A Celebration of Healing and the New Web Rhetoric: ‘StarFestival’

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

After viewing Shigeru Miyagawa‘s “StarFestival: A Return to Japan,” Bonnie Bracey Sutton, said, “This work is so important to the understanding of people as people…. It is brilliant sharing of culture” [1]. (Click here for the ETCJ announcement of “StarFestival.”) I agree. Shigeru’s interactive multimedia presentation is brilliant because it speaks to us at many different levels in many different ways, and all of them are important.

When most people see minorities, they see “different” but often don’t fully understand or appreciate that difference. “StarFestival” addresses this issue as an offering in MIT’s Visualizing Cultures series, founded in 2002 by MIT professors John Dower and Shigeru, which “weds images and scholarly commentary in innovative ways to illuminate social and cultural history.” The series “represents a substantive offshoot of MIT’s OpenCourseWare,” and Shigeru “was a member of the committee that first developed this groundbreaking project, which has inspired counterpart initiatives on the Web worldwide.”

As Shigeru explains, the Star Festival in Hiratsuka, his hometown in Japan, is “about reconstruction after a calamity.” The reconstruction that he refers to, directly, is the aftermath of the bombing during WWII. The indirect reference is to the earthquake and tsunami that struck the Tohoku region in northeast Japan on March 11, 2011.

The underlying reference in “StarFestival” is to the reconstruction of his own perception of himself, a person who straddles two very different cultures. He left post-war Japan with his family in 1962, when he was ten, and the Japan that he returned to in 1997, as an adult, was a very different place. His initial cultural experiences in the U.S. were, for a grade schooler, as shocking as any bombing or earthquake could be. Thus, “StarFestival” is also a celebration of his own reconstruction.

In the U.S., we celebrate Thanksgiving, a day set aside to express our gratitude for the bounties we have received. Although the Hiratsuka Star Festival, or Tanabata, is similar to Thanksgiving, its emphasis is different. The focus is on healing, on celebrating the human power to rebuild after national and natural disasters. In Shigeru’s presentation, the healing extends to personal catastrophes as well. Thus, a Star Festival is a way to honor the human spirit, the spirit that says “Never give up!” The message is that if we, as citizens of the world and as individuals, persevere, we can overcome almost any adversity and turn it into triumph.

Finally, “StarFestival” is a celebaration of the web as an unprecedented medium for learning. As educators, we sit in our offices and classrooms and wonder where the web will take teaching and learning in the coming years. As we experiment and fiddle with different combinations of pedagogy and technology, with varying levels of success, the one thing we realize is that no one has the answer and there is no one answer. The future of ICT in education is a huge question mark, a vision that’s hidden behind a veil. From time to time some of us get tantalizing glimpses of what’s beyond the veil, and these drive innovation.

I’m inclined to believe that “StarFestival” (and similar efforts) is just such a glimpse. Rhetorically, the web extends and expands our “existing means of persuasion” (Aristotle), and “StarFestival” is a demonstration of how web-based instructional and learning resources are evolving. It is:

  • Virtual, available 24-7.
  • Multimedia, with audio, video, and photos.
  • Textual, too, in language that’s readable.
  • Interactive.
  • Nonlinear, with users entering from anywhere and moving to anywhere.
  • High resolution and high definition.
  • Entertaining.
  • Enlightening.
  • Aesthetic.
  • Linkable, sharable.
  • Free! Accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

In the not too distant future, I believe these are some of the qualities that will define “papers” submitted by authors to e-publications and by students to their teachers and professors.

Update 4.8.11: Please see Bonnie’s comment re how she uses the new rhetoric in her work with students.

One Response

  1. I have met Shigeru and hope that many of you will get a chance to explore his work and know him though it.
    He has been important to the OpenCourseware project.

    Using his work , StarFestival was a pleasure because of the depth of content and the beauty of the work.

    I used it as a base to have children from other countries who were in my class create their own
    little program using Hyperstudio, of their country.
    A mother once came to me and said, there is Black History week, and Native American Month, and the celebration of Asian Pacifitc month. Where and what about Europe do we study and celebrate, She was from Lithuania .. and so we sat down and used “My Backyard Hisoty Book” and made family maps, But to have a tool like StarFestival was to have the whole idea kicked up a notch. At the time before Skype we were using a Lumaphone and making calls to other classrooms around the world, I confess that we also cooked , and I borrowed from the Smithsonian, or took the kids on trips to see elements of culture that I do not own.
    Visualing cultures helps us to see the world and understand it better, I think.


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