July 10, 2017
Among the multiple study abroad opportunities at AIMC Berkeley, the Japan trip that took place mid-April 2017 appeared to have exceeded student expectations. Aside from depth of practice in traditional Japanese technique, the trip was defined by a satisfying immersion into Japanese culture provided by the instructors and the community of Shikoku Medical College.
On the very first day, prior to beginning the five-day intensive course, an assembly of the president, faculty, and students of the college warmly welcomed our AIMC visiting class. In his welcoming statement, the president informed us we had missed the blooming of cherry blossom trees, but as we quickly learned, this would not detract from our experience of the beautiful harmony and subtlety that characterizes Japanese culture.
In the same day, the school arranged for us to experience the art of ikebana, during which we learned how to arrange fresh flowers to evoke a sense of balance and capture the growth of spring. Afterwards, we were led through a tea ceremony by nursing students at the school. Sitting in a semi-circle, we clumsily followed their example on how to drink matcha green tea, sharing laughter and cheer in the challenge of learning through a language barrier. Our ensuing attempts to speak and get to know each other created an atmosphere of excitement, which we were pleased to learn was captured and published in the local newspaper.
The rest of our program continued to be punctuated by opportunities to engage with local culture, especially through delicious meals and stories, but our time spent in class was equally intriguing. Maki, our translator, and Koki Kawanami, the AIMC instructor who traveled with us, facilitated us in learning from our Japanese-speaking instructors. Yoko Sensei, one of our beloved teachers, exuded a pleasant calmness while teaching us needling technique. She and all of the teachers encouraged us to learn by providing feedback during practice sessions and enthusiastically sharing their insights.
For those who appreciate a dynamic learning environment, the program was unique in its emphasis on hands-on learning. We were given thorough guidance and demonstration of Japanese needling technique, palpation, moxibustion, and facial acupuncture. Ample time and attention was allotted to practice after each demonstration. One student described, “We learned some techniques of how to condition your hands to prepare for palpation. It would really benefit me as a practitioner to be able to master palpation and technique to truly change tissue of acupuncture points.”
In particular, gentle needling and a focus on palpation are two hallmarks of Japanese technique, which distinguish it as its own school of thought in acupuncture. Those who prefer Japanese needling are familiar with the graceful and delicate tapping of needles into areas that have been previously assessed through touch and massage. This creates greater ease and relaxation throughout the course of an acupuncture treatment. Considering that AIMC Berkeley provides Japanese acupuncture training as part of its curriculum, this trip was a wonderful way to practice and more deeply embed what students would otherwise be exposed to in a very small portion of the curriculum.
The students’ enthusiasm and appreciation for this study abroad experience is evident in their reflections upon returning to AIMC Berkeley. Capturing the overtones of the group, one student expresses, “This trip is so important! We can understand Japanese techniques at a much deeper level and also appreciate more and more the Japanese influence we have at our school. All the professors are top-notch. This was a wonderful experience and I am very grateful to have participated.”