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Symposium Focuses on Asian View of Self

Belmont University hosted its third annual Asian Studies Symposium the week of Feb. 20 and featured several events focused on the evolving meaning of self in Asian cultures.

This year’s theme was “Self and Selfhood in East Asia.” Among the lectures was Belmont Professor Pete Giordano speaking on what students can learn from Buddha and Confucius.

The Asian Studies Symposium was recognized by the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of Japan as part of the Centennial Celebration of the Gift of Trees. Tokyo, Japan Mayor Yukio Ozaki gave Japanese cherry trees to the city of Washington, D.C. on March 27, 1912.

From Salarymen to Freeters
William Tsutsui, dean of Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences at Southern Methodist University, gave an overview Feb. 22 on “miracle economy stereotypes, how the Japanese business world has changed during the last two decades and those effects on Japanese self-image.

Using clips from movies including the 1986 Ron Howard comedy “Gung Ho,” Tsutsui illustrated Japanese stereotypes, such as the group being all powerful and salary men being seen as colorless and regimented. He also emphasized the cultural values of consensus and harmony. He also explained the Japanese Employment System, which, guarantees lifetime employment for many employees, bases wages and promotions on seniority and values company unions. In return, the Japanese labor market is stable and predictable, employees are seen as loyal investments and it is easy to find trust and cooperation within groups.

Representatives from the Nashville office of the Consult ate-General of Japan attended Tsutsui’s lecture in the Massey Boardroom.

A New Definition of Self in a Conformist Culture
Jonathan Thorndike, a professor in the Asian Studies and Honors Program, gave an academic lecture entitled “The Shikoku Henro: A New Definition of Self in a Conformist Culture” on Feb. 23.

The presentation Thorndike gave was an overview of the 1400-km-long Shikoku Pilgrimage along the Island of Shikoku in Japan. The pilgrimage is a spiritual journey in which many walk the island, visiting its 88 temples. It is believed that this pilgrimage was laid out by Kobo Daishi, one of the “patron saints” of Japanese Buddhism. Kobo Daishi brought back the sacred teachings from China in the Ninth Century. The walk and journey of the pilgrimage is intended for the travelers to achieve enlightenment and self-discovery through it.

Thorndike provided maps, video clips and pictures in his presentation to facilitate a deeper understanding of the pilgrimage. He showed pictures and explanations of traditional pilgrim garb that many wear on their journey. Some pictures and stories he shared were from previous study abroad trips with Belmont students. The clothing is traditionally referred to as the O-Henro-San and consists of a bamboo hat, a white jersey, a walking staff and a small white bag. While many Buddhist pilgrims walk, others pilgrims take the bus on the pilgrimage to travel to temples. The travelers take time to pay their respects to each holy place between bus rides.

Thorndike ended his lecture by addressing the idea that the Shikoku Pilgrimage often inspires “new definitions of self and community” to often “emerge among the Shikoku pilgrims” which is why the journey proves to be so alluring to Buddhist culture.