Connecting with CIEE Kyoto: Introducing Your Academic Manager, Michele Fujii
Want to know more about the folks working behind the scenes to make your study abroad experience in Kyoto as enriching and memorable as possible? This post will provide you with insights into the role of an Academic Manager who's “been there, done that.”
A Bit About Me
はじめまして！Nice to meet you, I'm Michele. I’m originally from the US and I've spent the better part of the last eight years in Japan. In my time here I've worn a few different hats – exchange student, JET Programme ALT, International Exchange Coordinator, Assistant Professor, and mom. In other words, I’ve experienced Japan from just about every possible angle.
I didn’t always know I wanted to build a life here, but I’m a prime example of the ways an impactful study abroad experience can change your plans and your outlook on the future. Originally, I arrived intending to spend one semester, and now here I am with NO intention of leaving!
(Here I am on study abroad, learning how to ride a bike for the first time in Japan.)
(Teaching at an elementary school with the JET Program.)
(Me in my Assistant Professor days, lecturing about tea house architecture.)
Now, I’m a specialist in Japanese language and culture with an obsessive interest in folklore and mythology and visiting all 47 prefectures is high up on my bucket list. (Just don’t ask me for a progress report, my current prefecture count is shockingly low! Okay, it’s ten...)
If you’re looking for some cool places to visit during your time in Japan, here are a few of my personal favorites:
1. Uji, Kyoto Prefecture (宇治) If you’re a matcha lover, the hometown of Japanese green tea is a wonderful place to visit and try green tea any and every way it’s made, try your hand at tea leaf cultivation, take part in a tea ceremony experience, and sample a local specialty – green tea soba (it’s better than it sounds, promise!). It’s also the setting of the final ten chapters of “The Tale of Genji,” the world’s first psychological novel, written by a female courtier known as Murasaki Shikibu in the 11th century. BONUS – if you’re into history or temple hopping, Byodoin Temple, featured on the 10-yen coin, is also in Uji.
2. Ise Grand Shrine, Mie Prefecture (伊勢神宮) Ise is a sprawling shrine town, with an Edo-period style downtown full of souvenir shops, eateries, and a lovely place to spend an afternoon down by the river. But best of all, it’s home to Ise Grand Shrine, dedicated to the Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu, and unique for its architectural style uninfluenced by the Asian continent. If you’re into forest bathing this is an ideal place to visit.
3. Shirakawa go, Gifu Prefecture (白川郷) This charming mountain village is dotted with thatch-roofed buildings that are incredibly picturesque. It’s a perfect place to take photos in any season and spend a weekend at a
traditional Japanese-style inn and relax in a natural hot spring.
4. Takarazuka Revue, Hyogo Prefecture (宝図歌劇所) The all-female musical theater troupe that takes its name from the town it’s located in is a MUST SEE. Performances run year-round and it’s an exceptional experience that parallels kabuki theater. You can make an entire day out of the Takarazienne (troupe member) and theater-themed shops and restaurants around the main hall, and even drop into the Tezuka Osamu Museum nearby if you’re a fan of manga.
5. Nara Park, Nara Prefecture (春日大社)
This sprawling park is home to 1,300 free-roaming deer, and you can feed them! It’s also surrounded by an incredible primeval forest full of giant cedar trees. Kasuga Taisha is also tucked away in the park. It’s a great place to visit in all seasons, but if you go in the summertime, you can catch the wisteria (fuji in Japanese) in bloom.
Now if you’re wondering what I’d recommend in those OTHER prefectures I’ve visited, you’re welcome to drop by my office and ask!
Cross-Cultural Exchange and Real-World Impact
I firmly believe that the best way to appreciate another culture is by immersing yourself completely in it. Witnessing the transformation of our students as they immerse themselves in Japanese culture, learn the language, and establish lifelong friendships is a deeply rewarding experience. I can’t wait to see how you’ll grow and change during your time with us in Kyoto!
PS – My hobby is taking pictures of silly English in Japan!