Students Spend Spring Break Studying Human-Animal Relationships in Japan
During spring break, 20 UF students and one faculty member traveled to Japan for 10 days to experience the contemporary Japanese culture and conduct research. This is a project supported by a $56,000 grant from The Japan Foundation.
As a part of JAPN 350 (Introduction to Japanese Culture) instructed by Hiroaki Kawamura, Ph.D., department of language and culture chair, students are spending the semester researching human-animal relationships in the Japanese culture. Part of the data was gathered while in Japan.
“There were students who have never studied Japanese and some students who have studied Japanese for three years attending,” said Kawamura. “There were a wide variety of students in the group.”
The trip involved research and aimed to help the students better understand contemporary Japanese culture and society by examining human-animal relationships in Japan.
“The focus is not on the animals per se; the focus is Japanese culture and society,” said Kawamura. “We examined contemporary Japanese society and culture by looking at the ways Japanese interact with animals.”
The topic was chosen by Kawamura as a continuation of a project that started in 2011 with a grant from ASIANetwork and Freeman Foundation. Its purpose is to help students understand contemporary Japanese society through the concept of Kyosei, meaning coexistence.
In groups of four, the students are researching the social-cultural, economic or religious perspective of human-animal relationships in Japan.
“Because America is mostly a Christian society, we look at animals a little bit differently than people with a Buddhist or Shinto background,” said Sarah Hipple, junior Japanese major. “Over time, a trend began in Japan with the number of children lowering and the number of pets going higher. Children are very expensive, and animals are less expensive.”
In collaboration with the Kake Educational Institution, activities were planned for students to learn and gather data. Students interviewed junior high school and college students, attended three lectures, interviewed a Buddhist monk and visited several animal care facilities to gather information.
“My favorite part was going to Kurashiki University of Science and Arts. The people there had a very strong interest in animals,” said Hipple. “Talking to them and seeing their passion in animals inspired me.”
The students also visited temples and shrines and an animal welfare center. The students came back knowing the Japanese culture better than before.
“You can’t assume anything when going into a completely different culture,” James Eck, senior computer science and math major. “Whenever you get the chance to experience a different culture, you should.”
The class has brought together the information gathered in Japan and continues to research human-animal relationships in Japan through readings.
“Spring break was a part of the project. The project is not done yet,” said Kawamura. “We will combine information from readings with what we experienced in Japan and draw a conclusion. Students will share their findings to the campus community at the symposium.”
Written by Sarah Foltz