17 SFU students, including six from FASS, went on an eight-day cultural exchange trip to Japan for free, courtesy of the Kakehashi Project.

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Learning beyond the classroom: SFU students visit Japan on free exchange trip

March 26, 2019
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In February, 17 students from Simon Fraser University visited Japan on an eight-day exchange trip, and it was all for free—thanks to the Kakehashi Project.

Funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, and co-administered by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and the Japan International Cooperation Centre (JICE), the Kakehashi Project aims to promote people-to-people cultural exchange between Japan and Canada.

SFU students at Tokyo Metro Station in Tokyo, Japan.

The Japanese word kakehashi means “bridge,” and encapsulates the project’s mission to bridge cultures across the two nations.

As of 2017, the Kakehashi Project has enabled the exchange of over 800 high school students, university students, and young professionals. It is part of Japan’s larger worldwide Friendship Ties Program, which sends approximately 5,600 people to or from Japan each year in the interest of cultural exchange.

The students sightseeing in Japan.

Gordon Lu, a fourth year student at the Beedie School of Business, first learned of the project when he decided to take a number of Japanese courses to continue learning the language from where he left off in high school. His professor, Naoko Takei, Senior Lecturer at SFU’s Language Training Institute, introduced the Kakehashi Project to students in her class, and facilitated the application process.

Takei also created a website dedicated to the project at SFU to showcase the students and assist with applications.

Originally, Lu’s goal was to reach a conversational level of fluency in Japanese. After taking a Japanese course with Takei, however, his interest in Japan and its culture grew exponentially.

“Naoko-sensei is an expert at bringing together the academic portion of the course with relevant cultural aspects to really enrich the learning experience,” says Lu.

Interior of the National Diet Building (国会議事堂 Kokkai-gijidō) where both houses of the National Diet of Japan meet.

The students were also chaperoned on the trip by Melek Ortabasi, director of the World Literature Program and associate professor in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

“The trip was centered on cultural exchange,” says Lu.  “Each activity, whether it be sightseeing or food tasting, was conducted and organized with cultural exchange in mind.”

A meal in Japan.

One aspect of the trip that Lu particularly enjoyed was experiencing daily life in Japan through a homestay in the town of Hino in Shiga Prefecture. Lu, who describes the homestay as his “hands down favourite part of the trip,” fell in love with the slow and relaxed rural Japanese lifestyle thanks to the welcoming hospitality of his host family and the local community.

“Cooking together with the host family and learning about their daily routines was eye opening and a memory I will treasure forever.”

A gate at the entrance of a Shinto shrine.

Lu and the other SFU students experienced a good balance of traditional and modern aspects of Japan, but Lu was especially impressed by the seamless integration of modern technology with the more traditional elements of Japanese life.

“My homestay house was over 100 years old, yet it had fancy high-tech toilets, automatic lights, and self-heating bathtubs,” says Lu. “I am constantly amazed at how technology and tradition co-exist in Japan in symbiotic harmony.”

Exterior of the National Diet Building.

The students’ visit to Osaka University was one of the major opportunities to share Canadian culture with the Japanese students; they even met a group of Osaka students who were to visit Vancouver in mid-March for their own Kakehashi experience.

That trip happened two weeks ago, and the SFU students were able to show the Japanese exchange students around the SFU Burnaby campus, and take part in joint activities such as snowshoeing on Grouse Mountain. On March 14, the SFU Kakehashi group was invited to a reception at the Japanese Consul’s residence, where they reported on their experiences in Japan.

Lu thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience, and is already looking forward to his next trip back to Japan. “Eight days just isn’t enough to experience all there is to see and do!”