New Course is One of Six FAHSS Summer Abroad Study Options

Japan-3 Image by Yuko Oda
UML Art & Design students and Assoc. Teaching Prof. Yuko Oda visit the National Museum of Art in Ueno, Tokyo.

By Marlon Pitter

For Lilly Andriolo, studying abroad in Japan this summer was the experience of a lifetime.

“It was an amazing experience, and I gained so much from it that I think it's changed me as a person in the two weeks that we were there,” she says.

Andriolo, a junior from North Andover, Massachusetts, who is studying animation and interactive media, was among a dozen UMass Lowell art majors who spent two weeks in Japan this summer engrossed in arts and culture.

The course, launched this year, was led by Assoc. Teaching Prof. Yuko Oda and game design Assoc. Prof. Jon Amakawa from Fitchburg State University. The group spent a week in the bustling city of Tokyo and another week in the cultural mecca of Kyoto. They also spent time in a small, cultural landmark mountain town of Narai-juku in Nagano.

Japan-1 Image by Yuko Oda
John Traphagan ’83 met UML and Fitchburg State students at Kanda Shrine in Tokyo, Japan, and shared his knowledge about Japanese religion and way of life.

Activities ranged from ancient to modern. One day, students walked through Shibuya and Harajuku, a prominent hub of youth culture and fashion. The next day, they hiked through the Nakasendo Trail, historically used by samurai who made their pilgrimage from Tokyo and Kyoto before trains connected the two cities. The cohort, including students from UML and Fitchburg State, also visited numerous shrines, museums, temples, universities and game development companies.

On its first full day in Japan, the class met with UML alumnus John Traphagan ’83, a visiting professor at Waseda University and an expert in Japanese sociology and anthropology. Traphagan discussed his knowledge of Buddhism and Shinto, the ancient Japanese religion, and how these beliefs affect the way in which Japanese people live.

“It was so interesting, and the students were able to ask a lot of questions,” says Oda. “He was a professor with a sense of humor, and it was eye-opening to hear from his perspective as an American who has spent his life studying Japan.”

Japan-4 Image by Yuko Oda
Oda and UML students sit down for dinner in a traditional Japanese inn in the town of Narai-Juku.

While the trip lasted for two weeks, the course, Japan: An Exploration of Traditional and Contemporary Arts, Culture and Game Design, began with biweekly meetings during the spring semester to learn about Japanese culture, demographics and more. The class routinely discussed readings, podcasts and films about Japan, as well as the country’s etiquette, customs and aging population.

“I wanted students to not just have this rosy-colored perfect idealized perception of Japan as this fun and trendy place to go,” says Oda, who is originally from Japan. “I wanted them to really have a deeper understanding of Japan and its positives and negatives.”

Japan-2 Image by Lily McCusker
From left, Lily McCusker, Brooke Gibbas, Ryan Newton and Joe Zhou in Kyoto attending a Japanese tea ceremony course.

Planning for the course began in 2020. It was initially slated for summer 2022, but Japan’s borders remained closed until last October due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so it was postponed another year. Going forward, Oda says the course will be offered every two to three years.

The trip to Japan was one of six study abroad experiences within the College of Fine Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences this summer, where classes from various departments traveled to Italy, Portugal, Greece, Thailand and Spain.

Andriolo is a longtime fan of Japanese culture and anime, which inspired her interest in drawing. She says she would have enjoyed going to Japan at any time, but added that being part of the study abroad group helped enhance her experience.

“I was more confident knowing that I had people behind me and that I had an organized list of things to do,” says Andriolo. “It's like a nice safety blanket.”