In 1995, Japan was the number one choice of students wanting to study abroad. Today, it is the eighth most popular destination for international students.
Deputy Consul General and Director of the Japan Information Center, Kenju Murakami of the Consulate General of Japan in New York,is looking to change that, and is eager not only for more students to come to Japan, but for Japanese students to experience studying abroad in other countries, too.
“When you see Japanese students, please encourage them,” he said on a visit to Northampton Community College (NCC) on November 22. “Many students struggle a lot the first few months, learning English at the same time they are adjusting. That was the case for me.”
After receiving his bachelor of law degree at the University of Tokyo, Murakami came to the United States to study law and political science at the University of Michigan. His career has spanned working for the government of Japan and the United Nations in various roles. Today, in his position as Director of the Japan Information Center at the Consulate,, his goal is to bring awareness to Japanese college student exchange programs as well as helping increase the public’s understanding of Japanese culture.
One of the reasons NCC was selected for a visit is because of the college’s initiatives related to Japanese arts and culture, hosting high-profile Japanese artists, dancers, and choreographers to work with and teach students, faculty, and staff. In addition, NCC established a study abroad program for communication design majors to study in Japan. It was held in 2018 and 2019, with hopes to resume soon.
“I was thrilled to hear that Deputy Consul Murakami would be visiting the Lehigh Valley and I wanted to be sure he had an opportunity to visit our campus, meet our president, and talk with Northampton students,” said Nathan Carpenter, NCC director of global education and international services. “I am so very proud of the work that NCC faculty and students have undertaken to support Japanese cultural and academic exchange over the years. That students can come to Northampton and study abroad in Japan, learn with world-renowned Japanese artists such as Hana Takehiro, Tomoka Asada, and Shuho Kondo on our own campuses, and to host a Japanese diplomat right here in Bethlehem is heartwarming. We are truly a globally engaged campus right here in the Lehigh Valley.”
“This visit was a culmination of a myriad of individuals and institutions in the Lehigh Valley representing the breadth and depth of art culture including Northampton Community College, Allentown Art Museum, Lafayette College, Lehigh University, and their art galleries. In a time when traveling abroad is a challenge, connecting with people from different countries can create a sense of worldliness. This is localized diplomacy,” said Sankary. “As a Japanese American in the Lehigh Valley, I am thankful to be part of a community that celebrates cross-cultural exchange with my heritage country. This visit was inspired by the Japanese expression, “geijutsu no aki” (芸術の秋) meaning ‘Autumn is for the Arts,’ the time of year where creatives are inspired by art in nature and patrons enjoy institutions displaying art as a window to other lands.”
NCC hosted a luncheon at the college’s Hampton Winds restaurant with students from NCC’s Global Studies program, students from Japan, alumni, faculty, staff and representatives from Lehigh and Lafayette. Attendees listened to a presentation from Murakami about contemporary Japanese culture and society, and asked questions about his career, Japanese responses to global challenges, and study abroad opportunities for US students. The menu, presented by Chef Francine Marz and NCC culinary students, consisted of locally inspired dishes that represented the themes of thanksgiving and Pennsylvania hospitality. After lunch Tom Shillea, NCC’s director of art programs, gave a tour of the Communications Hall Gallery exhibit of beloved NCC artist Walter Heath.
“I am happy to be able to come back to Lehigh Valley after COVID-19 had prevented in-person gatherings. I really enjoyed the discussion with the students and faculty of NCC and was impressed by the awareness and interest of students in foreign affairs,” Murakami said. “The partnership between Japan and the United States, key allies in the Indo-Pacific region, bound by the shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, is more important than ever. This alliance is made possible only by the trust built between the Japanese and American people, in people-to-people exchanges, especially at the grassroots and local levels. I commend the efforts of NCC to promote its students’ understanding of world affairs by providing opportunities like today’s event. The Japanese Consulate would like to further promote exchanges between Japan and educational institutions in Pennsylvania.”