Sensei Appreciation Day

The jet lag is finally starting to wear off, and what started as a series of 2am wakeups has shifted to 5am. After writing yesterday’s blog post detailing our packed and fascinating day with Noto-san, I decided to slip on my running shoes and reflect while exploring the area around Waseda’s main campus. The sidewalks were already bustling as I set out on my run. Weaving between schoolchildren and commuters, I relished the extent to which my Japanese language skills have improved after only being here for four days and felt a deep sense of gratitude for the integral role my peers and professors have played in this growth. Language practice was often confined to the classroom and office hours while I was at Bowdoin; however, it finds life here in every train ride, meal conversation, walk, and intellectual discussion. Accordingly, it is deepening my linguistic and sociocultural knowledge and providing me with the skills I will need in my coming Fulbright year. I am especially grateful for the knowledge, generous patience, and open disposition Aridome-sensei, Selinger-sensei, Christmas-sensei, and Anna-san have displayed in response to my unending questions—ranging from the grammatical to the personal. As I reflect on all that their mentorship has given me, I feel the kind of debt accumulating that can never be repaid.

One particularly notable example of this came today, as we visited the Daigo Fukuryu Maru Museum in Yume no Shima. This museum provides information about and houses the Japanese tuna trawler that was radiated by US hydrogen bomb testing in the Marshall Islands on March 1, 1954. As we students worked our way through the museum, we did our best to glean information from the wall labels that were written solely in Japanese. While this normally would have presented a daunting and difficult endeavor, Aridome-sensei, Anna-san, and Selinger-sensei worked with us to fill in our gaps of knowledge with regards to kanji and vocabulary, providing explanations almost exclusively in Japanese. Furthermore, when I sought out one of the curatorial assistants to ask a question, Selinger-sensei advocated for me and explained our group interests, which resulted in an invitation into the museum’s archives in order to view primary source documents related to our questions. I know from my own research last summer in Hiroshima that these kinds of opportunities are few and far between, and the difficulty of mustering the courage and confidence to seek them out as a foreign language learner limits them even further. Moving forward, I feel a renewed sense of energy about the possibilities that can arise from Japanese language study and will continue to do my best to take advantage of every opportunity to improve.

Radiation of the Not-so Lucky Dragon No. 5

We had a bit of a shorter day today, but an interesting one nonetheless. We visited the Daigofukuryumori Exhibition Hall (a museum), showcasing the 第五福竜丸 (daigofukuryumori; Lucky Dragon No. 5) tuna trawler that was heavily irradiated during hydrogen bomb testing off of Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954. The museum contained objects actually from the ship, including the ship itself and its engine, along with other related documentation such as letters written by family members of the crew. Additionally, the museum also provided information on nuclear weapons testing. Most of the descriptions and panels were in Japanese, though there were some cards in English. It wasn’t so much the grammar that gave me trouble (for instance, many of the panels used the passive form, either to convey suffering at the hands of nuclear testing or as a sort of “reporting” form…or perhaps both), but rather there was a lot of kanji I wasn’t too familiar with.

I thought it was really interesting going through the museum, small though it was, and seeing photos and actual objects from the time. The Lucky Dragon No. 5 wasn’t the only ship irradiated, nor was March 1, 1954 the only time atomic weapons were tested in that area; this is arguably the most well-documented or press-heavy incident. I was also intrigued by how ocean currents also impacted or spread radiation; there was a map I think showing sites of known radiation contamination and they followed the trajectories of currents almost perfectly.

We ended the day back at Waseda University with a discussion on both today’s and yesterday’s readings and visits. It was a good chance to reflect on what we’ve been learning and seeing the past several days, especially since we for once had an opportunity to do so as a group. Michael also brought up the idea of reflecting on the trip as a whole, midway, and what it means to us, which I also thought would be helpful and interesting.