Through the Doors and Into the Classroom-A Look Inside My TUJ Classes (Part 1)

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You may be thinking, “It’s been a month already! So, what’s it like being a student at Temple University Japan?” Well, look no further friends because I’m here to give you some answers (Well, as many as I can for something in my major). I’m currently taking four classes: Introduction to Visual Language: Drawing, Ideology and Social Change in Japan, Korean Elements I, and Japanese Elements II. This will be a two-part post so for this portion I’ll be focusing on the first two classes. First up, drawing.

Introduction to Visual Language, Drawing:

I’ll be honest, I had my reservations about taking art classes in Japan (let’s just say it’s not really the first place I thought of when thinking of the visual arts), but I registered for drawing and I’m glad I did.

Taught by Kaoru Sakurai, the class has about 15 other students that are divided into two groups, the intro students and the intermediate students. The intro students work on the basics like value, shading, texture, proportion and perspective, while the intermediate students work on building upon what they learned from the intro level with the addition of color.

Kaoru Sakurai teaches the intro students about using a grid in order to draw subjects with proper proportions.

Kaoru Sakurai teaches the intro students about using a grid in order to draw subjects with proper proportions.

Two students hard at work trying to draw objects in perspective.

Two students hard at work trying to draw objects in perspective.

This is the first time I’ve taken a proper drawing class and I was surprised at my first assignment, which focused on shading and tone values.

I know it's not perfect (especially the cube), but it turned out a lot better than I thought it would.

I know it’s not perfect (especially the cube), but it turned out a lot better than I thought it would.

Although the two levels are split during the studio sessions, both come together for Critique Day. Everyone gathered in one room and as the professor called two students at a time, they displayed their first three assignments on easels. Each said which drawing was from which assignment and what they thought their strengths and weaknesses were. Then the floor was open for the rest of the class to provide any constructive criticism before the professor gave his input. The intermediate students have gone through what the intro students are going through now so it was really appreciated that they were able to give the intro students advice on what helped them overcome their weaknesses.

Two students place their assignments on display. Why is this making me nervous as if it were my own work?

Two intro students place their assignments on display. Why is this making me nervous as if they were my own works?

An intermediate student approaches to take a closer look at an intro student's work before critiquing it.

An intermediate student takes a closer look at an intro student’s work before critiquing it.

An intermediate student explains her works to the class and with her ends the first day of critiques. Day 2 looks to be promising!

An intermediate student explains her works to the class and with her ends the first day of critiques. Day 2 looks to be promising!

Because the class is relatively small, critique day for the intro students ended early and we were also able to critique the works of an intermediate student. To me, the drawings were very impressive and evidence that they were from someone coming into their own style. I don’t know if it’s too much to hope I can reach for that level of skill yet, nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the semester will bring.

Ideology and Social Change in Japan:  

First things first, the assigned and supplementary readings for the class are challenging, but I find them interesting so I don’t mind. During classes we discuss the readings, our feelings on them, and Dr. Kyle Cleveland engages us in debate about how we view the issues. For instance, one recent topic that was brought up was whaling in Japan and last week’s class proved to be very intriguing.

Guess what class? Next week you're having a debate on whaling! Come prepared!

Guess what class? Next week you’re having a debate on whaling! Come prepared!

The class started with a screening to open up the floor to the topic of the day’s debate, whaling in Japan. The class was then split into two groups, those who were in favor of whaling and those who were against it. As this was not to be a debate based upon our personal preferences, Dr. Cleveland had the students count off by twos to decide who would be on what side. Both groups were given 15 minutes to prepare their arguments and counter-arguments to as many points they thought the opposition would bring up. After constructing several sound arguments (all of which were supported by previous assigned readings, in-class screenings and lectures), it was time for the debate. Both sides were ready and raring to go.

Following Robert’s Rules of Order, one person from either side spoke at a time and only brought up relevant points pertaining to the topic at hand. Those against whaling gave their opening statements, listing concerns like individual health from mercury poisoning, the inhumane ways in which the whales and dolphins are killed and the efforts taken by the Japanese government in order to keep the whaling process a secret. With the gauntlet official thrown, those for whaling responded with just as much passion. The two sides went back and forth during the debate, focusing on several different aspects of whaling that were noted by Dr. Cleveland.

Both sides working in order to make sure they can present and defend their argument at the end.

Both sides working in order to make sure they can present and defend their arguments.

Pros vs. Cons of whaling. Write your main arguments on the board.

This looks to be a most interesting debate.

The debating portion of the class concluded and the professor posed a question to everyone. He asked, “Is there anything that would make you switch to the other side?” Some were dead set on not changing their minds while others were willing to switch only under certain circumstances. Whatever the positions taken, I think what was important was that we were able to 1) choose a side and support it by using facts from creditable resources and 2) listen to the opposition’s argument in order to take into consideration all sides and not be limited to our own perspective.

Beyond the debate, I find the way Dr. Cleveland teaches and engages his students to be effective. The points he includes in his lectures are made clearer by his use of personal anecdotes, whether they are humorous or horrifying. Even if some of the students tell their own anecdotes, he asks them questions about it, finds a way to relate it back to the lesson and moves on to the next point.

A fellow student relates whaling to her experience in the rodeo.

A fellow student relates whaling to her experience in the rodeo.

Some students think he is a tough teacher, but I see him as a teacher who wants to bring out the potential in his students by challenging them. For instance, at times he plays the role of devil’s advocate in order to debate with his students and get them to clearly and efficiently explain their perspective.

There are certain things these two classes have provided me that I don’t think I would have gotten if I were to take the same classes at my university. For example, in my home university, all critiques come from the instructor so it’s nice to learn from fellow students as well as the professor. Taking an Ideology and Social Change in Japan class while in Japan has a different feel to it. I’m actually in the country that we’re taking about and it’s made me more aware of the culture that I and many others have romanticized because of anime, technological advances and such. It helped me gain a more realistic perspective of Japan and furthered my understanding that Japan is so much more than those things.

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