Stanford e-Fukuoka is an online course for high school students throughout Fukuoka Prefecture in the southwestern island of Kyushu, Japan, that is sponsored by the Fukuoka Prefectural Government. Launched in spring 2022, it is offered by the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE) in collaboration with the Fukuoka Prefectural Board of Education. SPICE is grateful to Fukuoka Governor Seitaro Hattori whose vision made this course possible. Stanford e-Fukuoka is one of SPICE’s local student programs in Japan.
Having spent three wonderful years in Fukuoka Prefecture on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program after college, I welcomed the opportunity to teach “e-Fukuoka,” Stanford’s online course on U.S.–Japan relations, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and entrepreneurship. In Spring 2022, I had the pleasure of teaching 30 high school students from 16 public and private schools throughout Fukuoka Prefecture.
For the inaugural course, I invited the following guest speakers to our virtual classroom:
Yuki Kondo-Shah (former Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Consulate in Fukuoka)
Kondo-Shah introduced students to the concept of “soft power,” coined by political scientist Joseph Nye. Unlike “hard power,” which refers to military or economic might, she described “soft power” as the people-to-people relationships and grassroots student exchanges that enhance communication, deepen cross-cultural understanding, and strengthen U.S.–Japan relations. “Soft power” at times calls for engagement based on empathy and empowerment.
Miwa Seki (General Partner of MPower Partners)
Seki’s venture capital fund, MPower, is Japan’s first Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG)-focused global venture capital (VC) fund. Seki, a Co-founder of the women-led VC fund, explained that even young entrepreneurs of global start-ups need resources to launch their businesses and that VCs like MPower provide them with this funding. Born and raised in Fukuoka, Seki showed students how she countered adversity at various stages of her career by “becoming the solution.”
Fred Katayama (former anchor and producer at Reuters; Executive Vice-President of the U.S.-Japan Council in Washington, DC)
Katayama shared his family’s transnational migration from Fukuoka to Hawaii and Los Angeles, and later to Belem (Brazil). He also traced his family’s wartime incarceration at Tule Lake (CA) and Gila River (AZ). Katayama reflected on his early struggles with his Japanese American identity. He explained that despite the discrimination that he experienced, the role models from his youth encouraged his pursuit of an international career in journalism.
Jan Johnson (owner of the Panama Hotel in Seattle; recipient of the Japanese Foreign Minister’s Commendation)
Johnson grew more conscious of the need to preserve the history of buildings like the Panama Hotel (designed by a Japanese immigrant) after traveling to Italy in her youth. She challenged gender bias to purchase the building. She saw the importance of preserving a historic building and its sustainable practices before anyone else saw the value in doing so.
Each speaker shared their personal and professional journeys between and beyond the United States and Japan. They contextualized and localized the broad concepts of diplomacy, global finance, journalism, and immigration, respectively. Finally, they allowed students to see that these ideas are not foreign but rather are relevant to our everyday lives.
As a final project, each of the Stanford e-Fukuoka students identified a sustainability-related issue in their community that was meaningful to them. They conducted fieldwork and interviewed individuals engaged in the topic. They explored how their topics related to the global world around them and how they could make a difference through a change in perception, education, or innovation.
The two honorees from this year’s Stanford e-Fukuoka cohort are:
Kasane Horiuchi (Tochiku High School, Kita-Kyushu City)
Kasane explored recycling challenges at her high school and offered potential solutions that students can make to enhance conventional “reduce, reuse, and recycle” processes. She proposed the QR-coding of plastic bottles, suggested transparent collection bins, and looked into incentivizing sustainability through gamification.
Mihiro Tomomatsu (Hakata Seisho High School, Munakata City)
Mihiro shared her mental health challenges and discussed the resulting discrimination and disruption of education that she endured. She suggested thoughtful ways to dismantle the stigma surrounding mental illness through empathetic, peer-based interventions. Mihiro encourages awareness and the creation of a culture of compassion that is sustained through mutual responsibility.
Students joined Stanford e-Fukuoka with varying degrees of English communication abilities. Yet each week, as they became more brave, they expressed their opinions through their writing, shared their thoughts in class discussions, and grew comfortable making mistakes. Students were especially inspired by the stories of personal struggle and resilience among our distinguished guest speakers. By openly discussing their vulnerabilities alongside their strengths, the speakers connected with the students. The presenters showed these high school students how we are more alike than different. No doubt, this was “soft power” at work.
I’d like to thank Chie Inuzuka (Director, Fukuoka American Center) for her positivity and support on the other side of my virtual classroom. I look forward to continue working together to create a meaningful learning experience for our Stanford e-Fukuoka students.