Students set for Japan this summer

Dustin Wright, a world culture and language professor, has secured funding to bring three students to Japan this summer for a two-week-long research project in Tokyo and Okinawa.

“In Tokyo, we’re going to be looking at two major U.S. military sites. One is a U.S. naval base called Yokosuka and another U.S. airbase called Yokota,” said Wright. The students would also be focusing on the surrounding communities of these military bases.

Wright said they are going to be talking to activists who oppose the bases around these areas, in particular, Sunagawa, near Yokota. 

“That was a site of a major anti-US base protest in the 1950s,” Wright said. 

Wright, who is working on a book about the history of anti-base protest,  secured $20,000 from the Tyler Center for Global Studies for the trip. The students are leaving shortly after the spring semester ends, on May 21.

The three students selected have majors in Japanese and psychology. In total, there were 17  applicants for the spots. However, Wright did not share who the selected students were.

“The committee reached out to faculty that had been indicated by the applicants as sort of advisors just to get a general sense of the faculty’s understanding of the students,” Wright said. “Most of the students I didn’t know personally.” .

“From that point, we narrowed the (group of) 17 students down to a smaller group to actually interview,” Wright said. “When we were looking at the application proposals one of the really central parts was what sort of research project were the students going to do because it was up to them to align their own interests with whatever they are with this project.”

Wright explained that it was important that students had a final research proposal early on, because of their limited time in Japan. However, Wright expects there to be some challenges on the trip.

“I think balancing having a serious research agenda that I want to accomplish, but at the same time, you know, we’re going at a fun, exciting pace,” Wright said. “We’re seeing stuff for the first time, trying to balance, maybe some students want to go into this video game museum for the afternoon rather than go to the archives.

“For me as the organizer of the trip, I want the people to have fun, because if it’s not fun, what’s the point?”

As the students return and finish up their projects, there will be an open campus presentation. “We will host a symposium in which the students present their experience and research to the campus and to the wider community,” Wright said.

In terms of this research trip’s future, Wright is hopeful to be able to continue it, should he receive the funding.

“I would like to expand it beyond Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Guam and Hawaii. There are hundreds of U.S. bases around the world, so you can basically go to any continent and you can go to many countries,” Wright said. “You can have these conversations with people about base environments and base towns, and understand what are the commonalities and what are the differences?

“With the type of people who make up our community here in Monterey region, I think that we’re an ideal institution to have this kind of global-based studies project.”

The reason why Wright chose only three students was that it would be the guaranteed number of students they would be able to support.

“We didn’t want students to have any out-of-pocket costs so that it wouldn’t be a hindrance to them applying. So it entirely depends on where we go,” Wright said. “It was impossible to go to Japan last year because it was still closed to people on tourist visas, but if we had been able to go last year when flights were quite a bit cheaper maybe we could have gone with four participants rather than three.”

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