Education About Asia

(culture, history, art, marriage, etc...)

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Columns, Film Review Essay

Katana Envy

After watching a recent spate of samurai-related films from both the US and Japan, I was struck by how, as a teacher of Japanese culture, my initial reaction is to point out all things the films get wrong, and how my students couldn’t care less. I’m beginning to think there may be more productive ways of relating these pop culture icons that are part historical abomination, part cultural utopia, to the work we do as teachers. With the new cross-disciplinary interest in culture, I also think...

Book Review, Columns

Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture

Make no mistake about it, the operative words here are Contemporary Culture, with an unspoken Pop thrown in for good measure. The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture (ECJC) begins its investigation of contemporary with 1945, the end of World War Two, winding its way through the late 1990s. The volume includes over 750 entries, which can be accessed in a variety of ways: alphabet, index, theme, and cross-reference....

Columns

Using Zhang Yimou’s Happy Times as a Path Toward Cross-Cultural Understanding

Zhang Yimou’s Happy Times has been both praised and criticized by film reviewers worldwide. It has been described as “sweet and funny” by some, while others have deemed it an “unsatisfying” work.1 While lauded as “reflective, compassionate and affectionate,”2 it has also been dismissed as a “bland, patronizing piece with little in the way of social observation.”3 One reviewer from a Christian Web site gave the film a positive rating, but lamented that its plot centered upon ...

Columns

Interview with Buchanan Prize Winner Waka Takahashi Brown

This is our eighth interview with the winners of the Franklin R. Buchanan Prize. The Association for Asian Studies awards the prize annually for the development of outstanding curriculum materials on Asia. Waka Takahashi Brown won the 2004 prize for her curriculum guide Religions and Philosophies in China: Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Waka is a Curriculum Specialist and the Reischauer Scholars Program Coordinator at the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE...

Columns, Essay

Review of The Art of Rice: Spirit and Sustenance in Asia (book and curriculum materials)

Rice is involved in so many aspects of Asian cultures that considering it exclusively as a food is to have only a partial understanding of its importance to communities in South and Southeast Asia, China, Korea, and Japan. Throughout Asia, rites and ceremonies mark the sowing, transplanting, growing, harvesting, storing, cooking, and eating of rice. The Art of Rice takes the reader on a remarkable narrative and visual journey to remote and well-traveled locales in Asia, all having rice as a stap...

Columns

The Role of Rice in Southeast Asia

This essay will explore the significance of rice in traditional Asian culture. Examples will be drawn primarily from Southeast Asia, a region of the world where the majority of the population continues to reside in agricultural villages. The pace of social change has accelerated markedly throughout Asia in recent decades. Urbanization has been increasing and off-farm employment opportunities have been expanding. The explosive growth of educational access, transportation networks, and communicati...

Feature Article

Aesthetics in Asia: Bridging Logic and Language

With funding provided by a grant from the US Department of Education, I was able to design a course for the San Diego State University Center for (now Department of) Asian Studies.1 Initially the course, East Asian Philosophies: Logic and Language, focused on China, Korea, and Japan. A textbook of primary and secondary readings was compiled, to which I added an introduction and background materials. Subsequently, both the course contents and the text were expanded to include India, Tibet, and V...

Feature Article

Interview with Peter Grilli

In 2003, Peter Grilli, President of the Japan Society of Boston, received the Third Class Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Japanese Government in recognition of his activities in cultural exchange between Japan and the United States. Born in New York but raised in Japan from the age of five, Grilli has been active in cultural interactions between Japan and the United States throughout his professional career. He is widely known as a writer and producer of films about Japan (Shint¬: Natur...

Feature Article

Harvesting Insights from Rice in East Asian Studies

Thinking about “the role of rice in Asia” from our disciplinary perspectives as an economist and a political scientist, we are excited by its centrality to economic, social, and political development. We teach a class to college sophomores that uses rice to explore the long transitions from agrarian to industrial societies and how changes in eating and attitudes towards food mirror larger societal shifts. Our class, Rice and Society in East Asia, is third in a four-course sequence offered ...

Feature Article

Teaching a Classic: Jane Richardson Hanks’ “Reflections on the Ontology of Rice”

Aglance at the globe reveals continents and oceans, or the patchwork that nations make, but were we to map the ecology of people and plants, we’d see how rice breeds local worlds. As rice draws neighbors together in a rhythm of rituals and exchanges, the countryside becomes a mosaic of small communities. Jane Hanks captures one such local world. How should we place that world? In space, it’s the flood plain of the great Chao Phraya River, Thailand’s heartland; in time, it’s the 1950s,...

Rice in the Making of Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is so diverse that some doubt it is a region. Indeed, divided up into eleven nations, the region is home to literally hundreds of peoples whose speech, dress, and demeanor all differ richly. Yet beneath today’s political and ethnic mosaic are great continuities in rice, trade,1 and urban life2 that give this corner of Asia its distinctive character. Rice is a key to the region. Jane Richardson Hanks (see the following article) captures how deeply Siamese country life once rev...

Feature Article

Rice, Technology, and History: The Case of China

From 1000 to 1800 CE China was the world’s most populous state and its most powerful and productive economy. Rice farming was the mainstay of this empire. Rice could be grown successfully in only about half of the territory, in the southern provinces where rainfall was abundant. There it was the staple food for all social classes, landlords and peasants, officials and artisans alike. The more arid climate in the north was not suited to rice; northern farmers grew dry-land grains like wheat, m...

Feature Article

The Japan Rice Paradox

Riddle: How can it be that a country with an average land holding of only four acres can be nearly 100 percent selfsufficient in rice with domestic producer prices ten times higher than competing foreign countries? Answer: The persistence of rice as the key crop and diet item in Japan must be understood in terms of long-term assumptions about local environmental conditions, quality of life, and sustainable community values. Demand is less, due to a decrease in the population number as well as...

Feature Article

Rice as Self: Japanese Identities Through Time

Food is a rage in the United States and innumerable publications on food, academic and general, are available. While one seldom hears about the cultural meaning of staple food, it does not take much to notice the profound symbolic meanings assigned to staple food everywhere. Among Euro-American Christians, for example, bread is a symbolic representation of the body of Christ. It represents food in general, as in the expressions “breadline” and “breadwinner.” It is the only shared food ...

Feature Article

Using Art to Teach Culture: Rice in Asia

When I first lived in Indonesia in 1971, I was often approached by people curious to ask about life in the US. Initially I was uncomfortable when strangers asked personal questions, but before long I came to cherish the warmth of this characteristic style of offering friendship and to appreciate the way it pushed me to extend myself in turn. Despite the diversity of people I encountered, the questions they asked were so similar I could often predict them. First came questions aimed at establishi...
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