Karim Nader CC’17, a John Jay Scholar majoring in philosophy with a mathematics concentration, spent a summer studying queer identities in Kyoto, Japan thanks to the support of the Columbia University Scholars Program Summer Enhancement Fellowship. The fellowship aims to foster intellectual curiosity while clarifying students ideas and beliefs, enhancing their sense of participation in the academic community and providing them the opportunity to contribute to the community at large. Here, Karim talks about his decision to conduct research in Kyoto and the experience of conducting in-person interviews.
My research project started as a way to explore activism in Japan, to see what work is being done by activists on the ground, and to learn about spaces and resources available to LGBTQ people living in Kyoto. I chose to focus on Kyoto since many researchers and activists have already been to Tokyo, the vibrant capital where most national projects for the protection of sexual minorities tend to be located, and I wanted to learn about the work of activists in a different area, a traditional city that did not get as much attention. Kyoto is a big enough city to have an active activist scene and small enough that I was able to navigate it in the course of my summer. Kyoto is also where Yuka Kanno, the professor who was overseeing my research, is based. My primary goal was to talk to activists in the city, who were building queer spaces for the community.
Courtesy Karim Nader CC'17
I was able to meet with academics who work in the field of queer and gender studies as a discipline, focusing their research on our understanding of gender and sexuality. I also talked to organizers who run an annual Queer Film Festival in the Kansai area, attempting to bring queer culture from different countries to the forefront of their programing while providing a space to discuss those topics that come up in the movies. Activists in the city also run weekly lunches for queer people at a local eatery to provide the community with a space to discuss organizing, but also to check in with each other and meet new folks while sharing their experiences.
The conversations I had were memorable, each in their own way, and the activists’ stories were all unique. A Buddhist monk at a local temple told me, for example, that he has become much more aware of the challenges that the LGBTQ community faces in Japan after receiving a request from two women who wanted to hold their wedding ceremony at his temple. Since then, many have come to him with such requests and he started working closely with LGBTQ communities as an ally on various projects and initiatives.
Courtesy: Karim Nader CC'17
Everyone I spoke to had different perspectives to offer about the work that needs to be done, the priorities of the movement and how to get there. Overall, I think I got a great overview of activism in Japan, though because of the limitations of my Japanese language skills I left with the sense that my understanding was a bit superficial. Nonetheless, the work was extremely interesting and I enjoyed talking to people who were as curious to hear about my experience as an activist and advocate in Lebanon as I was in hearing about their work in Kyoto. The similarities between our work and perspectives as well as the difference between our strategies and cultures, and the ways each influences the other, was fascinating to explore.
Overall, working on this project taught me how to plan a research project from its inception to its end; conducting research in a foreign environment developed my adaptability while widening my global perspective. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work on a project that is outside of my academic interests and research that is far from my future career goals. While this topic will not be the subject of my future studies, my time in Japan has allowed me to become a better activist and academic.
Karim Nader CC’17 is from Beirut, Lebanon, studying philosophy and mathematics. He has strong interests in Japanese language and culture as well as queer activism. He has worked on projects for LGBTQ rights in Beirut, on campus and at national non-profits.