Past Participant Experiences
2019 — JASC 71st Reflection
When I first heard about the Japan-America Student Conference (JASC)—a month long conference where 65 college students from across Japan and the U.S. engage in discussions regarding international relations as they travel across a host country (Japan or the U.S.)—it sounded like a unique and thrilling experience. However, having never taken an international relations or Japanese culture class, I felt as though I didn’t have the qualifications to participate in the conference. A month before the conference application deadline, past JASC 69 delegate, Jin Tanizaki, reached out to me again and
encouraged me to apply. So when I landed in the early morning with the other 24 American students in Japan, the feeling was surreal and I had a vague idea about what the upcoming weeks would be like.
This year, JASC 71 took place in Kochi, Kyoto, Gifu, and Tokyo, Japan. The schedule each day was meticulously planned, filled with lectures, discussions, networking events, and visits to cultural sites. Many of the lectures and discussions we participated in focused on the revitalization and transformations occurring in the cities we visited. Other discussion topics included reflecting on our experience at cultural sites we visited, the impacts and legacy of Hiroshima, and conversations on LGBTQ rights in the U.S. and Japan. Engaging in these conversations allowed me to build relationships with delegates and with the local students we met. The willingness of both Japanese and American delegates to question each others ideas in order to learn from one another was incredibly motivating. Additionally, getting to interact with local college and high school students was one of the many highlights of my experience. I was surprised by how interested local university and high school students were in my background and future aspirations. I was especially grateful for all of the translations Japanese delegates and local students provided us with when we were presenting in front of local government officials or when we were touring museums and cultural centers. Their willingness to answer the many questions I had and their guidance on following cultural practices made my experience in a country where I did not know the language and felt out of place in much more comforting.
Getting to travel across Japan with 65 students was exciting, but of course there were also challenging moments. Our schedules most days were intense and filled with activities. So some days were exhausting and being tired around 65 people you’re not only learning to work with in an academic setting but also learning to live with could be draining. I found myself trying to strike a balance between wanting to meet and build relationships with as many delegates as possible, while also trying to find moments to myself. Additionally, many of the discussions I had with delegates during programming
were thought provoking, but there were times when I felt like I did not have much to contribute to the conversation. Other times, I was very opinionated and had to be mindful of the way I came across and how much space I was taking up in conversations. Communicating with the Japanese delegates was something that was constantly on my mind and other American delegates’ minds as we learned to navigate our way in a different country. Nevertheless, the challenges that occurred along the way
were pivotal learning moments for me as I was recognized for how I handled certain situations and as I reflected on how I would like to improve the way I dealt with other circumstances.
The adversity faced along the way did not outweigh the positive experiences I had with the delegation beyond academic programming. Participating in a televised Yosakoi Festival performance in Kochi, watching Noh theater and a tea ceremony in Kyoto, ukai fishing and talking with local leaders at Shirakawago—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—in Gifu, and having conversations with diplomats and officials at the U.S. Embassy and Ministry of Foriegn Affairs in Tokyo all seem like a farfetched idea
someone envisioned. If someone told me I was going to do all of this at the time I was submitting my application for the conference, I would have been skeptical. Yet this was part of the reality I got to live during my time at the conference. From the eventful moments to the seemingly mundane activity of getting lost on trains and buses, these experiences contributed to the relationships I built with people and the unique experience we collectively went through together.
Like many past delegates, it is hard to capture my experience in words. I can only hope my reflection on my JASC experience provides a snapshot of the conference’s potential and inspires others to push themselves out of their comfort zone.
2017 — JASC 69th Reflection
It is now a year and a half since I participated in the 69th Japan America Student Conference as an American Delegate. Time has played its role in how the experience has affected me, but I still reflect upon the conference as one that I was grateful to have participate in. Now keep in mind as you read our experiences that each and every JASCer has a different background. What you will gain from your experience will naturally be different from each of us. Take what you will and carve your own experience.
