“Year of Japan” Redux

Tokyo nightscape

Country study program returns full circle to the “Land of the Rising Sun”

Click here for a caldendar of events and more information about the "Year of Japan"

When Kennesaw State’s “Year of” country study program was launched in 1984, the goal was clear: Select a country or region of the world whose history and culture was compelling enough to be the focus of a yearlong series of learning activities. With a human history predating the Common Era; distinct classical, imperial, feudal and modern epochs; and the emergence within 100 years from an isolated, feudal society to one of the world’s largest economic powers, Japan not only fit the bill, but it set a standard for annual country studies to come.

In 1984, Japan presented an intriguing study: The country’s Nikkei stock index was well into its ascendancy toward an all-time high and its prowess in the world of video and gaming technology — think Donkey Kong and Super Mario Brothers — was firmly established. Japan had emerged in less than 50 years from post-World War II devastation to become the world’s fastest-growing industrial economy, and its course toward leadership in human disaster response was set.

Fast forward 29 years, and Japan once again promises to be an engrossing study for the 2013-2014 academic year. A diverse archipelago of 6,852 islands in the Pacific Ocean, the East Asian nation has the world’s tenth-largest population — more than 127 million people. Tokyo, its de facto capital city, comprises the world’s largest metropolitan area with more than 30 million residents. Its technology-driven economy remains the world’s third-largest.

In addition, “Year of Japan”organizers say, the country’s impact on youth culture resonates with today’s students.

“An entire generation of young Americans have grown up with new concepts and a new outlook on both Japan and Asia as a result of the increasing availability of Japanese toys, games, animation and movies,” wrote Don Amoroso, professor of information systems, and Masako Racel, professor of history, in proposing the “Year of Japan.” The professors are helping to coordinate this year’s country study.

The current “Year of” study will examine the country’s ancient history and its evolution as a modern, global economy. Programs throughout the year also will highlight Japan’s ancient artistic traditions — ceramics, ink painting, wood block printing, origami and calligraphy, Aikido martial art and the horticultural arts of Ikebana and bonsai — as well as more modern art forms like ensemble taiko drumming and manga.

In the intervening years between the first “Year of Japan” and the current one, “Year of” programs — traditionally including weekly lectures, cultural performances, films and art exhibits — have taken on more complex dimensions.

This year’s study of Japan launched August 29 with a lecture on the influence of geography on Japanese society and continues through September and October with weekly lectures on a range of topics by scholars from the U.S. and Japan. An art exhibit featuring traditional Japanese woodblock style prints by Clifton Karhu is on display at the Institute for Global Initiatives in Kennesaw State’s Town Point building, Suite 1700, through Nov. 1.  Click here to view the complete fall “Year of Japan” schedule.

In a departure from recent community launch events during Kennesaw State’s annual country study, “The Year of Japan” will feature a special event on Oct. 5 titled “J-Con.” The charity event will raise funds to support reconstruction in Japan after the 2011 tsunami; highlight the country’s predominance in the gaming industry with a Cosplay competition and a gaming tournament; and present some of the country’s visual and martial arts. Also significant this year is a major, year-end conference featuring scholars, diplomats, and business, civic and cultural leaders who focus on topical issues pertinent to the country or region of study.

“We’ve seized on Japan’s role in humanitarian responses to environmental and economic crises around the world to organize a major conference in March that will present scholarship across multiple disciplines with an emphasis on disaster prevention and mitigation,” said Dan Paracka, director of education abroad and a coordinator of the “Year of” program. “This is perhaps our most ambitious conference, and it presents an incredible opportunity to focus on an area of special significance to Japan and the rest of the world.”

Japan, which will host the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015, endorses human security as a pillar of its foreign policy, according to its Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The country has lent its expertise in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the East Africa drought crisis in 2011 and the Sahel food crisis in 2012. It participated in these efforts even as the country mobilized and coordinated global response to its own national crises stemming from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, the resulting tsunami and damage to Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant. Japan has endured 20 percent of the world’s earthquakes.

 “There is much to learn from Japan’s experience and leadership in confronting human security threats brought on by natural disasters, economic crisis, environmental degradation and climate change,” Paracka said. 

Sabbaye McGriff