Academic Director’s Report and a few more photos

Today Christie Herbert provides her perspective on the first two weeks of the program. 

Our first week of classroom work in Tokyo focused on a quick and immersive introduction to Japanese culture, including the topics of Japanese language, history, etiquette, values, and religion. Students either took a test on these topics prior to leaving for Kyoto or did a project. We also looked at and read about some core aesthetic principles that we would use as a lens with which to study the intersection of art and culture for the remainder of our trip. We started with the core concept of mono-no-aware, or the appreciation for the fleeting nature of all things, which derives from both Buddhist beliefs and the Shinto reverence for nature(not to mention the geography of Japan making it a place of both extreme beauty and danger). From there we looked at a continuum of overlapping ways of understanding the distinct design and culture of Japan—from the austere and rustic (wabi-sabi) to the opulent and showy. We then studied how Japanese culture has shaped its art—including the lack of distinction between fine art and craft, the emphasis on miniaturization and technological innovation, artistic lineages, the combination of visual and literary art, and on and on. One of the most interesting things about studying about the art and design of Japan is that it is a mirror of Japanese culture in its indirect and referential quality, so that as soon as we study one term, and think we have a clear understanding of it, we find that there are three other terms that overlap with and possibly contradict our understanding! In Kyoto, students had a very rich experience of Japan—from numerous visits to places of historic and artistic importance to experiencing a tea ceremony to deepening their ability to navigate around on their own. This group continues to exemplify the best of Landmark in their compassionate and kind ways of helping one another navigate in some challenging circumstances. So today we are back in Tokyo and will spend the morning making sense of all of our experiences in Kyoto. I liken it to returning from a trip to the beach and sorting all of our shells, and treasures, and again looking at how the art and culture of Japan intersects. Students will have the choice of completing a project or taking a test tomorrow. Then they will finish with a five slide presentation on Friday on the essence of what they have learned on this trip, both academically and personally. It has been a joy to work with such an engaged group.

And here’s another selection of photos taken recently by Christie. 

Here’s Jenny entering the ryokan. 

Christie caught me finishing my packing in the morning in my tatami mat room in the ryokan. 

Will enjoying our Japanese Shabu-Shabu dinner in Kyoto. 

Abigail enjoying her traditional bento lunch on the Shinkansen or bullet train. 

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Student Blog Post #10 Tea Ceremony in Kyoto 

Christie Herbert and I are sitting in the student lounge tonight supporting students as they work on their projects or prepare for tomorrow’s test. Meanwhile we have a blog written by Madison Pryer describing our group’s experience at a tea ceremony in Kyoto a few days ago. 

On Wednesday, while in Kyoto we went to a traditional tea ceremony. We waited outside the small venue on a side street getting soaked by the rain. Hanging above the doorway there was a wooden sign that read, Tea Ceremony En. I was very excited to be a part of and learn the process of the ceremony. Before we could go in we were told to take off our shoes (as you would in a temple). Once we were all inside and had removed our shoes, the tea ceremony began. We all sat cross legged on the floor and we watched the demonstration and listened to the instructions carefully. I was captivated the whole time. I found the movements to be very relaxing. Then we got to make the green tea ourselves. The green tea was incredible; it didn’t need any sweetener.


Here’s a few more photos that I took during the tea ceremony.

Student Blog Post #9 A Visit to the Fushimi-no-Inari Shrine

We’ve returned to the Olympic Village in Tokyo for our final week in Japan. We still have a number of student blog posts and several will be about experiences we had during our week in Kyoto. Today we hear from Harrison McGuire regarding one of  his experiences in Kyoto. 

Yesterday we visited Fushimi-no-Inari Shrine in Kyoto. It was a beautiful place with paths going down through the woods and two main walkways going up its length. On my way up I was both extremely exhausted (it was a very long climb) and impressed by the many fox shines I passed by. However the real highlight of my day was when I took a wrong turn down a steep hill. I had assumed that this would take me down a scenic route through the forest to the main shine at the bottom of the mountain. Fortunately for me this path, while it curiously took me past a few people’s houses, eventually led me to a large bamboo forest. It was amazing– all of the trees seemed to move in tandem with each other, and emitted the same sound like a million doors creaking at the same time. I was incredibly moved by it, and as opposed to the path where I had been stopping to take pictures every few minutes, here I only stopped to take two, choosing instead to enjoy the ambiance. Of course while I absolutely loved the experience of finding and observing the beautiful bamboo forest, discovering that the bamboo forest led to a dead end and having to climb up half the mountain again is a an experience I could have done without.

Here’s a few pictures of the Fushimi-no-Inari Shrine that we visited. 

Andrew, Elizabeth, Will and our blog author. Harrison. 

Student Blog Post #8 Kyoto and Nara Reflections

Tonight we are sleeping on futons on traditional tatami mats in a ryokan or traditional Japanese inn in Kyoto. Before we return to Tokyo tomorrow Sage Alpert and Christopher Leong share a few of the experiences they’ve had in Kyoto as well as a  day trip that half the group took to Nara. 

