Kakehashi Project student group poses with a Kakehashi Project flag in Japan

Students Reflect on their Experiences in Japan with the Kakehashi Project

For the third year in a row, a small group of Elliott School graduate students participated in the cross-cultural Kakehashi Project, traveling to Kyoto and Tokyo to enhance their understanding of contemporary and ancient Japanese culture.

The Kakehashi Project is a government-funded, grassroots exchange program that brings groups of Americans to Japan for engaging, focused, and customized experiences. In Japanese, the word Kakehashi means bridges — in this case, bridges between cultures constructed with the hope of building bridges to a better tomorrow. 

Several themes stood out to the seven students who participated in the week-long trip to Tokyo, Kyoto, and the countryside in Shiga Prefecture, where students participated in a two-day homestay with local farming families. Notable visits included stops at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and at a reception with GW alumni living and working in Tokyo. 

In Kyoto, students visited the Fushimi Inari Shrine and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kinkaku-ji Temple. Here, the blend of modernity and tradition resonated with Michael Choi (MA candidate, Asian Studies), who noted the ancient temples mixed among the skyscrapers: “Kyoto captured the essence of traditional Japanese culture while developing as a modern city.”

Judy Ly (MA candidate, International Affairs) pointed to family values as her most indelible memory: “My stay with the host family was one of the best memories of the trip. I experienced the traditional Japanese daily life. I saw the family dynamic and respected how close and loving everyone was to each other….My host family’s hospitality, openness, and generosity humbled me greatly.”

Another student, Niles Rodgers (MA candidate, Asian Studies), has been deeply influenced by Japanese culture he experienced while growing up and wanted to see how his anime-influenced conceptionsstacked up against reality: “My trip to Japan allowed me to finally see, from a first-person perspective and without a digital screen or anime characters running wild, what I had been missing out on….Not only was it a unique experience, but it reinforced my desire to learn more about the country’s history, culture, and customs.”

Food was the gateway to Japanese culture for Kayla Escobar (MA candidate, Global Communication). She says, “most of the food on this trip spoke to me and gave me a beautiful memory… there was a sense of hospitality with every restaurant, vendor, and meal, which made it all the more special. The time and effort that I felt my homestay family put into creating each meal…there was genuine interest and hope that you enjoy your food.” Her own hope is that future Kakehashi participants get to experience similar aspects of what makes Japan a special place —  as well as a chance to expand their palates. 

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