In May 2019, seventeen students and five faculty went to Japan to learn about environmental issues and visit cultural sites, like the Imperial Palace (photo above). Students were placed in Labs led by faculty leaders. Malea Martin (fifth from the left) participated in the Soundscapes Lab led by professor Warren Liu (English, SCR). Here she shares her favorite activity that took place on May 23.

May 23, 2019
By Malea Martin (literature and government, CMC ’19)

My favorite activity of the day was when my Lab group, Soundscapes, visited Nara. We went to Nara Park, as well as the Todaiji temple. I liked this excursion because we captured some great soundscapes, and encountered sounds we were not expecting. One of these sounds was the sound of walking on gravel. As Professor Liu pointed out, it’s very common in Japan for temples to be surrounded by gravel. Thus, the sound of feet walking on gravel might evoke the temple soundscape to many listeners. Yet, this detail is not what I immediately think of when I think of a temple. Capturing these sounds and paying close attention to what sounds are particular to Japan allowed us to experience the temple in a different way.

Another sound we captured that was perhaps also unexpected was the sound of schoolchildren. We were surprised to see so many small kids visited the temple, but the chatter amongst them was immediately something that caught our ears and encouraged us to pull out our recorders. On the one hand, the bustle of the children sounded so familiar, and reminded me of a universal sound of little kids at play. On the other hand, if one listens closely, one can tell the kids are speaking Japanese, thus the soundscape is in fact very particular to Japan. This observation again allowed us to experience Japan in a different way.