Bushido explained at Harvard (by Lady Samurai)

Bushido explained at Harvard (by Lady Samurai)

Lady Samurai At Harvard

Kitagawa Tomoko is a young Japanese teacher of Japanese history, for three years at Harvard University (Yen-ching Institute). Currently is at the Needham Institute at Cambridge University in UK.

What distinguishes her from the previous teachers are the concepts, the methodology, and possibly the passion she transmits in her lectures.  She thinks that history is a dialogue between oneself and the country or territory we study, and we must individually construct our identity also on this dialogue, reflecting on our past and creating an “ideology”, in the sense that we must have an answer to the question:

“What is Japan?”

What makes me write this post, though, is not the above, but the methodology she used and described in her book published this May.  She proposes an active learning approach to history studies, with student participation to the classroom activities where computers, radio pod casts and even movie making in order to make the students ”experience “ history.  Her undergraduate courses are called Lady Samurai in Medieval Japan and Kyoto: the Diplomacy, and the peculiarity consists in the active participation she asks her students to take, while indicating at the same time the new approach to history teaching.

In short, in the Lady Samurai course she makes the student discover the inappropriateness of the classical concept of men governing and fighting while women stay at home, showing for example how Hideyoshi’s wife Nei was seriously consulting her powerful husband and how she managed to have a vast territory under her direct administration, while Cha Cha, his first mistress, had to kill herself after Hideyoshi died, showing the difference in rank between the proper wife and the mistresses some politicians had.


Lady Samurai at Kyoto Courses

Women tended to have a gender-specific social network, with its direct connections among them.

More than that, she explains that the samurai concept is somehow a recent intellectual construction, by Nitobe Inazo, based on the old bushido, or code of the samurai.

In the Kyoto course, Kitagawa adopted a more radical method of making students study old and new maps of Kyoto and then draw a map by themselves of the main hot spots on the city and then she makes them create a podcast and even an i-movie with a time-slip concept: to be actors in the XVI century scenario in Kyoto.  

Students had to collaborate in small teams and this gives the excitement of cooperation and creativity they could not experience without this course.

She has been chosen by the Japanese government as “one of the Japanese who Broadcast Japan working in the world”.

Lady Samurai at TED

A recent TED speech of hers tells a lot about her character: an action-minded, ambitious strong lady with an apparent mildness but with a strong energy and determination.  

It seems that she has a big project in using history to overcome  international communication problems and negotiating needs, in order to ease help in time of emergencies. The historical episode of the Turkish naval envoy to Japan and rescue after a shipwreck is indicative of this theme.

Dr Kitagawa students in Harvard were eager to help Japan after the earthquake and tsunami of March 11th, 2011.  The knowledge they had acquired by her classes was the catalyst that made action possible.

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One Response to Bushido explained at Harvard (by Lady Samurai)

  1. Kazuo Inumaru 8 dicembre 2012 at 16:10

    The story of Japan-Turkey friendship is a nice episode in international relations: in 1890 the Ertugrul ship sank near Wakayama, and 69 of the 650 Turks onboard were saved by the Japanese, then sent home by the Japanese government. In 1985, during the Iran-Irak war, the Turkish government sent an airplane to save the 215 Japanese in Teheran that were entrapped there and could not be saved by the Japanese government. In 1999, the Japanese helped Turkey with relief from a devastating earthquake, including the reconstruction of a local fire brigade’s, building.
    Yamada Torajiro (1866-1957) is one of the main heroes of this friendship. After the shipwreck, Yamada raised funds for the families of the victims and went to Turkey by himself to donate the money to the families. The Ottoman empire collapsed, but the new president, Kemal Ataturk, was also moved by the episode and the friendship among the two countries grew. At present, an organized group is trying to recover the Ertugrul from the sea, in front of Wakayama, Japan. A tragic episode that creates an international friendship thanks to the right behavior of a few.


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