I first came across JASC by word-of-mouth from my friend, Kaede Yoshioka, who participated in the 68th JASC as a delegate and led the 69th JASC as a member of the Executive Committee, which plans the entire three-week conference. She told me that I should join, since I had a background that could contribute nicely to the conference. I however, had no experience in discussing international relations, cultural ideologies and the such. To be honest, none of my career goals at the time were related to any similar matters either. I was a bioengineering major through and through; I wanted to design prosthetics and other medical devices. ‘Japan’ was never really a word that had anything to do with my academics.
As the JASC application came around, Kaede suggested I join JASC from time to time, and one time one of her words jolted a memory. Back in high school, my father had often told me that even though I had visited Japan during multiple summer vacations as I grew up, I had never really experienced Japan, since I rarely interacted with those besides my relatives in Japan, and had few friends my own age to meet when I visited either. JASC would surely provide me the opportunity to make new connections across the Pacific and across the U.S., and learn to really interact those who were college students just like me, but had completely different backgrounds. So I decided to apply for JASC. Something completely new. A place where grades didn’t matter, a place where people joined because they sincerely wanted to know about another culture and share their own.
Now fast-forward to late-August. It’s the last day of the conference and I’m bawling my eyes out as I give my last hugs to members of the Japanese Delegation under the hot sun in Tokyo. Admittedly I’m exhausted, and though I’m not one to show tears frequently, I’m crying because my fantastic experience is coming to an end. 76 fellow JASCers, 23 days, 16 late night discussions, 10 ‘JASC mail’ letters received, two countries, one confession, and many great memories. There was too much to say in words when the American Delegates were saying goodbye to our Japanese counterparts. And I hope this alone is enough to show how great of an experience it was for me.
The highs and the challenges.
I have a friend, a fellow American delegate during the conference. Let’s call him K. By coincidence, he was one of my roommates for over half of the conference, which means he’s seen my face the most during the conference. K was brought up in the rural south and attends a liberal arts college on the east coast of the U.S.. One day while we were in Ehime prefecture, a local doctor presented to the delegation on the difficulties in practicing medicine in rural Japan. After the presentation, we broke up into smaller groups to discuss our own experiences and opinions regarding the matter. K happened to be in my group, and since he happened to be well acquainted with rural hospitals in his hometown, he was able to share another perspective as to how changes in insurance structure can have widespread effects and compare between Japanese and American systems. Since our backgrounds differed, K and I had completely conflicting opinions on how universal healthcare affected the population. Though I was able to understand his logic, we were never able to agree and it led to quite a heated discussion.
Challenges like this are inevitable, and I guarantee your opinions will collide with someone else’s during the conference with important discussions like these. But in the end, as much as your perspectives may differ, your debate opponents are still fellow JASCers. Though many of our opinions differed, K and I are still friends as well. He and I met up while we were both studying abroad in Osaka the next summer, and we still frequently contact each other.
Each of us past JASC delegates holds many memories from our respective conferences. Emma Tome outlins in detail of her entire JASC63 conference and what it meant to her. Nobuko Masuo talks of her sense of belonging in JASC64. Jeffrey Yamashita contemplated how JASC65 changed his understanding of the Japanese-American identity. Vanessa Cheuk shares how JASC 66 allowed her to experience things she otherwise never would have experienced. Yingzhe Fu goes above and beyond to teach even myself what it means to be a JASCer, and all about the JASC love experience, based off what she saw at JASC67. Kaede Yoshioka, who participated in both JASC68 and JASC69 reflects on how the two conferences became a learning experience. I highly encourage you to take the time to read our stories.
As for me, one of my greatest memories is when two fellow JASCers and I rolled up our pants and dipped into the Ise river which runs right past the Ise Grand Shrine, as we caught tiny little fish in our hands from the cold, crystal clear water under the hot summer sun. I made sure to keep in touch with my JASC friends after the conference, and I am grateful when fellow JASCers plan reunions for me when opportunities such as Osaka Study Abroad and other work opportunities allowed me to visit Japan.
