Students in the presidential seminar PRS 327 prepare to board the bus to New York City on April 5.

Students in the presidential seminar PRS 327 prepare to board the bus to New York City on April 5.

In most seminars students read salient scholarship on the topic at hand and discuss what they’ve read.

However, in the spring presidential seminar, Legends of the Fall (and Rise): Japan and Germany as Visions of the Future (PRS 327), taught by Dennis Yasutomo, professor of government, and Joe McVeigh, professor of German, students had a chance to take their questions right to the source.

The seminar’s discussion of the rise of Germany and Japan since World War II and the countries’ current status in the world started on campus in the first half of the semester, then traveled to New York earlier this month, where students visited the Japanese and German Permanent Missions to the United Nations.

A couple of nights before heading for New York, students discussed what topics they thought would be of most interest to raise at the meetings. Then, at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday, April 5, it was off to New York by chartered bus to engage their diplomatic counterparts with probing questions and poignant comments.

Students, and Professor Yasutomo (seated at far end of table) meet with Florian Laudi (standing), First Secretary of the Permanent German Mission to the U.N.

Students, and Professor Yasutomo (seated at far end of table) meet with Florian Laudi (standing), First Secretary of the Permanent German Mission to the U.N.

The group first met with Florian Laudi, First Secretary of the Permanent German Mission to the U.N., for a two-hour session, with discussion ranging from German energy policy and the question of German national identity within the context of the European Union, to halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction and small arms worldwide.

Afterward, Laudi joined students and their professors for lunch in the mission cafeteria, where the discussion continued.

In the afternoon, the group met with Tomoaki Ishigaki, Counselor at the Japanese Permanent Mission and a former student of Yasutomo’s, for a 90-minute back-and-forth discussion touching upon many of the political, economic and cultural factors that have shaped Japan’s profile in recent years. Questions ranged from energy policy in light of the recent nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima (Japan) and relations with North Korea to Japan’s current debate on the use of its military forces in multilateral peacekeeping efforts.

The probing questions by the students at both of these sessions were part of the seminar’s larger discourse as to whether the rise of these two nations after WWII offers a “vision” or model of “soft power superpowers,” or whether both nations have taken a separate trajectory toward “normalcy” in recent years.