Japanese language summer program takes students to Hiroshima

Miyajima Daishooin Temple Gate

For the 10th consecutive year, the School of International Letters and Cultures is offering “Japanese Language in Hiroshima,” a faculty-directed summer abroad program in Hiroshima, Japan.

The School's study abroad programs are among the longest running and most prestigious at Arizona State University. Founded in 1981, and directed by knowledgeable, world-class faculty, the programs offer students the opportunity to experience and study international humanities and learn languages firsthand while earning credit toward their degree.

Faculty directors Miko Foard and James Foard created the five-week program in 2003 to provide students with a varied and rich experience of ordinary Japanese life though home stays, daily interaction with Japanese university students, and numerous participatory events. The program primarily takes place on the beautiful hillside campus of Hiroshima Shudo University, located just 25 minutes by bus from downtown Hiroshima. Students stay at the Seminar House, a small, circular building, on the highest part of campus, in dormitory-style rooms with large windows, balconies facing the wooded hills, and doors that open up to a covered, open-air hallway overlooking a garden in the building’s center.

Students spend their first weekend in Japan with host families, who they are matched with according to interests and Japanese language level. The host families, all volunteers consisting of Shudo staff and students, plan activities with the students for their weekend together.

Former student participant Yusef McCall calls the host family stay “the best part of the trip by far.”

“The family that I was put with was incredibly nice and spoke to me in nothing but Japanese for those two days that I was with them," McCall says. "I loved going around the city and looking at sites with them, but my favorite part was just sitting around the table at meal times and talking. I have never felt that I have made a more dramatic change in my Japanese abilities than when I spent those two days with my host family.”

Each student in the program this summer will take seven credit hours, consisting of five credits of either second- or third-year Japanese and two credits of REL 394: Japanese Religion and Culture. The goal is to offer students a structured approach to understanding Japanese culture and language, while making full use of being in Japan. 

The rigorous weekday coursework is supplemented with four weekend field trips. The trips, which James describes as the heart of his Japanese Religion and Culture course, take students to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Itsukushima Shrine of Miyajima, considered one of the three most scenic places in Japan, and the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which serves as a memorial to the people killed in the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945. 

Students also will visit a Buddhist temple on the island of Miyajima, the Izumo Shrine, a large urban festival, and the Atomic Bomb Museum in Hiroshima. 

Additionally, students will go on at least one other learning-integrated outing each week, including a tea ceremony, a baseball game, a Mazda factory and an elementary school, where students go into classrooms and introduce the state of Arizona to the children entirely in Japanese.

James says that “not only do all these activities reinforce each other, they also give students a sense of the Hiroshima region and how its citizens construct their own identity outside of the modern and classical centers of Tokyo and Kyoto, where most such summer programs are held.”

Miko and James are passionate about the program and the education their students receive on the trip, letting nothing, not even Miko breaking a kneecap just before boarding 2011’s flight to Japan, get in the way of the success of the program.

Although they are not the only ones who truly care.

“After the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in March [2011], we had to wait for last-minute clearance from the university to even conduct the program, and we gave students the opportunity to cancel without penalty. None did,” says James. “Our hosts in Hiroshima were moved to see us, since many other foreign student programs throughout Japan had been cancelled.” 

James notes that none of it could be possible without “the support we receive from the staff, faculty and students of Hiroshima Shudo University, as well as from other people outside the university we have gotten to know over the years.” Included are one of the few remaining singers of the Tale of the Heike, who arranges performances around the program’s schedule; the family who runs the inn where the group stays on an overnight trip to the Izumo Shrine, who take the students to view fireflies over the rice paddies and teach them a traditional dance of the region; and until his illness in 2011, a retired high school English teacher who survived the atomic bombing. 

“It does require a tremendous amount of year-round work to coordinate and plan the program," says James, “but what stays in my mind are all the students and Hiroshima people I have enjoyed knowing, and all the delightful, sometimes hilarious, and occasionally even moving moments over the years. Above all, we have done this long enough to see how the program has contributed to the lives of many of our alumni.” 

“Part of what made this trip so great were the teachers, Miko and James Foard along with Bradley Wilson," McCall says. "I would strongly recommend this study abroad trip to Hiroshima to anyone who wants to experience Japan and improve their Japanese at the same time.” 

Former participant Rachel Blaine agrees, encouraging others to enlist in the program by adding: “The Japanese Language in Hiroshima program was one of the most exciting and enriching opportunities I have had in my life. ... This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you will never forget!”

Applications accepted through the ASU Study Abroad Office.

The School of International Letters and Cultures is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.