Post Japan Impressions

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Written by Lindsay Iredale (Maryland Institute College of Art)
AICAD in Japan, Spring 2013
My experience in Japan was definitely a unique one—my program was not only focused on learning the language, but additionally on my experiences as an art maker. My seven months in Japan was the hardest, most fulfilling experience of my life. Being in a foreign country as an artist is one of the most inspiring experiences one can have, and for any artists looking to study abroad I recommend taking on the challenge—no matter how hard it may be—and getting out of the United States!

I did my language studies with CET Academic Programs at Osaka Gakuin University, and my printmaking classes through Osaka University of the Arts. CET’s Japan program was great, because it was intensive. Each American student was assigned an Osaka Gakuin University student to be their partner and lived together in a shared house with other CET participants. Students were completely immersed in Japanese language and culture. Because of our frequent interaction with our Japanese partners, we not only learned Japanese culture and language in the classroom, but also in our daily interactions at home.

We were encouraged to only speak Japanese in the classroom, as well as in our living situation. I was especially motivated to become fluent in Japanese because I wanted to form friendships with my roommates; if I had lived alone I don’t think I would have been challenged to really immerse myself. Before I left for Japan, I had only studied Japanese language during high school. Because my university, the Maryland Institute College of Art, is a school specialized in fine arts we have limited opportunities to learn foreign languages. Immersion was more difficult because of that, but being able to speak with my roommates was the most lucrative way to improve my language skills. Going abroad is about making life long connections through cultural exchange, so the potential friendships to be made in CET, as well as becoming more informed in Japanese art making was a huge motivation to work hard everyday.

After I was done with CET classes, I began my printmaking courses. Even though my Japanese classes had ended, my printmaking classes at Osaka University of the Arts were to be the next step in both my art and language studies. All of my classmates were Japanese students majoring in printmaking and knew no conversational English, so if I wanted to create a good atmosphere and bond with everyone in the studio I had to exclusively speak in Japanese. Because of my preparation through CET, I was able to speak conversationally with my classmates with ease. My one frustration with Osaka University of the Arts was that my teacher was fluent in English, and even though I showed enthusiasm in using the Japanese language she persisted to only speak in English with me. Aside from that, I felt like it was a great opportunity to improve my language skills as well as learn even more about art in Japan from my classmates.

One major challenge in being separated between two schools was the commute: three or more days of my week from April onwards was spent on a train for a cumulative three and a half to four hours roundtrip. If you’ve ever commuted in Japan, you know that at times—especially rush hour—multi-tasking on the train can be impossible. I felt that that time on the train could have been better spent working in the studio. Conversely, if I had lived right next to Osaka University of the Arts, many opportunities to explore Osaka would have been much more difficult. The school was located in the countryside, so the commute into the city would have been longer and trains come less frequently. As hard as the commute ended up being, I’m glad I lived as close to the city as I did.

As an American, when I think of Japan I think of Tokyo. Surprisingly, though, living in Osaka turned out to be a great experience. Kansai life was far more exciting and enjoyable than I could have imagined. Osaka’s centralized location gave me the opportunity to travel to neighboring cities like Nara, Kyoto, and Kobe. The locals are friendly, outgoing, and—unlike Tokyo—finding Japanese people who know conversational English is much harder. Even on days when I didn’t want to meet a new friend, I would meet a new local on the train who wanted to have a conversation with me regardless of my Japanese speaking level. I appreciated the challenge, as well as the colorful city with all of it’s history. I would recommend to every student planning to study abroad in Japan to choose Osaka over Tokyo.

My proudest moment during my time abroad is when I combined the two areas of study: art and Japanese. I was wandering around Osaka one day, and wound up in a gallery. I was able to strike up an hour long conversation in Japanese about art with the owners of the gallery, and establish both an art connection, as well as a new friendship with the couple. We are now friends on Facebook and keep in contact. Because of my studies I was able to create a potentially helpful contact to further my career in art and open up the doors to showing my art on a global level. As well as that couple, using my Japanese language skills I was able to make Japanese paper with a paper maker certified by the Japanese government as one of 80 teachers who make traditional Washi (Japanese-style paper). Talking with him was an invaluable experience, and I was able to learn a lot about his studio practice as well as Japanese paper.

By the end of my time in Japan, I felt more motivated in my Japanese culture and language studies as well as my art practice; my senior printmaking thesis will be entirely based off of my experience in Japan. It was an invaluable experience, and I am so happy to have received a scholarship from the American Association of Teachers of Japanese!