By Dr. Jin Yang, Professor in the Department of Journalism and Strategic Media
On a cloudy Thursday afternoon in the middle of September of the year 2022, Mr. Keisuke Inoue and Ms. Fleurette Lui of International Programs Office at the J. F. Oberlin University led me on a tour of the campus. It was my second day upon the arrival in Japan. The landscape with well-trimmed trees, bushes, plants, flowers engrossed me as in a Japanese garden. At the same time, statues, road signs, well-lit and inter-connected classroom buildings and office buildings delivered a sense of modernity and order. Office staff members greeted me politely with their smiles and typical Japanese bows. As we navigated through the inter-connected maze-like buildings visiting one office after another, I somehow felt my research project on Japanese young people’s view of interracial relationship would run smoothly, which turned out to be true.
While the physical outlook of the campus impressed me on my first visit, it is the University’s ambitious mission that provided a more panoramic view of the University.
The University website displays its mission clearly in bold type: J. F. Oberlin University seeks to foster global citizens on the basis of Christian values, which strikes me a lot because we all know that Japan is not a country of Christians, and this East Asian country was not founded on Christian values.
I learned from the history of the University that the University traces its heritage back to 1921 when Reverend Yasuzo Shimizu, a Japanese missionary, founded the Chongzhen Vocational and Grammar School for Girls in Beijing, China, which is Reverend Shimizu’s earliest international outreach. In the late 1920s, Yasuzo Shimizu attended Oberlin College in Ohio, U.S.A, where he was greatly influenced by Jean-Frédéric (John Frederic) Oberlin, an 18th-century minister and educator in the Alsace region of France. This overseas experience not only shaped his educational philosophy but also influenced his entire life. Reverend Yasuzo Shimizu returned to China after his education in USA in the late 1920s. It is only after WWII back in Japan that Shimizu established a school and named it Obirin Gakuen in 1946, which is the origin of the J.F. Oberlin University. Obirin, written in Japanese characters meaning cherry trees, beautiful forest was invented by him to honor his favorite educational influencer Jean-Frédéric (John Frederic) Oberlin.
That international outreach effort from Reverend Yasuzo Shimizu remains an important legacy of the University. The University’s creed Gagujijijing, which means learning in order to be able to help others, keeps reminding people of its founder Shimizu’s educational philosophy.
Currently there are around 10,000 students at J.F. Oberlin University, among them 750 international students and 50-80 international scholars.
President Hiroaki Hatayama, who, a University of North Carolina doctoral graduate in 2001, began his presidency in the year of 2018, shared his vision about the international program at the University with me in his office on an early afternoon on Oct 18.
He said that “I think we are going the same track to be more internationalized. But these days, international is one path. The other is global. International issues and global issues are different because global issues are more about environment, human rights, food and water. International affairs are more about political, more about social things. We used to be international focused and now we are going up being more global. The idea of international identity is getting weak while the global identity character is growing. That is very much for next generation to create global communities. Global communities are not just real-world community but also internet community or digital community. That would be something we are going to include in our high education courses.”
In fact, the University established a college called the College of Global Communication that aims to train students who understand the dynamics of ongoing global changes, who are capable of envisioning a better global society, and who have the skills to realize this vision. The students will gain competence in one or more foreign languages, well-developed critical thinking skills, and the ability to understand and collaborate with people of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds for the purpose of addressing global issues.
Fumitake Nakamura, associate director of International Programs, explained the reason why. He said: “Japan is a small island, the business opportunities are limited. So the younger generation needs to get out of the country at some point and look for a bigger market as business professionals. In that sense, we need to give them language education and of course an ability to work in the multinational environment.” Nakamura remarked that J.F. Oberlin has lots of partner schools in China, in US and in Korea, which provides a good international environment for all students.
President Hatayama felt very strongly about his university. While he values his job very much as it is a very special and fulfilling job, he talks very highly of his campus community. “People are kind. Very warm-hearted kind. Cheerful, open-minded. That is our atmosphere. Not just students, but faculty members, staff member, which might come from the idea of Christianity.” The other thing he is proud of this campus is globalism driven. He said people are not just looking into domestic issues but also international issues with global views. And the campus offers international communication and global issues in the first year and second year courses, which will open up students’ eyes and make them want to go overseas to study. He said before COVID-19, about 700 or so students went out of the country to study. And as the COVID-19 situation improves, that is coming up.
There are three University of Memphis students who are currently pursuing their academic studies at the J.F. Oberlin University. One of them is a 21-year old senior student, Matthew James Watson, who is studying as a Japanese major. He said studying abroad is “a once in a lifetime experience that I wish for everybody to have,” though he admits that “the most challenging part of studying abroad is obviously the language barrier.” Morgan says that “It is very important to study abroad in order to challenge your world view and to gain new experiences. America and Japan are two very different countries culturally and ideologically. America is very individual focused and Japan has more compassion to its communities. While you can understand these things by reading them, it is important to actually live and see those differences for yourself.”
When asked about what is the best part of studying at the J.F. Oberlin University, Morgan responded. “I would say that the best part of studying at this university is how international J.F Oberlin is. There are many students here from not just all across the U.S, but also from across the world. It allows you to interact with many new people while still being able to learn.”
The year of 2022 marks the University’s centennial. The entire campus celebrated its 100-year anniversary in various ways including the performance of a memorial choral drama on the life of Reverend Yasuzo Shimizu at the campus chapel on Nov. 11, 2022.
Aki Otani, an International Programs Office worker, who participated in the drama as a choir member, said: “The choir participation for the memorial choral drama on Saturday was a great experience for me. Looking at the actors for the role of the founder of our school directly was just like we were looking at him alive and witnessed his joy and worry and happiness together.”