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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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.