Today, we watched, as planned, the film ‘Silence’ (2016).
There are several reasons why I chose to show this film for this year’s GSP. The first reason has, of course, to do with the setting, Japan, and the relative popularity in Japan and abroad of the director, Martin Scorsese, and the author of the novel on which the film is based: Endō Shūsaku. It was almost guaranteed that the film would be good; which it was. The second reason is related to the subject matter: the encounter between the Jesuits and Japan. Unfortunately, it is during these violent periods of history that the fundamental issues arising out of human encounters come to the fore in their clearest form. I think the film manages to depict such an encounter in a spectacular manner. The third reason is much simpler: one of my PhD supervisors was Professor Mark B. Williams, who is an authority on the literature of Endō Shūsaku, and whose ‘Readings in Japanese’ class at the University of Leeds was mostly spent translating passages of ‘Silence’ from Japanese to English.
Besides these reasons, I thought of sharing some more thoughts on the film, although I am no film critic nor media studies specialist. Yet, it is probably important to locate the film within the learning objectives of this course. If you have not watched the film yet, do not worry, I am not going to spoil it for you. I will remain as abstract as possible. So, please, keep reading.
First, let us talk (briefly!) about the elephant in the room: religion. From the perspective of religious studies, the film goes back to some basic questions that continue to preoccupy academic discourse since perhaps the establishment of this academic field in the 19th century. What is religion without “specialists” (such as priests, monks etc.) and without practice (such as prayer, ritual etc.)? Is religion only about faith? Is religion related to culture and to what extent can it be culture-bound? And the film goes, of course, even deeper, shaking some of the grounds of Christianity itself: who do Christians believe Jesus sacrificed himself for? What is the purpose of the act of confession? What were the motives and reasoning of the priests who preached (and continue to preach) the Gospel around the world? And the like…If you are interested in religion, perhaps this reading might make you think a bit more about religion in general and religion in Japan, in particular.
Many of the Jesuits in this film are depicted as believing that they hold a ‘universal’ truth, which they cannot imagine being otherwise from how they understand the world. This conviction seems to sometimes prevent them from learning more about the local culture, at least no more than what they need to convey and convince locals about their ‘ truth.’ On the other hand, the official Japanese policy seems to be that of particularism, namely the idea that Japan is unique, and therefore non-Japanese ideas cannot be perfectly understood (as Ferreira argued) or take root (as Inoue-sama argued) in Japan. This bifurcation, between universalism and particularism, between people believing that there is a universal way of looking at things and people who believe that some things can only be understood by those of a certain culture/nation/ ethnicity, consists of the most fundamental issue of cross-cultural encounters. We all, at some point in our lives, find ourselves espousing the one or the other end of this continuum, without realizing that, of course, things are much more complicated than that. Simply put, the first objective of this course is to help participants become aware that both universalism and particularism are extreme ways of thinking that produce more problems than they solve. How can we overcome them? And how can we do this in the case of local development?
Hopefully the film illustrated this issue and hopefully, for those who watched it, it made them think about this and other aspects of cross- cultural encounters.
On Friday 7 October, a workshop was held in at AUTh with local stakeholders from the field sites visited and analyzed during this year’s GSP. The results and proposals of participant students were discussed and evaluated, with the objective of a long term commitment onto making students’ ideas a reality. Students from Chiba U joined the session through skype (interpretation from Greek to Japanese was also made available).
I often think of the Global Study Program as some sort of Dr Frankenstein’s monster. You know the story: against all odds and the warnings of the academic community, Dr Frankenstein creates a human being out of pieces of dead bodies that he revives through some sort of electric jolts. In other words, Frankenstein was an unorthodox scientist using unorthodox means to achieve the impossible. Does that sound familiar?
GSP asks from you what may seem to be the impossible: overcome a series of challenges related to time, communication, collaboration, academic expectations, and of course your own selves, in order to, against all odds, propose something new and sometimes unorthodox.
The program is also created in an unorthodox manner, not only because it uses bits and pieces from several fields of research (this time, may I remind, that documents, lectures and arguments were inspired from the fields of archaeology, sociology, development studies, agricultural policies, museology, tourist studies etc.), but also because much of the program is in constant reconstruction, as it tries to make the best of the situations arising in front of us every day. In fact, not only us, but you too are participating in building up the program, because your daily reactions influence not only the direction of the final objectives, but also the structure of the coming days. In this sense, the program is a monster, because it is incomplete: there is always more that could be done to perfect it, and there are many ways to experience it and to take something out of it, some of them fairly abrupt and hard, others needing more feeling than knowledge.
This is of course because the program is also a monster with a heart; a heart that, like the original Frankenstein’s monster, craves for passion. And I think that passion is what best describes what we have progressively observed arising in the minds and hearts of our participants; a passion to get through one’s ideas to the rest of the team and to get through to the end of the assigned tasks.
Now, of course, since the program is a monster, it also is unpredictable. Although in my mind I have very specific hopes as to what I would like each of you to achieve, I cannot control individual experiences and interpretations. Some of you will hopefully go home realizing that language skills are not everything one needs to realize his or her ambitions. Others might return to their daily lives enriched with new ways of looking at their routine and at what they once had maybe thought as “normal.” Indeed, if I call the program a monster, it is also because, I hope that, at different levels, the program has broken down what you had thought off until now as “normal behavior” or “common sense.” Yet others will also have hopefully got an understanding of the fundamental issues related to considering archaeological sites as national heritage and as opportunities for local development. Some, indeed, may have realized the limitations of even the notion of “public archaeology”; to such students I can only say BRAVO: your work will remain forever in the annals of GSP’s unique achievements.
If you are still following my metaphor of Dr Frankenstein’s monster, you should be by now thinking: “did not the monster eventually turn against its creator?” Well, yes.
