Essay by Dr. Vinai Norasakkunkit (Minnesota State University) "My Kokoro Research Center Experience: A Journey of Gratefulness"
Vinai Norasakkunkit, Associate Professor, Minnesota State University stayed in Kyoto as JSPS Research Fellow of this center 2009-2011. His essay “My Kokoro Research Center Experience: A Journey of Gratefulness” is written about his memories and impressions of his research activities in Kyoto.
My first exposure to the Kokoro Research Center was when I was invited by Dr. Yukiko Uchida, currently an associate professor at the Kokoro Research Center, to give a presentation on Japanese youth mental health in December of 2007. It was at this point that I learned about the interdisciplinary and unique vision of the Kokoro Research Center. What was so appealing to me about the mission of Kokoro Research Center was the idea of bringing together different disciplinary perspectives to conduct research on psychosocial problems with a view towards expanding research on mind and consciousness vis-à-vis what is currently happening in the real world.
(photo: lectured for high school students in JSPS’s Science Dialogue Program)
It was just around that December that I was beginning to feel the limits of the dominant modes of investigation in my own field of expertise, cultural psychology, in making sense of rapid changes that were happening in the world as a result of globalization. My colleague and collaborator at the Kokoro Research Center, Dr. Yukiko Uchida, as well as the director of the Kokoro Research Center, Dr. Yoshikawa, were very sympathetic to my pursuing a new line of inquiry in cultural psychology that involved investigating the psychological consequences of globalization on Japanese youth. Given the timely mission and vision of the Kokoro Research Center, I felt that the Kokoro Research Center was the perfect venue to pursue this line of research.
After the 2007 workshop, I immediately sought to apply for a summer fellowship through JSPS to spend my next summer at the Kokoro Resarch Center. I also received the research grants as a research affiliate at the Kokoro Research Center as well. As fortune would have it and with the support of the Kokoro Research Center fully behind me, I had the privilege of obtaining the fellowship which allowed me to spend the summer of 2008 at the Kokoro Research Center to conduct research with Dr. Uchida on the motivational processes of marginalized youth in Japan. Since our work turned out to be fruitful that summer, I was further given the opportunity to apply for a longer-term fellowship for the following year to continue our investigation. Again, with the full support of the Kokoro Research Center behind me, I was able to take a leave of absence from my university in Minnesota for two years to focus on research at the Kokoro Research Center from the September of 2009.
For the next two years, my time at the Kokoro Research Center can best be described as enriching, exciting, inspiring, humbling, educational, and extremely stimulating. It was not only that my research with Dr. Uchida gained the kind of momentum that led to multiple related studies, which led to multiple papers, lectures, and presentations, it was the sheer awe of being around and interacting with the great minds like Dr. Uchida, Dr. Yoshikawa, and all of the members of scholars that make up the Kokoro Research Center (and the integrity of character they all share), many of whom I am proud to say are my friends now.
(photo: riding bicycle along Kamo River near Kokoro Research center)
The support, warmth, and generosity I received from the people at the Kokoro Research Center are beyond anything I can express my gratitude for. I also loved how people were constantly discussing ideas and providing constructive feedback to one another. They were all top scholars in their field, so I should not have been surprised by how insightful they were, but nevertheless, it was always inspiring and impressive to watch everyone discussing ideas so passionately. The administrative staff members were also unbelievably hard-working and pleasant to deal with. It always felt like it was an environment that brought out the best in people and the best in academic scholarship.
Furthermore, the numerous conferences and invited lectures given by world class scholars and organized by the Kokoro Research Center were some of the highlights. It literally felt like all the scholars I have read about and admired would gather up at the Kokoro Resarch Center events and present their work. I even got to converse with them. This made being at the Kokoro Research Center feel like I was at the “center of action.” The level of excitement these moments would bring to me was indescribable.
In addition to the stimulating experiences I have described above, some of the “bonuses” of being at the Kokoro Research Center was to get to travel to various conferences and workshops, including international venues like when I was invited to join the Kokoro Research Center team for field observation in Bali. It was such an exotic and educational experience that I will continue to process what I observed and learned there for years to come. I also thoroughly enjoyed getting to know other visiting scholars at the Kokoro Research Center. I got to not only become friends with some of them but even got to collaborate with researchers I would have otherwise never met!
When time came to leave the Kokoro Research Center, I did feel some sadness, but what I felt more intensely, and the feeling that I have and will always carry with me, is one of gratefulness. Grateful for the opportunities that opened up to me because of the Kokoro Research Center; grateful for the scholar I became because of the Kokoro Research Center; grateful for the friendships and network of collaborators established; grateful for all the eye-opening and learning experiences; grateful for the faith and trust that the Kokoro Research Center put in me; grateful for the opportunity to have been able to live in the magical city of Kyoto for two plus years, and finally, grateful for having been a member of a community of scholars that has brought me much pride and joy.
Associate Professor, Minnesota State University / Cultural Psychology Clinical Psychology
JSPS Research Fellow, Kokoro Research Center, Kyoto University 2009-201
Website: Vinai Norasakkunkit Minnesota State University