This one’s for you, Tom


It has now been nearly 10 months since my last post.  I was in the midst of returning home to Lindsborg after spending two weeks in Japan.  My reasons for visiting there were twofold:  1.  To present at the International Symposium on Performance Science, a conference run partially by the Royal College of Music in London, and 2.  To start a dialogue between Bethany College and our sister schools in Tokyo (Mitaka) and Kumamoto.

One of my most ardent supporters for this trip was my friend and colleague, Tom Nelson.  Tom and I have known each other since I was an undergraduate student at Bethany in the early 90s.  He had just returned from missionary work in Japan and was taking courses in music at Bethany (he had earned a degree in English during his previous time at BC) while serving as a part-time faculty/staff member.  Tom helped me prepare for this trip in many ways and I can’t begin to thank him for his support, not only for me but for his alma mater.  It is for that reason that I am writing this final, wrap-up, installment of the Japan blog.

Tom asked me quite a while ago to summarize my thoughts on the trip to Japan.  I find it difficult to put into words my exact feelings so I thought I would simply jot down some things that have stuck with me even many months after my return.

  1. Cultural similarities and difference – People are people wherever you go, but cultural differences are important to truly understanding each other.  I was lucky to have Tom fill me in on specific cultural differences and I made a sincere effort to read and learn on my own as well.  I knew not to pour my own drink when dining with a Japanese host and where to place my chopsticks when not using them at a meal.  What I learned was that generational differences in Japan are not very different than in the USA.  Many of the formalities I learned about and followed when in the presence of an older generation of Japanese were not evident when spending time around those younger than me.
  2. Politeness – I cannot remember meeting or seeing anyone who was purposefully impolite or rude.  Seriously.  Everyone has a bad day, right?  I honestly cannot recall one time where a shopkeeper, motorist, pedestrian, or anyone else even looked at me crossways.
  3. Quiet – Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world.  At peak traffic times on the subway there are literally men whose job it is to physically cram you into the train car because there are so many commuters.  While on the train no one.  I mean NO ONE talks.  I took public transportation for two weeks and the only time I ever spoke or was spoken to on a train was when I was with another American.  If you know me, you know that I am a talker.  Upon my return home, in the airport in Dallas during a layover, I truly almost had a panic attack from the stimuli and loudness of other travelers.  I am NOT judging.  Only two weeks prior I was absolutely one of them.  But after two weeks in Japan my level of stress had decreased and I was content to be “alone” with my thoughts while in public.
  4. Respect, respect, respect – I knew this before I traveled to Japan, but I was struck by the level of respect shown to each other.  The fact that I had earned a Ph.D. and was a professor of music was a big deal there.  It is important to state that I am not complaining about the US because I wouldn’t trade my hometown, state, or country for anywhere.  But occasionally I feel that at the national level there is a backlash of anti-intellectualism in which those who have tried to gain knowledge and experience are not seen as important but, rather, as people who think they are better than the average person.  Perhaps that is a topic for another post sometime.
  5. Relationships must be nurtured – This is an area in which I have failed.  I made connections and friendships with a number of people during my trip to Japan that I have not nurtured like I should have.  Maybe it is because upon my return BC classes had already begun and I was thrown “into the fire.”  Still, I am embarrassed I haven’t kept in better contact with Jim Sack, Kevin Axton, and the wonderful officials of Japan Lutheran College and Kyushu Lutheran College.  This was especially driven home to me when Kumamoto, in the Kyushu region, was hit was a terrible earthquake.
  6. Peace in the face of devastation – Without a doubt, the most moving part of my trip was visiting Hiroshima, Japan and the Peace Memorial and Museum.  I stood at ground zero of what was one of the most devastating events in human history.  I think I understand why it was done, and I fully support the US government in why it carried out this horrible event.  That is not the point I want to make.  What I took from the experience was that the people of Hiroshima and Japan in general could easily have harbored a lifetime of anger and resentment but instead transformed what had been rubble into a beautiful park dedicated to advancing the concept of peace.

Well, Tom, I hope this is enough for now.  If I think of more I will edit this post.  In the meantime, I would invite any reader to submit topics about which you would be interested in having me address in another post.  I have been considering doing this on a semi-regular basis (he says while he is in a comfy chair at the coffeeshop in the middle of summer).  Until next time,  all my best.  Mark


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