From left, Shirl Rollins, Dr. Matt Packer, Dr. Bethany Larson, Dr. Neal McNabb and Yuriko Togashi at Ainu Museum, Shiraoi.

From left, Shirl Rollins, Dr. Matt Packer, Dr. Bethany Larson, Dr. Neal McNabb and Yuriko Togashi at Ainu Museum, Shiraoi.

Aug. 2, 2010

Four Buena Vista University faculty members returned from a two-week professional development trip to Japan energized to share their experiences with their students and others in the campus community this fall.

They are:

  • Dr. Matt Packer, assistant professor of English
  • Dr. Bethany Larson, associate professor of theatre
  • Dr. Neal McNabb, assistant professor of criminal justice 
  • Shirl Rollins, assistant director and education coordinator at the Council Bluffs site of BVU’s Professional & Online Studies program

Yuriko Togashi, adjunct Japanese language instructor at BVU, also traveled with the group as a guide. “Yuriko really played a large role in making this a successful trip, having helped a lot with the planning, as well as traveling with us as guide and translator,” notes Packer. Stops during the June trip included Tokyo, Sapporo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Osaka, and a home stay with Japanese families in Nara.

The experience was made possible by McCorkle Fellows program, which was established through the generosity of the late Drs. Paul and Vivian McCorkle, who were both Life Trustees of BVU, to provide selected faculty members with an opportunity for international travel to enhance their scholarly knowledge and to add international dimensions to the curriculum.  This was the fifth year for the program.

The group plans to share their experiences with students in the classroom and with the entire campus community through presentations in November.  

Matt Packer

One of the main goals of this trip was to compare Japan's modernization and “post-bubble” society with the development of American culture during the same recent period, says Packer.

“Japan is a mind-blowing place, but insulated in some ways,” says Packer. “It's absorbed a lot of Western culture, but given its wealth and size of population (big for a modest island nation) as well as the mutual language barrier, there's a lot that we in the West don't usually recognize about the country. It is an advanced consumer democracy, much like America, but given the speed of its recent development - like China's - we should continue to pay close attention to what's going on there.”

Packer says he has been catching up on Japanese authors, artists, and films and looks forward to discussing Japanese pop culture with BVU students.  “I’ll be teaching University Seminar in the fall, looking at Japan's rise in the context of explosive East Asian development and globalization in general. How did raw fish get so big? Who makes better cartoons? Or cars for that matter. We'll look as well at the legacy of the atomic bomb and Japan's leadership in environmental design and it's ‘economy of space.’”

“In the spring, I'll teach in Pacific Rim Literature the amazing work of superstar author Haruki Murakami, and in Humanities Honors we'll examine the problem of fed back imitation in recent relations between the Pacific East and West.”

“An unexpected major street festival in Hiroshima was an eye-opener,” says Packer. “The people of Hiroshima, and Nagasaki too of course, already live in a post-apocalyptic world.  Without blaming anyone, apparently, the people really seem to appreciate that there's no decision to make about nuclear weapons - violence cannot solve the problem of violence - so the bombs - everyone's - have to go. Sadly, an American president has yet to accept a long-standing invitation from the city of Hiroshima to go and visit what is a beautiful, busy, major modern city.”

Bethany Larson

Larson will be teaching three classes this fall that she believes will directly benefit from the knowledge she gained in Japan.  “I am teaching University Seminar, which has a focus on themes of globalization, as well as Fundamentals of Directing and Gender and Performance.  The ways in which Japan is incorporating the images, foods, clothing, and other ideas from nations around the world will be a part of the discussion I have with my University Seminar students.  We need to talk about the ways in which traditional cultures across the world are changing and how these changes may be influencing society in positive ways or perhaps in negative ways. 

“In my Fundamentals of Directing class — and it's follow-up class, Advanced Directing — we will be examining a wide variety of performance traditions and learning about how the conventions of Japanese theatre function to create meaning for the audience.  I will be using books and videos to show my students images of these performance styles so they can connect what is happening in Japanese theatre to what is going on in American theatre.  They can also, then, decide to make use of similar theatrical tactics for their own productions, if it seems appropriate.

