Murray State University was invited to participate in the “Kakehashi Project – The Bridge for Tomorrow,” sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. The program invited multiple U.S. educational institutions including seven universities, one college and seven high schools, including Calloway County High School, to interact with Japanese citizens, learn about various Japanese historical and contemporary aspects and build a relationship between the U.S. and Japan in order to develop an understanding of Japanese culture at no cost.

Yoko Hatakeyama, senior lecturer of Japanese, explained why Murray State was selected to participate in the program. “Since MSU is one of few universities that offers a Japanese language major, we have participated in many Japanese events and activities throughout the years. Murray State has been sending MSU graduates to the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET Program), sponsored by the Japanese government. Since 2008, MSU has participated in the Tennessee Area Japanese Speech Contest and has won awards every year,” she said

“Additionally, when the Consulate-General of Japan in Nashville gave us the opportunity to introduce Japanese art, we actively took advantage of it by offering a Japanese traditional theater group [Iwami Kagura] performance and a Shamisen [Japanese traditional banjo like instrument] group concert to the Murray State community with the assistance of the Consulate-General,” Hatakeyama said.

Murray State has 23 students and two faculty members, Hatakeyama and Dr. Charlotte Beahan, professor of history, representing Murray State in the cities of Tokyo and Kobe. During the 10-day program — May 11-21 — they are exploring the cities’ historical and contemporary aspects including museums, temples, shrines, a high technology research institution and a disaster reduction institution to learn how people prepare for a possible disaster. The main focus is interacting with local schools, attending student council meetings and participating in friendship festivals to understand Japanese culture and develop a relationship with local residents.

Murray State is visiting Kobe Gakuin University to interact with students and introduce American culture, specifically Kentucky culture, by singing “My Old Kentucky Home,” “America the Beautiful” and “Take Me Out to The Ball Game.”

Before leaving for the trip, Hatakeyama said, “I am looking forward to my students experiencing Japanese language and culture in an environment outside of the classroom, being able to apply their knowledge of Japanese and to experience the culture first hand. Also, I expect them to serve as youth culture ambassadors that will bridge the gap between the two cultures and develop friendships with Japanese people.

“This opportunity to travel abroad is very rare, especially at no cost, so I believe this experience will make the students very appreciative and excited to learn about Japan further. I am grateful for the generosity of the Japanese government, which has made this wonderful program possible,” she said.

Before returning to the U.S on May 20, Murray State and Kent State University will have each student give a short presentation on what they have learned in the National Olympic Memorial Youth Center in Tokyo.

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