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Connecting Stanford University and Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan

Students and teachers from Kanagawa Prefecture at Stanford University, January 2018

Since the mid-19th century, the United States has had strong—albeit sometimes tense—historic ties with Kanagawa Prefecture. In 1853, U.S. Commodore Matthew C. Perry entered Edo Bay (now Tokyo Bay) just south of Yokohama with the mission of pressuring Japan to open its ports to the United States. This resulted in the signing of the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854, which opened the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to trade and established the first U.S. consulate office. During World War II, the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal in Kanagawa was attacked by the United States, and since the end of the war in 1945, its facilities have been used by the U.S. Navy. Today, United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka is home port for the U.S. Seventh Fleet.

Students in Kanagawa Prefecture are taught about these historic episodes between their prefecture and the United States. They also live alongside a significant number of American residents today. Following Tokyo and excluding U.S. military personnel in Japan, Kanagawa has the second largest number of American residents in Japan. Because of these historical and contemporary ties with the United States, some of Kanagawa’s teachers have reached out to the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE) with hopes to more fully introduce their students to U.S. society and culture and U.S.–Japan relations and also to encourage their students to study abroad in the United States. This encouragement was inspired in large part by the Japanese government.

On May 1, 2015, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Stanford University—a first by a Japanese prime minister—and said that he wants “the best and brightest Japanese talent” to study at places like Stanford and to learn about Silicon Valley. Shortly after Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Stanford, SPICE launched an online course called Stanford e-Japan for high school students in Japan with funding from the United States-Japan Foundation, New York City. Stanford e-Japan, which is taught by Waka Takahashi Brown, introduces topics like Commodore Perry, World War II, and Silicon Valley to students with hopes that they will come to better understand the bilateral relationship and also consider someday studying in the United States.

Rylan Sekiguchi and Naomi Funahashi at Yokosuka Senior High School, Kanagawa Prefecture

One of the high schools that has enthusiastically supported and enrolled students in Stanford e-Japan is Yokohama Science Frontier High School (YSFH). Thanks to the initiative of teachers Nobuyo Uchimura and Yukimasa Uekusa, Naomi Funahashi and Rylan Sekiguchi traveled to Kanagawa Prefecture to visit YSFH and a partner school, Yokosuka Senior High School. They met with faculty, chatted with students, and led several classes and after-school sessions to encourage students’ global thinking. Following their school visit, English teacher Gentaro Tatsumi, noted, “Sekiguchi-sensei and Funahashi-sensei gave very impressive lessons to my students. I believe many of them surely had moments to think deeply about war and peace with different perspectives or viewpoints. Also, I was so happy to see that there were several students who showed a big interest in studying abroad following their after-school presentation.”

Four of these students had the occasion to see Funahashi and Sekiguchi again but this time at Stanford University. Three students (Ayaka Nakaminami, Daiichi Soma, and Rin Suzuki) from YFSH and one student (Keisuke Hara) from Yokosuka Senior High School participated in a SPICE-led seminar on January 24, 2018. After engaging in a series of globally themed lessons led by Funahashi and Sekiguchi, the students toured Stanford campus and experienced lunch in a student dining hall. The afternoon portion of the seminar featured a presentation by Tatsumi-sensei on English education in Japan, remarks by Uchimura-sensei and Uekusa-sensei, and four science research-focused presentations that were given by the students to Stanford community members.

One of the audience members was Stanford law student, Yuta Mizuno, an attorney with Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu in Tokyo. “I was truly impressed by the students’ preparation and performance with the presentations,” he reflected. “I’m sure that they gained inspiration and confidence from the seminar here at Stanford, and there’s no doubt that they have a promising future on the global stage. I wish I could’ve had such a priceless experience when I was in high school.” In between the student presentations, Mizuno also had the chance to talk with Hara, who aspires to be an attorney.

After their return to Kanagawa Prefecture, Uchimura-sensei commented, “Our visit to Stanford was a precious opportunity. The seminar we had at SPICE was focused on ‘globalization’ and ‘interdependence,’ which are especially important themes today. The four selected students, who are potential global leaders, were lucky enough to have been given the chance to experience studying at a U.S. university early in life. We are convinced that this experience at SPICE has given them a guide into their future.”

SPICE expects that many students from Kanagawa Prefecture will apply to future offerings of Stanford e-Japan, due in large part to the enthusiasm of the teachers and the students who represented their prefecture so well. SPICE’s hope is that the four students will someday return to Stanford or other U.S. universities as students. It is remarkable how the once tense relationship between Kanagawa (and Japan broadly) and the United States has evolved into a close interdependent friendship. We entrust the future of this friendship to students like Nakaminami, Soma, Suzuki, and Hara.