Text by: Tomás Martínez Murillo
Photos by: Anouk Bello and Lucía Hernández
On a bright and clear morning where the chill of December seemed to have been taken away by the warmth of an early spring we visited Waseda University. Founded during the Meiji Period and known in the Western World for being Haruki Murakami’s alma mater, Waseda is one of the top universities in Japan. Since my main interest right now lies in Japanese Literature attending a lecture in Waseda, even if it was just for a day and not as an official student, was something to really look forward.
The first thing I noticed upon arriving was the campus and the style of architecture of the buildings. Waseda’s campus appears to be the perfect mix of western sobriety in design and Japanese’ efficiency. Every building and classroom we visited seemed to be tailored to fit whatever purpose was needed, not a wasted square meter of space, not a single sight that was not beautiful. Especially the central garden where even in the middle of Tokyo we could talk and relax for a bit while enjoying the surprisingly warm weather. Of course being accompanied all the time by Japanese students from Waseda and being able to spend some quality time them made every experience of the day richer.
The lectures we attended were very informative. The first one titled Old Japonisme and New Japonisme was especially detailed. For me the best part of Dr. Hikaru Yoshizawa’s lecture was when he showed us the way in which Japanese influence reached the western artistic world during the nineteenth century. Works from artists such as the impressionist Edgard Degas and the post-impressionist Vincent Van Gogh were delighted by the Japanese ukiyo-e. This kind of woodblock painting, a term that can be translated as “pictures from the floating world”, was one of the main artistic forms during the Edo period. I was glad to discover how Japanese themes and motives taken directly from the works of Hirosigue, Hokusai and other masters of Ukiyo-e, appear unchanged in some western paintings.
The second lecture: All Japan Approach to International Peace Operations was conducted by Prof. Hidetoshi Nakamura. If I have to tell the whole truth I was not that excited for this one but professor Nakamura did an excellent job at getting us engaged and entertained while also making us learn some hard facts. He was charming in his kimono and his jokes helped ease the tension and the gravity of what was being spoken about. This hour and a half flew by and even at the end of the lecture a lot of people stayed behind to personally ask Professor Nakamura some questions about the state of Japan politics.
After the lunch in the University Cafeteria came the time for the main event of the day: the group discussions. We had one hour to discuss our assigned readings and prepare a short presentation. I was pleasantly surprised by my own group. In the beginning everyone had a different opinion and we argued and fought for what, in our opinions, was the right point of view. Everyone was very talkative, Japanese students helped in providing us with the knowledge and impressions that can only be acquired from within the perspective of one’s own culture. But even if we fought for a bit, by accepting what as a group we decided were the most suitable answer we actually did reach what I think was a very good conclusion. In general the group experience was very good, I feel that
having people from different nationalities and backgrounds can help in expanding one’s own horizons, because sometimes it is only through the eyes of the others and the new perspective they provide that we can see things that we are unable to notice by ourselves.
To finish the day we went, together with Waseda’s students, professors and staff, to a restaurant to have dinner. The venue was perfect because due to the nature of the restaurant we could keep talking and interacting with people from all around the world. So many languages, so many different tones of voices and ways of laughing plus two emotional final speeches. Without a doubt this was the best way to end a day that we are not going to be able to forget in a very long time.