2014 Field Studies Applications now available

Theme: “Heritage and Tourism”

2013 was an eventful year for “heritage” in Japan. UNESCO added both Mt. Fuji and Japanese cuisine to its World Heritage list. Such events bring new attention to the question of what should be preserved in the present to be enjoyed in the future.

How is heritage defined? Who decides what is preserved and remembered? How is heritage packaged for tourist consumption? What controversies and possibilities surround the future of heritage in Japan?

In this module students investigate the interface of heritage and tourism in Japan. We study how heritage attracts visitors and what role heritage plays in the construction of local and regional identity. Please join this unique chance to study about Japan in Japan!


May 12-15 Coursework at NUS
May 16-26 Study in Japan

At NUS we will learn about heritage, tourism, and qualitative research methods. Students will also present case studies of the locations we will visit.

Then, we will travel to Japan. We begin by traveling with Kyushu University students to Tomonoura, a picturesque village in Hiroshima Prefecture that partly inspired Miyazaki Hayao’s animated film “Ponyo.” Then we continue to several communities in Kyushu where heritage and tourism are relevant.

Along the way, students will experience a homestay and farmstay, try hot springs, go hiking, eat like a samurai at Kumamoto Castle, and visit historical sites.



In order to learn more about eligibility and costs, please download the flier and application here Flyer2014. Submit your application (including all necessary transcripts) by Friday, 21 Feb at 5:00pm.

Also, please read the FAQs about the program.

Kyushu Shinkansen commercial

A few days ago I learned about this fantastic commercial celebrating the completion of the Kyushu Shinkansen in 2011. I finally watched it today.

View video here: Kyushu Shinkansen CM

I have followed news of the train line’s construction on and off for nearly a decade. I was in Japan in 2004 when the first leg opened between Shin-Yatsushiro and Kagoshima. At that time I saw many news reports about both the celebrations and the controversial siting (and construction) of stations and tunnels along the line. Some cities wanted stations with the hope of increasing business and tourism, while others worried that the location of new stations distant from their downtowns (necessary to accommodate the long, specialized cars) would only speed the economic decline of the existing business district (possible in places like Minamata). 

More problematic were all of the people who must live in the shadow of the railway’s immense concrete columns, or next to new tunnels and tracks suspended ten or more meters in the air that cut through communities, thereby not linking these mountainous communities to the rest of Kyushu, but only emphasizing their remoteness. 

Of course, the commercial does not address any of these controversies. It shows inaugural run of the entire line from Kagoshima to Fukuoka. This opening ceremony was celebrated by thousands of people along the route who stood out in the cold to wave to the passing train. At the end the narrator thanks everyone and hopes that the Shinkansen will usher in a new era for Japan:


On that day, thank you for waving.
Thank you for smiling (or laughing).
Thank you for coming together as one.
The Kyushu Shinkansen line is now complete.
A new energy is born in a united Kyushu.
From a united Kyushu, Japan should become more enjoyable.
The Kyushu Shinkansen, with you, is now complete.


Let me make one thing clear, I love this commercial. I watched it five times in a row upon first encountering it this morning. I cried every time. There is something about the spirit and creativity of people coming together for a public display (in any country) that pulls on my heartstrings. And as the train passes these thousands of people, I recognize those urban and rural landscapes. They speak to me, reminding me of hundreds of hours of cycling past rice fields and hot houses. I recall my farmer friends and acquaintances. I also think about the general excitement that comes from the completion of most large construction projects in Japan, whether they are really necessary or not. There is a party atmosphere. 

But then I think back to the controversies and think about all the people who did not come out to wave. I suppose that is inevitable with any large project. There will always be people who receive no benefit, or even whose lives are made worse. 

What is more interesting about this commercial, though, is that it did not run on television. In fact, it now has more than 800,000 hits on YouTube, but the celebration was not aired on normal television, as was originally intended. The reason is that this opening ceremony took place on March 12, 2011, one day after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. As the Tohoku region was reeling with aftershocks, searching for lost loved ones in the rubble, and keeping an eye on the deteriorating situation at the Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima, it was deemed inappropriate for people in Kyushu to be exhibiting so much … joy. 

That does not deteriorate my enjoyment of the video, but the broader perspective of the timing of its creation is fascinating, don’t you agree? 


By the way, the theme song in the CM is “Boom,” by Maia Hirasawa, a half-Japanese, half-Swedish singer/songwriter. What a rockin’ song! Gotta love a band with a tuba.

Publication in “Landscape Journal”

I just received word that my paper A Landscape of “Undesigned Design” in Rural Japan will be published in Landscape Journal, in early 2014 (33:1). I will provide more information when it is printed. In the meantime, here is the abstract:

ABSTRACT  Rural landscapes have long stimulated nostalgia for a simpler time and place. In contemporary Japan, real economic and social problems in the countryside have brought new attention to the role of rural communities in the formation of Japanese identity. In this paper I introduce Kurokawa, a hot springs resort that has spent the past three decades emulating the rural idyll through what it calls fūkeizukuri, or “landscape design,” en route to becoming one of Japan’s best known rural tourist destinations. I contextualize Kurokawa’s adoption of a themed landscape in the mid-1980s, and I explain the design choices that have gained Kurokawa so much attention, including those found in the built and natural environment. Here, I emphasize the role local actors have played in creating and enacting the landscape. I conclude by showing how the village’s adoption of a nostalgic rural theme has strengthened its status as not only an exemplar of the idealized aesthetics and social relations of the past, but also a rare rural community successfully adapting to the present.

Student post 2 of 10

Farewell to the farmstay (polaroid image)

Singaporean Students meet Farmstay, Nostalgia Happens(?!)”

by Tan Jing Ting 

This picture was taken at the end of our farm-stay at Saconue no Kaeru (さこんうえの蛙 – http://saconue.com/), in Nakabaru, Minami-Oguni Town, Kumamoto Prefecture. The women stayed here, while the men stayed at a different farm-stay house about a 10-minute walk away. While learning about regional revitalization, we spent two nights here, with all our meals made from fresh produce. With a vegan among us, the meals were 100% without meat, and still 100% delicious. The farmers in the village creatively utilize their existing resources to create farm-stays in order to diversify their businesses beyond just farming. In addition, we learned that the men stayed with a different family in order to spread the farm-stay business evenly within the village. Our host father said that for the entire village to prosper, the community should progress together. This is one of the essential elements for regional revitalization: a strong community spirit.

One concept we learned prior to the trip was furusato (literally ‘old village’), which appeals to nostalgia. While the farm-stay was not exactly nostalgic to us young Singaporeans, we were nonetheless able to have first-hand experience of some aspects of an old village. A huge part of this was due to the hospitality of the host mother (center, with the handkerchief around her head). I have fond memories of her rushing in and out of the main dining room (wooden structure which we were standing in front of) to deliver dishes and fervently explaining all the ingredients used in them. I couldn’t understand much of what she said (note to self: enhance Japanese vocabulary on fruits and vegetables), but her enthusiasm was infectious. It made us Singaporeans wonder if we could be as strong and lively as her in our old age. Indeed, what is furusato without old people?

You might have noticed that this is a photo taken with a Polaroid photo. This is not by chance – the Polaroid produces an effect unlike digital or film cameras, making it seem as if a long time has passed since the photo was taken. It is my attempt to induce nostalgia. Secondly, this is also an example related to the “tourist gaze”, a concept by Sociologist and tourism scholar John Urry (1990), who argues tourists “choose where to go in order to capture places on film,” a process that builds on the tourist experience. No digital camera can produce such a nostalgic effect. This Polaroid photo captures the “perfect ending” to my memory of the farm-stay.