On June 30th, 2018, the 7th Okurayama International Student Forum 2018 was held at Okurayama Memorial Hall in Yokohama. Students who were interested in international exchange joined the forum. Thirty students were from Harvard University and another thirty from Japanese universities which included Yokohama City University, Tokyo Institute of Technology and Keio University. The forum was divided into three main parts: lectures, a workshop and a social gathering. Japanese students serving as hosts welcomed Harvard students in front of the Hall.
Before entering the Hall, Harvard University students and Japanese students enjoyed casual chatting about ourselves such as majors and how we spent our weekends. At first, Japanese students looked so nervous. However, as Harvard students were so outgoing, we gradually felt comfortable with them. Then I was surprised at how Harvard students were filled with vitality. Some were taking part in internships in Japan, others were studying in Japanese laboratories. I tend to set limits for myself and hesitate to try difficult matters, but I was so stimulated by their attitude toward studying that I swore never to set a limit for myself.
The topic of the lecture was about “Sennichi Kaihogyo,” which means thousand day mountain pilgrimage. I suppose that there are few Japanese people who are able to explain the spirit of the extraordinary religious austerities. To be honest, I myself was not familiar with that although I am a Japanese. In addition, it is very rare to listen to Uehara Gyosho Dai Ajari, who actually completed the ascetic practice in Mount Hiei. Therefore, the lecture time must have been fruitful not only for international students but also for local students.
First of all, Shouei Inoue gave us the main concept of Sennichi Kaihogyo. Then, the conch shell sounded across the hall introducing Uehara Gyosho Dai Ajari. Led by the holy sound, Uehara Gyosho Dai Ajari finally entered the lecture room. He talked about the history of the religion and his experiences. Thanks to Mark Oshima’s translation, we learned a lot about Sennichi Kaihogyo. For example, it is a great honor to carry out Sennichi Kaihogyo because only those who have received the permission from their master can take part in it. In particular, I was really impressed by Dai Ajari’s words, which are as follows: “When a little girl pointed at me and said ‘Is it Ajari-san?’ I realized that I was no longer an individual ‘Uehara’ and became one of the heirs of this religious austerities, that is to say, the bridge between the past and the future.” The power of individuals is so small that people sometimes think themselves to be of little importance. However, now that I heard Dai Ajari’s words, I am confident that it is possible that everyone plays an important role in history in the long run.
After the lecture, we enjoyed the live performance of Tsugaru-shamisen by Chikudo Takahashi. He gave us the main information about Tsugaru-shamisen. For instance, its history is rather short compared to other instruments such as the Sanshin in Okinawa. He showed us how to play the Tsugaru-shamisen. The style was stronger and more powerful than we had expected. The magnificence of the sound took my breath away. Harvard students seemed to be glued to the performance, too. It was a great cultural experience to share the authentic music with international students.
After the lectures and Chikudo’s amazing performance, we left the lecture room and moved on to the workshop. On Japanese white folding fans, we drew illustrations with messages to each other. After the completion, we exchanged our artwork. One of the Harvard students gave me his artwork, which had the school mark of Harvard. The decorated fan must be one of our treasures for both Harvard and Japanese students.
The last program was a casual gathering dinner. Over delicious foods and drinks, the students mingled with others. The party hall was filled with lots of laughter. We shared the information about what was going on in each country. Although the topic on which we talked was not academic at all, I felt much intelligence from other students. Many people seemed to have exchanged their contact details with one another. I am sure that the friendships will last even though the forum is over.
Last but not least, we were very happy to take part in such a wonderful student forum and become stimulated by this priceless experience. This experience reminded me of an English word, serendipity. Personally, this forum exposed me to the philosophy of life that I would like to keep in my mind. On a final note, we are hugely grateful to Ms. Yoko Okura and the staff of YCU’s International Affairs Division for having made this forum come true.
Reported by Mai Kuriyama,
Freshman, International College of Arts and Sciences.