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Building “Kakehashi”: Volunteers Participate in a Cultural Journey to Japan

UT students participated in a day of activities with students from Konan University in Kobe, Japan

Twenty-three University of Tennessee students visited Japan for a week through the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Kakehashi Project in December 2019. Traveling by bullet train, students visited Tokyo, Himeji, and Kobe, stopping to admire many of Japan’s beautiful temples, shrines, castles, and historic sites along the way.

This cultural bridge program allowed UT students to strengthen the bond between the U.S. and Japan through cultural, technological and interpersonal experiences. Students were selected to participate in the week-long experience based on their involvement in UT’s Japanese studies programs.

Noriko Horiguchi, associate professor of Japanese literature and culture, applied to the Kakehashi program through an invitation from Itsuroh Abe, Japanese Consul to Tennessee in Fall 2019.

“I knew our best students would benefit greatly from the Kakehashi project,”  Horiguchi said. “It would give them the chance to travel to Japan while interacting with students, host families, and the general public, and learning more about the language, culture, economy, technology, and politics of Japan.”

Students experienced daily life in Japan by participating in a home-stay with a Japanese family and engaging with students at Konan University in Kobe, Japan. Japan’s modern innovations in industry, safety, and accessibility were demonstrated through visits to one of Kikkoman’s soy sauce factories, Toyota ‘s Mega Web Facility, and the Tokyo Rinkai Disaster Prevention Park.

One of the goals of the Kakehashi Project is “to promote mutual trust and understanding among the peoples of Japan and the USA” by sending cultural representatives across borders to “build a basis for future friendship and cooperation.”  Students returned from the trip eager to confirm the purpose of Kakehashi was being met through the program.

Brianna Bond, a junior studying linguistics was impressed by the hard-working, welcoming people she met during the visit. “I was blown away once again with the hospitality given to us by everyone we interacted with,” she said. Bond added that those she met on the trip “showcased a commitment to their work and a deep love and appreciation for what they do”. Everyone she met clearly “put forth their most in everything they did”.

UT Students visiting Engyo-ji Temple at Mt. Shosha in Japan

Ethan Sams, a junior at UT, has been studying Japanese for three years and has always dreamed of going to Japan.

“I never thought I would get to go to a program like this,” Sams said and explained that the allure of Japan, and his expectations, were exceeded on this trip.

“You can read and prepare. . . you can look at pictures of temples but nothing will match the near otherworldly serenity found in those ancient places, you can learn about Japanese hospitality and cooking but you will not know until you have experienced each delicious and strange taste and stayed the night with perfect strangers, only to leave after one night as friends,” Sams said. “This is what the trip did for me, confirmed what I had been hoping for so long and gave a face to my dreams.”