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The Cross Currents Team working at their office.

What Is Cross Currents?

Cross Currents is a bilingual educational website that contains multimedia materials on the cultural and social history of Japan and the United States over the past half-century. It highlights ways that the two societies have interacted and influenced each other (their “cross currents”). Its aim is to increase mutual understanding between Japan and the United States by encouraging users to discover their many parallels and the cultural influences that flow in both directions. Materials are organized in three parallel threads for Japan, the United States, and the “Cross-Currents” between them.

The project is a bi-national effort initiated by the United States-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange (CULCON) and intended for the use of students and the general public in both Japan and the United States. A team at the University of Hawaii produced the website in collaboration with a team in Japan, and the Hawaii team continues to maintain and update the site.


Background and Sponsorship of the Cross Currents Project

Two Cross Currents teams and Japanese staff.

The need for this project was identified several years ago by the United States-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange (CULCON), a bi-national organization sponsored by the US and Japanese governments. CULCON members are private citizens with special expertise and interest in the Japan-US relationship, appointed by their respective governments. Since 1962, CULCON has been meeting every two years to consider ways to improve cultural and educational relations between the two countries. In the 1990s, CULCON began to take a more proactive role by initiating joint projects to address particular problems in the cultural and social aspects of the Japan-US relationship. (CULCON Websites: US / Japan )

A Cross Currents Hawaii team meeting.

At the CULCON XIX meeting held in Okinawa in February, 1999, the members identified a need for a digital resource of materials on US-Japan educational and cultural relations over the past fifty years for educational use at the secondary and post-secondary levels, and appointed a Digital Culture Working Group to pursue it, with Professor Carol Gluck as the US Co-Chair and Professor Sumiko Iwao as the Japan Co-Chair. Later that year funding was provided to San Diego State University and Dr. Bob Hoffman to help the Digital Culture Working Group define the digital culture resource, and to design and build a short demonstration video for presentation at the next CULCON session.

Mr. Miyao, CULCON secretariat, Professor Masanao Takeyama and Professor Masako Notoji of the Japanese Team.

The resulting project, now called Cross Currents, was approved for full development at the CULCON XX meeting in Los Angeles in June, 2001, with the US side designated to take the lead in its funding and implementation. Much of the membership of the US CULCON panel and Digital Culture Working Group changed at this point. Professor Patricia Steinhoff was appointed to the US CULCON panel, and was asked to serve as the US Co-Chair of the Digital Culture Working Group for the implementation phase. On the Japan side, Mr. Toshiaki Ogasawara, President of The Japan Times, became the Japan Co-Chair of the Digital Culture Working Group.

The following year (2002) the Japan-US Friendship Commission, whose whose twelve members (nine private citizens and three assistant secretaries of relevant government agencies) serve concurrently as the US CULCON members, selected a team at the University of Hawaii to produce the Cross Currents website in collaboration with a counterpart Japanese team, under the general oversight of the Digital Culture Working Group. This bi-national team developed the first theme of the website and demonstrated it at the CULCON XXI meeting in Sendai, Japan in November, 2003. The bi-national CULCON panel enthusiastically approved the results and disbanded the Digital Culture Working Group. In its place, CULCON appointed a smaller Oversight Committee to promote the further development of the site. The members of the Oversight Committee were Professor Masako Notoji of Tokyo University, Mr. Sohei Yoshino, Vice President of The Japan Foundation, Professor Patricia Steinhoff of the University of Hawaii, and Professor Linda Kerber of the University of Iowa. Professors Notoji and Steinhoff served as co-chairs of the Oversight Committee and continued to lead the development of the website.

Development of the Website

Mr. Ogasawara (left) and Professor Pat Steinhoff, Co-chairs of the 2003 Digital Culture Working Group.

Members of the Digital Culture Working Group and the two production teams met in Honolulu in June, 2002 to implement the project. Following the general design that had been envisioned earlier, they agreed to begin with the theme of Work. With start-up funding from the Japan-US Friendship Commission, the production teams in Hawaii and Japan began building the Cross Currents website.