As a fellow Golden Bear, I’m sure you value the environment and culture that Berkeley offers. Freedom of expression is in the core values of what our university has to offer, and I hope that like me, you are grateful for it. I also want you to realize however, that even though Berkeley prioritizes freedom of expression, the experiences and ideas that you come across are only those that are similar to the ideas you already hold. The only way to have a life changing experience is when you hear of experiences different from yours. Take advantage of what JASC has to offer, and I look forward to hearing about what JASC means to you when you come back from this unforgettable summer.
2016 & 2017 — JASC 68th & 69th Reflection
As a 68th JASC participant and 69th Executive Committee member of JASC, I was lucky enough to have the “JASC experience” twice, once in America and the other in Japan. Every JASC experience is different; the sites, the Executive Committee, and the participants change every year leading to a whole new combination of events, discussions, and culture within the delegation. However, through my two summers and talking to many JASC alumni, I found that there is something very special to JASC that is passed down from year to year.
I can't pinpoint with a word, a phrase, or even paragraphs what that special something is, but I will try to capture a small portion of the feeling here. JASC is where you and 71 other college students from all over the U.S. and Japan travel together for a little more than 3 weeks in either Japan or U.S. These 3 weeks are meticulously organized for you to learn and experience various aspects of the country, and to discuss among your peers about the world, the society, and yourselves. Every part of your day is planned with a meaning. The lectures, the panel discussions, and even the free time is there because the executive committee members thought it was the best for you and serves a purpose to tie into the year's theme. Opportunities to learn and grow are everywhere.
What makes these opportunities even more special is that you have peers around you that are open to talk and discuss at any point in time. When you have a question you are pondering about, when you disagree with an opinion brought up in lecture, or when you just want to share your thoughts, there will always be people around you who will listen and respond. This can actually be very stressful at times, because there is no way to escape from it. Traveling with 71 other college students and not being able to have time alone can be very stressful, and many participants struggle through this. However even that struggle is a learning experience for all. When you get in a fight with a fellow delegate, there is no way to escape from facing that same person again the next day. You are forced to face whatever interpersonal problems you have at the conference, and forced to face your weaknesses. At the same time, people are always there to help you deal with the problems you face. You'll be surprised how so many of the participants have kind, open arms to support you.
The intensity of emotions – happiness, sadness, excitement, anger, or whatever emotions you feel – is something I do not have the eloquence to describe. For me, and I think for many of the other past JASCers, these emotions and the precious connections made with other JASCers are the reasons for calling JASC “a life-changing experience.” If you read the other past participants' experiences you will notice this phrase being repeated often. As cheesy as it may sound (I still feel slight reluctance saying it because it just sounds so cheesy), we say it because we truly believe it.
For me, JASC was where I thought much more deeply about myself and my future. It challenged my past beliefs, and allowed me to become more open-minded about the different paths I could take. JASC was also where I made valuable connections that I know I will keep for the rest of my life. My social network suddenly expanded to all over the U.S. and Japan, and it has made traveling around U.S. and Japan even more exciting because of the mini JASC reunions I encounter through the process. JASC was an essential and precious part of my college life; I hope others (especially Berkeley students!) will take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.
2015 — JASC 67th Reflection
Part 1: Once a JASCer, Always a JASCer
I had never heard of JASC before. What was JASC? This was the first question I had when I received an email from my study abroad advisor after finishing my FrontierLab research program at Osaka University on August 19th, 2014. After I saw the email, I went to the JASC website to check it out. I was impressed to learn that the conference was started in 1934 by four Japanese students. Henry Kissinger and Former Prime Minster of Japan Kiichi Miyazawa had attended the conference when they were young. The 67th JASC would be held in Hiroshima, Shimane, Kyoto, and Tokyo. I found these facts deeply interesting, inspiring me and triggering treasured memories of my five months in Osaka. “I would love to visit Japan again, and I would love to meet new people and make new friends. This experience would be awesome,” I told myself. Without hesitation, I went straight to the application form.