First we hear from Sage:

On Friday, I visited Nara, the first capital of Japan. We went to see the largest wooden building in the world – that housed a giant Buddha statue. While that was amazing, I have to be honest and say that that was not the best part of the trip. In Nara (or at least where we were), there are tame deer EVERYWHERE. You can PET them and FEED them too – just be careful because they bite!! ^_^ Not necessarily on this trip, I would like to go back to Nara someday – I miss it deer-ly already!!

Bambi, Prince of the Forest 

Here are a few other photos taken by Ruth Wilmot, program director, who accompanied the students who chose to take the trip to Nara. 

Sage feeding the deer 

Andrew feeding the deer. 

Abigail was very popular with the deer. 

Todaiji, the largest wooden building in the world. 

The Daibutsu, inside Todaiji. 

Now Chris Leong’s post:

In the sweltering Japanese summer on a humid day of Kyoto our group happened to see plenty of kimono bearing visitors at the treasured Gold and Silver Pavilions/ Temples of Kyoto. From the simple single colored designs to even elaborate red and gold flowery designs the designs of the kimonos never disappointed me as an artist as the color and pattern choices were all unique in their own way. The designs also varied as they came in either flat colors with flowery or traditional patterns to even the modernistic wash patterns with clean lines that reflect the seasons that their flowers represent. The kimono is worn during special events like festivals or other occasions like the cherry blossom season or the occasional festival or celebration. For instance, during the tea ceremony that our group attended, our host wore a clean simplistic kimono as she served us all warmly during the ceremony. However, in Kyoto it is mostly a tourist attraction to rent one as most Japanese would not usually wear one outside of a festival or special occasion. During our visit to the Golden Pavilion I noticed that a majority of the people wearing the traditional clothes happened to be tourists.

Student Blog Post #7 A Trip to Tsukiji Fish Market

Tommy Silva participated in an optional field trip to visit Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market last weekend. The following are his observations:

Seeing the fish market was an amazing experience. It was crowded on every street and people were trying to buy fish that they liked. It is the largest fish market in Japan and it will be moving to a different location at the end of the year. There is an auction from 4:30 to 9 am. I thought it was interesting how shop and restaurant owners greeted you every time you went in or out of their store. They presented the food to customers in a way that was visually appealing. People would stand outside holding flyers for their restaurant to try and make you come in. Owners were engaging with the customers to explain what the food was. The Japanese cooks prepared the food right in front of you or heated it up so it would stay fresh. There was freshly cut tuna that was sold by the pound. Finishing off the visit to the fish market by  eating some fresh sushi was a great way to end the morning.Tommy’s photo of the fish

Tommy and Cris enjoying some fresh fish. 

Student Blog Post #6 A Student view of Tokyo and a Trip to Kyoto’s Ryoanji Temple

Today’s blog post comes from Abigail Straus and Jacob Korbin.  Abigail reflects on her experience in Tokyo as a New Yorker.  

So far during our relatively limited time in Japan, what has been the most striking contrast to the United States, is the societal mindset. Here, from what we have learned in class and what I have seen, everything and everyone seems to work in harmony with one another. Work and play each have their time and place, and have equal importance in their own ways. Although there is a large focus on group mentality and efficiency, and this can sometimes be analyzed in a negative way as overly oppressing the individual, I think creating such a finely tuned structure allows individuality to blossom in response to this rigidity. The entire city of Tokyo is so quiet (especially in comparison to New York City, where I grew up). People talk quietly, respect each other’s space, and tend to have the attitude that maintaining harmony and balance is worth more than confrontation. As a person with anxiety, ADD, who can often be confrontational, and a strong sense of individuality, it has been a whirlwind of emotion and a very eye opening experience. To my surprise, I find that I really am enjoying being in such a well-structured environment. I tend to struggle with the feeling of ennui and a lack of a sense of direction in my life, but here, there are even marks on the subway platforms telling you where to stand, which gives me the comforting sense of always knowing where I need to be.

I also found this sign in the shower area of the Olympic youth center both very amusing and informative, valuing the overall experience of everyone using the space and reminding people not to be too selfish with the space. 


I’ve noticed the architecture in Tokyo is very geometrically simple and relatively unobtrusive, allowing buildings to fit together like Tetris pieces.

One of the places we visited yesterday in Kyoto was the Ryoanji Temple, often referred to as the Rock Garden. Jacob shares his experience. 

Today I went to the Zen rock garden at the Ryoan-ji temple (The temple of the dragon at peace) in Kyoto. Rock gardens are mostly found at Zen Buddhist temples. The rock gardens are used as a place to meditate and reflect on life. The seeming random placement of rocks is a great example of Wabi-Sabi, or a Japanese aesthetic style that finds beauty in asymmetry, natural decay, and fleeting moments.

I’ll post Jacob’s photos later today