In order to create an interactive, database-driven website, the team organized the site around a bilingual unit of content consisting of a paragraph of explanatory text in English and Japanese, with an associated photograph or other image, and accompanying sound narration of the text in both languages. Professor Patricia Steinhoff programmed the Access database to hold the website’s interactive content, Professor Colin Macdonald adapted pages from the prototype, and web programmer Leslie Williams developed the working website. Curriculum developer Noren Lush began writing content while Suzanne Acord searched for appropriate multimedia materials under the direction of Professor Linda Menton. On the Japan side, Professor Masanao Takeyama began developing new multimedia resources for the site. The Japan team obtained a grant from The Japan Foundation to cover the royalty fees for eighty images from the Mainichi Photobank, and Professor Masako Notoji and her students searched for appropriate historic photos.

Professor Linda Menton with Hachiko (Tokyo, Japan).

By November, 2002, the Hawaii team was able to demonstrate a working, interactive bilingual website at the second meeting of the Digital Culture Working Group in Tokyo, using content previously collected for the prototype video. With additional funding from the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, more University of Hawaii graduate students joined the team in 2003 to develop and translate new content for the site under the direction of Professors Menton and Steinhoff. They included Ryoko Yamamoto, Michael Dziesinski, Sebastian Blanco, Yuri Kawata, Shunichi Takekawa, and Brian Masshardt as content writers, and Kazumi Higashikubo, Shinji Kojima, Shunichi Takekawa and Yasuko Urano as translators. Sebastian Blanco, Michael Dziesinski, and James Steele searched for multimedia materials and processed digital images under Professor Macdonald’s direction, while Suzanne Acord and Sebastian Blanco handled copyright permissions.

Anthony Wong and Ryoko Yamamoto of the Hawaii Team.

The University of Hawaii laboratory high school teachers involved in the project (Lush and Acord) recommended that the site be redesigned to accommodate more supplementary digital materials for each unit of content. Leslie Williams, with the assistance of programmer Thomas Xin Chen, reprogrammed the site to accommodate these developments, and enhanced its bilingual functions. These improvements were demonstrated at a third meeting of the Digital Culture Working Group in Honolulu in June, 2003. Akiko Kōchi of the Japan CULCON staff researched contemporary Japanese high school textbooks for the project, and identified specific topics in the Japanese curriculum for which Cross Currents could provide enhancement. With more room for additional multimedia materials, Ryoko Yamamoto began developing bilingual data charts and maps to enhance the site.

In the fall of 2003, in preparation for the presentation of the completed Workplace theme at the CULCON XXI meeting in Sendai, Japan, in November 2003, the site’s color scheme was completely revamped, and virtual reality scenes were added to the multimedia materials on the site. Ipkin Anthony Wong joined the team as programmer and developed the bilingual search function, glossary functions, site map and Activity component in close cooperation with Professor Steinhoff, who programmed the database for these new components. In Japan, Professor Takeyama and his students contributed virtual reality materials and helped critique and improve the site design, while Professor Masako Notoji and her students reviewed the content that had been developed in Honolulu and provided additional fact-checking of the Japan materials.

The second Digital Culture Working Group Meeting (June 2002, Honolulu, Hawaii).

Once the team members in Japan had approved the content, narrations of the text in both Japanese and English were recorded in Honolulu, under the direction of Professor Colin Macdonald and Paul Saso. Colleen Lanki narrated the English segments and Kazutoh Ishida narrated the Japanese, with Midori Ishida serving as monitor for the Japanese recording sessions.

The website materials were tested with University of Hawaii and University Laboratory School students in Hawaii and Keio University students in Japan in the fall of 2003 and spring of 2004. Professor Macdonald’s multimedia design and website design students, Professor Takeyama’s computer students, and Suzanne Acord’s University Lab School students tested the site for functionality, while Professor Steinhoff’s Japanese Society class tested the educational utility of the site. The university and high school students used a common evaluation instrument.

The third Digital Culture Working Group Meeting (June 2003, Honolulu, Hawaii).

