Princeton, University of Tokyo students explore ‘Environment and Sustainability’ in spring break mini exchange

June 6, 2023

Over spring break, students from Princeton University and the University of Tokyo participated in a mini cultural exchange program — with events in New York City, at Rutgers University and on the Princeton campus — and looked ahead to longer, more meaningful student travel and immersion in the future. 

University of Tokyo faculty Yujin Yaguchi (Graduate School of Arts and Sciences), Jin Sato (Institute of Advanced Studies on Asia), and Sho Shimoyamada (Graduate School of Arts and Sciences), and Jim Raymo, the Henry Wendt III '55 Professor of East Asian Studies and professor of sociology at Princeton, spearheaded the weeklong series of programming, held from March 12 to 19. Nine students participated in all: three Princeton undergraduates; one Princeton graduate student; and five University of Tokyo students. “Our goal was to lay the foundation for annual short-term exchanges that allow students to from the University of Tokyo and Princeton to interact and engage around pressing issues of broad interest,” Raymo said.

Syukuro (Suki) Manabe, senior meteorologist in atmospheric and oceanic sciences at Princeton and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in physics, set the tone for the week in his opening remarks on March 13. He met with students in University of Tokyo’s midtown Manhattan offices and shared his experiences as a University of Tokyo alum and a Princeton professor. Manabe spoke about weather forecasting and climate change — his revolutionary idea of using numerical modeling to predict how the Earth’s surface temperatures are influenced by atmospheric conditions is foundational to all modern climate research — and offered advice. He emphasized the importance of studying abroad and exposing oneself to different ways of thinking and urged students to follow their passions.

The week’s theme was “Environment and Sustainability.” Each day began time for students to reflect, in Japanese, on the preceding day’s events. Following, faculty from the University of Tokyo, Princeton and New York University led lecture-discussions on a variety of interrelated topics, such as justice and climate action and nuclear power. In the afternoons, students were free to explore New York City on their own or participate in two organized activities — a guided tour of the United Nations and a presentation by Sayuri Ichikawa from the Permanent Mission of Japan. She contextualized the students’ visit to the UN, spoke about the academic and professional pathway to her current role, and answered questions about her time as a university student.

The students spent the day at Rutgers University on March 17. They toured campus, had lunch and were treated to a lecture by Haruko Wakabayashi *95, associate teaching professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, who shared the history of a small group of Japanese students who came to study at Rutgers in the late 19th century and of their contribution to Japan’s modernization. Participants also viewed related artifacts and documents in Rutgers’ special collections and university archives.

On the Princeton campus, the Princeton students offered the University of Tokyo students a glimpse of university life in America, including a dorm party and a dining hall lunch. On March 18, Raymo, who is also the director of the Princeton-University of Tokyo strategic partnership and director of the Global Japan Lab, gave a lecture on population and sustainability.

The week ended with a farewell luncheon, where students were asked to reflect on their impressions and to provide feedback on the program. “This program was the perfect combination of cross cultural exchange paired with a global focus on the goal of sustainability,” said Sabien Taylor ’24. “My engagement with this program won't end here and I'm sure other participants will say the same. I plan to preserve the relationships made with the UTokyo students and faculty during this program and there are talks of some of us meeting up again as soon as this summer in Japan.”

Organizers have committed to continuing and expanding this exchange initiative in the coming years. “This kind of program is important because it gives students a great chance to be self-reflexive about their identity as they face unexpected differences and similarities with people who live in different parts of the world,” Yaguchi said. “The program requires students to think not only about the academic topics discussed but also how different social and cultural circumstances condition the way people perceive and understand such topics. It's a great way to think about the world while gaining new knowledge and making new friends.”