#AsiaNow Speaks with Anne Prescott

Anne Prescott is Director of the Five College Center for East Asian Studies in Massachusetts and one of four authors (the others are John Frank, Arlene Kowal, and Yurika Kurakata) of Walking the Tōkaidō: A Multi-Disciplinary Experience in History and Culture, an online curriculum created for the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia at the Five College Center for East Asian Studies and winner of the 2022 AAS Franklin R. Buchanan Prize.

To begin with, please tell us what your work is about.

Walking the Tōkaidō: A Multi-Disciplinary Experience in History and Culture is an innovative virtual curriculum project which allows educators and students to explore Japanese history and culture as they journey along the Tōkaidō from Edo to Kyoto. As participants reach each of seventeen selected stations (called milestones), they receive an e-mail with information and links to resources (readings, webinars, videos) and discussion prompts on a given topic.

This program uses the My Virtual Mission platform, with the route and the seventeen stations clearly marked, and the milestone e-mails automatically delivered to the participants. Accommodations are available for those who are not able or do not wish to walk. Teachers may also adapt the curriculum and use all or part of it independently of the platform.

Topics covered include: woodblock prints, tea, the environment, haiku, housing, soroban, transportation, geography, Edo life, Meiji restoration, travelers, religion, sports, and more.

Walking the Tōkaidō can be used for educator professional development (appropriate for K-16) or for classroom instruction (most appropriate for high school). Additional information and the downloadable curriculum are available at the Five Colleges website.

The authors are grateful to the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership for funding to develop these curriculum materials.

What inspired you to work on this project?

The pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, John Frank told me that he was going to do a virtual Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage, and I thought it sounded interesting. I was soon walking 10 miles a day, uploading my miles, and logging on to My Virtual Mission to explore the surroundings at the end of each walk. Within a few days I was hooked, and I ordered a guidebook so that I could read more about the history and culture of the areas I was virtually walking through.

After a couple of weeks John e-mailed and said, what if we turn this into a teacher professional development experience? Combine exercise with learning? We discussed several possible locations in East Asia, and we quickly realized that the Tōkaidō was the perfect route. We brought Arlene and Yurika into the discussion and got to work.

What obstacles did you face in this project? What turned out better and/or easier than you expected it would?

Narrowing it down to a manageable number of milestone stations was a huge obstacle. We started brainstorming possible topics and matching them to appropriate historical stations on the Tōkaidō. I think we ended up with close to 40 topics that we thought would be of interest to teachers and students. We wanted to get it down to 10 for a one-a-week seminar experience. But we just couldn’t do it. We finally settled on 10 core topics and 7 optional ones that participants can do if they wished.

It was also really difficult to narrow down the readings and resources, and I have a long—and growing—list of additional resources—books, videos, websites—for users who are really excited about a given topic.

Two things stand out as making this work easy. One was working with John, Arlene, and Yurika. Each person contributed their strengths to make the work interesting and fun. The other was working with My Virtual Mission to set up our program. Although their platform is designed to support wellness programs (their own as well as private corporate events), private “missions” (their term) are quite affordable and the platform is easy to customize. And their customer service is great!

What is the most interesting story or scrap of research you encountered in the course of working on this project?

It’s not a story or scrap of research, but I’ve been struck by how taken the participants are by the station at Kanaya, Shizuoka, where we look at green tea. As a tea lover, I was surprised that there are some people who have never tasted tea. Not just green tea—any tea. The participants have been fascinated by the growing, harvesting, and processing; the culture of tea; literature; even the machinery! As a direct result, we’ve added a separate virtual sencha tasting experience for teachers with dmatcha from Kyoto that has been really popular.

What are the works that inspired you as you worked on this project, and/or what are some other titles that you recommend be read or taught in tandem with Walking the Tōkaidō?

We knew we had to include Amy Stanley’s Stranger in the Shogun’s City in the program. It addresses so many topics—women, travel, samurai, daily life—that we wanted to touch on for this project. Oliver Statler’s Japanese Inn turned out to be another participant favorite. I recently discovered Green with Milk and Sugar by Robert Hellyer, which I’m now recommending to anyone using this curriculum. It fits in perfectly with the tea and Meiji Restoration topics, and also brings U.S. History into the picture.

We also incorporated webinar lectures into this curriculum. The most popular of the original set from spring 2021 are Amy Stanley’s Stranger in the Shogun’s City and Andreas Marks’ Ukiyoe: Depictions of the Tōkaidō. In response to teacher interest, in fall 2021 we added two webinars on Shinto by Kaitlyn Ugoretz and Women Travelers in Early Modern Japan by Laura Nenzi. All of the webinars can be used independently of the curriculum. (Links to our archived webinars are available online.)

Finally, what has captured your attention lately—as a reader, writer, scholar, professor, or person living in the world?

So many new directions for K-12 programs have resulted from Walking the Tōkaidō. I mentioned the addition of virtual sencha tastings that grew from the tea unit. At Yokkaichi we discuss environmental movements, which in turn lead a science teacher to look into zero waste and recycling, which lead us to add a hands-on virtual workshop on sashiko needlework with Atsushi Futatsuya of Upcycle Stitches. Interest in the environment was also the motivation for adding virtual Kyoto garden guided tours with An Design in Kyoto. And now we’re working on preliminary plans to add another virtual walking experience in Taiwan.