Megan Murayama '14 - a studio art major with a concentration in new genre art and a minor in Japanese - is this year's winner of the Connie Jill Carlstrom Endowed Award in Japanese Studies.
Murayama is currently working at her family's fishing lodge on Shelter Island, Alaska, but this August, she'll travel to Kan'onji, Japan, to teach English.
"Whitman's wonderful Japanese department was the reason that I chose to go to Whitman," she said.
Murayama knew that she wanted a school that offered a yearlong study abroad program in Japan. During her visit as a prospective student, she spoke with Akira Takemoto, assistant professor of foreign languages and literatures (Japanese), about the Associated Kyoto Program, which enables students to spend 12 months in Kyoto during their junior year.
That and a couple of other things piqued her interest and helped her come to a decision during her visit.
"That day happened to be the day of the opening ceremony for the Chikurakken tea room. I was really impressed to see that they had a tea room and that I would have the opportunity to study chanoyu (tea ceremony)," she said. "Then I found out about the opportunity for students studying Japanese to live in the Tekisuijuku interest house, and it was the icing on the cake."
Murayama and other students of Japanese developed strong relationships with members of the Japanese faculty, including Hitomi Johnson, Yuki Shigeto, and Takemoto.
"The whole Japanese department is like a big family," she said. "We enjoyed picnics at Wallowa Lake with Johnson Sensei, Halloween trick-or-treating at Shigeto Sensei's house, and wonderful dinners at Takemoto Sensei's house."
The Japanese department community was, she said, the highlight of her time at Whitman.
The Carlstrom Award, which Murayama won during her senior year, is presented to a student of Japanese language and culture who shows interest in pursuing some aspect of relations between Japan and the United States after they graduate. The award was established in 1993 by the Carlstrom family to honor Jill Carlstrom who died suddenly in the town of Tamamura, Japan, in 1993.
Murayama's junior year abroad offered her "so many great opportunities for cultural exchange with my host family, the students at Doshisha University, and many other people who I met as I explored Kyoto and Osaka."
Murayama said that she was particularly happy to have a whole year in Kyoto so that she could enjoy four full seasons and, of course, improve her Japanese.
But the year abroad also provided a great foundation for her senior thesis.
"My thesis project in art dealt with themes of translation and mistranslation, as well as exploring both Japanese and American fan culture."
An anime fan, Murayama was a member of the Anime Club at Whitman, growing its regular membership from just three to more than 20. She had always enjoyed illustration as a hobby, and so she put that and her time in Japan to use with her senior thesis.
"For my thesis project, I wrote a webcomic in Japanese and posted it online. It's a series of stories with illustrations, and many of the illustrations are short animations," she explained.
"The stories are about two characters that my good friend Kirsten Valaas '14 and I created in Japanese class: Kyuuketsuki-kun (‘Vampire Boy') and Hitokui-chan (‘Cannibal-Girl'). Every time we would have a writing assignment for class, Kirsten and I would write stories about these characters."
Why a vampire and a cannibal? "When you're first studying a new language, it's the strange things that tend to stick in your mind the most."
The project explored anime fan culture by allowing Murayama to take on the various roles in anime fandom: first as the creator, then as a translator, converting it from Japanese into English as well as "Engrish," and lastly, as a fan.
"I drew fan art of my own webcomic, and Kirsten and I cosplayed the characters. I created costumes of Kyuuketsuki-kun and Hitokui-chan, and Kirsten and I wore the costumes for a few photo shoots and to my Senior Thesis Art Exhibition gallery opening."
Though she's not sure whether teaching, art or some other field like graphic design will be where she ends up, right now, Murayama is in the place she wants to be.
"Teaching English in Japan has been a dream of mine ever since elementary school, so I'm so excited that it's coming true! I hope that I can show my students how fun language learning can be."