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.

2014 Field Studies Module News

The Department of Japanese Studies learned this week that it has again received a generous donation from the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Singapore, to hold the Field Studies in Japan module again in May 2014.

This means I am in the middle of planning the schedule, readings, theme, and learning activities for our next trip. Please check back on this blog for a link to the application, which I will post early in January 2014.

In the meantime, you can read Frequently Asked Questions about the program here.

Student post 3 of 10

“Generating Change in Minamata” by Tingfeng Lee

This image depicts the hourly and daily electricity generation (発電電力) at Minamata City Hall, Kumamoto Prefecture. It reflects the eco-consciousness of residents and forms one effort to revitalize their hometown in light of its poisonous past. Minamata is widely known for Minamata Disease, a neurological disorder caused by severe methyl mercury poisoning due to the release of untreated wastewater by the Chisso Corporation into Minamata Bay in the 1950s. However, in recent decades Minamata has been trying to strike a balance between environmental protection and economic progress. Aimed at creating a “Zero Waste City,” Minamata residents separate their rubbish into 23 categories for recycling, an unusually high number in Japan. This is in conjunction with the city’s 4Rs campaign – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. In 2001, Minamata City was awarded the ISO 14001, an international certification for environmental management, and the city was named “Japan’s Eco-City Capital” in 2011 for spearheading Japan’s environmental efforts. Shadowed by lingering impacts of Minamata Disease, the city continues to be in cognizant of its past through the Minamata Disease Municipal Museum (水俣病資料館) and Minamata Disease Archives (水俣病情報センター). Attracting both domestic and overseas visitors, these facilities impart important lessons from the city’s past and inculcate the need for environmental awareness.

A visit to Tanaka Shōten (田中商店), a recycling company based in Minamata City, provided a better understanding of how a company in this “Eco-capital” tries to advocate both environmental protection and economic sustainability. Without incurring any cost for raw materials (notwithstanding manpower and equipment), when recycled trash gets delivered to the company, Tanaka Shōten aligns economic viability with the city’s environmental vision. From recycled beer bottles to paintings made of recycled glass, Tanaka Shōten periodically launches new products in response to market trends and demands.

In the course of the two-day experience in Minamata City, it dawned upon us that the city’s revitalization efforts are not merely top-down but rather a form of community spirit that binds local residents with the local government and private businesses. Like a phoenix from its ashes, the residents of Minamata City have risen from their past to create a better tomorrow.

Field Studies in Japan 2013 – Applications now accepted

Theme: Tourism and Regional Revitalization

May 13-17 Coursework at NUS
May 18-28 Study in Japan (tentative, could return as late as May 31)

Japan’s postwar economic miracle was not experienced evenly. Industrial pollution, wasteful construction projects, and rural depopulation damaged human health and the physical landscape of many regions around the country.

Two decades after the collapse of the bubble economy, many places continue to struggle. However, there is hope, with many people fighting to revitalize their communities in the face of economic and demographic problems.

In this module students investigate the revitalization efforts of a handful of communities in Kumamoto Prefecture, particularly through tourism. Students will meet government officials, citizens, and business owners who care deeply about their communities and strive to develop ways to share the places they love with tourists.


In order to apply, please download the application here (JS Field Study 2013) and return it by Friday, 8 Feb at 5:00pm.

Here are some FAQs about the program:

  1. Is the schedule on the flier fixed? Answer: Yes; however, issues might arise that could push the trip back by several days.
  2. Is the module finished on 28 May? Answer: No. You will still need to be available to compete parts of the module (final paper, presentation) as late as 7 June.
  3. The flier says the trip will cost up to $1500. What does this mean, and how likely is it to cost less? Answer: $1500 is an estimate based on current prices and exchange rates, as well as due to a generous contribution from the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Singapore). The cost might change, although the most likely scenario is for it to be less. Therefore, you will need to commit to the program and prepare to contribute up to $1500 before we know the results. It is very likely that you will have to spend less than $1500.
  4. What does the $1500 cover? Answer: International airfare, domestic transportation (train, bus, taxi), overnight accommodations, entrance fees, and most meals. Items not covered include a few meals, one optional excursion, travel insurance, any personal shopping, and NUS credit fees.
  5. Does the $1500 cover the cost of the NUS credits? Answer: No, you will have to register for the module and pay for the credits prior to our departure.
  6. How many credits is the module worth?  Answer: 4
  7. Do the credits count toward the JS major? Answer: Yes. The module counts toward the 3000-level requirement for the major. This makes it ideal for all students, especially those who will do (or have done) exchange. Mapping 2000-level modules from Japanese universities is easy, but we do not normally map 3000-level modules. Therefore, majors and minors need to take 3000-level modules at NUS.
  8. I am about to graduate and do not need the credits. Do I have to take the module for credit? Answer: Yes. Only students enrolled in the module for credit can participate in the field study. However, please note that if you attend the field study you WILL NOT be eligible to attend commencement in July. Because you are attending a summer program, your degree will not be conferred until September.
  9. What is the difficulty level and how will the module be assessed? Answer: The module is standard for a 3000-level JS module. Marks will be based on participation, several presentations (group and individual), several on-site field exercises, and several written assignments. You can see some of the written assignments on this blog.
  10. What comes after the application? Answer: there will be a group interview in February or early March. Successful applicants should know the results soon after the interview.
  11. Can I participate as a year 1 student? Answer: Yes. You can apply, and you will be considered. Priority will be given to students who show maturity (at whatever age) and show they can handle the stresses of a homestay and an intensive 3000-level module.
  12. How much Japanese do I need to participate? Answer: As indicated on the flier, priority will be given to students with a certain level of proficiency, which can be shown either through modules completed, JLPT certification, or self-study. You will need to read some government documents and tourist pamphlets, survive in a homestay, take part in student exchange, and speak to strangers here and there. Most importantly, you have to be willing to make mistakes and keep trying!

Farming in Aso

During our farm stay in Minami-Oguni we faced a challenge: we were almost unable to do any farming. Farming was intended to be a central activity on our full day at Saconue no kaeru. After all, what is a farm stay without farming? However, a light rain all morning prevented us from doing any “field” work. Instead we spent the morning touring the hamlet.

We got our chance to farm in the afternoon. A short break in the weather allowed us to quickly assemble and transplant a few dozen edamame, the tasty soybeans that serve as an appetizer at Japanese restaurants around the world. It was not much of a challenge. We simply had to remove the plants from plastic containers and deposit them into the soil. However, it was a first for many students, and they appreciated the chance to get their hands (or at least their gloves) dirty.

Our edamame the day after planting

Grow little guys!

After the brief planting session Mr. Kawazu answered questions about organic farming and hosting guests at his farm stay. It sprinkled on us, but it didn’t dampen our spirits and our feeling of connection to the land beneath our feet and all around us.

The next morning we woke to a glorious day. We had time to walk around and see rice being planted, but our schedule prevented us from participating in any more agriculture.

Rice ready to be planted.

Planting with a tractor

Newly-planted field

Students walking on the "satoyama path"

Aside from relishing the trees and fields, we also wrestled with some big questions while at Saconue no kaeru: Is a farmstay ecotourism? Is it nature tourism? Is it sustainable? What does the future hold for this hamlet? How can these businesses grow just enough to boost family incomes, without congesting roads and overwhelming local residents?

A farm stay offers many exciting possibilities for owners; however, they must carefully manage their futures if they hope to be sustainable.

For Singaporeans, the farm stay brought many new experiences. Just being surrounded by trees and newly-planted crops and eating the freshest food possible seemed to have a calming effect on everyone. Like the rest of the guests who stay, we were able to “reset” ourselves before continuing with the last leg of the field study.

Saying farewell to our farmstay

Date of visit: May 20-22, 2012

Date of photos: May 22, 2012

Farmstay food

Every meal at Saconue no kaeru was an event. Dishes streamed through the door in rapid succession: salads, tempura’d vegetables and herbs, soups, things stewed, pickled, fried, steamed, and jammed.