Among the seven round-table topics, I chose ‘Global Eco-Hazard’ and ‘Resource Sustainability’. During the conference, we called our round-table ‘Gears’. I thought that was such a good name. Let me tell you something about why I chose Gears. When I was a child, my father told me that the river in my hometown was so clean that people could swim and find turtles in it. When I was a child, the sky was always clear blue. However, growing up the river became very dirty and smelly. The sky was not always blue any more. I wished to go back and see my hometown as it was when I was young. Environmental problems have been discussed for decades. Do people really pay attention to these issues? This is why I chose Gears. I know that environmental problems are caused by people, and people are the solutions to their own problems. In the final forum, we promoted something we called ‘myMovement’ to change current people’s lifestyles towards a more sustainable mode of living. This was the cure we came up with. I will always treasure the time I spent on the Gears round-table.
During the conference, I kept hearing delegates say ‘Once a JASCer, always a JASCer’. In the beginning, I didn’t really attach much feeling to the phrase. Now, I repeat this motto often because I am so proud to be a JASCer. This phrase encompasses so many moments and experiences that all JASCers made together. As Kei-san told me on the final day, he could hardly imagine his life without getting to know the other 71 JASCers. I feel its power now. The three-week conference undoubtedly became one of the most memorable experiences of every JASCer’s life. We are all proud to be JASCers.
Part 2: JASC – A Life Changing Experience
During the conference, I also heard the phase, ‘JASC is a life changing experience’ quite often. “Will JASC become a life changing experience for me?”, and “What will I learn from JASC?” I kept asking myself these questions. I believed that if I learned just one thing from JASC, it would be a life changing experience. Actually, I learned quite a few things which will definitely influence, change, and drive my life in the future.
Let me start with my version of ‘mutual understanding’. What is mutual understanding? Sharing ideas, communicating with one another. Sounds easy, right? Mutual understanding is difficult to accomplish sometimes. JASC is a perfect example of the application of contact theory to real life, which rarely happens in daily life. JASC was such a precious opportunity in my experience. Everyone was open-minded. Everyone was willing to listen to other people’s opinions. Everyone respected one another. Even in this state, conflict, stress, and frustration often occurs. Why? Because nobody is perfect. Is mutual understanding enough? When we understand one another, what comes next? I think the next step is ‘mutual action’. People either hold onto their original opinions or step back to reach agreements. Mutual action leads to mutual understanding. For me, I will always endeavor to open my mind, respect others, and be a good listener.
One of the most important JASC values is teamwork. Is teamwork simply being able to work as a team? I learned what I should do as a team-member. I should not only perform my own part well, but also be sensitive to other people’s pressures and take care to understand where my team members are coming from. Giving out ideas or solutions, making proposals, doing summaries, concentrating on important topics, listening to other people’s judgments or ideas, and asking permission before changing any parts of the project are all important team skills that I learned in JASC. I felt a great deal of regret when one of our team members dropped out after we completed our final forum. She didn’t give us any reasons as to why she chose to leave the team, but I believe we have to bear the responsibility for her departure. We should have given her more encouragement and communicated more effectively. If I had the conference to do again, I would love to get to know her better and talk with her more.
Morality always goes first. During our presentation, I learned that the underlying causes of all global issues lies with humanity. As technology improves, human morality hasn’t improved much, or may have even decreased. As technology has improved, people tend to be even more greedy and selfish. As an engineer, I view my morality as a priority, even above any other skills I possess. I must make an effort to be a good person first.
I learned this from my fellow JASCer Stephane: People criticize you either because they want to help you move forward or they just don’t like you and want to put you down. I am willing to listen to criticism which helps me move forward, and I will change for the better.
