Tag Archives: American Field Service

The Lincoln Experience in Japan

By: Edward J. Lincoln

In the 1960s, Japan was a distant and rather unknown place for people of my “baby-boom” generation—the war and occupation were over and the onslaught of Japanese brand-name consumer products had hardly begun.  Air travel was also expensive; the only trip I made out of the country before Japan was a brief summer vacation foray with my family to Quebec.  My interest in Japan began in September 1966 when a very cute Japanese girl showed up at the beginning of my senior year in high school as our American Field Service exchange student.  We went to the senior prom the following spring and dated a few times more before the school year ended and she had to return home.  I spent the next four years in college desperately trying to figure out how I could get to Japan to reconnect—and this was long before either the JET program or other English language teaching opportunities.  Luckily my school, Amherst College, had a longstanding relationship with Doshisha University (since its founder, Joseph Hardy Nijima, was an 1870 graduate of Amherst, the first Japanese to obtain a B.A. in the United States) and sent a just-graduated senior to Doshisha each year to teach English.  I managed to obtain that fellowship, and off to Japan I went in the late summer of 1971.

Amherst House

Having never been outside continental North America, Japan was truly an eye-opening experience for me.  My fingers cramped up the first week from using chop sticks at every meal; my legs cramped up from sitting on the floor; the lack of flush toilets assaulted my olfactory senses, and the crowding on trains (far worse than today) crushed my suburban New Jersey sense of personal space.  But I happily spent the year  at Doshisha in Kyoto with only light teaching duties (one undergraduate and one high school class).  I lived in Amherst House, a theme dormitory (an Amherst-financed 1930s imitation of Amherst fraternity houses) for students with an interest in the United States.  I gave these students a weekly seminary on whatever I wanted concerning America, but mainly just hung out with them.  The friendships I formed that year with the Amherst House boys at Doshisha remain with me today.  A full year in Kyoto gave me ample time to explore temples, Imperial villas, and other sights at a leisurely pace.  My favorite remains Sanzen-in (in Ohara just north of the city).  Nothing compares to sipping tea on its veranda while contemplating the flowering garden in spring rain.

Wedding picture

And what of my high school romance?  We reconnected as soon as I arrived in Japan and were married the following spring.  Her parents had not objected, although my father -in-law vainly suggested that we wait until I had completed graduate school.  In those days, though, we certainly did get occasional unfriendly stares on the street.  Up until this time, I had given no thought to Japan as part of my career, but getting married caused me to explore the possibility of combining my undergraduate major of economics with Japan.  Luckily Yale University was a place where I could do so, and afterwards was able to find a job in Washington at a Japanese-financed research institute (well before either the U.S. government or American think-tank world had much interest in Japan).  We have now been married 42 years, and I am coming toward the close of a satisfying career of writing and teaching about the Japanese economy and bilateral economic relations.