First of all, the monster has already taken a lot from us, the organizers of this program. Do not forget that this process started more than 6 months ago. I always say that to make a good academic program sweat and sleepless nights are not enough. You need to give out also a bit of yourself. A bit that you will not get back and that your family may hold you responsible for, for several years to come.
Secondly, the monster is turning against us in other ways too. Many of you have probably at some point during the duration of this program (and even maybe now) cursed me (silently) for asking you to do more than you thought necessary to do, or for answering to your questions or comments with less information than you had expected me to give out. I clearly remember some of these scary eyes. I think that there may be even students who will not want to see my face for a while after we return to Japan. They have had enough! And I guess I can understand them, but,
…let me finish with a pun, an imitation of what a famous Japanese idol said on the day of her retirement from her band, to ease the spirits.
Even if you hate me, do not hate GSP!
Thank you and I hope our paths cross again some day.
28 August 2016
The final presentations took place according to schedule in the afternoon of the 28th at the very same amphitheater where our first cultural presentations were held in 2014. Some staff and residents from Pella joined us, as well as the parents of two of AUTh participants. The rest of the day should only be evaluated through a thorough look into each team’s proposals. After the presentations, our beloved TAs made also their presentation using quotes from everyone’s diaries. They managed to relax the mood and leave everyone with very fond memories!
At the end of the day we all gathered at a restaurant next to Thessaloniki’s landmark, the White Tower, for a farewell dinner. Discussions were all about the future… what is next for everyone? When to maybe meet again?
Cherishing the last few hours, I believe that both students and organizers were exhausted but proud to have reached the end of a fascinating adventure that will be difficult to topple next year in Chiba.
On the 26th and 27th, we held the last workshops on the campus of AUTh in Thessaloniki. On the first day, the objective was firstly of course to share findings from Pella. Here some differences with other sites were observed, such as the good relationship between the local community and the site employees, as well as the good infrastructure of the museum. On the other hand, shop owners were found to be disconnected from the site, advertisement was lacking despite innovative initiatives such as the availability of a museum app, and the small number of visitors was found to be strongly related to the way tours were organized: indeed, Pella, always figured as the first stop of tourist groups, who, as a result, only stayed in the area for a few hours in the morning.
Interestingly, the teams who interviewed the site employees conceptualized the three archaeological sites we visited during this program as follows: Vergina=Death, Dion=Gods, Pella=Everyday Life. Proposals for a public archaeology would therefore ideally need to take into account the specific qualities and historical development of each site. Perhaps, at this moment, we started feeling that two weeks were not enough to perfect our ideas. Hopefully we will have the opportunity one day to come back again to this project, but, for the moment, the objective is clear: through an extended case-study method, we were to find out about the challenges posed to public archaeology projects based on the information gathered at the three sites, and propose innovative plans to overcome some of these challenges.
On the 27th, the last day of preparations, spirits were high. We could all see the end. Hands and brains needed to move quickly to complete power points and scripts by the end of the day. The order of presentations was explained in the morning once again: the objective was to build a kind of story with members from different proposal teams presenting on the common challenges that their proposals were targeting. How specific can proposals be so as to prevent eventual criticism? What are the real challenges that each team had in mind when devising their ideas? These were some of the questions that certainly occupied students’ minds till the very end of yet another (probably the last) long day.
For our last field research, we visited the famous capital of the ancient Macedonian kingdom, Pella, and its new archaeological museum. The first impression had to do with the comparatively large size of the city that once stood in this area. We were taken aback by the width of the roads, the scale of the mosaics that adorned the floors of certain buildings, and the infrastructure of the old agora, which made it easy to imagine it bustling once with shops and customers. Our guide, the archaeologist Haris Tsougaris, made sure that we do not miss on the opportunity to appreciate the historical value of the site and of the findings which he later showed us in the museum. Towards the end of the visit of ancient Pella, students had the chance to observe the making of officially certified souvenirs that were copies of Pella’s artifacts and which were made on site.
The museum presented yet another concept of displaying ancient artifacts. Students especially appreciated the small devices that had been implemented so as to bring the visitor closer to how things used to be: a small step that allowed one to peer on a mosaic from a relatively higher position, the presence of a wall of one of the houses in Pella, which confirmed the existence of two or three storied houses, and later, on the second floor, a break from the ancient times was provided by the exposition of drawings from primary school students sent from all over modern Greece. The experience in Pella was, in short, very different from that of Vergina (Aigai), even though both sites used to be the capital (one after the other) of the kingdom of Macedonia.
After the tour of the museum, the mayor of Gennitsa (local community), Grigoris Stamkos, and the director of the museum, E. Tsigarida, came to greet us, to make a short speech on the relation between the site and the local community, and to answer to our students’ questions. Here, the connection with the local administration sounded strong, even though the usual issue of land confiscation for archaeological excavations existed as well. After this session, students (who were assigned yet another category of stakeholders to interview with GSP students they had as yet not worked together) rushed to their interviews, especially to catch the site employees before they stopped working for the day, and to question the visitors, who, unfortunately, were much fewer than in Vergina and Dion. After a brief lunch, students went back for interviews, and some met a group of university students from Venice, who were taking part in a project to walk the whole length of the ancient Egnatia road, from Durrës (in Albania) through Pella (Greece), to Istanbul (the ancient city of Byzantium later called Constantinople).
At 6pm we were back on the bus and on our way to Thessaloniki, but Professor Papadopoulou had arranged for us to stop by the Chatzivariti estate, a winery owned by the family of Professor Iakovidou (who had kindly contributed to our program two years ago). Here students learned about wine making by the daughter of Prof Iakovidou, and later had the chance (for those who were at least 20 years old) to taste the Chatzivariti wine. And as always in these Greek late evenings, the day ended with some dancing…