Cross-Cultural Awareness and Diversity

Graduate student Jonas Timson shares reflections on the course, “Introduction to International and Cross-Cultural Education.”
Jonas Timson at Akamon, the University of Tokyo Jonas Timson at Akamon, the University of Tokyo; photo courtesy Shuoyang Meng

The following is a guest article written by Jonas Timson, a graduate student at the University of Tokyo. Timson enrolled in a course at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Education called “Introduction to International and Cross-Cultural Education,” which was co-taught by SPICE Director Dr. Gary Mukai and former CASEER Director Dr. Hideto Fukudome. SPICE will feature several student reflections on the course in 2023.

Last fall, I enrolled in the course “Introduction to International and Cross-Cultural Education.” The reason why I took this course is that I was genuinely curious about how international and cross-cultural awareness and understanding is actually taught academically. As a person born in a bicultural family, international and cross-cultural understanding has been a concept surrounding me naturally in some sense, and I wasn’t completely sure whether I had been giving careful consideration regarding its true nature. 

Two of the most impressive aspects of this course were (1) the stories of Chinese and Japanese immigrants’ footpaths to the Angel Island Immigration Station—through which thousands of Asian immigrants passed—and (2) the background of Japanese war brides. During the lectures on these two topics, I thought of the following questions: How did Chinese immigrants contribute to the development of the Transcontinental Railroad? How did the detainment and interrogation of Chinese at the Angel Island Immigration Station affect them? What was the fate of Japanese immigrants and their descendants during World War II? What was life like for Japanese women who married American soldiers after World War II? How are people today helping to educate and enlighten others about these experiences? 

While contemplating these questions, I realized that every person who appeared in the stories that were shared had also helped to shape America, and none of them can be ignored. In Japan as well, there are cases where people from foreign countries—such as immigrants in ancient times and foreign inhabitants in the Meiji Era—have contributed to the development of the country. Also, it is a fact that many immigrants are taking part in Japanese society today, including the labor industry. Through this class, I could apply what I learned from the course to the context of Japan today. The course also made me realize that these people and their various contributions to Japanese society should not be ignored.

However, even if we accept such an understanding, it is not easy to develop empathy for those who are different from you. I suppose that the ability to see oneself in others is important to develop and increase mutual understanding. In order to do so, starting from knowing oneself is important. Looking at not only one’s footpath, but also one’s country will help to raise awareness and make oneself better. In fact, by practicing “mindfulness,” that is to say, by improving self knowledge, we can certainly pay attention to others and embrace them. The session on mindfulness given by the guest teacher, Dr. Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, gave the class many hints for practicing mutual understanding.

I have been conscious about my roots, but through this course, I came to understand my roots more deeply and to more fully appreciate immigrants in the society around me as familiar and highly relevant.

We also learned about culturally relevant curriculum in this course. According to UNESCO (2023), culturally relevant (or responsive) curriculum is “a curriculum that respects learners’ cultures and prior experiences and it acknowledges and values the legitimacy of different cultures—not just the dominant culture of a society—and encourages intercultural understanding.” As I mentioned previously, the class gave me an opportunity to learn about Japanese and Chinese immigrants, Angel Island, Japanese war brides, and other related topics. Taking a look back at my family’s history, my ancestors were also immigrants to America. My father is also an immigrant to Japan. They must have overcome lots of hardships to settle and make a stable life in the new countries to which they moved. I have been conscious about my roots, but through this course, I came to understand my roots more deeply and to more fully appreciate immigrants in the society around me as familiar and highly relevant. Indeed, this course was deeply culturally relevant to me.

Japan is becoming increasingly diverse. The number of immigrants and the number of children born in multicultural families is gradually increasing. The foreign population in Japan reached a record high of 3,070,000 at the end of December 2022 (NHK World-Japan News, 2023). Japan is literally moving towards a multicultural symbiosis society stage by stage. It is important for all of us to aim for a better society of well-being in our lives by being conscious of diversity and inclusion.

Lastly, I happened to meet a graduate student from another school at the University of Tokyo the other day. Like me, he was also born in a multicultural family. I am somewhat older than him, but though we had just met, I was surprised to hear what he said. “Thanks to the great efforts of predecessors who were born in multicultural families like you, Japan today is now in a more culturally aware age for people born under a similar situation. You are also one of them. I owe you very much.” This is actually what I have been thinking every day towards members of multicultural families in Japan who came before me. Yes, today’s society is built upon the effort of predecessors. I didn’t think I was going to hear those kinds of words from a younger person, but by his words, I thought I might have been contributing a little to the cultural diversity and inclusiveness of Japanese society. 

The course “Introduction to International and Cross-Cultural Education” had a very great impact on me. By applying what I’ve learned effectively, I hope to live as one who contributes positively to cross-cultural awareness and diversity and a society based on inclusiveness through mutual understanding. 


“Number of foreign nationals in Japan climbs to record high of over 3 million,” NHK World-Japan News, 24 March 2023.

“IBE Glossary of curriculum terminology,” UNESCO Digital Library, 24 March 2023,


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