NILS Fukuoka Times

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What’s Happening Now in Fukuoka & Japan February 2024


University of Tokyo to launch new 5-year program with 50% foreign students – Tokyo Prefecture

The University of Tokyo plans to launch a new five-year combined Bachelor’s and Master’s degree program in fall 2027, with half of the roughly 100-student capacity to comprise foreign students, a university source said. The interdisciplinary college of design program, a combination of a four-year Bachelor’s degree and one-year Master’s, aims to nurture talent to lead efforts to resolve global issues such as climate change, the source said.

While enrolled in the envisioned program, students can also select courses already offered at undergraduate and graduate levels at the university according to their interests across fields such as literature and medicine, the source said. Classes on the top Japanese university’s new program will also be open to students enrolled at other faculties within the university, it said.

Within the five years, students will be required to gain experience from programs outside the university for one year, such as by taking part in company internships or studying abroad, it said. Enrollment to the program will begin in the fall, with classes to be taught in English, it said, adding that admissions are to be carried out in a different format from the traditional examination process in an effort to accept people from diverse backgrounds.

The envisioned program comes as the university aims to raise the ratio of foreign students to 30 percent or more at undergraduate level and 40 percent or more at graduate level by 2049, up from 4.6 percent and 33 percent, respectively, as of November 2023. The institution aims to invite researchers from foreign universities and private companies to teach the program’s courses, using profits generated from investments by the university’s own fund, the source said. The university is set to announce the launch of the new program by March 2025 after deciding on the details of the entrance examinations and credits required for graduation will be approved, the source said.

Japan’s ‘naked men’ festival succumbs to ageing populationIwate Prefecture

A steam of sweat rose as hundreds of naked men tussled over a bag of wooden talismans, performing a dramatic end to a thousand-year-old ritual in Japan that took place for the last time. Their passionate chants of jasso, joyasa (meaning “evil, be gone”) echoed through a cedar forest in Iwate Prefecture, where the secluded Kokuseki Temple has decided to end the popular annual rite. Organising the event, which draws hundreds of participants and thousands of tourists every year, has become a heavy burden for the ageing local faithful, who find it hard to keep up with the rigours of the ritual.

The Sominsai festival, regarded as one of the strangest festivals in Japan, is the latest tradition impacted by the country’s ageing population crisis that has hit rural communities hard. Japan’s society has aged more rapidly than most other countries’. The trend has forced countless schools, shops and services to close, particularly in small or rural communities.

Kokuseki Temple’s Sominsai festival used to take place from the seventh day of Lunar New Year through to the following morning. But during the COVID pandemic, it was scaled down to prayer ceremonies and smaller rituals. The final festival was a shortened version, ending around 11:00 pm, but it drew the biggest crowd in recent memory, local residents said.

As the sun set, men in white loincloths came to the mountainous temple, bathed in a creek and marched around temple’s ground. They clenched their fists against the chill of a winter breeze, all the while chanting jasso joyasa. Some held small cameras to record their experience, while dozens of television crews followed the men through the temple’s stone steps and dirt pathways. As the festival reached its climax, hundreds of men packed inside the wooden temple shouting, chanting and aggressively jostling over a bag of talismans.

Toshiaki Kikuchi, a local resident who claimed the talismans and who helped organise the festival for years, said he hoped the ritual will return in the future. Many participants and visitors voiced both sadness and understanding about the festival’s ending. Other temples across Japan continue to host similar festivals where men wear loincloths and bathe in freezing water or fight over talismans. Some festivals are adjusting their rules in line with changing demographics and social norms so that they can continue to exist — such as letting women take part in previously male-only ceremonies. From next year, Kokuseki Temple will replace the festival with prayer ceremonies and other ways to continue its spiritual practices.


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