Here we are in front of Okuma Auditorium at Waseda University 早稲田大学 on September 6, 1974 having just arrived in Japan on August 31 for a few days of dorm life before meeting our host families on September 3 and then beginning the Fall 1974 Term.
2014 is the 40th Anniversary of our year in Japan as exchange students at Waseda University’s International Division (Kokusaibu 国際部) so it is a time to share and reflect on that experience with a few memories and photos. This is Part One of the story that will be updated as I find old photos and memorabilia to add to this blog.
I was a member of the Oregon State System of Higher Education (OSSHE) Program at Waseda having studied Japanese at University of Oregon and so most of my friends were students from Oregon colleges but I also made friends with students from other programs such as CALPUC California Private Universities and Colleges, CSU California State Universities, GLCA Great Lakes Colleges Association, ACM Associated Colleges of the Midwest, and some independent students as well as Japanese students studying in various departments at Waseda. The photo was taken as part of our orientation to the university and we soon found ourselves living with host families in all different directions from campus in the Tokyo area.
My host family Mr. Minoru Tanaka and his wife Fumiko Tanaka generously opened their home to me as their first foreign exchange student with the hopes that their three children might find an interest in studying English and learn to speak it with an American student living in their home. The Tanakas lived in the Heiwajima area of south Tokyo that today has a nice park named Heiwa Koen or Peace Park but in those days was still yet to be reclaimed from the industrial waterfront. I soon learned to commute by train from Heiwajima to Shinagawa Station and transfer to the famous Yamanote line that circles Tokyo where my hour long ride would take me to Takatanobaba Station and the subway to Waseda. We students often walked the Takatanobaba to Waseda segment because the subway was extremely packed with people and we didn’t mind the exercise.
My classes for Fall Semester 1974 included Economic Life of Japan by Professor Teichi Wada, Contemporary Japanese Literature taught by Professor Katsuhiko Takeda, and Japanese Language taught by the lively Suzuki-Sensei.
Professor Wada’s class Economic Life in Japan was probably the most important class for my education about modern Japan. What was happening in the mid-1970s was the recognition of Japan’s extraordinary economic growth in the 30 year period since the end of the war and some likely forecasts of what that would mean for the decades ahead. In other words it was a wakeup call to the opportunity for a college student beginning a career that this was a promising country to select among the opportunities for international study and exchange and in fact that choice to study Japanese and go to Japan in 1974 impacted my career for the next 40 years.
At the University of Oregon I had taken Introduction to Japanese Literature taught by Stephen Kohl who accompanied the Oregon students to Japan as the Resident Director of the Oregon Program and also taught Japanese Literature courses during the year. He brought his wife Stephanie and three year old son David and lived in a guest house near Okuma Kaikan Garden. Since I had already taken Professor Kohl’s introductory class I was interested in Professor Takeda’s class that required readings by Japanese Novelists such as 1968 Nobel Laureate Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima, Junichiro Tanizaki, Shusaku Endo, Natsume Soseki, and other modern writers. Professor Takeda also was an author, co-author, and translator of many books about Japanese literature and personally knew writers such as Kawabata and many leading experts on Japanese literature.
Sugiyama-Sensei worked hard to teach us Japanese and endured our misunderstandings, misspoken utterances, and many hilarious exchanges as we slowly made progress towards speaking Japanese. Some of us quickly got part time jobs teaching English and several of us worked at the Tokyo Education Center on weekends where we began to understand the perspective of teaching a foreign language in Japan. The calendar for fall quarter included an athletic festival and the biggest university rivalry in Japan culminating in the Waseda-Keio University Baseball Game.
In December the school planned an optional tour to Kansai (Kyoto and Nara) but I had visited that area in 1971 so I planned an independent tour to southern Honshu and Shikoku Island accompanied by fellow student from Portland Tom Takeuchi. This turned out to be a great trip that included our travel by train, hitch-hiking, boat travel, and hiking in some very scenic and out of the way places in Japan. In Part Two more details of travels in Japan and photos of old friends and my Japanese family…