A Farewell Letter

To the ones who showed courage :

If you walked around Tokyo’s Ginza, it is dazzling at every corner. The Tsutaya store is lit in pale yellow lights and katanas (Japanese sword) are being sold for millions of yen. Pierre Marcolini hides in an alley but queues don’t seem to end. There are shops where five generations of the family have gained expertise in making the finest sweets and a huge clock tower reminding of the old and the new. Yet, 50 years back, this was turned into a fortress which the world witnessed on television.

The streets of Ginza boiled in blood and revolt. Dissent was out on the streets and no shield and no barricade could stop the students from wielding their iron rods on the police. Symbols of the protectorate of power, the police, lay injured. Red flags were raised and visors and smoke became inseparable garments. Student newspapers’ harsh criticism was far more pointed at times than the questions raised by the mainstream newspapers. Such was the opposition against the US-Japan Security Treaty and the questionable land acquisition by the government for Narita airport, then Japanese PM Nobusuke Kishi had to resign while US President Eisenhower cancelled his visit to Japan. The diet was dissolved and power faced a blow.

50 years have passed and Kishi’s grandson, Shinzo Abe, occupies the PM office. The student revolution led by Zengakuren, died down. Student newspapers which once questioned the authority, started writing about new plants growing in the campus. The idea of internationalisation was minimised to meeting foreigners over a drink and studying abroad. The public apathy was aching and being a foreigner, just to witness it in front of my eyes, was appalling.

50 years since the revolution, I found myself discovering Japan as an international student. I was writing since I was an elementary school student and over the years, the media fascinated me. I would be lying if I say that I did not tear-up when I saw Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Post’. The sheer power of media to make truth accessible to all was my infinity stone. So, it was natural to me within the first few months to search for such voices on the campus. Alas! The university and the other former imperial universities, had no trace of an English newspaper.  It could definitely be argued if an English language newspaper is really a necessity but in the process of internationalisation, I saw it as a huge potential to bring the Japanese academia to the level of a layman’s understanding. Something which was far more accessible.

2 years since then, the establishment of ‘The Sentinel’ took its own tides and turns. On one hand, we were able to reach more than 100 global cities and about 7,800 readers while on the other hand, we had no funding and the website got hacked on the New Year’s Eve of 2017. The stories we did for ‘The Sentinel’ were far from the accepted norm. The team took no step backward and asked sharp questions to the administration. ‘The Sentinel’ did not shy away from the massacre of 3,000 jobs at Tohoku University even when the administration expressed displeasure in publishing the story. It tracked down stories ranging from North Korean workers in Poland to the student who escaped from the university after nearing his arrest on charges of drug possession or usage.

‘The Sentinel’ did not stop asking questions.

Such is the freedom that is practiced, it was made clear to the team that the newspaper should not shy from publishing its own criticism. It should not hide from making its own finances public with balance sheets kept ready. The only thing that the newspaper has to protect is its own principles and integrity.

Over the last 2 years, ‘The Sentinel’ spearheaded the establishment of NESMAJ : National English Student Media Association of Japan. Keio University and University of Tokyo joined in as founding members and thought at an infant stage, NESMAJ was established with an aim to generate conversations between various student media groups in the country.

What began as a small team of three members and especially through discussions with Rohan Raj (Who went on to become the Managing Editor) in the corridors of the student dormitory, expanded to a team of 10 and also undertook volunteer activities such as imparting soft skills to high students at a local school in Sendai. The newspaper brought together talent from Venezuela, Germany, Thailand, China, Phillipines, Japan, Indonesia and India and tried its best to make a shift in the Japanese society. The Sentinel cannot be thankful enough to Prof. Yumiko Watanabe at Global Learning Centre for supporting it from the beginning to now.

Yet, there have been failures and as a leader, the responsibility shall be entirely mine. At times I expected too much and my communication broke down. I cannot offer anything more than a sincere apology to the team and the readers. To hold on to this newspaper would be utterly selfish and robbing opportunities from the younger members. Considering these, I decided to resign from the newspaper and pass the baton to Shenelle Lim and Arun Balaji as joint editors of ‘The Sentinel’. This, I hope, shall help in furthering the progress of the newspaper.

In a society where questions are often seen as a disruption rather than catalysts for change, ‘The Sentinel’ is an experiment worth trying. It shall encounter many more challenges but whenever the history of student English media shall be written in Japan, ‘The Sentinel’ cannot be ignored.

