2018 Fall Susannah Duncan Temple Japan Temple Semester

Walking on History

I’m not going to lie–I have been spending less time on my homework than I should in order to enjoy Tokyo. But sometimes, class and exploring aren’t all that unrelated. The stories in my history textbooks have never felt so relevant to my daily commute.

The names of the subway stations on my way to campus call up associations with things I’ve learned. The train rumbles under Jimbocho, the used-book district, and I remember learning in my literature class how printed materials became widely available during the Edo period and the publishing industry thrived (including illustrated newspapers that look like comics!). As I read about how the emperor moved from Kyoto to Tokyo right before the Meiji Restoration in the textbook for my art history class, the train pauses at Otemachi Station, right next to the Imperial Palace. I get off the train at the station closest to campus, only a few stops away from Meguro, a spot that just happens to be the setting of one of the centuries-old stories in translation that we’ll be discussing in my literature class.

susannahintokyo_comic_8

Of the five classes I’m taking this semester, my favorites would have to be the two that feel most relevant to life in Tokyo: Japanese Literature Before 1868 and Topics in Non-Western Art (Japanese Art Before and After WWII: From Manga to Performance Art). In the latter, each week, we focus on a different artist, learning not only about their work but about their lives and place in history as well. We started with Hayao Miyazaki and Osamu Tezuka; now we’ve moved on to Tsuguharu Foujita, Isamu Noguchi, and Yoko Ono. The art history class covers the last century and a half, and the literature class fills in the thousand or so years before. And because Tokyo is a keystone in much of Japan’s history, I’m living and walking in some of the very places these paintings, poems, noh plays, stories, and diaries describe.

Though they’re very different from what I’m used to at Bryn Mawr–all of my Temple classes are 20-30 students and lecture-based, while Bryn Mawr classes tend toward smaller discussion–I look forward to all of my classes and find them engaging. One of the coolest things about TUJ is that each class is full of students who come from all over the world. I’m not just talking about the sum of nationalities–even individuals have global backgrounds. I’ve met people who grew up living in four or five different countries. With such a diverse array of experiences and perspectives, TUJ feels like a little microcosm of the world.

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