SAP in Japan–June 2018

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” Maya Angelou, American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist

West Valley College’s Study Abroad Program is a key part of teaching students to be engaged global citizens, to be adept at cultural competency, and to be better prepared for the professional and personal challenges of the 21st century. These aims are consistent with West Valley College’s mission statement: “WVC supports students along their pathways to reach transfer and career goals in an environment of academic excellence.” These aims also help to achieve at least three of the college’s 2020 Educational Master Plan Goals: to “create a vibrant and engaging campus community,” to “commit to developing and supporting values, practices and a campus community environment that supports equity and diversity,” and to brand the college as “a distinctive institution.”


TOKYO STOCK EXCHANGE WELCOMES WEST VALLEY COLLEGE STUDENTS Karina Dundurs and her 13 students: Jordan Tyler Leffler, Jared Christopher Avila, Elias Joseph Paris, Nada Ghassan El Zeini, Nathan Derek Shehadeh, Cherwin Nicole Ancheta Baldoria, Jennifer Ann De Franck, Speranta Mihaela Georgiou, Brandon Valle Mejia, Lily Ann Morey, Dana Tien Do Tran, Brandon alan Weekley, Andrew Elbert Wells, Brittany Dundurs

Thirteen students and their Faculty Leader, Karina Dundurs (a faculty member in Business Administration in West Valley College’s Fang Pei Che School of Professional Studies), departed SFO on 3 June. They were the first WVC Study Abroad Program study tour to leave this summer. During their ten days together they immersed themselves in Japanese culture and business practices, and they completed the embedded course, Business 61 Business, Government, and Society, taught by Ms. Dundurs.

Shrine Ritual

Students had the opportunity to participate in a traditional ritual at a shrine.

The embedded Business 61 Business, Government, and Society class focuses on examining how business affects society and vice versa, and how the two are interdependent. Students consider business ethics, government regulation, global impacts, and societal challenges and benefits. This particular section of the class emphasized the study of Japanese culture and business practices.


Karina Dundurs (fifth from the right) and her students.

The group arrived in Tokyo, met the Field Director for EF College Study Tours, and proceeded to enjoy a guided tour of the city including several important places: the Imperial Palace Plaza, which is the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan and a natural oasis in the middle of the city, the Harajuku shopping district and it’s broad tree-lined avenue reminiscent of Paris’ Champs Élysées, Shibuya district which is one of the main fashion centers in the country, Shinjuku district which is the main commercial and administrative center, the Meiji Shinto Shrine dedicated in 1920 (a very young shrine compared with other shrines in Japan), and the colorful Asakusa Cannon Buddhist Temple dating back to the 7th century, Tokyo’s oldest temple.

The next day, the group was greeted warmly and led on a tour of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the world’s second largest stock exchange. They also attended a business-themed lecture.

Tokyo StockXxhg

Tokyo Stock Exchange

After traveling on the bullet train to Nagoya (the third-largest incorporated city in the Chūbu region of Japan), they toured the city with a local guide, visited the 17th-century Nagoya Castle and enjoyed dinner.

In historic Kyoto, the former Imperial capital of Japan for more than a thousand years, students visited Nijo Castle (the former residence of the shogun and a UNESCO world Heritage site), Kiyomizu-Dera Buddhist Temple (completed in the year 778), the Rokuon-ji, which is also known as the Temple of the Gold Pavilion (a Zen Buddhist temple that is designated as a National Special Historic Site and a National Special Landscape), and the Fushimi Sake District where students learned about the nearly 40 breweries and about the sake production process. The first sake brewery in this expanding industry, the leading brewer, Gekkeikan, was founded in 1637. They also visited the Nishijin Textile Center to learn about textile production and the 1,000-year old history of manufacturing kimonos.

At Kabuki

The group waiting for the Kabuki Theater performance at Minamiza Theater.

Kabuki Theatre

Before the performance at Minamiza Theater.

The group attended a Kabuki Theater performance (Japan’s classical combination of singing, dancing, and acting/drama) in Kyoto’s Minamiza Theater, one of the earliest of the seven officially licensed Kabuki theaters built in the Edo period (in 1610).

Sake Wall

Sake wall

In Nara, one of Japan’s ancient capitals, the group visited the Todji Temple and the Daibutsu (the world’s largest bronze Buddha). They walked through the wooded Nara Park (known as Deer Park), and Kasuga Shrine, one of the country’s most famous Shinto shrines where twice a year 3,000 lanterns are lit for the Lantern Festival.


A beautiful photo of Mount Fuji by National Geographic Traveler award-winning photographer Takashi Nakagawa.

After touring Osaka, the commercial and industrial center of western Japan, everyone went to the spectacular Umeda Sky Building (and it’s rooftop Floating Garden Observatory and underground market simulating the style of early 20th century), and then visited a local company to learn about business practices in the area.



Back in Tokyo, the agenda included a tour of Akihabara, a major shopping center for household electronic goods. Students were thrilled to learn about the famous shopping district for video games, anime, manga, and computer goods. And they visited Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan and an icon of Japanese culture.


