A new Dual Degree Program between Illinois State University and Nihon University in Japan is giving two anthropology students the chance to combine culture with fieldwork.
Dan Walther enrolled in the inaugural graduate Dual Degree Program with the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in the spring. The program offers Illinois State students the chance to earn two master’s degrees in two years—one from Illinois State in anthropology, and one from Nihon in international relations.
“I saw this as a chance to fulfill my dream of continuing my study of Japanese language and culture while living in Japan,” said Walther, who graduated in 2010 from Illinois State with a bachelor’s degree in art, and a double minor of art history and Japanese.
In the Dual Degree Program, students spend one year at Illinois State, then head for a year of study at Nihon. The time in Japan provides students more than hands-on work, said Associate Professor of Anthropology Nobuko Adachi. “Cross-cultural studies are important for students to understand what brings us together across the globe,” she said. “This kind of immersion gives students the chance to understand the language and ideologies of another culture.”
At Nihon, Walther is studying the Japanese craft of working with textiles and dyes. “I am interested in how Japanese tradition informs contemporary craft production, and the way in which these artisans live their lives,” said Walther. In the coming months, he plans to conduct interviews with artists across Japan, and explore how traditions tie together many aspects of Japanese life. “I hope this kind of investigation will shed light on broader topics that permeate Japanese culture, aesthetics, and day-to-day life—such as Zen Buddhism and kendo (Japanese sword) practices.”
Hannah Meyer, who graduated in 2012 with a degree in anthropology from Illinois State, returned to take part in the Dual Degree Program as well. Her research encompasses an exploration of Japanese culture by way of gymnastics.
“My approach is to examine the training and competitive environments of college and national gymnastics teams in the United States and Japan,” said Meyer, who was a member of the Illinois State gymnastics team from 2008-2012. Along with attending two to three practices a week of the Nihon University gymnastics team, Meyer said she will have an added benefit with the upcoming summer Olympics. “I’ll have the chance to see the selection process of the Japanese Olympic team, and how the gymnasts prepare themselves physically and mentally for a big event.”
It was longtime friendships that lay the groundwork for the Dual Degree Program. Adachi knew Nihon University’s Professor of Anthropology Masanori Yoshida and Japanese Language and Linguistics Professor Hideaki Ookawa when they were all graduate students at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. “Dr. Yoshida and I have stayed in touch over the years, and we often spoke of creating a partnership,” said Adachi. After nearly a year of work, President Larry Dietz and Nihon University Dean Buichiro Watanabe signed an agreement in January 2016. “Though Nihon is a private school, they agreed to let our students study there and pay Illinois State tuition rates for both years. I hope that makes the opportunity too good for our students to pass up,” added Adachi.
Adachi also worked with Associate Professor of English Aaron Smith at Illinois State to develop English-language teaching credentials for students who take part in the Dual Degree Program. Walther decided to work toward his certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) as it fit nicely with his growing understanding of diverse levels of the Japanese language. “Here I am able to speak with both teachers and peers, which in Japanese culture utilizes drastically different speech patterns and lexicons,” said Walther, adding both have been wonderful during his time at Nihon. “I hope these friendships will continue long after graduation.”
Located in the city of Mishima, Nihon University lies at the foothills of Mount Fuji. Similar in size to Bloomington-Normal, the city is less than an hour by high-speed train ride from Tokyo. “Nihon has campuses all across Japan, but we hope students will feel at home in Mishima,” said Adachi, who works alongside Illinois State Professor of Anthropology James Stanlaw to facilitate the Dual Degree Program.