A Curriculum for the Fall – Japan

I have this feeling during the end of summer, start of fall, that I likely share with millions of other people. The feeling involves school, and that particular essence of fall as a beginning of something even as its the end of something else. There are a plethora of things lost when we leave college for the last time: we lose structure, we lose definition, we lose an overarching sense of where we are supposed to be in life. These trials are what make those post-college years so traumatic for some people, even if it seems like others coast along so easily (while others still use that time to do more partying).

I’ve been out of college now for a long time. I graduated from Western in 2003 and from Wayne State in 2011. Those respective 12 and 4 years have never dulled that ache of needing some kind of structure for myself, and for me in particular they call in me a yearning to learn something. For many, employment fulfills this need, but rarely in my life have I found the type of employment that allows me to learn in the way I desire.

The irony of this feeling, and of my mind-set altogether these days, is that while in college, either undergraduate or graduate, I did not take my studies seriously. I rushed through most things, procrastinated as much as is possible, and was always itching to get back to my recreations. I still love my recreations, but at the same time I feel a longing to learn now that the leaves once again fall. I think perhaps what is different in my mind-set these days is that I have the freedom to choose my own areas of study. I can find what I love most and learn more about it. This is something I’ve always loved doing, and had I been able to do it in school, I might have flourished. However, I also didn’t know what it was I loved then quite as much as I do now. And now I have more freedom.

With all that in mind, I’ve decided to start creating curricula for myself. I’ve already begun one, and have brainstormed about half a dozen others. My goal with these learning sessions is to broaden my knowledge of specific topics, to draw ideas from these topics that I love for use within writing of various types, and to immerse myself more fully in something that I love.

My first topic of study is Japanese culture. I’d like to outline my plan below, for anyone interested. Before I do that, I want to emphasize that this is my first foray into creating a structured syllabus for myself. I’ve already found multiple mistakes and mis-guesses as to how long any individual work will take me to complete. Also, there are no tests. I understand that tests are a decent way to monitor just how much you’ve learned, but I don’t want to write out tests or find tests online to take. That seems ridiculous. I am doing this for myself and not for some over-arching institution to tell me how good I am.

The curriculum itself is multi-faceted, with each facet being dependent on the exact subject. I have plans to go further in depth, and in many ways these first curricula could be considered entry level courses. For the Japanese Culture studies course I’m working out, my areas of study will be: film, both animated, live-action, and documentary; books, both non-fiction works in history and sociology, and fiction, both classic and modern, as well as manga; and video games. During this time, I will also be looking for things to include in the course that I find applicable or interesting. I have considered throwing in an anime series, more films, more books, and potentially even language. If I have an opportunity, I may try to visit culturally relevant places as well, like the Frederick Meijer gardens in Grand Rapids, which house an incredible Japanese garden (with Bonsai!).

This is my reading and watching list for this topic (the majority of these were chosen simply based on what resources I already owned. In the future I might try to be more synergistic with my choices).

Fiction – Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura , Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino, The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata, The Counterfeiter and Other Stories by Yasushi Inoue, The Ark Sakura by Kobo Abe

Non-Fiction – Premodern Japan by Misiko Hane, Precarious Japan by Anne Allison

Films – Zatoichi (Takeshi Kitano), Tokyo Story (Yasujirô Ozu), The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata), A Letter to Momo (Hiroyuki Okiura), I’m still working on a documentary or two to view.

Manga: Mu Shi Shi by Yuki Urushibara

Video Games – Persona Q, from Atlus Software

My plan is to complete all of this within two months, though after starting already I believe it will take me much less time. I’m taking notes as I read and watch and play, but not in a traditional way. My notes revolve around ideas that pop into my head or connections I make that link things together. I’m hoping these notes will be useful in my writing at some point. I’m mostly doing this to learn more about things I love in a structured manner, which is helpful for me as I can sometimes be scatter-brained or let things fall off my radar easily. Any suggestions for further study on this subject are very welcome, though keep in mind I have read and watched and played many, many Japanese themed products. That’s why this course isn’t just called “Murakami stuff.”

And I suppose one question to ask is why I feel a need to share any of this? I don’t know. It’s fun to talk about. And I need to blog more, even if the blogs seem pointless to 90% of the people who know me. Some of the other subjects I’m already working into curricula are: trees, artificial intelligence, further studies in Japanese culture, Tolkien, video game design, bears, brewing beer, celtic mythology, and building fantasy worlds. Again, for those that know me further suggestions are welcome!


3 Comments Add yours

  1. hien34 says:

    If you have time, please also check out “The Book of Five Rings” by Miyamoto Musashi, and a any nice book of folklore/mythology including their gods/heroes including Amaterasu, Yoshitsune & Benkei. All the names will be familiar to you from games/anime, etc. The movies “Tampopo”, “13 Assassins” & “Audition” (Takashi Miike), “Rashomon”, “Battle Royale”, umm more when I think on it… You’ve probably watched all of Miyazaki’s stuff already!

    Lemme know when it’s time to head to Japan!


  2. starr schalk says:

    If you want a 1st-hand experience with Japanese culture, you could come down while Jeff Trambley is here at the end of December.


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