Fifty years ago, discussions and a formal agreement put in motion a pioneering educational exchange between liberal arts colleges in the U.S. – including the ACM colleges – and a prominent Japanese university.
Since then, more than 2,400 students and about 300 faculty have participated in off-campus study and faculty development activities sponsored by the Japan Study program. Established in 1963 by Earlham College, the program links the member colleges of the ACM and the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) with Waseda University in Tokyo.
Japan Study participants gather before the program’s fall retreat.
“The program is unique in that it is a student and faculty exchange, going in both directions,” said Gary DeCoker, the Director of Japan Study. “More than 1,400 students from the U.S. have studied at Waseda for up to a year, and about 1,000 Waseda students have come to ACM and GLCA colleges for a year-long study abroad.”
An upcoming meeting in Chicago of Japan Study’s advisory committee will conclude with a dinner bringing together ACM and GLCA faculty, program and consortial staff, several alumni of the program, and officials from the Consulate General of Japan at Chicago. The event, on February 3, will be a lead in to next year’s observance of Japan Study’s 50th Anniversary.
An important part of that observance will be to chart the program’s legacy through the experiences of people who have participated in Japan Study over the years. “We have a lot of wonderful alumni of the program, and we’re reaching out to them and hoping to put together an alumni remembrance book,” said DeCoker. “We also have been using LinkedIn to connect alumni with each other and with current students so they can network.”
When the program was formed in the early 1960s, Japan was re-introducing itself to the world following the aftermath of World War II, according to DeCoker. “The Tokyo Olympics in 1964 were sort of the ‘coming out’ of Japan to the international community,” he noted. “The beginning of the Shinkansen [bullet train] coincided with the Olympics, so Japan Study was right in the middle of Japan’s rebirth.”
The program was started through an introduction from Edwin Reischauer, U.S. Ambassador to Japan, at the request of Earlham history professor Jackson Bailey. An Earlham alumnus, Bailey completed his Ph.D. in Japanese history at Harvard University under the direction of then professor Reischauer, and returned to Earlham in 1959 to join the faculty. About that time, Landrum Bolling became the president of Earlham and, as part of an initiative to develop off-campus study programs, instructed Bailey to begin an exchange program with a Japanese university. Bailey, in turn, asked Ambassador Reischauer to introduce him to a college in Japan. The choice was Waseda University.
“It was unusual at the time for U.S. colleges to teach Japanese,” DeCoker said. “Initially, the program couldn’t expect students to have had any Japan experience at their home college, so the students all came to Earlham in the summer prior to the program for an intensive language and culture course.”
At the same time, the program created professional development activities on the campuses and fostered exchanges through which ACM and GLCA faculty taught at Waseda, while Waseda faculty visited the U.S. to teach at the colleges. Those exchanges continue to this day. For example, as the Resident Director for Japan Study in 2012-13, Cornell College professor Carol Enns will teach two courses at Waseda University in the School for International Liberal Studies.
“Japan Study’s goal was to assist faculty on the consortial campuses in developing courses related to Japan,” said DeCoker. “Eventually the colleges also started to offer Japanese language, and as Japan became an economic superpower, the language study really took off.”
Now, a large majority of the ACM and GLCA member institutions offer Japanese language, as well as other courses related to Japanese culture and society, and most offer majors and/or minors in Japanese or East Asian language and culture.