CLINTON — “Do people from Japan only eat rice and sushi?”
That is one of the questions asked by a student of a new visiting professor from Japan who will teach at Mississippi College and do outreach in the state to promote understanding of Japanese language, customs and culture.
The question may seem silly. The Japanese eat a wide variety of foods, and have what is considered one of the most healthy diets in the world. But many people in Mississippi have had little exposure to Japanese culture. Now with the Japanese automaker Nissan making a big splash in the state, there is more reason — and opportunity — to become familiar with the Japanese.
Mississippi College (MC) is one of only two colleges in the country to receive funding for the Japan Foundation and the Center for Global Partnership to place a visiting professor from Japan on campus for two years.
“As educated a country as we are, we are not very educated about people from other countries,” said Dr. Deborah Pierce, chair and professor of French for the Department of Foreign Languages at MC. “It is interesting the questions students ask of international students. It is embarrassing when supposedly educated people ask questions that reveal complete ignorance about other people’s countries. One thing the Japan outreach initiative tries to do is to increase American’s awareness of Japanese language, culture and customs.”
Pierce said the grant allowing for a visiting lecturer on the MC campus is important because Mississippi students have become more aware of Japan and Japanese business operations since Nissan invested so heavily in the state.
“Students have been asking our department to offer Japanese language and culture courses for a few years now,” Pierce said. “Because of the high cost of beginning new programs, this grant allows us to ‘test market’ and see if the interest is a real one before investing in hiring a new professor.”
The Japanese professor hired for the program, Junko Tokuda, will be teaching Japanese language and culture courses on campus in addition to being a guest lecturer in several courses that are multi-disciplinary in nature. For example, she recently gave a lecture on Japanese music to the world music seminar that is required of all music majors on campus. She will also teach a course on Japanese poetry in the world masterpieces course, and will be lecturing also in cross-cultural understanding, history and international business courses.
Tokuda will also be available to businesses in the state helping them with translations, Japanese culture workshops and in other ways that they may deem important.
“The Mississippi Development Authority sent us a list of 25 business in Mississippi that are Japanese,” Pierce said. “This is a huge investment in our state and we all need to be more educated about others who live and work in our state. We can learn so much from each other.”
In her first month, here Tokuda has already translated some documents and business cards for some Mississippi companies. She has also spoken to the Clinton Rotary Club and is available to speak to other civic organizations.
Tokuda said because of Nissan’s presence in the state, not only people in business, but community members will encounter Japanese on many occasions, such as in supermarkets, shopping malls, children’s schools, etc.
“Our culture and customs are totally different from Americans,” Tokuda said. “Both have their own characteristics and should be respected. However, some conflicts might occur because of the lack of understanding for another culture. It is said that in the southeastern part of the United States, Japanese language, culture and customs are not well known. So, I would appreciate it if community people would get interested in learning about Japan. Then we will be able to understand each other more and more. Of course, Japanese people also need to learn American culture and customs.”
Tokuda said she wants to visit as many schools and organizations as possible to give presentations to students and community members. She is also offering her services as an interpreter to help Mississippi companies doing business with Japanese companies.
Tokuda said she has been very warmly received thus far.
“I have no words to express my gratitude,” she said. “The Rotary Club invited Dr. Pierce and me as a guest speaker. Actually, this was my first presentation in public and I was so nervous. However, they listened to my talk very carefully. Thanks to their patience and interest, and the help of Dr. Pierce, I could accomplish my first task. I was so glad that I could get that kind of confidence. I have already had my Japanese class and went to a sociology class to talk about Japanese culture. All students seemed very interested and participated very well. They might have more interest than I expected. So now I really feel that I have a wonderful job here to present about our culture and customs to people in Mississippi.”
MC has also been awarded a grant from the Japan Foundation to house a Japanese Pottery Exhibit. This exhibit features 71 pieces from 35 well-known contemporary Japanese ceramists who use traditional Japanese kilns. The dates of the exhibit are from Sept. 8-Oct. 17 in the Gore Gallery in Aven Hall at MC.
“Admission is free and we encourage all to come and see some of the most beautiful and amazing pieces of pottery imaginable,” Pierce said.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Tokuda has helped with publicity and interviews about the exhibit.
Pierce said another benefit of the program is to provide a more global and diverse atmosphere on the MC campus.
Tokuda has a degree in English literature and education from Shirayuri Women’s College in Tokyo, a master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) and bilingual education from the University of Ohio and a master’s in Spanish from the Universidad International de Mexico in Guadalajara.
Junko Tokuda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 925-3270.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.