I awoke at three in the morning today. I presume because of jet lag, however, the first day in Ashikaga was nonstop hiking and at the end of the day I crashed from exhaustion around 8 o’clock at night. The day prior was spent touring the city of Ashikaga. The tour consisted of visiting Ashikaga University, the world-renowned Ashikaga Flower Park, a 19th century shrine atop a large hill that overlooks the city, & the oldest university in Japan.
Ashikaga Gakko, the oldest university in Japan, is a national historic site for Japanese heritage. The exact date this university was erected was lost in translation when I asked one of our guides, but the tour pamphlet mentioned Ashikaga having been a central hub for learning as far back as 1487. The only learning performed in Ashikaga Gakko today, however, is done through guided tours – not via tuition. The architecture and landscaping of Ashikaga Gakko was immediately impressive. The building’s woodwork was intricately crafted. I noticed that the gables, beams, and anything wooden were held together by impressive mortis and tenon. Rather than using nails or screws to fasten the wood together, special angular cuts and notches were used to create tight joints that held all building materials together. Looking at Ashikaga Gakko through an environmental construction lens, the university’s roof was quite a resourceful piece of construction. The roof was made from reeds found along local water sources. These slick plants provide a perfect, yet antiquated water-proof roof design. Bundles of reeds were used to thatch the roof, and the thatching’s thickness had to have been around 3 feet in thickness. The fast growth and abundance of reeds provide an excellent, sustainable resource for thatching… however, all this dry plant-based material suffers from one grave problem – its propensity to catch on fire! And that is exactly what happened a couple hundred years ago. Today, the historic university has been restored and carefully maintained as an important heritage site for the Japanese people – it has been the most insightful part of my international studies so far.
While touring these destinations, I felt a great sense of collective care and passion by the Japanese people. Ashikaga is a beautifully maintained city and extremely clean. It appears that many people living here in Ashikaga are respectful not just to each other, but also towards the environment. I cannot list the exact amount of city gardens I witnessed yesterday, but it is an impressive amount. The amount of greenery and landscaping is also impressive. While many homes do not have yards like we do in the United States, the green spaces residential people do have are full of beautifully potted plants and flowers.
Overall, yesterday was an amazingly terrific experience. My first day in Japan was excellently guided by the international department of Ashikaga University. The deputy of international studies at Ashikaga University, Mister Sasaki, really made me feel welcomed. He introduced me to some Chinese students also touring the city and gave me an opportunity to practice my Chinese speaking skills. I am so thankful to be given such an opportunity and I cannot wait for the experiences to come these next following weeks.