Most of us are familiar with the mainstream phenomena that has characterized Japanese pop culture for the past three decades. Manga, anime, and Kawaii (the Cute craze) are commonly known, but the true origins of Japanese aesthetics lie in the traditions of its two indigenous religions, Shintoism and Buddhism.

In Shintoism it is believed that there are eight million gods or kami who reside in all natural things and that they are attracted to voids or emptiness. Wabi-sabi is the quintessential Japanese aesthetic born out of the Zen Buddhist acceptance of transience and imperfection. These basic tenets can be seen in Japanese art, architecture, design, and landscaping and in ritual practices such as the tea ceremony.

In Search of Emptiness & Wabi Sabi

Instructor: David Asari
SF campus: May 16 (mandatory)
Japan: May 23-June 7, 2018
SF campus: June 30, July 28 (optional with prior instructor approval, but work in progress must be emailed by these dates)
SF campus: August 18 (mandatory)
SF Exhibition: September (to be determined)

Check-in: Tokyo, Wednesday, May 23
Checkout: Tokyo, Thursday, June 7

Interested students should contact David Asari (dasari@cca.edu) to start the approval process for registration.

The quest of this course is to explore Japan’s present-day capital, Tokyo, and its ancient capitals: Kyoto (794-1868), Kamakura (de facto capital 1192-133), and Nara (710-784), allowing students to discover, record, and interpret examples of traditional Japanese aesthetic values. While the focus of the visit is an investigation of Japanese aesthetic values, students also explore the compelling surface of Tokyo and Kyoto.

For the duration of their stay, the class lives in the question of what ties the old to the new.

After the first five nights in Tokyo, students travel by Shinkansen Bullet Train to Kyoto where they spend six days visiting Japan’s most exquisite examples of traditional gardens, temples, and shrines, along with a day trip to Nara, the oldest capital of Japan.

In Kyoto, students also visit the Gion, which evolved from the Middle Ages to become one of the most exclusive and well-known geisha districts in all of Japan, the setting of much of Arthur Golden’s novel Memoirs of a Geisha. Students then return to Tokyo for the final five nights.

The outcome of this course integrates narrative with visual images and may take any form including 2D, 3D, and time-based media. Final projects are evaluated on the quality of research, analysis, creative thinking, form giving, and craft. Collaboration is always an option.


It was rewarding to experience the extremes of a culture: from the intense and fast-paced urban street life to the utmost calming and spiritual sites, we were totally immersed. This type of full-body immersion is the only way to truly learn and come to know a place and a culture.
. . . though I've been to Japan many times we visited many venues I hadn't otherwise known how to access. The content is rich and overwhelming.
Being in Japan to actually see the examples instead of looking at pictures changed my life and I will never forget it.

About the Instructor

A second generation Japanese American, David Asari has deep interest and roots in Asian culture and arts, as well as the Asian American experience –– particularly the WWII internment of the Japanese (which included his maternal grandfather). David has traveled to China, representing CCA at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, where he was also invited by renowned design Dean Min Wang to speak at their School of Design. In 2016 and 2017, David has traveled to India, meeting with students in Mumbai and Delhi. In 2017, he met with students in Shanghai, China.

For more information on David Asari »


Undergraduate students: Successful completion of at least sophomore level by summer 2017 and instructor approval
For Graphic Design Advanced Studio Elective credit: Graphic Design 3 (GRAPH-300) and Typography 3 (GRAPH-304)
For Upper-Division Interdisciplinary Studio credit: Drawing 1, 2D, 3D, 4D, Writing 1, Foundations in Critical Studies, Intro to the Arts and Intro to the Modern Arts. Junior Standing
For Diversity Studies Studio credit: Drawing 1, 2D, 3D, 4D, Writing 1, Foundations in Critical Studies, Intro to the Arts and Intro to the Modern Arts. Junior standing
Graduate students: Instructor approval

In addition, all students must be in good academic, conduct, and financial standing for the 2017–18 academic year. Students who are on probation in fall 2017 are not eligible to enroll in a 2018 summer study-abroad program.

Course Satisfies

For undergraduate students, this course satisfies a Graphic Design Advanced Studio Elective, an Upper-Division Interdisciplinary Studio, a Diversity Studies Studio, or a Studio Elective.
For graduate students, this course satisfies a Grad-wide Elective.

Tuition & Fees

$5,100 + $50 summer registration fee

Included in program fee:
3 credits, housing, breakfast, final dinner, tea ceremony, garden and museum entrance fees, ground transportation in Japan, and travel/health insurance

Not included in program fee:
Airfare to and from Tokyo, ground transportation to and from airport in Japan, most meals

Related Topics
(Please read in entirety)

All CCA summer study-abroad courses (including Brooklyn) are coordinated by the Office of Special Programs.

Questions? Please see Frequently Asked Questions.

Office of Special Programs
Oakland campus, Ralls 201

Nina Sadek
Dean of Special Programs

Carol Pitts
Operations Manager, Special Programs