Takako Takano, a professor at Waseda University, visited Earlham for three weeks as part of Earlham's Japan Study professional development program for faculty and administrators.

Visiting professor strengthens link between Earlham and Waseda

March 18, 2014

Takako Takano says she treasures and appreciates the learning process.

In fact, learning is the thing she likes best about teaching, and thus her students and the environment reap the rewards.

Takano, a professor at Waseda University in Tokyo, visited Earlham for three weeks as part of Earlham’s Japan Study professional development program for Waseda faculty and administrators. In a sense, the visit completed a circle that began in 1983-84 when Takano spent a year at DePauw University as an undergraduate exchange student through the same Japan Study exchange program.

“I felt like visiting Earlham was a great opportunity to make my teaching and learning better,” Takano explains. “This would benefit my students and make myself more useful.”

Eric Cunningham, assistant professor of Japanese Studies, says the exchange opportunities are important as they allow students and faculty the chance to encounter and experience difference at a personal, intimate level.

“In an age when digital technologies offer new forms of connection, it can be tempting to forget about the importance of face-to-face interactions and the intimate experiences of being in a new place and culture.

“Takako’s presence at Earlham College over the past few weeks has been a wonderful reminder of the power of being fully present with other human beings. In both her academic work and her everyday practice, Takako exhibits the amazing potentials of people coming together, communicating and sharing experiences.”

For three weeks at Earlham, Takano visited classes, lectures, and public events, gave presentations and met with students, faculty and administrators, including Earlham President David Dawson and his wife Ellen who Takano met in Tokyo in October 2013 during the 50th anniversary celebration of the relationship between Waseda University and Japan Study.

“There are always things I can learn from others,” she says. Already, she has new ways of preparing a syllabus and a more effective way to incorporate reading notes into her teaching. She also will take back ideas about fountains and seating from the Cardinal Greenway, the rails-to-trails pathway that passes through Richmond.

“I see the value of a small school with students living on campus,” she says. Takano observed that living on campus enables students to interact with faculty members and other students while sharing interests and expertise. This reinforced to her the sense of Earlham’s community based on Quaker principles.

“(Earlham students) are friendly and active in learning and developing themselves,” she says. “I am impressed that some are willing to take responsibilities in governing some aspects of the College as well as student life.

“The College is committed to create diversified learning environments, and the teachers are willing to accommodate students’ learning needs and make time and space for them.”

Takano’s visit concludes with a weeklong Outdoor Leadership wilderness canoe trip in Georgia and Florida with Earlham’s Outdoor Education program.

An adventurer

Takano’s courses at Waseda are linked to sustainability, and she has a vast array of outdoor and wilderness experiences including the historic 1995 dogsledding expedition with Will Steger across the Arctic Ocean. Her first excursion was a youth trip to Australia.

“This three-month outdoor expedition when I was 23 years old opened a lot of new learning to me,” she says. “I had thought that the environment was not really my business, but through this experience I learned that the condition of the environment matters to every person, every human. This is essential learning for every person for our survival.”

Takano earned a master’s degree in environment and development at the University of Cambridge and then a Ph.D. in education at the University of Edinburgh. Theses for both educational endeavors highlighted the importance of the environment.

An expert in sustainability

“Sustainability covers equity and environmental perspectives,” she explains. “Sustainability helps you to see marginalized people, and it helps you to understand that we and those who live like us are a small percentage of the whole. Sustainability addresses our resources and helps us know what we have to change to live in the kind of society we hope to live in. This is a huge task not just for the current generation but for generations to come.”

Takano is also the founder of Ecoplus, a sustainability education nonprofit in Japan.

“”We have expeditions and lectures, and we provide a learning space for people to be more aware of how people live,” she explains. A recent program participant exclaimed that after his Ecoplus experience he wished to live a more inconvenient life, which included walking or biking, sorting trash, and buying local.

 “This is very rewarding when someone appreciates learning enough to change their behavior,” she says. “Experiences teach you far better than texts for certain things. Embodied knowledge comes from experience. I don’t believe in transferring knowledge from me to someone else. Experiences are a great way to own knowledge.”

 “I love journeying and being outdoors; when we are supported by only our natural environment, we learn the fundamental things,” she says. In addition to the Arctic Ocean and Australia expeditions, Takano has canoed the Amazon and Mara rivers and completed dogsledding trips in the Canadian Arctic and Russian Chukotka Peninsula. She has done fieldwork in Alaskan and Nunavut villages, in East Greenland, and in isolated coral islands in the Western Pacific.

“I am happiest when I feel useful to people,” she says.

Cunningham says that Takano’s visit to Earlham has been inspiring in thinking about the future of Earlham’s relationship with Waseda University and the future of Japanese Studies at Earlham.

“Going forward, I am excited about the possibilities of our exchange relationship with Waseda,” Cunningham adds. “With the financial support of a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, the Japanese Studies Program is working with colleagues in the natural sciences to develop curriculum that seeks to integrate studies of the environment with a deep and broad knowledge of East Asian societies and culture. Our relationship with Waseda University, and in particular with Takako, will be extremely valuable in offering pathways for developing our students’ knowledge and experiences concerning environmental topics in Japan.

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