In the spring of 2004 work began on two additional themes: Families and Daily Life, and Annual Cultural Cycles. These themes are pitched at a lower reading level so that they may be used in junior high school classes. The website has been open to the public since 2005, but we have continued to add new material and reorganize existing material on the site. Emi Murayama of the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at UH has done additional recording of Japanese content units using the facilities of the University of Hawaii language lab, and Pamela Fields of the Japan-US Friendship Commission has recorded content units in English with the assistance of Japan-US Friendship Commission Executive Director Eric Gangloff, using the recording facilities of the Voice of America. We are grateful for the cooperation of these individuals and institutions.

Since 2007 the Hawaii team under the direction of Professor Steinhoff has been maintaining and developing the website with funding from the Japan-US Friendship Commission. Graduate students Shinji Kojima, Hiroki Igarashi, Akemi Nakamura, and Kinuko Yamazato have worked on the project during this time. In 2008, in response to a suggestion from a teacher in Japan, downloadable podcasts were produced for all of the site's sound files in both English and Japanese. These are now available for download either from a master link on the top navigation bar, or from each individual content unit.

Participants in the Cross Currents Project

Professor Patricia Steinhoff, Sociology, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Ipkin Anthony Wong, the Cross Currents Hawaii team, UH graduate student.

Shinji Kojima, the Cross Currents Hawaii team, UH graduate student.

Noren Lush, the Cross Currents Hawaii team, UH high school teacher & curriculum developer.

Professor Colin MacDonald, Communication, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

James Steele, the Cross Currents Hawaii team.

Professor Linda Menton, Education, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Ryoko Yamamoto, the Cross Currents Hawaii team, UH graduate student.

Sebastian Blanco, the Cross Currents Hawaii team, UH graduate student.

Suzanne Acord, the Cross Currents Hawaii team, UH high school teacher & curriculum developer.


Funding for Cross Currents

We gratefully acknowledge the following agencies and foundations that have provided funding for Cross Currents.

The Japan-US Friendship Commission

The Japan Foundation


Technology, Innovation, and Society Grant, University of Hawaii

Technical Issues

The Cross Currents website was originally programmed in asp and Visual Basic, and interacted with an MS Access database. It resided on a Windows 2003 server at the University of Hawaii College of Social Sciences. The site is fully bilingual in English and Japanese through the use of Unicode compliant software. To accommodate technological developments and facilitate work on the site from multiple locations, in 2006 Ipkin Anthony Wong re-programmed the site in aspx. With the assistance of Harry Partika, who manages the University of Hawaii College of Social Sciences computer systems, the Cross Currents database was converted to MSSQL and placed on a College of Social Sciences database server.

The third Digital Culture Working Group Meeting (June 2003, Honolulu, Hawaii).

Wong also developed a Scrapbook function for the website, through which teachers could register their class and class members could then construct projects using the materials in Cross Currents and display them to the class. This function was developed with funding from a Technology, Innovation, and Society Grant from the University of Hawaii. In 2009 the Scrapbook function was taken offline after it became the entry point for an SQL injection attack that disabled the site and damaged its database. The damage was repaired from backup copies, but the Scrapbook has been kept offline.

In order to overcome difficulties in implementing bilingual searching with multiple input scripts, the search function searches on the titles of content units rather than on the full text. The bilingual glossary supplements the search function by searching on all glossary terms in English, Japanese kanji, Japanese kana, and three variants of Japanese romanization.

Since the primary audience for the site is students who would read and listen to the materials in their native language, the materials must be written in natural language in both Japanese and English. Direct, sentence-by-sentence translation was quickly abandoned because it resulted in stilted language on the translated side. The team also agreed to allow the translations to diverge in order to accommodate differences in cultural context. Similarly, the alt text that is provided for all visual images on the site and the glossary definitions are written independently in each language so that they contain the most useful information in natural language for users in each country. Users who access the bilingual features of the site for language learning will find these differences instructive, and we hope they will gain a better appreciation for the processes of intercultural communication.

Copyright Statement and Acknowledgments

All materials on the Cross Currents website are protected by copyright. The copyright holder for every photograph is listed beneath the photo. Copyright for all text and other material not specifically acknowledged on the site is held by the Cross Currents project. Persons wishing to use material from the Cross Currents website for any purpose other than the direct use of the website for classroom or individual educational use must request permission in advance from the appropriate copyright holder.