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Campus Now

Midsummer Issue (Jul.)

Messages to Their Second Century

Proudly Carrying the Tradition of Waseda into the Next 125 Years

Mieko Kenjo
Aomori University Faculty of Sociology Professor

Education, environment, agriculture..a profound knowledge in a wide range of subjects, as well as being a professor at Aomori University's Faculty of Sociology, Mieko Kenjo is also active as a commentator and essayist.
We asked her of her time at Waseda University and Graduate School, and her expectations for the future.

Student days spent throwing everything into anything

——Please tell us of your faculty days

Looking back at my student days, it was very fulfilling. I stayed in Waseda Kaiwai, but back then, eating was important, so I looked for a place where I could cook myself. The greengrocer would give me discounts on vegetables, I got on well with people in the same lodgings, and enjoyed everything. It was, no doubt, the best time of my life.

As a 2nd year in high school I had ambitions to be an announcer and applied for Waseda, so I immediately joined the broadcasting club. With charming seniors and junior acquaintances, I learnt how to respect my seniors and form friendships within my group. Even now, I keep contact with friends from those days.

And, to learn French, I also attended Athenee Francais, doing what is known as double-schooling these days. My university days were so busy that I don't remember going into a coffee shop.

─What thoughts did you have when, as a newscaster, you entered the Graduate School as an adult student.?

After going into society, working as an announcer and raising four children simply burnt me out. At 45, I felt my stocks had reached rock bottom. I wanted to recharge myself and satisfy my inner hunger. I was free to go out and work, and thought of acquiring the seeds for society needs, so when my youngest child finished primary school applications, I decided it was my turn and applied to enter graduate school.

Through many years reporting overseas, I could feel the difference between Westerners and Japanese in language, ideas and actions, and I gained an interest in Japanese identity. In Sumo, there is a call, "Hakkeyoi, Nokkotta", meaning, "Are you ready? Go!". In boxing, you punch straight away, but in Sumo, you show consideration to your opponent's condition. This difference can be seen in where the conclusion comes at the end in Japanese, but is stated from the start in English. To add reasoning to a Japanese characterized by getting a feel of things, I decided to learn at graduate school.

I want to teach what is essential from stepping out in the world until retirement.

──What research did you do at graduate school?

For seven years I was also in charge of a housing program so I majored in architecture, which interested me, and researched politeness and conduct of Japanese depending on the living space in which they were born. For example, rooms in Japanese houses are divided by sliding doors, so there is a culture where one can sense something outside of the room. Opposed to this, rooms in the West are separated by doors and walls, completely shutting off the outside, requiring visitors to knock to make their presence felt. If a Japanese with Japanese house DNA lives in a Western house, the difference between soft and hard would bring about many phenomena.I thought I wanted to learn this theory and pass it on to many. It happened to be architecture, but if there were seven of me, I would enter seven research fields because I want study about Japanese from various approaches.

──You have been teaching at university for 15 years. What kind of lectures do you give? And how do you feel standing at the classroom podium in front of students.

I take three lessons at university. In "Media Culture", we analyze information and evaluate media literacy, and in "Architectural Sociology", I teach ways in how living spaces nurture people. In the other, "Environment Preservation", I take students on location and instruct them on food issues.

The motto for my lectures is to, even in the classroom, speak in a natural voice. By doing so, everyone naturally gathers at the front. I make students hand in handwritten reports, because writing in hand activates both the brain and hand. Personally, since using a computer, I feel I am lacking something. The common themes in my lectures are people and society. Through these lessons, I want to teach the students what is required from stepping out into the workforce until retirement.

Seeing is believing, use your five senses

──You are head of a Waseda University old girls' group called "Inamon Girls' Network". Do you have a message for female students?

I am really pleased to have entered Waseda. I felt that even more after graduation. I absorbed many things while at university, wanting to make them mine. Students today think that drawing a line between two points is an effective way to link things. In my days, we used to make detours, and I feel that through that process I learned many things. Isn't that the university atmosphere of the original Waseda? In today's world, females have more choices than males and I think they have freedom. Use those merits and become someone useful to society.

──As a mother, do you have anything you want to convey to children?

I don't want them to feel they have seen the world only over the internet. Shuji Terayama's "Put Down the Books and Hit the Streets" is a book with many suggestions. Don't be stuck on the inner, I want you to go out and use the five senses to the full. Homo Sapiens, in the first place, means "walking man". Walking is important to humans. At home, children should be taught at an early stage that "seeing is believing".

──What expectations do you have for a Waseda University that has embarked on its next 125 year journey?

Waseda has many things it should pass on, such as buildings like the Okuma Auditorium and the determination of its founders. I think this is an extremely fortunate thing. While being proud of the past 125 years, at the same time, I want you work hard to pass on its tradition over the next 125. This tradition has been passed on through many people over hundreds of years. I want students to feel that spirit, too.

Mieko Kenjo
Aomori University Faculty of Sociology Professor

Born in Tatebayashi City, Gunma Prefecture. Graduated from the Department of English Language and Literature, School of Education, Waseda University. Became an announcer after graduating from university, and after becoming independent has worked in various government agencies such as the Central Council for Education. After raising her children, she entered Waseda University, Graduate School of Science and Engineering in her 40s. She researched Japanese people from an architectural viewpoint. Now, as a professor in the Faculty of Sociology at Aomori University, she teaches media sociology, architectural sociology, and environment preservation. She is also active in writing publications, giving presentations and appearing on television.