Ohio Northern University English Professor Jonathan Pitts, Ph.D., in Japan.

A third Fulbright Scholar opportunity for Ohio Northern University Professor Jonathan Pitts, Ph.D., will soon send him to Japan, where he intends to explore the intersection of personal narrative, ordinary life as art, human longevity and pilgrimage. Cultural immersion, classroom instruction, writing and walking – lots and lots of walking – are in store for Pitts, an associate professor of English.
“My life’s work has been living, writing, teaching and researching personal stories around the world,” said Pitts. An award-winning teacher, writer, outdoor educator, and international scholar, he has lived and worked on five continents including Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe, pursuing his interests in the personal, cultural, and spiritual uses of narrative and the concept of the journey. Since 2000, he has developed the professional writing and creative writing programs at ONU and taught literature, writing, multimedia studies, and intercultural communication.
The prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, which is the federal government’s flagship program of international education and cultural exchange, awards more than 1,700 annual fellowships for U.S. Scholars to go abroad and Visiting Scholars to come to the United States. Scholars include college and university faculty, administrators and researchers, as well as artists and professionals. The program enables Scholars to build their skills and connections, gain valuable international insights, and return home to share their experiences with their students and colleagues.
“We are the stories we tell; we are all connected,” Pitts said. “It’s a privilege to bring all of this to my students at ONU.”
Pitts’ adventurous physical journey in Japan will involve walking the 88-Temple Shikoku pilgrimage on the island of the same namesake. This world pilgrimage “circles the island following the footsteps of Kukai, the legendary founder of Shingon Buddhism,” Pitts explained. “One of my main areas of writing, research and teaching, especially in my general education course at ONU, ‘The Hero’s Journey,’ is pilgrimage studies, long, sacred journeys in different cultures.
At the University of Ryukyus on the island of Okinawa, Pitts will teach American literature to Japanese and international students using elements of personal writing for cross-cultural comparison.
Also on Okinawa, he’ll be researching the role of personal narrative in Okinawan culture, which he said “is very different from Japanese culture, although both cultures have been Westernized.” He’ll be scrutinizing the community of Ogimi, one of the world’s so-called “blue zones” of longevity. “Some of my research questions are: Is personal storytelling an element of community and, consequently, a long life? In a country like Japan, which is rapidly aging, how will the lives of the elderly be preserved, if at all?” Pitts said.
Finally, Pitts will explore the connections he sees “between the experiential aesthetic theory of the great American philosopher, John Dewey, who contends that ordinary life is art, and the very Japanese veneration of ordinary life as art (especially as a major element of longevity).”
In September, Pitts will attend an orientation organized by JUSEC (Japan United States Education Commission), which runs the Fulbright program in Japan. At the orientation, he’ll meet with fellow Fulbright scholars, “which will be really interesting to find out who they are and what they'll be doing,” he said. “I hope also to revisit some of my favorite haunts from my previous Fulbright: my old neighborhood, the Tokyo parks, and my favorite sushi and ramen joints.”
Pitts’ three Fulbright fellowships—two in Japan and one in Turkey—are designed to fit together as aspects of a larger theme on the role of narrative (personal and otherwise) in the lives of communities, especially communities facing disruption in a variety of forms: social, cultural, and particularly environmental.  His first Fulbright to Japan focused on the narratives of young people in response to the social, cultural, and environmental upheavals that define so much of their lives; the focus of his second, upcoming Japan Fulbright will be on the narratives of the elderly, in Okinawa.
His 2010 Fulbright in Turkey was meant to explore how Turkey saw itself as a promising Islamic democracy; at that time, it wanted to join the European Union. “But things soon changed, especially with the Arab Spring that March,” Pitts said. During his stay, a catastrophic tsunami also struck Japan, “which I watched on TV in my apartment in Turkey, when I began to imagine my current project in Japan,” he noted.