Sunday, August 24, 2008

Each city in Japan has manhole covers specifically designed for the locale. This one is from Tokyo.

Editor's Comments
SchoolArts Magazine, October 2008

Though my first degree is in graphic design, I received it so long ago that we used press-on type and handlettering in school. As I recall, we mostly designed print materials and advertisements.

Fortunately, design has changed quite a bit since then and we have two distinguished guest editors this month who have happily shared their expertise and experience with contemporary design education. They are Martin Rayala, assistant professor of Art and Design Education at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania and Paul Sproll, head of the Department of Teaching + Learning in Art + Design at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Our focus this month is not on design in terms of the elements and principles of design, but on the design of objects, images, places, and experiences. Designers have the unique ability to make us want things we didn’t even know we wanted or needed. Retail businesses such as Target and IKEA have built their reputations and success on the basis of selling good design. Web design has become a major factor in the success of websites.

As I write this, I am riding on the shinkansen, Japan’s bullet train, in a country strongly influencing design today, especially in the areas of electronics, anime, and manga, as well as product, automotive, and industrial design. The train is low, sleek, and smooth riding; it certainly doesn’t feel like we are going 200 miles per hour.

I am in Japan as a fortunate participant in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program, spending three weeks visiting schools of all levels and learning about Japanese education, culture, and art. In Origins: The Creative Spark behind Japan’s Best Product Designs, author Shu Hagiwara sets forth Japan’s enduring trends in design to be “outward simplicity, miniaturization, portability, warmth of texture, and playfulness.” I have certainly found that to be true. Even the manhole covers are different for each city, with designs that highlight characteristics of the locale.

Japan, like the United States, is a consumer society. Our similarities in this area are obvious when considered through the lens of Ernest Boyer’s human commonalities, cultural similarities shared by all peoples, especially of his delineation of “We all produce and consume.”

Good design and good designers can help invest work with meaning and create more critical consumers. Design thinking can help students become successful adults with the twenty-first-century skills of creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, and communication and collaboration.

We hope this issue will inspire design thinking in you and your students, and that you will share the results of your efforts with SchoolArts.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Our group at our elementary school.

We left today for home, though we didn't leave the hotel until noon. It took two hours to get to the airport, passing such sites as the Tokyo Tower and Disney Sea (complete with Ariel's castle). We waited in line for a long time to check in and were the last ones on the flight as it was overbooked. At least this time I had a window seat and could lean against the wall to try to sleep. My connection time in San Francisco was also very short and I barely made that flight. Now I am home but suffering from jet lag.

I am so grateful for my harmonious Ichinoseki group. We had a good mix of educational levels, teaching specialties, and ages, and got to go to a naturally beautiful place. I am also grateful to the JFMF Teacher Program for believing that it was important for us to spend three weeks in Japan and to get to know Japanese people by staying in their homes. My hosts were so welcoming and thoughtful.

I feel like I barely scratched the surface of Japan and want to go back, this time with Bill. One more place to add to our list!


On our last full day I had some free time between sessions and went to see the Japanese Garden at the hotel across the street. It was on the 5th floor of the hotel on the side of a hill and was wonderful. You can see some views of it here.

Each of the groups had to report on their experiences in their assigned perfecture. Walter wrote us a song to sing:

that's where they left me
with the world's greatest friends.
First Morioka,
as I go through
"Watashi wa" once again.
Maybe I'll say it right this time,
Matt, help me out with a line.
A line, a line, a line...
a line, a line, a line...

as we find us
in the lobby at 8 AM.
Take the green book
for a second look
to find out where the day will end.
As we go see the junior high,
greatest kids we've ever seen in our lives.
Our lives, our lives, our lives...
Our lives, our lives, our lives...

Before teacher discussion
Taiko percussion,
then a band that could tour stateside.
Then the school song,
hundreds sing along,
feel so happy you could cry.
Only problem comes at night
Melanie has no red wine.
red wine, red wine, red wine...
red wine, red wine, red wine...

As our sleep breaks
for the earthquake,
and interrupts our quiet night.
5 point 0,
I don't know?
But it happened for three times.
What do we discuss among our friends?
Who's going to the Hundred Yen?
A yen, a yen, a yen...
a yen, a yen, a yen,...

Then the high school,
fall asleep and drool,
but it ain't jet lag this time.
Teachers are tired,
green tea to get wired,
unfortunately the last in line.
And I go spend the whole night,
filing pictures of shrines.
Of shrines, of shrines, of shrines...
of shrines, of shrines, of shrines...


Japanese cemetery

At lunch today I went with Betsy to see a nearby shrine that was established in 1600. It is a shrine for, among other things, stillborn children. It is at the top of a steep hill, surrounded by concrete and right next to a tiny cemetery. It is called Akasaka Fudoson. The brochure is mostly in Japanese but there is some English: "Prayers are said for the health of children and in memory of children who could not be born in this world."


The entrance to the temple grounds.

Some of the fox shrines at the temple.

At lunch today Betsy, a fellow art teacher and one of my Iwate group, took me to a fantastic temple she had found not very far from our hotel. It was quite extensive and had numerous shrines of foxes. It is the Toyokawa Inari Betsuin Temple Complex. Of the foxes, the brochure reads, "It is said that, in ancient times, the third son of Emperor Juntoku underwent a spiritual experience in which the deity Dakini-Shinten appeared on the back of a white fox with a rice plant slung over his back. The prince embodied this experience inot the stature of Dakini-Shinten. The statue was later brought to the residence of Ooka Echizen-no-kami during the Edo era and was finally enshrined in Toyokawa Inari Betsuin at its present location in 1887."

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Aiko, Nancy, and Yasushi

Matt and I with our hosts.

Our boatman.

Our grilled fish lunch.

I spent most of the day with my Japanese hosts, Aiko and Yasushi Atsumi, floating down a beautiful shallow river at the Geibi Gorge. Considered one of the most picturesque spots in Japan, the gorge was carved from strata of limestone by the Satetsu River. We had an entertaining boatman who told funny jokes and stories (in Japanese).

They brought me back to our bus and our group drove on to Kesennuma City, our destination for the night. Kessennuma is a major fishing port on Japan's Pacific coast. For food, it is known for its shark fin soup.


Shishi Odori (Deer Dance)

My Ichinoseki hosts for the home stay, Yasushi and Aiko Atsumi.

Esashi Fujiwara-N0-Sato
Fujiwara Heritage Park

My Japanese hosts, Aiko and Yasushi Atsumi, picked me up Saturday morning and we spent the afternoon at the Esashi Fujiwara Heritage Park, a historical park that reproduces through architecture the history and culture of Japan's Tohoku region. The interiors of the buildings are equipped with replicas of the household effects of the historical time of the Heian Period (794-1185). The rooms had clothing (armor and kimonos) to try on and objects to try out (bows and arrows, spears, toys).

While we were there, we were fortunate to witness the Shishi Odori or Deer Dance, performed by high school students, both girls and boys. I was struck by how similar the costumes and dance were to the Native Americans of New Mexico. In fact, the land and climate here is very like that of New Mexico.

Afterwards we went back to their home to pick up Aiko’s mother, Hideko, and went to dinner at a revolving sushi restaurant that looked much like a diner. Different small dishes revolve around the top of the counter and you take the ones you want. It was fun and I got to try a lot of different things, including something like a savory egg custard.

After dinner, we went back to their home. Since they had an internet connection, I was able to call Bill on Skype so he could see them and meet them online. A friend and her son then came over and taught me some origami techniques. I was honored to sleep that night on a futon in their beautiful, traditional tatami room.