Akita International University
A Competitive Cultural Exchange
As I promised in my last blog, I plan on catching back up with the present, which means I will have to go back in time a few weeks. A few weeks ago, I stumbled into an amazing opportunity, but I had no idea what was actually involved at the time: all I knew was that there was an opportunity to stay over a weekend and meet people from other colleges in the area, as well as a group of Taiwanese students.
The program was called, “Yokote City Design Workshop,” but I just assumed that some company wanted feedback from international and Japanese students about their products. However, when I arrived, a large panel of Japanese officials and Taiwanese product design professors informed us that we had three days to design a product that represented the traditional values of Yokote City’s culture and people. I was assigned to a group with two students from Tatung University in Taiwan, Ko and Lai, and one Japanese student from Akita University of Arts, Sasaki. Early on, there were issues with communication as Ko spoke some English, and Sasaki spoke little English and no Chinese. Fortunately for us, Lai was a Linguistics student, so she formed the link that connected all of our ideas and passed them on to everyone in the group. When I realized that we were all expected to design a product from scratch, create samples and create a PowerPoint presentation, which would be presented in English and Japanese in front of a panel of local officials, I thought for sure that I would be dead weight: what business does a History major, who can’t draw to save his life, belong in a room full of graphics design majors from Art Schools. I did my best to contribute ideas and some “rough” sketches, and my teammates assured me that I was helpful, whether they were being nice or not, I don’t know.
The same scene from another angle. And, if you look in the background, you can see my friend, Jo, in the white hoodie: he is a grad student at Akita University of Arts.
Fortunately, the workshop wasn’t all work and no play. On Saturday, we were all given a guided tour of Yokote City, and it was amazing.
Some cool examples of Samurai armor from inside the castle.
Perhaps one of my favorite places in Yokote is the Kamakura-house museum, which maintains a real example, all year round, of the “igloo-type” houses that the locals build in the winter.
From the left: Zack (D.C.), Me, Jo and Hiroomi (Akita Univ. of Arts). By the way, it was extremely cold in there: the room is a kind of refrigerator that keeps the snow from melting.
Afterwards, we headed back to the old High School where we were working on our projects. After the presentations, the winners were announced, and, unfortunately, we did not win.
Here was our banner, which Ko designed himself.
Here was one of the covers of our notebook, which had all four seasons, designed by Sasaki (she drew these from scratch using software!).
This was the Spring themed cover, with Yokote-jo surrounded by cherry blossoms.
Here was the Summer themed cover, featuring the fireworks festival.
Here was the Autumn themed cover, representing the local produce, which would be harvested in the Fall.
Finally, my personal favorite, the Winter themed cover, featuring an Akita-inu in traditional festival clothes, sheltering in a Kamakura-house.
Here, you can see my modest contribution to the drawing: many of the professors complimented me on my efforts, but I think they just thought it was a cute attempt.
At the end, all of the participants were given hand-towels as gifts, and the winners received nice, gift-wrapped packages. And, since I was a late addition to the program, I was not presented with a certificate, so Ko drew me up a new one.
After the awards ceremony, we all got on busses and visited the new manga museum, which hadn’t even opened to the public yet. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures of the inside, but I have some pictures with all of us before we had to say our sad goodbyes.
Afterwards, we all got on separate buses and headed back to our respective colleges. The Taiwanese students stayed another night before getting on a plane back to Taiwan. Ko informed me afterwards that it was significantly hotter in Taiwan than in the mountains of northern Honshu.
After all was said and done, I was so happy that I was able to attend the workshop and meet these wonderful people. Initially, I was skeptical because we had to sleep on the floor of an old classroom, for one thing, which I was not excited about, but, by the end, I find everything memorable and are unique experiences, which come straight out of an anime.