“In Gender and Performance I will be working with the Honors students to examine how Gender is constructed as ‘performance’ and to examine specific performance forms which illustrate this.  Japanese theatre, whether it be classical Japanese theatre or the contemporary Takarazuka, is ripe with examples of gender performance because of the exclusivity of the gendered performers in each. 

“I was able to see how two forms of classical Japanese theatre (Bunraku and Kabuki) are performed and learn about their conventions through direct observation, but I was also able to go to a particular form of contemporary Japanese theatre (Takarazuka) which is related to the classical forms in many way, but in a very surprising way,” says Larson.  “Classical Japanese theatre forms are performed exclusively by men. Takarazuka, the Japanese version of Broadway musical theatre, is performed exclusively by women.”

“I was also reminded that in Japan art is not reserved for museums and special occasions,” she notes.  “Creating art is a regular part of everyday life.  Home gardens, regardless of size, are one such area where many Japanese people express their artistic spirit.  The preparation and presentation of food is another.  The care taken with each of these examples by the gardener or cook is evident in the sense of invitation to indulge in and savor the beauty of the artistic creation.”

Neal McNabb

In his classes, McNabb says he expects to be able to use many examples of cultural differences and how the BVU group coped with these differences during the trip. 

“I will also be able to talk about some of the differences in the criminal justice system, such as the way prisons and law enforcement agencies operate,” he notes. “The United States could learn a few things from the Japanese in these respects.”

Among those differences, McNabb notes:

* Policy is set for the entire country by the National Police Agency (NPA).  “This is very different than in the U.S., where local law enforcement (police chiefs and sheriffs) all have some degree of autonomy and set their own policies.  I think the Japanese way reduces in-fighting among agencies over jurisdictional issues, and provides uniformity and predictability.”

* The prisons treat their inmates more humanely and provide more opportunities for them to educate themselves and, ultimately, reintegrate back into society.  “Their number one priority is not simply punishment, as it is the U.S.  They know that most inmates will leave prison and return to society, and they do a much better job at helping them succeed at that.  This is evidenced by their much lower recidivism rates.”

* The Koban system (neighborhood police boxes) put officers into the community.  “They spend much of their time helping people with directions and talking to people in the neighborhoods.  This creates a much more positive image of the police within the community and allows them to be proactive in reducing crime, as opposed to traditional policing strategies in the U.S. that are reactive where police spend most of their time just waiting for something to happen and then react to it.”

Shirl Rollins

Rollins, who lived in Japan for four years from 1972-1976 and was a teacher for the Department of Defense, says she has already been using experiences gained from the trip in classes at the Council Bluffs P&O site.

“On my first day back at the office I was asked by the Asian History instructor to do a short presentation” she notes.  “I took some items from our trip into her class and put together a slide show presentation about Western influences in Japan.  I have had lots of students tell me how much they learned from it.” 

“I also used the presentation in my reading in the content area class.  I did a read-aloud of the book Grandfather's Journey and showed the photos so the students could see the changes in Japan, which related very well to the book.  Also, in the reading class I had the students brainstorm the word ‘Hiroshima.’  I then did a book talk about Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes and followed it with a slide show presentation about the Children's Peace Museum in Hiroshima which was built in memory of Sadako.  For a concluding activity, I provided the students with origami paper and instructions to make an origami crane.”  Rollins has also been asked to speak to outside groups in the Council Bluffs area about her experience.

“One of the most important things I learned on this trip was that we are more like than unlike, which is what I teach in my Human Relations class,” adds Rollins.  “The visits to the schools and classrooms helped me realize that ‘kids are kids’ regardless of where they live and go to school.  Compared to when I was living in Japan in the 70's I did notice quite a bit more English being used – at train station stops, in the schools, and by my home stay family, for example.”

The home stay experiences with families at Nara were among the most memorable for the McCorkle Fellows. “The families open their homes because they like to meet new people and show off their beautiful city,” says McNabb. “I will never forget this experience and I will maintain a friendship with my host family for years to come.  The family has already invited me to stay with them when I return in January on a BVU interim trip with students.”

“Getting a chance to be immersed in the culture and be with a family was probably one of the highlights of my trip,” says Rollins. “I have already e-mailed the family and hope to stay in contact with them.”

Packer  noted that he helped plant rice with his host family on a farm that has been in the family for 300 years.