My Sabbatical Project (in Japan)

35 Days in Japan by rail, plane, car, and most importantly feet.


I earned my MFA in Graphic Design in 1999. During my thesis research, I found Lucy Lippard's book "The Lure of the Local" and began a journey grounded in Identity with Place which came from her writings and my musings of my past.


Sabbaticals are intended to provide opportunity for intensive research in one's discipline after achieving the goal of tenure which is a very enduring and trying time for people in the amount of work and reviews it takes to prove your worth for an institution. My sabbatical goals likely emerged during graduate school as I rekindled my memories of living in Japan as a child. From an infatuation with design artifacts in my pencil and eraser collection to my awareness of the Japanese culture near and far, I had the desire to visit the country as an adult at some point. It was even discussed with family friends on a rare holiday gathering more than a decade ago if we could make a reunion and take all of us back to that place.


While that extended family trip never manifested, my relationship with Japan evolved as I continued more formal studies in the realm of professional development during my tenure-track position that began in 2007 which ultimately led to offering a study abroad course. That course offering meant I actually qualified for a grant for a site visit to plan during a summer study offered by colleagues. That was my first time on the Japanese soil. For my sabbatical, I wanted to conduct similar investigation that I ask of my students with Identity with Place projects and wanted to document my own relationship as a stranger, visitor, and on a limited basis as a tourist.


My Sabbatical Abstract Statement

In this age of information breaking all geographic boundaries and creating a migratory

culture, American society still adheres to certain aspects of social and cultural identity. Lucy Lippard in "Lure of the Local : senses of place in a multi-centered society" critically examines creative work, such as public art or artist books, that exemplifies our attachment and identity with place in 7 levels – stranger, visitor, tourist, from away, local, native, and indigenous. This has long been the foundation for my interest in visual narrative and digital storytelling that began during graduate studies and endures. As a graphic designer and a life-long learner, I am an adventurer, an explorer, a traveler, an observer, a researcher, and a storyteller. The project I propose – “Designer as Author: Japan” – falls within the trajectory of creative scholarly pursuits including, but not limited to, the work I created as a result of my participation in the Fulbright-Hayes Group Project Abroad in Egypt 2011. As an expression of my month long experience with that place, I designed a visual narrative, in book form, and corresponding exhibition of photographs. In similar fashion, the product goal for “Designer as Author: Japan” is a visual narrative responding to place incorporating all aspects of design from imagery, writing, and aesthetic composition – hence I will be the content creator and producer. Although I cannot predict the scale and scope of what the final project will be at this juncture, the design process will reflect the research, brainstorming and implementation of a concept developed during the cultural immersion.

AGENDA: FEB 26 – APR 2 2015 exploring various sights on the islands of HONSHU, HOKKAIDO, OKINAWA, & KYUSHU. 1,2 Tokyo

3 Nikko

4, 5 Sendai

6 Morioka

7 Aomori

8 Hakodate

9,10,11 Sapporo

12 transport to Niigata via Akita

13,14 Niigata transport to Okinawa by plane

15 - 21 Okinawa exploration, return transport to Osaka by plane

22,23 Fukuoka

24,25 Beppu

26 Kumamoto

27 Nagasaki

28,29 Hiroshima

30 Kurashiki

31 Himeji

32 Kobe

33,34,35 Osaka

36 Depart Osaka to Narita to Honolulu


One thing to note is the time that has passed since this immersion travel as I realize it's been 6 years. At the time of my sabbatical start date, I was embroiled as the primary target in a hostile work environment. An external reviewer had finally been contracted to conduct an outside review required of all programs every 4 years while my colleague had been able to obstruct ours for 10-12 years. The report came back while I was on this trip and basically it outlined in several pages how he had never seen anything like the situation and recommended "massive overhaul or to shut the program down."


I know that I was really tired on this trip possibly from years of dealing with all of that for so many years. As you can see by the itinerary, I was not in one place more than a few days. In some way perhaps, the process of packing my backpack for each new destination and walking miles a day were the first step in a healing process. I learned on this trip what it's like to sleep most of the night to be rested for the next day's adventure. Upon return, I had a few months before being required to return to the workplace. I was able to try an authorship aspect of this project by transferring my tumblr blog into a small book, but I was unable to do much more than that. I ended up leaving that career as a professor in 2018 and embarked on a new unpaved path. During the pandemic as the anniversary of this trip neared, I all of a sudden realized it's been 6 long years. I decided to make this anniversary worthwhile by revisiting the material every day and will be posting as a blog more formally, but also as a memory exercise.

Travel tip: Pack light! Take enough clothes for a few days and do laundry. My challenge was the length of the trip and the various seasons from winter to tropical. I ended up buying a few too many objects on the trip that I had to purchase a small rolling cart mid-trip. However, I highly recommend a backpack for hands-free if traveling a lot on the trains.


If you are thinking about planning your own trip to Japan, here's my information video on how to use the JR Pass. The pass must be purchased prior to arriving in the country. It truly is an amazing way to explore the country and get out of the typical tourist destination of the larger cities.

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