Kyoto (Photo by Elias Faris)

Students Reflect

“Experience of a Lifetime!” by Elias FarisThis summer I was awarded a Study Abroad Program scholarship to join a study tour to Japan where I experienced the business government and society of the Japanese. I have always dreamed of going to Japan, since I am a cook and the Japanese have perfected the culinary arts.

The Study Abroad Program at West Valley College in partnership with EF tours led us through four Japanese cities in this order: Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka. Of the four, my favorite city was Kyoto. The city of Kyoto is amazingly beautiful and has an abundance of trees, temples, shrines, and magnificent food. Kyoto’s atmosphere was unlike any place I have ever been to before. It was calm but lively, elegant yet humble, and most important of all, had the best food in all of Japan. At least that is my opinion.

While only in Kyoto for a few days, each minute was action packed while still leaving our group enough time to relax and enjoy our surroundings. I can confidently say that I enjoyed every aspect of this city from the environment to the wonderfully kind and welcoming people. Kyoto is very unique compared to the other cities in Japan in the sense that it is a city of locals, even though there are many tourists and tourist attractions.


In Kyoto (Photo by Elias Faris)

In order to eat at a high-end restaurant in Kyoto, you must be fluent in Japanese or have a local person call and set up a reservation for you. Our tour guide explained that this is to ensure that the customer is aware of the cancellation fees and of the proper attire that is required to eat there. I also learned that Kyoto locals politely serve other locals first and tourists second, which did not bother me one bit since I respect businesses that value regular customers. Luckily, with the help of our tour guide, my classmates and I reserved a table for five at Ganko in Kyoto station. Of all the restaurants I have ever eaten at, Ganko came in number 1 for the best sushi and beef, and number 3 in overall experience.

The sushi glistened while resting on the bed of spiralized turnip and Japanese herbs. The texture of the fresh shrimp, salmon, amber jack, and tuna was unlike any sushi I have tasted before. The beautifully marbled beef was cut into thick square tiles accompanied with butter and salt as well as a hot plate heated for you to sear the meat to your preference. With a light sear, the texture of the wagyu was soft but firm as the fat melted in your mouth. The beef was so high quality that I am sure even the most ignorant person could taste the pasture the cow grazed on–and the difference from American-raised beef.

Needless to say, my dining experience in Kyoto was my favorite aspect of the trip, mainly because I know I will not be able to eat food of that quality in America unless I pay hundreds of dollars.

This trip to Japan with my classmates at West Valley College has been the greatest experience of my life. Japan has shown me a completely different culture not seen in America. Japan, in my eyes, has the kindest people, the most peaceful atmosphere, and the greatest food in the world. Thank you to West Valley College and all the wonderful administrators and staff that supported me in achieving this scholarship abroad and making this trip happen.


Elias Faris

“Business in Japan” by Nathan Shehadeh: The main reason I wanted to experience this trip is that I had already seen a part of Europe, and I wanted to compare it with the Far East. Therefore, Japan was a perfect option to observe the difference in culture, and to juxtapose Japan with the United States and France. Before traveling over 5,000 miles to a country I’ve never been to, I can safely say I was beyond excited and quite nervous. Be that as it may, my expectations were met and my suspicions were true. Not only is the Japanese architecture and landscape gorgeous, they are impeccably clean and more respectful than most cultures by far.

Once Elias and I landed in Haneda International Airport and traveled to the Day Nice Hotel in Tokyo, we were slammed with the difference in culture immediately. One of my most memorable moments will be when I walked alone down that cute little street with quaint shops and visited a shrine, the Tomioka-hachimangu shrine. Everything was quite clean and the people were quiet and attentive.

If you stroll down San Francisco, it would be different in every way possible. In Japan, the people treat customers and guests with a bow, a common custom that is completely foreign in the United States. Most people I encountered knew a few words in English and were able to communicate with little difficulty.

As we know, the United States is becoming quite diverse, especially in the Bay Area. I feel like we can substantially improve our education system to really teach students a second language, not just in high school, but at a young age. It is unfortunate that I have encountered many times when I couldn’t communicate with a customer at work due to a language barrier. It’s a challenge Americans must face and adapt to, as the Japanese have.

Undoubtedly, my favorite location we visited was the Matsubara Dori shopping street which led to Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto. Each business location we visited, including the Toyota plant, Tokyo Stock Exchange, Kirin Beer, and the Asahi Newspaper in Osaka, held to a high standard of how they must present their business to the public, and especially foreigners like us.

My other favorite locations include the Diver City Mall in Tokyo, Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine (more famously known as the “thousand gate shrine”), and the ride on the bullet train. I am glad we were able to travel in the bullet train, because this let us see the Japanese landscape as well as Mount Fuji in the distance. The bus ride from Nagoya to Kyoto was also quite picturesque.

To be honest, the cities we visited were stunning, yet the countryside of Japan is the true beauty of that island, and whatever location we visited that highlighted the landscape, like Nara park and Fushimi Inari, that is where I enjoyed my time.


Nathan Derek Shehadeh looks back while in Asakusa.



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