‘StarFestival: A Return to Japan’ with Shigeru Miyagawa

By Bonnie Bracey Sutton and Jim Shimabukuropictures of Bonney Bracey Sutton, James N. Shimabukuro

Bonnie Bracey Sutton, on March 26, 2011, emailed her friend, Shigeru Miyagawa, and asked about the possibility of sharing some of his curriculum work. Shigeru heads MIT’s Foreign Languages & Literatures; he is also Professor of Linguist ics and Kochi-Manjiro Professor of Japanese Language and Culture; chair, MIT OpenCourseWare Faculty Advisory Committee; co-director with John Dower, Visualizing Cultures.

Shigeru MiyagawaShigeru Miyagawa

On April 2, Shigeru replied:

At your suggestion, we put up the online version of StarFestival — in a hurry. StarFestival, or Tanabata in Japanese, is celebrated all over Japan, but my hometown of Hiratsuka, where this story is based, and Sendai, the city hit by the recent earthquake and tsunami, are the two major cities for the festival. As you know, StarFestival is about reconstruction after a calamity, in our case, the U.S. bombing of Japan. George Takei is the voice of the show.

The URL is: http://ocw.mit.edu/ans7870/21f/21f.027/star_festival/index.html. This can also be found in Visualizing Cultures under “About Visualizing Cultures,” by scrolling down to the list of the VC team. The tinyurl for Twitter is: http://tinyurl.com/MITStarFestival

When you log in to “StarFestival: A Return to Japan,” the setup will remind you of an interactive game. In the opening screen (below), you would click on the PDA, on the ground, to get started. The caption reads: “Playback the Professor’s personal memos, conversations, and ‘you-are-there’ videos recorded onto his PDA (above) as he rediscovers his hometown, the coastal village of Hiratsuka. Follow the path of his four-day journey culminating in the celebration of ‘Tanabata,’ the Star Festival.”

screenshot of the web page described in previous paragraph, with link to it

Here’s a part of the menu for the 20 “sites” that make up the presentation:

screenshot of the menu page, linked to it

This is a typical site:

screenshot of page about high school, lnked to it

On the actual site, you would click on the play button on the screen icon, at the top of the sidebar, for a brief overview. Clicking on the screen icon on the top right of the main page leads to the video interview. Clicking on the blue icon in the center leads to a “diary” with text and photos, and clicking on the yellow “field notes” pad leads to text notes. The date and time for the event is listed in the middle of the sidebar.

Here’s an example of a notes page:

screenshot of a page of field notes, linked to it.

And a photo from the diary:

screenshot of a diary page, linked to it

This site focuses on the festival:

screenshot of a page of pictures of the festival, linked to it.

The following are excerpts from the site:

  • Based on the true story of MIT Professor Shigeru Miyagawa, Star Festival chronicles his return to his Japanese homeland for the first time since emigrating to the US at the age of ten. Played by Star Trek’s George Takei, the Professor explores a Japan that has changed dramatically since World War II.
  • Arriving at the station in Hiratsuka today I was surrounded by my native tongue… and people who look like me! It reminded me of the first time I visited San Francisco. Something was strange…but what? Then I realized that no one was staring! I had always been stared at. A Japanese family in Alabama was very… unusual!
  • I didn’t recognize my own hometown today: tall buildings, concrete streets, cars, buses. I remember muddy dirt roads, fields, ponds, bomb shelters, travelling by bicycle, bus, hardly ever by car.
  • Since I left, Japan has gone from being defeated in war to being an economic power.
  • High School: the longer I was in America, the more different I felt. I tried to fit in to a 100% non-Japanese community. Started to stutter. After 10 years I snapped. In Japan, I felt like part of a group. I knew how people would react. It was a structured society. The US was a free-for-all…make your own rules.
  • My first impressions of America: houses far apart, lots of cars, lots of trees, lots of food, and ice cream served at school! Shocked by hair color, especially the red-haired girl in class with freckles and metal things on her teeth (braces). She wore a girl scout uniform. I felt happy that they wore uniforms too, like we did in Japan.
  • I didn’t understand much English the first year in Alabama. I remember when I was in 2nd grade back in Japan, we were one of the first families to get a TV set. My first glimpse of the United States was on the cowboy show “Bonanza.” The first phrase of English I ever understood was one of the brothers, Hoss, saying, “What happened?”

One Response

  1. This work is so important to the understanding of people as people. I delight in using this to share with children and adults. ( more than Cherry Blossoms and sushi. It is brilliant sharing of culture.

    Many people of diversity do not know the history of their people.. I had a well guided journey into the study of other cultures when I was a Christa McAuliffe Educator , from the NFIE, NEA. I was one of several educators, I was one representing Blacks, Marilyn Nagano Schlief, another ( she is of Japanese descent) and two others There were two were White but who worked in places of diversity.

    I remember telling Merle , the Native American
    about poverty. Well.. she shared stories with me.
    and somehow figured out that my mother was Native American. Hmn. I thought. How did she know?

    Marilyn and I were like a team. She was detailed, hardworking and interested in many things.
    We were the two up first at our seminar at Stanford
    and we became friends for life.

    She took me to her family’s hones in California where they worked in the fields recently she accepted a diploma from Berkeley for her mother who is deceased since her incarceration in the camps did not allow her to finish and get the diploma herself.
    She taught to Japanese cities and we both used technology called a Lumaphone ( Pre Skype ) to do distance education.The Lumaphone came from Hawaii.

    My other resource was the National Geographic. What a learning experience working with them was.
    Learning with the National Geographic was an honor. I learned anthropology, cultural geography and the use of powerful media.

    Children of course, were the best ambassadors !!

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