When I saw the photo (above) of the Port of Kobe, I immediately thought of my paternal grandmother, Wakano Mukai, who, at the age of 17, departed on the SS Manchuria from the Port of Kobe on January 10, 1910. She left Japan to join her husband, Buntaro, in California. She had agreed to marry him based only upon a photo that she had seen of him. If Wakano were alive today, I would ask her about what the voyage from Kobe to Honolulu to San Francisco was like and what her life in California had taught her about the world.
The goal of educating youth about the world has been promoted by Kobe City Mayor Kizo Hisamoto, who supported Kobe City’s decision to collaborate with the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE) on the development of a new online course, Stanford e-Kobe. The opening ceremony for the inaugural Stanford e-Kobe course was held on September 18, 2021. The course will help high school students in Kobe expand their knowledge of the United States and U.S.–Japan relations—including topics like diversity and entrepreneurship—beyond just a superficial level. In his opening comments, Mayor Hisamoto noted, “Our city strives to create an environment in which young people could fully realize their potential. We have already implemented a number of startup support programs in cooperation with various universities and private companies in the city.” He continued,
SPICE’s Alison Harsch, Stanford e-Kobe Instructor, and I represented SPICE during the opening ceremony. During the ceremony, Harsch told the 29 students that they will be encouraged to think in an “internationally minded manner”—that is, to think about different points of view. She also emphasized that students need not be concerned if they encounter small setbacks in the course, and to “fail forward.” Harsch offered students a glimpse into what Stanford e-Kobe will be like with its active learning and student-centered focus. Teacher Consultant Tomoko Nakamura, Fukiai High School, commented, “Alison-sensei’s words encouraged our students a lot. They must think that it is important to be positive and express their opinions without hesitation… I am grateful for her welcoming of our students so warmly into Stanford e-Kobe.”
Harsch noted that “students should come away from the course with a much deeper understanding of the United States and its strong history of diversity, including early Japanese immigration.” Wakano was never able to return to Japan after immigrating to the United States in 1910. She died in 1947. I wish that she were alive today to hear me share with the students of Kobe, who are about her age when she left Japan, that her last fading glimpse of Japan—that of Kobe—has become clearer again through students of Kobe who aspire to build bridges between their city and the United States and to encourage their peers in the United States to see Kobe firsthand.
I am grateful to Mayor Kizo Hisamoto for making this course possible and for his vision; and to Superintendent Jun Nagata for his leadership and support. I am most grateful to Masanori Nagamine, former Director, Kobe Trade Information Office in Seattle, and Dr. Takaaki Hoda, Kobe University, for allowing me to consult with them while they were in Seattle and at Stanford, respectively. Importantly, I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to Tomoko Nakamura from Fukiai High School and Toshihiro Nishiyama from the Kobe Board of Education for their kind correspondence and unwavering support; and to Satoshi Kawasaki as well.