Three University of Findlay students and a professor are launching a grant-funded 2-year longitudinal research project that will focus on ways to reverse adverse trends affecting rural Japanese communities. Included will be a 4-week trip this summer to conduct ethnographic fieldwork in partnership with students from the University of Fukui and Rakuno Gakuen University, where UF holds institutional affiliations.
The ASIANetwork Student-Faculty Fellows Program, a Freeman Foundation-supported initiative, provided a $23,000 grant. According to its website ASIANetwork, is a consortium of over 170 North American colleges that “strives to strengthen the role of Asian Studies within the framework of liberal arts education to help prepare succeeding generations of undergraduates for a world in which Asian societies play prominent roles in an ever more interdependent world.”
Research will focus on the benefits and shortfalls of tourism expansion, hiring migrant workers, and promoting international marriage, which are three methods communities are using to combat depopulation and other issues related to socioeconomic and demographic changes such as urbanization and aging.
“By studying rural communities in Japan, we intend to develop a more robust understanding of the challenges and opportunities to revitalize and rebuild rural communities in Asian countries,” said Hiroaki Kawamura, Ph.D., associate professor or Japanese, director of Modern Language, and international relations representative and liaison for UF. As a faculty mentor, Kawamura will support research to be undertaken by students Valerie Jacksack, a senior Japanese major from Libertyville, Illinois who is minoring in writing; Garrett Brown, a junior from Marysville, Ohio who is double-majoring in Japanese and computer science; and Amy Evaniuk, a junior Japanese and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages double major from West Milton, Ohio.
Jacksack is a home-schooled student who earned an Associate of Arts degree in sociology before graduating high school. She is electing to study an additional year so that she can further pursue studies in Japanese and creative writing. She will be an exchange student in Fukui, Japan. In the grant proposal, she stated she is looking forward to interviewing long-term rural Japanese residents to record their digital histories and appreciate their stories.
Brown said he “became completely invested in the culture of Japan” after studying Japanese in high school and staying with a host family in Japan. “My hope is that this research project will help facilitate the growth needed for my future success by giving me the skills I need as both a student of Japanese, but also as a future professional translator,” he explained.
Evaniuk’s interest in Japan and its culture began with a three-week camp she attended with native Japanese and Japanese-language learners when she was 16. She hopes to become an English as a Foreign Language teacher. “It is my dream to stir up my students’ interest in the rest of the world through my teaching. I would like to share American culture with non-native speakers of English and bring back other cultures to my fellow American youth,” she said.
The research team will visit rural areas in Fukui and Hokkaido prefectures beginning in late June. They will then spend time in Tokyo to collect urbanite perceptions on issues associated with rural communities, and conduct a preliminary analysis of all collected data. Throughout the project, students will improve their Japanese language skills while also gaining valuable hands-on experience involving qualitative and quantitative research, from design to data interpretation.