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The Citizen

Japan Trek

japanBy Roberto Simon, MPP ’16

What did I enjoy the most in our Japan Trek: Meeting Prime-Minister Shinzo Abe? Speaking with the Mayor of one of the cities evacuated after the Fukushima nuclear accident? Listening to a top diplomat speak off the record about Japanese-Chinese relations? Getting lost in Tokyo’s fish market before having the best sushi in my life? What a tough question.

HKS students are privileged to have this unique opportunity to dive into Japanese society, politics, economics, and international relations (not to mention culinary culture, karaoke, and robot bars).

What makes the HKS Japan Trek so successful is a combination of two factors. First, the Kennedy School has enormous prestige in Japan – 4 of the 18 members of Abe’s cabinet are HKS alumni. As a result, we found all doors open and had access to people that few visiting Japan have. Second, our Japanese colleagues were extremely dedicated, organized, and willing to show us the most interesting parts of their country from a public policy perspective. They were able to put together a schedule exploring the many facets of modern Japan, satisfying a very diverse group of 40 trekkers from all around the world.

We kicked off our trip in Tokyo, traveling to Fukushima’s snowy mountains, and then to Kyoto, the ancient capital. Japan was a big surprise to me. I come from Sao Paulo, Brazil – the city with the biggest Japanese community outside Japan – but I discovered a country very different from the one I had imagined. Japanese people are facing tremendous challenges, such as an aging society, a stagnated economy, and a lack of energy alternatives after the Fukushima-Daiichi tragedy. However, I was amazed with the huge sense of resilience I encountered – a lesson in itself for anyone interested in public policy.