The Japanese concept of emptiness is rooted in the ancient Shinto belief that a void attracts kami or gods, and wabi sabi is the quintessential Japanese aesthetic that identifies beauty as things that are imperfect, impermanent, or incomplete.

Students in this course discover, define, and document examples of these traditional Japanese concepts during 10 days in Japan’s present-day capital and megalopolis, Tokyo, with a day trip to its former de facto capital, Kamakura, and five days in its ancient capitals, Kyoto and Nara.

In all cities the class experiences some of the world’s most efficient intra-city transportation systems, using the interconnecting subway and train systems to get to all planned destinations, while visiting over 30 venues that include museums, galleries, temples, shrines, and gardens.


In Search of Emptiness & Wabi Sabi

Instructor: Doug Akagi
SF campus: Tuesday & Thursday, May 17 & 19
Tokyo & Kyoto, Japan: May 25–June 9, 2016
SF campus: Saturday, July 9 & August 6; Tuesday, August 16

Tokyo Check-in: Wednesday, May 25
Tokyo Checkout: Thursday, June 9

Interested students should contact Douglas Akagi ( to start the approval process for registration.


Although the focus of this course is an investigation of traditional Japanese aesthetics, students also explore the compelling surface of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.

For the duration of the visit, students live in the question of what ties the old to the new. Each participant is encouraged to create an outcome that is informed by site-specific observations and individual conclusions.

After the first five nights in Tokyo, the group takes the Shinkansen, Bullet Train, down to Kyoto where they spend five days visiting Japan’s most exquisite examples of traditional gardens, temples, and shrines, with day trips to Nara, the oldest capital of Japan, and Osaka, Japan's commercial hub.

In Kyoto and Nara, the instructor guides students to nine of the area’s most significant temples and gardens. Then the class returns to Tokyo for further excursions.

The final 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.


Doug planned out the itinerary with flawless organizational skills and utmost attention to detail. 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

Read about Doug Akagi in the fall 2013 issue of Glance »


Undergraduates: Successful completion of at least sophomore level by summer 2016 and instructor approval.
Graduate students: Instructor approval

In addition, all students must be in good academic, conduct, and financial standing for the 2015–16 academic year.

Course Satisfies

For undergraduates this course satisfies a Diversity Studies Studio, Graphic Design Elective, or, for students who have achieved junior or senior standing by the end of Spring 2016, an Upper-Division Interdisciplinary Studio.
For graduate students this course satisfies a Grad-wide Elective.

Program Fee

$4,950 + $50 registration fee

Included in program fee:
3 credits, housing, breakfast, final dinner, tea ceremonies, 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 each in its entirety.)

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


Office of Special Programs
Oakland campus, Ralls 201

Nina Sadek
Dean of Special Programs

Carol Pitts
Operations Manager, Special Programs