I am certain about what I am going to do with my JASC experiences. I believe I am a lucky person because I have had a dream since I was a kid, and luckily I have been able to follow my dream up to the present day. I was inspired by the film ‘The Terminator’ when I first saw it at the age of 6. In addition, my mother is an electrical engineer. I was exposed to the concept of engineering at an early age. I was always excited to see mechanical structures in motion. ‘Dash! Yonkuro’ was my favorite anime cartoon as a child. I have always been curious about how things work. If you had asked me what I wanted to be when I was a kid, I would immediately tell you that I would like to be a scientist who made robots. Several turning points in my life have led me in other directions, but I have continued to follow my childhood dream. I am very grateful for the chance that I to study mechanical engineering and to learn how things work. I believe I was born for engineering.
Through my studies at UC Berkeley and my research at Osaka University, I gradually came up with an idea to integrate my interests in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science together. This combination of interests can be called mechatronics systems, embedded systems, and robotics. I am going to pursue this in grad school. Thanks to JASC, I was able to visit Mazda headquarters in Hiroshima. Everything there excited me. Designing cars is exactly what I want to do. For me, cars are not only fantastic mechatronic systems but also fine art. Cars are my passion. If I could, I would like to live with cars and sleep with cars. I made up my mind to work in the automobile industry in the near future.
JASC is one of the most important student conferences in the world. My worldview was verified during the conference. If government officials could learn to do what we did at JASC (mutual understanding), probably the world would be a much better place.
Part 3: JASC Love, Just Love
JASC Love is a tradition at JASC. Some of our alumni married their spouses after meeting them at JASC. JASC Love was one of the most interesting and exciting topics for every delegate, especially for Takuya-san during the 67th Conference. He often stayed up until 3am talking about JASC Love with other delegates. He was so diligent about JASC love. He was often too excited to sleep, but JASC Love was not for him. He had already found his love before the conference. He is a great guy. He is now the vice president of the 68th JASC executive committee. I am so proud of him. He will become another legend.
So, how about my JASC Love? Before taking about my JASC love, let me introduce some facts about me. I did not have a girlfriend before the conference, so I was eligible for JASC Love. Most of the time, I went to bed at 10:30 pm. One time in Kyoto, I went to sleep at 8:00 pm, and got up at 7: 00 am, a record for me. I don’t think any of the other delegates had the same sleep schedule as me. They said I was too healthy. Every single day in JASC was very busy. I did not understand why other delegates were so energetic at night. I now realize that it was probably due to JASC love.
As you know, I went to bed so early that I often did not have a chance to talk with other delegates about JASC Love at night. However, I did experience JASC Love. She was the girl with whom I always wanted to chat, but when we started talking, I never knew what to say next. She was the girl next to whom I always wanted to stand, but I rarely did so. She was the girl at whom I would steal a glance across the table or from afar, because I did not want her to notice my feelings towards her.
Before attending JASC, each delegate needed write self-introduction slides. When I was reading my slides, my mother came by. I introduced those who would attend the conference to my mother. When I showed her slide to my mother, she told me I should find a girl like her. She was pretty; prettier than the photos on the slide. However, I never put my thoughts into action. Why so? I would not like either of us to become the subject of rumors. This was just unnecessary pressure, so falling asleep early at night was preferable. I personally couldn’t handle a long distance relationship. Besides, after returning to Berkeley, I would need to face heavy duty courses in graduate school, and I believed that I knew what the results would be. I would not like to feel sorrow about JASC because of a failed relationship.
I didn’t talk much about JASC love, but I know that this conference had many more JASC couples than the previous conference. I wish every couple well. Nevertheless, I decided to leave my loves to the future.
Part 4: Is This the End? No, It’s just the Beginning!
I can’t forget the feeling of saying goodbye to my fellow JASCers. Everyone knew that the time would come. We all needed to leave Japan and return home. I did not cry at the Olympic Youth Center, probably because I was so mentally prepared. I stepped behind the crowd to see everyone crying. After I returned home, while lying in my bed, memories of JASC flashed through my mind, and I could not help but cry. I need to write this reflection in case I forgot some of my experiences. Once a JASCer, always a JASCer.
