A Japanese Music Therapy Academic at WCMT 2017

Three months isn’t too late to write a blog post, right? One of the stops during my whirlwind of a summer was attending the World Congress for Music Therapy (WCMT) in Tsukuba, Japan in July 2017. When I was asked to be on a panel with other Portland-area music therapists who had attended the World Congress, the idea of expanding my thoughts into a blog post came to me. So, here we are.

Trying to visualize my experiences at the WCMT led me to consider three parts of my identity that converged at the conference. First, my identity as a music therapist was reaffirmed. (Re)connecting with music therapists representing different countries and regions of the United States was a dream. It was such a treat to see and be able to go to the talks of these colleagues that have had an enormous influence on my life and career. Although we met through our careers, being able to focus on more personal aspects of our lives allowed me to connect on a new level with my friends and colleagues. Sometimes, I need to remember to not talk shop all the time.

Next, my identity as an academic was well-fed at the WCMT. Three plus days of conference talks and poster presentations led to long days, but I was so impressed with the diversity of presentations! I went to talks that were controversial, that challenged me, and that presented topics I had never considered before. I think my favorites, though, were the presentations about what music therapy practice is like in other countries. Defining music therapy is such a cliche, that it was refreshing to hear about similarities and differences and how other countries are growing the profession on a global scale.

Finally, my Japanese heritage was nurtured during my trip. I’m half Japanese (if you didn’t guess from my last name), but my upbringing didn’t provide a lot of opportunities for me to immerse myself in Japanese culture. The extent of my Japanese culture includes three years of Japanese language classes in high school and a previous trip to Japan a few summers back. This trip, I was so proud of myself for remembering most of the hiragana and katakana symbols so that I could get around on my own. I was lucky enough to spend an extra week and a half after the conference traveling on my own. There were so many brief exchanges and moments that I cherish: taking 30 minutes to order six pieces of sushi with a very patient chef and his wife, staying in a capsule hotel for the first time, and seeing Mount Fuji for the first time with my own eyes. Experiencing Japan a second time, I was more confident communicating and exploring on my own terms.

These three parts of myself (music therapist, academic, and Japanese American) came together during the highlight of my time at the WCMT: my presentation about my thesis research. It was incredibly special to be able to share my study as part of the music therapy community. It felt so affirming to stand in a room, surrounded by others who were interested in my work, a study that wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t poured a year and a half of my life into it. The hours of writing, planning, recruiting, testing, and other duties were now coming to fruition and people actually showed up to listen! Reflecting back on the moment, the debut of my study in Japan is even more special. Three generations ago, half of my family had emigrated from Japan to the United States to provide the opportunities that led to me standing at the front of that room.

My experiences at WCMT definitely renewed my excitement for where the music therapy field and my career is headed in the future. Can’t wait for the next WCMT in Sydney, Australia in 2020!

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