To the power of truth, dispelling all fear,

To the voice of the youth, In a little world here.

With this, signing off,

Trishit

November 9, 2018

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Interview : Tohoku University Festival Committee 2017

In November last year, Tohoku University Festival Committee spoke to ‘The Sentinel‘ in an exclusive interview about what it is like to organise a student event at such a scale. With internationalisation of the festival being a key feature in 2017, the organisers have tales to tell. The organising committee is primarily represented by the 2017 Festival Director, Ryuhei Notsuke. Other interviewee profiles are mentioned at the end of the interview.

  1. What do you think needs to be changed or kept for the festival next year?

I think we have to interact more with students and work as a team.

  1. Where do you want Tohoku University Festival to be in the next 50 years or near future?

Well, though we cannot exactly but we hope it attracts a lot more people and that students can express what they have learnt.

  1. Have you attended any other university festival? Is there anything that makes the Tohoku University Festival unique?

I have attended the festivals at University of Tokyo and Tohoku Gakuin but I think that what makes the Tohoku University Festival different is our focus on what we have learnt and not just entertainment. Invited lectures are a reflection of the same.

  1. Is it the first time you decided to make festival more international? Why? What were the initiatives taken under this process?

Yes, it is the first time. Our idea was to create a school festival where foreign students can truly enjoy. To facilitate the same, we had an English website, signboards in English and also the map in English.

  1. Tohoku University International Festival (TUIF) is chiefly organised by TUFSA. Have you ever considered to have just one festival which includes both international and Japanese students?

For organising the current festival itself, we have to take permission for hosting and cooperate with the authorities. Maybe in the future, we can think about having one festival.

 

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2017 Festival in numbers

 

  1. How many months do you take to prepare for the festival? What is the process of organising?

For organising the festival in November 2017, we began planning in December 2016. Organising the festival itself is a club activity and anyone who is interested can join. Anyone who wants to make a change and has a strong feeling for the school can join the club. The selection of the executive committee is random and this year we chose the members through lottery as the number of interested applicants were many.

The leader of the festival is chosen through voting by former members. The leader is always a sophomore and this activity is meant for freshmen and sophomores only.

 

  1. How did you decide this year’s theme (もどれどうしん、おどれわこうど), mascot (Peton) and theme song (Mellow Grace)?

The theme was decided by sophomores in around May or June but the discussions regarding the same began right from December. For the song and the mascot, we asked the student community to contribute something and then vote upon the same. Therefore, both the song and the mascot, are original creations.

  1. What is your fondest memory of the festival?

Ryuhei : Well, the entire process of organising was fun but most importantly, smiles of the people would remain as my fondest memory.

Ryota : Being responsible for the internet promotions and pamphlets, I saw many people looking up for what we sent out and that made me happy. Personally, I felt a sense of accomplishment when my best friend said that he had great fun.

Yuto : Not many people knew what I did in the team but a lot of them told me that I was shinig in the spotlight. That made me really happy.

Naohiro : This year, the number of people who watched the stand-up comedy live were more than 1,000! This was much more than the last year. This remains as my fondest memory.

  1. Any message/comments for our readers?

Ryuhei : I really hope that everyone, both Japanese and international students, enjoy the school festival next year too!

Naohiro : I would like more international students to attend the festival. This year, it was only the website that we worked on. Next year, I hope we can publish something too so that more international students. The university is investing its time and effort for bringing in more international students and I think that the festival should be reflective of the same too.

Interviewee profiles :

Ryuhei Notsuke (Festival Leader, 2017) : 3rd year student of psychology (Department of Literature) from Gunma. He loves swimming and is good at apologising as he always did so on behalf of the executive committee to the school authorities.

Yuto Sano (Translator during the interview and organising committee member) : 2nd year student of Mechanical and Aerospace engineering from Tokyo. He loves solo traveling and tends to be alone a lot.

Ryota Saeki : 3rd year student of Economics from Miyagi. He loves statistical analysis and he analysed all the festival data this time.

Naohiro Kobayashi (Organising committee member and the person who came up with the idea of internationalisation of the university festival) : 3rd year student of Mechanical and Aerospace engineering from Miyagi. He loves taking photos and was the photographer for the festival committee.

This interview was ideated by Tanach Rojrungsasithorn. A 3rd year student of IMAC-U at Tohoku University, he is a member of the editorial borad at ‘The Sentinel’. 

