Program Spotlight: CHSS in Japan

By Mark Levand

In May, 2015, Widener’s School of Human Service Professions embarked on a trip to Japan with more than 40 people. Ultimately led by Dr. Sachi Ando, a professor from Widener’s Center for Social Work Education, the Widener group participated in many different culturally informative endeavors. While three different centers were on the trip (Human Sexuality, Social Work, and Clinical Psychology) with their own respective faculty, this is a brief synopsis of what the CHSS representatives did while in Japan.

We began our trip in Tokyo. Faculty member Dr. Sabitha Pillai-Friedman and students Jessie Andre, Kayleigh Shepard, Sarah D’Andrea, and myself represented the Center for Human Sexuality Studies on this trip. After adjusting to the time difference, we were ready to get into the academic aspect of the trip–giving presentations at two different universities.

The members of the International Christian University (ICU) were gracious with their time and resources, informing us about the state of gender and sexual identity support that they offer to their student body. CHSS students were asked to give presentations on how sexuality research is conducted at Widener as well as the research into breast cancer patients and sexual self-schema led by Dr. Pillai-Friedman. After our presentations, ICU doctoral students presented some of their research to us followed by presentations given by the undergraduate students. A lively question and answer session ensued following the inspiring presentations.

Members of the University of Tokyo (UT) were equally as generous with their time and resources. After exchanging presentations with the faculty and students of UT, we embarked on a carefully planned evening of exploration into the practical application of sexual and gender identity support on the streets of Tokyo. We were given a tour of various organizations in Tokyo that act as informational resources around sexuality.

We also attended a fantastic Gender Forum at Rikkyo University where we learned about the state of gender equality (and inequality) in Japan. Afterwards, we met with a government official to hear about what was being done to address the rights and concerns of LGBT identified people. We were even fortunate enough to meet with a psychosexual therapist over lunch who informed us of the Japanese phenomenon of love hotels.

Various famous sights were visited during our stay as well—the Shibuya crossing, Harajuku, Shinjuku, Tokyo tower, and the like.

We then got a chance to travel on the bullet train to Osaka. During our time in Osaka, we visited places like Nara, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. Nara and Kyoto are known for some of the most beautiful temples and shrines in the world. We also visited Doshisha University and heard from another prominent sexual scholar about his research in Japan.

In Hiroshima, the entire Widener group was given the opportunity to walk through the various memorials and museums constructed after the detonation of the A-Bomb during WWII. We all listened to a moving story of one woman’s experience of nuclear warfare and the devastation the bomb brought on people and the environment. We were then able to attend an assisted living facility specifically for survivors of the Atomic Bomb. Here we heard more stories of the heartbreak and havoc brought on by the nuclear disaster.

Amidst all of this business, scholarship, sightseeing, and leisure time, we were often reminded of the importance of code switching. In many fields, code switching is the concept of how to appropriate the specialized language and content about your field for a general audience. Computer technicians may experience this when they put technical jargon into words that the average person may understand and find useful. In sexuality, we may speak about content differently in various settings: in class, with peers or colleagues, with our families, with different groups to which we may present, or clients we may have in therapy. As human sexuality professionals, we must often navigate a complex landscape for code switching at the intersection of sensitivity around sexual issues, cultural nuances and expectations, lived physical realities (gender, race, etc.), and power dynamics around sexual information. This trip allowed us to practice code switching within our group from Widener (with social work and clinical psychology representatives) as well as cross-cultural code switching–code switching for an audience with culturally (U.S.) American ideologies around sexuality to those with Japanese ideologies.

Overall, this course has been an incredible experience offering a complex view of sexuality across different cultures. The ways in which different cultures deal with sexuality are truly amazing and quite unique. We were given information that would have been difficult or impossible to acquire while on a similar trip with a different group. Sexuality is not a specific U.S. experience. Other countries and cultures have addressed issues around sexuality in different ways. It appears that there still remains many things the U.S. culture can learn from others.