Tottori Prefecture—the least populous prefecture in Japan known for its seafood and stunning natural beauty, including its iconic sand dunes—is now collaborating with Stanford University. The first kanji character of Tottori means “bird” and the recent launching of a new online course, Stanford e-Tottori, is helping high school students to gain a bird’s-eye view of U.S. society and culture with a focus on U.S.–Japan relations.
On July 18, 2016, SPICE Director Gary Mukai participated in an opening ceremony in Tottori for Stanford e-Tottori. The ceremony included opening remarks by Governor Shinji Hirai, greetings from Superintendent of Education Hitoshi Yamamoto, comments by Mukai, and reflections by Tottori native, Takeshi Homma, Founder and CEO at HOMMA, Inc., Silicon Valley. In his comments, Mukai thanked Governor Hirai for his unwavering support of this collaboration between the Tottori Prefectural Board of Education and Stanford University, and also made a historical note about Tottori Prefecture’s relations with the United States by noting, “Hajimu Fujii, who was born in 1886 in Takashiro, Tottori, left Tottori for the United States in 1906. Hajimu Fujii became a Japanese-American community leader in the state of Idaho. In the 1930s, Fujii was recognized as the first Japanese pioneer in large-scale onion farming.”
Mukai was followed by Tottori Nishi High School student Shue Shiinoki, who read a “Resolution Declaration,” representing the 36 students who were selected to participate in the inaugural Stanford e-Tottori course. Mukai and Homma had the pleasure of visiting Tottori Nishi High School as well as Seishokaichi Junior and Senior High School during their visit.
The Stanford e-Tottori course instructor is Jonas Edman, who is an Instructional Designer at SPICE. As of mid-December 2016, Edman has facilitated three “virtual classes” on the following topics: “Studying in the United States,” “Japanese-American Baseball,” and “The Japanese-American Experience.” “Studying in the United States” was led by Eiko Nakano, an MBA and MA student at Stanford University from Tokyo. In addition to attending a total of ten “virtual classrooms,” students are given assignments and homework and also engage in online discussions with each other through discussion boards.
Edman, an alumnus of the American School in Japan, recently reflected that the rigor of taking a course solely taught in English has proven to be challenging to the Tottori students but that he is clearly noting progress in the students who are willing to take on the challenge. Koji Tsubaki, Teachers’ Consultant, Tottori Prefectural Board of Education, also recently commented, “Students in Tottori Prefecture are full of excitement to learn about the contents of the SPICE Stanford e-Tottori program, accelerating their development of self-expression skills. They are overflowing with questions for deeper understanding.”
Recently, Edman introduced Stanford e-Tottori to a delegation of business people from Tottori Prefecture who visited SPICE on November 16. The delegation was led by Tottori Bank, Ltd. Chairman Masahiko Miyazaki. Homma was not only instrumental in bringing the delegation to Stanford but also suggested the initial idea of developing Stanford e-Tottori. Chairman Miyazaki expressed his gratitude to Homma, Edman, and Mukai for making Stanford e-Tottori a reality.
During the delegation’s tour of Stanford University, many of the business people expressed hopes that their own children or grandchildren will someday be able to enroll in Stanford e-Tottori. Many also expressed agreement with one of the goals of Stanford e-Tottori, that is, to encourage students in Tottori to study in the United States either as exchange students or as undergraduate or graduate students.
Given Japan’s national focus on internationalizing the curriculum and preparing students to “think globally,” the timing of Stanford e-Tottori is ideal. SPICE’s hope is that someday the Tottori students’ birds-eye view of U.S. society and culture with a focus on U.S.–Japan relations—provided through Stanford e-Tottori—will become useful background information for them when they visit the United States as students, as business people, or in other capacities.