The 70th Tohoku University Festival would be held in November 2018 under the leadership of Shu Takeda. You can join the festival through this link

 

Tohoku University Festival: Annual updated series of Tohoku University

Generally, the same drama will lose its viewership if new episodes are not released. Harry Potter, one of the most popular novels of all time, would not be able to attract such a huge number of followers until now if it saw its end after the initial 7 books. Also, Starbucks, the most popular coffeehouse chain, would not be able to increase and retain their customers if no new flavors or new products are promoted periodically. In the same manner, because of annual updated contents, staff as well as activities, Tohoku University Festival is still alive until its 69th anniversary in 2017. In other words, Tohoku University Festival is comparable to an annual updated series of Tohoku University.

 

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Scenes from the festival day

 

Tohoku University Festival always comes up with new contents. The contents here are referred to as students’ work and performances from clubs and circles, special events as well as public relations. During the whole year, students seriously practice, obtain new wisdom, and finally create things they are interested in. Accordingly, every year, this festival gathers and exhibits all the new things. Since clubs and circles basically stay alive and are reformed from year to year, such outcomes will always get better and better continuing from what was done in the previous year. One conspicuous workpiece belongs to the Railway Research Circle. They are building the model of a railway system centered-around the Sendai based-one. It is interesting to see the progress of the model in one year. The project is extremely challenging and requires a lot of effort to be put in. It is because of such efforts that there is no doubt why Tohoku University Festival can attract such a large number of guests, approximately 33,000 people in 2017.

 

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More than 33,000 people visited the festival in 2017

 

A film production has a lot of things that goes behind the scenes. For example, photography, camera operation, film edition and sound engineering. In the same way, apart from the festival’s outlook, there are the stories of organizers, event preparation, public relations and students participating in the festival. “For organising the festival in November 2017, we began planning in December 2016”, said the organizing committee. The preparation starts just 1-2 months after the previous festival, including leader election, followed by theme and mascot consideration held around May or June. The 69th Tohoku University Festival is the first time that the public relations have become more internationalized; “Our idea was to create a school festival where foreign student can truly enjoy. To facilitate the same, we had an English website, signboards in English and also the map in English.”, the committee said.

It was not only the organizers but also participating students who put in efforts for the festival. Honoka, now a 2nd year student from piano circle, practiced piano everyday just for the festival performance for 2 months. Without a doubt, because of their efforts, the smile of the visitors were the most valued rewards for them. Also, the bonds of friendship formed during the entire year in the club (and amongst the group of organizers) are also precious things which, is irreplaceable.

 

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Main stage during the festival

 

Unlike J.K. Rowling who definitely knows here next piece of work, the festival committee doesn’t. In case of Tohoku University Festival, composers, who compose this unforgettable annual symphony, are everyone who are related to the festival. So, there are no hints about the future. However, everyone is looking forward for the 70th edition, the future of this unique Japanese culture. “Thinking about the next 20 or 50 years, I think there will be more attendants especially from foreign countries. Tohoku University Festival is the event where Japanese students and foreign students have some activities together.”, said Honoka. New clubs are also anticipated next year. Since society and people interest change from time to time, it is highly possible that new clubs will take birth as a response to the coming trend. Perhaps, E-sport will be one of the sports club in the near future. Food club will not be just a group of people who love cooking but also who are interested in the research field of Molecular Gastronomy. The scale of the club would expand to the social level, where the university club cooperates and are partly supported by outside companies.

Lastly, if we compare Tohoku University Festival to a novel, it is the novel whose new volumes are released every year, written by Tohoku University students. The story behind the novel writing process is full of efforts put in by organizers and friendship between club members. The future of Tohoku University Festival will probably be the next updated chapter of this unforgettable novel series.

As reported by Tanach Rojrungsasithorn (Tae). Tae was born and brought up in Thailand and loves to play video games. If you ever meet him, he might bake a crème brûlée for you. He is currently a third year student under the IMAC-U program of Tohoku University.

Experiences with students in Tohoku University classrooms: Can Tohokudai become a leading university?

Dear Readers of The Sentinel,

I was asked to write some monthly articles for this newsletter on topics of gender, ethnicity, race or identity by the editor-in –chief, Trishit Banerjee. I accepted the offer, not really knowing what you readers of this column might be most interested in reading about, so please give me some feedback on topics that interest you by contacting the editor.

