Matt Bennett, Assistant Professor of Electronic Media Communications, is currently in Japan presenting his research paper at the Asian Studies Conference in Tokyo, and investigating future study abroad possibilities for UC Blue Ash students. This is Professor Bennett’s first time in Japan and he has agreed to share some of his experience with us.
Noodles of all sorts. Soba, udon, ramen, even spaghetti is popular here in Japan. I’ve discovered that traditional buckwheat soba noodles are my favorite. Served in a warm broth with fried tofu, they are called kitsune soba, or “fox” soba. I am not sure why, but in Japanese folk legends, foxes are tricksters, magical creatures. Maybe that’s why. These noodles are certainly inexpensive, if not magical, less than 400 yen, or about $ 4.00 US.
Inexpensive is important. When offered the opportunity to present research at the annual Asian Studies Conference in Tokyo, Japan this month, I jumped at the chance. I had heard Tokyo was expensive, but having never been to Japan, this seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I would find the money to make it happen. I’m also investigating the possibility of a Japanese study abroad experience for our UC Blue Ash students, so I decided that while here, I would travel like a student, rather than a professor— staying in guest houses and hostels, backpacking, living on the cheap.
I was prepared to travel like an undergraduate student again, but when I got here, I quickly realized that I was actually going to be more like an infant, culturally speaking. And it has been a wondrous experience.
Sure, I’m familiar with the visual culture, from studying and teaching Japanese art and film, but that selective use of a foreign culture within our own culture is not the same as being completely immersed in the culture of another country. I know only the rudiments of the spoken language and even less of the written language. It’s truly an onslaught of the unfamiliar.
But, that’s not a bad thing. I am experiencing a new culture and everything catches my attention. I don’t take anything I see for granted. I don’t have predefined notions of what things do or mean. With my limited language skills, I can understand very little of what anyone says to me, picking out words here and there and relying on context for meaning. I’m much better at making my own needs known. “Where is the toilet?” “I want this Godzilla shotglass.” “Noodles, please.” In the process of re-learning to communicate, I am learning so very much more.
This is not something I could share with students in a traditional classroom. As much as I try to teach my students about Japanese visual culture in my aesthetics courses I could never provide them with this kind of learning opportunity in the classroom. I could never give them the wondrous experience of sensory immersion and the feeling of child-like wonder that comes with it. This is the true benefit of studying abroad.
So while I say I will miss the noodles when I have to leave in a week and a half, I am not just talking about missing an inexpensive, tasty meal. I am talking about missing that experience of having to decide whether to try something new and a bit mysterious, or to go with a familiar, (yet ridiculously over priced), Big Mac meal. For me, there was never really a question. Here, it’s proper etiquette to slurp your noodles, like a kid. It’s supposed to cool them off as you eat them. How could I resist?
I will definitely miss the noodles.
Professor Matt Bennett
Professor Bennett is an academic advisor and assistant professor of Electronic Media. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Communication from the University of Louisville, a Bachelor of Arts in Electronic Media from Xavier University and a Master of Arts in Humanities from Xavier University. His areas of research and teaching include film genre studies, media aesthetics, narrative analysis and construction, critical theory, Asian national cinemas and visual cultures, Eastern religions, conceptual art, and gender/race/glbtq issues in visual representation.