Japanese Studies at Whitman College

 





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Hokusai, Tekisuijuku
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Japanese Studies at Whitman College

Few would disagree that Kakushika Hokusai's (1760-1849) "Great Wave off Kanagawa" ranks as one of the most popular images of Japan. It appeared in a series of woodblock prints called "Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji," showing us three small boats caught up in a perfect storm, facing a colossal wave with menacing white claws that will surely break high above them. While most viewers will sense the wave's awesome power, many will miss the small round heads of the boatmen who seem oblivious of the gigantic wave about to crush them, and some viewers may fail to see Mt. Fuji standing calmly in the background. In the poster below, the 2002-2003 residents of the "Boyer Street Tekisuijuku" (currently the Whitman College Counseling and Health Center) placed themselves in a more prominent position above Mt. Fuji, continuing an interest in Hokusai's print that began in 1989 when Kim Moriyama (RA) urged residents to copy Hokusai's print onto the basement wall of the "first" Tekisuijuku on Otis Street (currently the Mecca House).

Tek Poster

During the late Edo period (mid 18th century), woodblock print artists created prints for the wealthy merchants and connoisseurs who gathered in fashionable places to view the moon, write and exchange poetry, play games, attend the theater, argue politics, and exchange gossip about courtesans who gained fame for their artistic talents as well as their beauty. Indeed, it was a time when the residents of Edo (present-day Tokyo) cultivated all their senses to be elegant, intelligent, and witty connoisseurs of urban life.

Like the denizens of Hokusai's Edo, residents of the Tekisuijuku know that an understanding of Japan and Japanese comes not from cerebral exercises, but from a commitment to do everything in Japanese. That is, removing shoes and neatly putting them away at the door, gossiping about campus life, whining about homework assignments or begging Omoto Noriko-san, the Japanese language assistant, for hints about upcoming tests and quizzes, taking out the trash or cleaning the toilet, or memorizing poems and practicing calligraphic pencil strokes are not mere tasks, but opportunities to converse, argue, play, and live in Japanese. To live in the Tekisuijuku or to study Japanese in the East Wing of Olin will require all students to learn a new set of linguistic and behavioral habits. In Hokusai's time, this kind of active and engaged "living" became celebrated with three words: asobi (遊び, the ability to play), iki (いき, to act with discreet elegance and urbane polish), and tsu (通, to live with nonchalant sophistication and skill).

This year, for the first time since 1983, Whitman College welcomes a second tenure track professor in Japanese. Indeed, I am pleased to welcome and announce that Professor Yukiko Shigeto has joined us in "Olin East." In order assist us as I take over the duties as President of Associated Kyoto Program and Chair of the AKP Board of Directors, Hitomi Johnson sensei will be teaching the third year Japanese sequence and the first semester of fourth year Japanese. I will teach first year and the Ways of Seeing (Japanese Aesthetics and the Tea Ceremony) course in the spring of 2011. So, on behalf of Shigeto sensei, Johnson-sensei, and our native speaker Yamamoto Chiyo-san, let me welcome you, "Yōkoso" (ようこそ) to Whitman's Hokusai-like world. Whether you are interested in speaking Japanese, in learning how to serve and drink tea in the newly constructed tea room, in writing Japanese beautifully, or in exploring Buddhist ways of thinking and feeling, I hope that your feet will lead you both to the East Wing of Olin Hall and to the Tekisuijuku, the two centers for the study of Japan on the Whitman College campus. I look forward to seeing you, listening to your questions, and chatting about whatever nonsensical things enter your mind. In any case, here's to asobi, iki, and tsu.



Akira R. Takemoto
Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures
Whitman College
Walla Walla, Wa. 99362


Acknowledgements:

Let me begin by thanking master calligrapher, Fujii Yoshiyasu for providing me with the calligraphy which graces this site. Fujii sensei has been a long time friend and supporter of the Japanese program at Whitman College. I also want to thank Elliot Anders for his help in designing and preparing this site.