As many of you might know from seeing my name above, I worked at Tohoku University as a lecturer-professor of English and had classes in general oral English, reading and so forth for some eight years, from 2009 until my retirement in 2016. I also volunteered for a few terms teaching a class to foreign students called ‘Nippon jijou’ which I took to mean ‘Japanology.’What do you think ‘Japanology’ means? Actually I made up the curriculum myself after learning topics that most interested the foreign mix of students at that time. The topics ranged from education, social history, interpretations of history, to cinema and literature, the arts, religion and ideology, health, to youth cultures, to ‘Cool Japan’ and so forth.

I had also taught a very similar course to Japanese students called gaikoku jijou (=things of foreign countries). I used nearly the same curriculum and teaching materials for both classes. I did not use any text book for the course, although I am considering writing my own text someday. I have also taught elementary school children in a volunteer project following the 3-11 triple disaster in Tohoku along with student help from both Japanese and foreign students at Tohoku-dai. I feel that children could use the same or a similar text to one that I might use with university students.

Experiences with students in Tohoku University classrooms

(Originally written: November 13, 2009)

When I came to work at one of the top universities in Japan, I had very high expectations of my students as Tohoku-dai was very competitive and difficult to enter and I respected the students there as elite and hard-working.

I felt that I was facing classrooms of Japan’s elite students. I was sure that I would be able to expect a lot of them. And, indeed, a roomful of 40 plus students, with bright eager faces, listening intently to my English-only first lecture on the first day of class impressed me. It was a class of Engineering students, the pride and joy of the university – the elite leaders of our future in Japan. I immediately worried that perhaps the text I had chosen for my class might be too easy for them.

I found that what the students really excelled in was study-skills. After all, a good proportion of them had attended cram-schools throughout much of their schooling to learn, not only the basic skills of mathematics, Japanese, English and science, but also good study skills.

When I gave them a pop-quiz in class one day, I was impressed how they immediately went to work, underlining, jotting notes, dividing up the tasks at hand and then writing quickly and energetically. When homework was assigned, they all had it completed by the next class. I could see that they were really trying their best. Their attendance was also good.

But what I noticed immediately as well was that even with these elite students, they often would not raise their hands or volunteer to speak up. They even often hesitated to raise their hands when I just asking “Please raise your hand if you have ever been overseas.” Or :“Please raise your hands if you have ever heard of something.” After every class I set aside the final ten minutes for them to write a short note of what they learned or felt about the day’s lesson. Invariably, when it came to expressing themselves in writing, many of those students who had neglected to raise their hand during class were able to do very well in expressing themselves in writing.

Another unexpected event happened later that first term with the first year students. I had given them an assignment to choose a chapter from the reading text and supplement it with another English reading (from another source of their choosing, such as a book, magazine or even The Internet). They were to read the two source materials and make a written report of it and then later present it orally to the class. As it turned out, in a class of 42 students, half of them later admitted to plagiarism (=copying someone else’s writing and claiming it to be one’s own), when I asked each student to fill out a form on the matter. I then held a discussion with them to determine WHY they had plagiarized so blatantly. Was it because they thought that the teacher (me) would not notice? Did they think it was acceptable to plagiarize? Did they misunderstand the assignment? When I opened this to a class discussion and called on individual students to offer rationale, some students admitted that it was easier or faster, or that copying insured that their English would be perfect. They thought that because the Internet is so big that the teacher would never find out. They were busy with lots of other classes. Most of them knew it was NOT alright to do it. I am certain that this sort of thing goes on in all countries, in all universities, and in America too.

But the big difference is that in America, this is considered an extremely serious offence. In some instances, students can be suspended or expelled from the university and certainly flunked in the class where it occurred. I have heard of elite students in the prestigious medical department of highly ranked universities in America being expelled for cheating or plagiarism. Also, most students in America realize that it is illegal to take someone else’s words as one’s own. I felt that these bright faces at Tohoku-dai that so eagerly followed every word I spoke during those first few classes had let me down.

As a teacher with integrity I could not allow this problem to be ignored. In mid-sentence of their reading of their oral presentations, I stopped a few students to ask them what percentage of their paper was copied directly from the Internet. It is so easy for a veteran English teacher in Japan to spot when a Japanese student copies sentences from some English source. There are certain expressions and usages of English, that Japanese, even very good English speakers rarely use.

