A Letter from Tokyo from a Dilena Takeyama Center scholar

December 17, 2013
Photo of Danielle Royston with friends.
Danielle Royston in Tokyo with new friends.

NOTE: Danielle Royston, a Dilena Takeyama Center scholarship winner, is currently attending the School of International Liberal Studies at Waseda University in Tokyo. As the year 2013 draws to a close, she wrote this letter to update us on her progress.

Greetings from Tokyo, Japan.

First, and foremost, I want to thank the Dilena Takeyama Centre and the SFSU Alumni Association for their generosity and support of my career and life goals that are becoming even more attainable through my experience abroad. I am so grateful to both organizations for believing in my dream of improving Japan-U.S. relations by means of small scale subsistence projects in urban areas of the developed countries.  Receiving this scholarship was not only welcome assistance, but also much needed encouragement. I am excited to give an update on my how my year abroad is going thus far.

Academically, I have chosen specific courses that focus on Japanese culture, history, and social structure, alongside language courses. I have chosen these courses for the purpose of better understanding the point of view from which Japan sees itself and other developed countries today. I am also conducting a study in my Japanese language class, gathering the opinions of Japanese students and working people who live in Tokyo about the idea of creating a community around wholesome food. While I am still gathering data,  my Japanese classmates, and those whom I did not know so well but kindly answered my questions, have taught me that Japanese culture is closely connected to nature, thus despite being a developed country, there is an appreciation, even among people who live and work in Tokyo, for wholesome, organic, and all natural food. This was something that I had not known before conducting my study, and has influenced my thoughts going forward as to how to fashion the process of improving Japan-U.S. relations.

Outside of class,  I spend my time in downtown areas of Tokyo, soaking up the urban life. Omotesando, a small section of Shibuya, hosts a weekly farmers market that I have been faithfully attending and buying my weekly groceries at since my arrival in Japan. It was truly something special to find a farmers market in Tokyo, as it is so urbanized, and to also find the products sold at this market are local, vegetables raised just out side of the city, rice grown out by Tokyo Disney Land,  and so forth. Upon my first visit to the market, I learned from a volunteer, who is now a good friend of mine, that the association that puts together the farmers market, as well as the concept of a farmers market in an area locked in by high-rises, is fairly new.  The market itself reminds me of San Francisco, with bright awnings and live music. I have enjoyed getting to know the people who work daily to supply the food that I eat, and to thank them each Sunday for their hard work and kindness is a great joy.  To be able to close the circle between consumer and producer, and for there to be friendship amidst, is an opportunity I only dreamed of having here in Japan. I am very grateful.

As my semester continues, I have a lot of work to do. I am currently working in another Japanese language class on a written work that focuses upon my career design.  A gentleman who grows onions and sells them at the farmers market, suggested a graduate school program to me known as “Food Study.” The program, in short, is an interdisciplinary program that concentrates on food at the societal level, which is of absolute interest to me. For my career design assignment, I am doing some research on a food study program to attend after I finish my undergraduate degree at San Francisco State University. I am also making my connections with people in the Farmers Market Association and other local cafes and coffee bars in Tokyo who share my vision of creating a bridge between the United States and Japan through food and similarity.  By next semester, it is my hope that my Japanese will improve to a level appropriate enough to volunteer with the Farmers Market Association or other food related non-profit organizations in the city.  One of the organizations is Tokyo’s first food bank, known as Second Harvest. The organization makes use of the overwhelming amount of surplus food generated in Tokyo alone, to provide families with meals. Like the farmers market, a food bank is hard to track down in Tokyo, though I am not sure if there are social implications for the hiddenness of the organization from mainstream view.  Among that, I also hope to put into practice the idea of creating community around food by hosting cooking workshops or small dinner gatherings, all the while learning from my friends from Japan as well as other countries, what “community around food” actually means in their context.

I could write at length about my excitement having learned so much in just a few months of being here, and knowing that there is still so much more to learn. Being here in Tokyo has had its challenges, and not every learning experience has left me feeling elated. But each experiences has been very valuable to my endeavors as a student and to my experience as a human being.  Again, I want to extend my gratitude to the Dilena Takeyama Centre and SFSU Alumni Association for helping make this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity possible for me. I am certain the experiences I have had thus far, and those in my future, are sure to be unforgettable.

Most Sincerely,

Danielle Royston