about learning together, across and through difference. Of course it has its fair dose of professional grooming — I had to purchase my very first business suit for the conference, and learned about the finer points of Japanese business card exchange — but underneath these formalities are simple conversations. Some discussions are structured through the Round Tables — forums in which mixed groups of Japanese and American students are assigned a topic of focus for the duration of the conference, present a paper to their peers, and create a final presentation elaborating upon themes relevant to the delegates' shared experiences and the broader academic debates. Other conversations were unstructured — trading American and Japanese slang, jokes, anecdotes, and trying to process the flurry of new experiences we shared every day.
The language of the conference was English — I can't imagine how tiring it was for Japanese students to speak English all the time, let alone in Japan. Their patience, brilliance, and generosity was awe-inspiring. The incredible schedule of activities and places is only half the learning, for any tourist could reasonably visit the places we went (though perhaps not at our breakneck pace). The focus on community among the Japanese and American students taught me the biggest lessons. JASC was a space that welcomed, and indeed required, cultural, political, and social diversity. One's experience during the conference is unique to his or her goals and perspective, which are also inevitably shaped by his or her participation.
The 63rd JASC was also an especially critical time for Japan-U.S. relationships. Flung into the media in the wake of the Great Tohoku earthquake and nuclear disaster, Japan was a site of intense international fear. Yet the student organizers of the conference, who had been planning it for nearly a year, did not cancel the program, when so many other universities had withdrawn their study abroad programs in Japan. I was especially grateful for the commitment of the conference coordinators, as were our hosts, who often told us that American students feeling safe and excited to come was an irrefutable step toward recovery.
I participated in a special roundtable added in light of the disaster, the Disaster Response RT, in which we were charged with developing a message from the conference delegates to deliver to our respective national leaders. This was not easy. Honestly, I felt unsure of what students would or could offer to inform response to a crisis of such enormity. Perhaps the benefit of this roundtable was felt most by the students in the conference itself. It gave us a place and a language to frankly discuss a disaster with a scope that could very well exceed our lifetimes.
In Niigata, we were able to discuss the effects of disasters at Yamakoshi Village, a rural town that had been devastated by an earthquake and mudslides in 2006, using these stories to reflect more broadly on the recent nuclear disaster. This prefecture, west of Miyagi and Fukishima prefectures, has also frequently faced earthquakes. One of the most chilling and fascinating moments was our tour of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant, owned by TEPCO and located a few hundred miles west of Fukushima Daiichi. My indomitable friend from Miyagi prefecture, who had friends working at Fukushima Daiichi, had the courage to come along amidst her final examinations back home, and her ongoing process of emotional recovery from the disaster. After speaking with her that afternoon, I wrote this in my journal:
I talked to Ikue at lunch. She was angry: she said she wanted to throw the tour guides into the reactor. They wore matching suits and hummed along with the song in the air gate that monitored the pressure inside the plant. She has been coping, facing dead on the thing that has stricken her community and made her fear for her fertility, fear for her life. She hasn't yet had her bodily radiation levels measured. She told me stories about her conversations with the energy consultant – he said that only the lymph nodes were affected by Cs-137, and they could easily be removed with a simple surgery. When she pressed him and asked about children – well, they are different. He bowed his head not knowing what to say exactly, and said only that things were more complicated.
Ikue is so brave. She is here telling her story and smiling through it. I am learning about what it might mean to really be in solidarity. It's not about using each other for stories for validation or something better. It's valuing the rarity and depth of our encounters.
For safety concerns, the conference did not travel to the areas stricken by the tsunami and nuclear crisis. This made it all the more challenging to come from a place of solidarity, having not even seen the extent of the damage. But looking back on that afternoon, I feel very much the same way today. It is one thing to learn about a nuclear crisis from the news or a textbook. It's entirely another to come face to face with the place and the people who must grapple with the risks of this system every day.
On our first day in Okinawa, we heard a lecture from a base protester at Henoko, the proposed relocation site for the Futenma Air Base, directly followed by a luncheon and lecture at Camp Foster. That evening, we visited Shuri Castle, the carefully maintained symbol of Okinawa's past independence as the thriving Ryukyu Kingdom, and later that night, I met my family in Okinawa for the first time in nearly 20 years. I had last been to Okinawa when I was only two years old, so my memory of the place was nonexistent. My father's family hadn't seen me since they visited California when I was seven years old, so it was a shock for all of us to encounter one another again, and for me, especially in the context of intense discussions about the uneven legacy of WWII in Okinawa and Japan. My time with them was so short — dinner, music, and dancing in the living room of my father's childhood home, a visit to my grandfather's grave the next morning — but it was a glimpse of a world to which I felt inevitably and blessedly a part of. After I rejoined my fellow delegates, we spent the next day at the Himeyuri Peace Museum and the hospital caves in Okinawa, where the devastating legacy of the war was made especially clear. It tempered and humbled our discussions, brought them from the stratospheric topics of bi-lateral security to the fundamental sense of nuchi du takara (life is a treasure). Before our eyes were the material effects of the tenuous and tumultuous relationship between the US and Japan. It was a lot to ask of ourselves to fully process this.
This was the biggest learning for me — inundated with information, sights, sounds, and new experiences, I wondered: how can or should I try to situate myself? JASC was a moment, a month, really, of necessary self-recognition, being brought to a point at which I was forced to reconcile many scales of sensations and questions. I still can't fully articulate it, besides to say that the land felt more nuanced and rich every day — my questions only grew, but so did my connections. Japan, a place that had been uncomfortably distant to me, became so much more knowable. This was not a result of simply being there, but more so to building relationships with my Japanese peers. In this sense, we American delegates were not coming to Japan solely to extract experiences and knowledge, but to think and work together, and also to share of ourselves. This happened through the conference structure — giving short final presentations in Tokyo, having conversations with high school and college students in every city we visited, and visiting prominent NGOs and businesses. This also happened through singing karaoke songs in broken Japanese and/or English, doing aerobics in the hotel hallways, and settling down in an Izakaya booth after an exhausting day, building friendships that can and do withstand time, distance, and difference.