I asked myself: Is this the end of JASC? Absolutely not. The 68th JASC Conference will be held in the US next year. We have voted for our new executive committee members. They will carry on the legacy of the 67th JASC Conference and have promised to hold the best conference ever. As for me, I will continue my education at Berkeley and continue to pursue my dream. See you JASCers in the future!
2014 — JASC 66th Reflection
This summer (July 30 – Aug 24 2014), I attended the Japan-America Student Conference (JASC) with the JASC scholarship offered by the Institute of East Asian Studies and donated by Mr. Terence Murphy. The delegation comprised of 72 university students who study in either an American or Japanese university. Since this is the American year, the delegation toured 4 cities in the U.S. – Des Moines (Iowa), San Francisco, New York and Washington D.C.
In Iowa, we stayed at Grinnell College. In the early days of the conference, we had the opening ceremony with a speech from the Mayor of Grinnell, and a lecture on U.S. presidential elections and Iowa Caucuses by Mr. David Yepsen, a senior political journalist at the Des Moines Register. Some of the places we visited include the Meskawaki settlement where we learnt more about the culture of Native Americans, the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates where people, such as Dr. Normal E. Borlaug, who contributed to the field of agriculture are honored. Since Des Moines is famous for its agriculture, our discussions and panel forums were basically on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and GMOs.
In San Francisco, we stayed at UC Berkeley (Unit 1). And this is my favorite site. Some of the events that we had include the 80th anniversary alumni reception at Sir Drake Hotel in San Francisco; a LGBT panel forum and a lecture at UC Berkeley on immigration and the poor treatment of Zainichi Koreans and Brazilian Japanese in Japan; a BBQ kindly hosted by Mr. Hiromitsu Ogawa at his mansion in Atherton; a trip to the Google headquarters in Mountain View; and a Japanese Cultural Night at Hakone Garden kindly arranged by Mr. Allen Miner (JASC 35 & 36 alumnae). Also, with the strong alumni base in the Bay area, all the delegates had the chance to stay with the alumni and their families, and experience a 3-day homestay.
In New York, we stayed at a hostel on Broadway Street. We visited the Citibank headquarters where we had 2 panel forums to discuss, among other things, the relationship between the corporate and public sector, and the importance of face-to-face communication as opposed to texting and emailing. Some other sites that we visited include the 9/11 memorial, a private tribute to the attack nearby, the Japan ICU foundation where we learnt about the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the stories of the Hibakusha (victims of atomic bomb attacks). Also, we paid a visit to Ellis Island – the nation’s busiest immigrant inspection station in the 19th century.
Last but not least, in Washington D.C., we stayed at a youth conference center. There, we had the final forum where every roundtable presented what they have discussed among themselves throughout the conference, a reception at the Embassy of Japan, and a U.S.-Japan relations panel by 3 distinguished scholars at the Capitol Building.This one-month conference is a life-changing experience to me. Not only have I gained much intellectually, but also I have gained a lot personally.
On an intellectual level, some of the things that I get to learn more about include atomic bombs, international institutions and treaties related to it, net neutrality, culture of Native Americans, authentic Japanese culture, and U.S.-Japan relations in general, etc.
On a personal level, this conference has allowed me to experience many things for the first time and to push my limits. For instance, I feel more confident now conveying my ideas and opinions in an academic setting, and speaking on stage. Also, it has stimulated me to rethink about my interest and the career I want to pursue. I have yet to digest this one-month experience, and realize what it means to me and how it has changed me. But JASC is certainly a life-changing experience. I am very thankful for this opportunity with the support from Mr. Terence Murphy and the Institute of East Asian Studies.
2013 — JASC 65th Reflection
Jeffrey T. Yamashita
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 — JASC 64th Reflection
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 — JASC 63rd Reflection
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.