In the end, I allowed my plagiarizing students to save face by adding several pages in their own words summarizing what they read and inserting their own feelings and attitudes towards the topic. I then resolved for future classes never to allow students a window for plagiarism by allowing them to access the internet but selected all reading materials myself.

As expressed by Prof. Laurel Kamada. She worked at Tohoku University as a lecturer-professor of English and had classes in general oral English, reading and so forth from 2009 until she retired in 2016.

In Search of a Better Me

“I am not what has happened to me, I am what I choose to become” – Carl Jung

Back in my country, studying biotechnology, public health and working were not the only responsibilities I had. Becoming a public figure at the age of sixteen, as I became a singer/performing artist and an actress, allowed me to get involved in various fields of work. I became engaged in different capacities starting from volunteering at orphanages and hospices to being an ambassador for children’s and women’s rights with local and international organizations, such as the UNDP, United Nations and Good Neighbours –  which is an international non-profit, non-religious, humanitarian development NGO in General Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Leaving behind my long-built career, shutting down my newly launched business, and most importantly leaving my son for a certain period of time to pursue my studies in Japan was a step of faith. Yes, we are here to achieve our academic goals but, building both academic and personal aspects equally are important. I believe that we all need to live the life of leaving our comfort zone. Whenever we take good risks we are stretched and eventually advance on to the next level of understanding, competence and maturity. It is never easy but, it is the life of adventure and rewards. Life with its ups and downs is an amazing journey after all!

 

Muun 1
On the cover of ‘Cosmopolitan’

We never know what impact one may cause if a foreign student or a researcher becomes a temporary but a true citizen of Sendai.

Our first years in Japan usually are the time to learn, discover, and adapt to the new culture. Frankly speaking, Japanese people possess the qualities that we don’t see much in other nationalities. We are happy to be the chosen ones to receive the benefits of Tohoku University as well as the ones that the city of Sendai extends to us. That’s why, out of my thankful heart. I want to contribute back to the city – my city of Sendai!

Thus, as I live in Sendai during my academic years, I chose to view Sendai as my home in Japan and not just the place where I am obtaining my doctoral degree. Sendai is my home city that has become inseparable from my life during these years. In the 21st century a lot of people can experience “global citizenship”. Now, home for many people is not necessarily one geographical location and one neighborhood but, can be several places on earth with international community and friends that transcend geographical, ethnical, linguistic, cultural, political and religious differences.

 

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Being awarded on the 70th anniversary of the United Nations

Even though I lived most of my life with my family in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, we decided to live locally with a global perspective. My mom and dad spoke Russian to each other and English at home (besides Mongolian), especially to my younger brother to make him a global citizen from his childhood. So, English has become a part of our family culture since I was little. We had American, Swiss, Finnish, Russian, Korean and Japanese people as family friends. I went to Russian secondary school, and later Mongolian International University in UB (run by Koreans), and had exposure to Russian culture and language. Now since I am in Japan, I want to integrate the best Japanese culture and language into my daily life and me.

 

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With members of my department and Prof. Ken Osaka at School of Dentistry, Tohoku University

My allegiance and loyalty is not primarily to one country, nation but to the ideology of building bright future where people with pure hearts genuinely love each other and make the earth a better place. I am a Mongolian but, there also is some American, some Russian and some Japanese in me too – I am a GLOBAL CITIZEN!

Regardless where life may take me in the future, Sendai will always be the place in Japan I would call home with the familiar streets I walked, the places I went, the University I studied, and the friends I made! It is in my best interest that Japan as well as Mongolia, Sendai as well as Ulaanbaatar would prosper and become better places for its citizens and foreigners to live!

 

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People lining up for autographs before I arrived in Sendai

We spend tons of our time to master our pieces trying to build our future with academic skills. Just as we enter academic research, have we ever researched ourselves? Are we doing research for its outcomes only or are we searching our hearts to discover the better ME that may or may not achieve great academic heights but, still would choose to give more than receive? Do we have a BIG vision and mission beyond our own selves that may inspire and impact many for good? We need to pursue excellence in all the things we do but we should never forget that we are a man (human) in the first place!

With love,

Tselmuun

As expressed by MPH Tselmuun Chinzorig. Tselmuun was born and brought up in Mongolia and is currently studying as a PhD candidate at the Department of International and Community Oral Health, School of Dentistry, Tohoku University.

The featured image of the writer and her son was published in the magazine ‘OK’.