Rice for everyone












Devil's tongue, beans, peppers, potatoes, daikon radish, tomatoes, lettuce, burdock root, eggs ... the list goes on. Humans are meant to eat such variety at every meal.

We also made our own sushi rolls for lunch.

The controlled pandemonium of self-made sushi with 15 people.

We ended the day with a pizza party, joined by local high school students. This was an incredible opportunity for cultural exchange, entirely in Japanese. We baked the pizzas in an oven made from volcanic rock from near Mt. Aso, and laughed late into the night.

Homemade pizzas

Cultural exchange with high school students (seated).

Cultural exchange


Date of visit: May 20-22, 2012

Date of photos: May 21, 2012

Farmstay in Aso

The town of Minami-Oguni has been squarely on the tourist map of Kumamoto (and Japan) for the past few decades because of the success of the hot springs resort of Kurokawa. It draws over a million visitors per year and frequently appears at or near the top of “best of” lists for tourist destinations.

However, there is more going on in Minami-Oguni than hot springs. Cafes and restaurants (including a number of soba shops on “soba road”) have sprouted all over the town, and there are a handful of natural sites worth visiting (like Oshidoishi).

But one of the most exciting developments for me is the increase in farm stays. Most residents in Minami-Oguni’s tiny hamlets do some farming, but this has not provided sufficient income for decades, so most earn more secure incomes elsewhere (farming, teaching). Recently, some have begun trying to supplement their incomes by allowing people to stay in their homes, and in some cases, help with agricultural tasks. By remodeling a few rooms and having an internet presence, families can offer urban residents a unique experience that people in the past may have experienced by visiting their grandparent’s house. These days, fewer people have grandparents living in such areas, so they turn to entrepreneurs like those here.

We were able to experience the incredible hospitality of two families who hosted us for two nights (20-21 May). Our main host was the Kumagai family, who operate Saconue no Kaeru. The food was mostly locally-sourced and homemade, and completely vegetarian. We were treated to a walking of the village, which included a tour of a lumberyard and wood-processing factory, a stop by a shrine, and a chance to feed some dairy cows.

Learning how to grow shiitake mushrooms by not "scaring" them.


Descending from the shrine

Feeding Oguni Jersey cows

Tour of wood-processing facility: turning Oguni-sugi into building materials

Date of visit: May 20-22, 2012

Date of photos: May 21, 2012

Nature Tourism – Mt. Aso and Nabegataki

There is an irony inherent in most nature tourism. In order for tourists to access and enjoy natural destinations, one must build infrastructure that eats into the very nature to be enjoyed. Nowhere was this more obvious on our field study than at Mt. Aso, where a ropeway, road, and walking path have all been constructed so that thousands of people can reach the top each day. Many other mountains in Japan, like Fuji or even the nearby Kuju, have only walking paths. On Mt. Aso, the walking path is a wide swath of pavement. At the top, tourists mill around and take photographs in a large space paved over. And at the bottom, huge parking lots have been cut into the valleys to accommodate buses.

Infrastructure built to accommodate tourists observing the volcano at Mt. Aso

Safety shelter at Mt. Aso

Parking at Mt. Aso

Parking lot at Kusa Senri

The same situation exists at a smaller destination: Nabegataki, a small waterfall that became famous several years ago from a bottled tea commercial. In the years since, locals have been forced to accommodate increasing numbers of visitors. They have built a new parking lot, next to the existing, small gravel lot. They have also built a staircase to the bottom of the hill to replace the previously steep and slippery path. Now the adventure to reach the waterfall is gone, although the area is much safer and accessible to more people.

Students choosing walking sticks that used to be necessary to avoid risk









The path to the waterfall in May 2011

New staircase to the waterfall, May 2012

Nabegataki waterfall

Group photo in front of Nabegataki

Variety of cairns at the waterfall

That is the irony of nature tourism. Nature is sacrificed so that tourists can access it.

Date of visit and photos: May 20, 2012

Climbing Mt. Aso

On May 20 we climbed Mt. Aso, a live volcano in the middle of Kumamoto Prefecture. Last year we were unable to visit the volcano due to excessive volcanic activity, so I was excited to have the opportunity to show students the area this year.

