In celebration of Black History Month, I figured it’d be fitting to write an appreciation post about history. But, rather than focusing on specifically black history, I’m here to make a case for history as a whole.“History” gets a bad rap because of what we’re accustomed to as students (assuming like me, you’re not a big fan of history): learning about history as it is dictated in class or textbooks. Or what I’d like to call, the “dumbed down” version of history. You’re stuck memorizing countless facts for your next history exam, only to forget everything within the next year, or maybe even within five minutes of finishing the exam. And, who likes doing that?
That’s the boring kind of history. But, history can be interesting, and I’ve found that comes from not learning history in a classroom.
While I was studying abroad in Japan, I was exposed to history from — of course — a Japanese perspective. That meant learning about World War II from the side that was bombed, which in and of itself, is fascinating.
What really gave me a greater appreciation for history, however, was an assignment for the study abroad class. I studied creative writing, so there was a lot of… well, writing. One of the assignments asked students to pick a particular place in Tokyo and connect our own experiences in the place, to the history of the place. I was pretty unconventional at picking a place nobody else did — the hotel room.
Oddly enough, a seemingly boring topic turned out not to be one. I stayed with the creative writing and film students at the National Olympic Memorial Youth Center, which is just a few minutes away from Yoyogi Park, a Tokyo tourist gem. Even more interestingly, in 1964, it was one of the housing complexes built for Olympic athletes.
If you’re wondering what it’s like to live in a place that housed Olympic athletes over five decades ago, trust me, it’s not much different than a regular hotel. In fact, I’d argue I lived more like the people who occupied the area before Olympic athletes. Before the Pacific War, that would have been Japanese soldiers, and during the United States’ post-war occupation of Japan, that would have been American military families. It may be far-fetched to compare my life to be a war zone, but soldiers and war families sound more commonplace than Olympic athletes, that’s for sure.
I found myself engrossed in all of this history when I was researching for this assignment. And, while I might have told you a lot already, my professor still told me a revision of my piece would require discussing what was at the National Olympic Memorial Youth Center before World War II, during it and after it. So, I hardly even touched a fraction of the place’s history, yet it was enough to hold my attention for more than the five seconds, unlike a regular history class. That’s one of the things I’ll remember the most about Japan, aside from dropping chicken in a supermarket by the countryside.
History is all around us. Your country, city, neighborhood and even your own home all have a history. It’s left to us to discover history for ourselves. That way, it’ll turn into something you actually enjoy, instead of dread.