After days of lectures and long journeys, many of us were looking forward to stretching our legs and getting some exercise. However, others were not so keen due to the cool weather. The temperatures at the mountain were in the single digits, much colder than any lecture theaters at NUS or movie theaters in Singapore, so it was the coldest temperatures so students had every experienced. The complaints only lasted for a few minutes, though, since the vigorous hike uphill got our hearts racing and warmed us.

"Freezing" at the start of the climb

Stunning landscape at the top

Once at the top we were greeted with incredible landscapes of colorful cliffs, dramatic steam, and the iridescent green liquid within the volcano. These colors and shapes offered an exciting backdrop for portraits, and we soon found ourselves engaging in that most touristic activity: photography.

Lynn and Jiin-Shiuan

Pei Jun



Photographic evidence that "we were there"

Requisite "jump shot" to also prove we were there

Only later in field notes did several students question their behavior: spending so much time viewing the world through a camera lens that they forgot to actually look around and experience the moment (a lesson I actually taught about through the work of John Urry in the week before the trip). The temptation to capture the moment is often simply too strong for the tourist to resist. So the camera mediates part of our experience. Let this be a lesson to all of us in our future travels: don’t forget to put down the camera and just observe.

Eerily gorgeous sulfuric liquid at Mt. Aso

Overall, it was a great lesson in how we visualize and experience tourist destinations, although the cold winds may have prevented everyone from appreciating the lesson.


Date of visit and photos: May 20, 2012

Collaborative mapping project

Given that Huis ten bosch has been lauded for its environmental efforts (see previous post), it seems a shame that more people are not aware of them (although some people may not care, which is another topic altogether). To rectify this gap in awareness, I proposed the following: to create a map that highlights the unseen and unnoticed environmental aspects of Huis ten bosch. Here is the assignment:

Huis ten bosch: a collaborative “alternative” map

In the past, scholars and journalists widely praised Huis ten bosch (HTB) for its “pioneering ecological town planning”, notably its innovations in environmentally-sensitive planning and waste treatment and its vision to “last 1,000 years” (McCormack 1996, p. 98). How are these innovations manifested in the tourist landscape? What is seen and unseen?

In this exercise we will create a map of HTB that represents its ecological efforts, providing an alternative view of the park that are missing from the normal tourist map. First, you will visit your designated area of HTB and walk around its streets, taking photographs of innovations or other things of note that relate to HTB’s environmental awareness. Take 15-20 images and note the exact location of each item. You can also take photos of things that contradict HTB’s stated environmental goals. Following the photography portion, we will map these locations and attach your images in a Google Map. Together we will create a comprehensive “alternative” map of HTB that might be of interest to others who concerned about “ecological town planning” and environmentally-conscious tourists.

To do this activity you need a camera (or SD card), a hand-annotated map, and a computer with internet.


Sakinah, Michelle, Lynn, and Jiin-Shiuan mapping outside the Thriller Fantasy Museum

Watching fish in the canal. 

Colorful recycling bins shaped like Dutch buildings.

Notice there is a separate bin for just PET bottle caps

Eddie, James, and Titus all mapping HTB

The following day we were fortunate to have access to the internet at Nagasaki Wesleyan University, so we could complete the exercise. This involved each team downloading their images onto computers, then uploading images onto a photo sharing site like Flikr, then inserting the images, along with descriptions, into a Google Map.

Downloading images from cameras

Comparing points on paper and Google Maps

Adjusting annotations on the paper map

Inserting images into Google Maps

The final product is a mix of obvious environmentally-friendly objects, and others that students “discovered” through their creativity. To view the final alternative map to Huis ten bosch, please click here. I am incredibly pleased with the final map. Students took it very seriously and it gave them an incentive to explore the park with a purpose. In what is otherwise a somewhat boring space of brick and kitsch, this project really made students open their eyes to other ways of seeing and depicting the tourist landscape.

We will do a similar project next week involving a tiny village in Minami-Oguni village, Kumamoto Prefecture. I expect similarly thought-provoking results.