A Trip to the Past

Public Relations Office        March 21, 2013

Thoughts after 1 month(2)

Richard Pang, Exchange Student from Singapore Management University (Singapore)

Thoughts after 1 month (2)

When I applied for exchange to Japan, it was to understand its culture and traditions, as well as its economic policies that have allowed the island nation to progress at such a breakneck pace. Being a business student from Singapore, it will be useful for me to understand the protocols and system of working of the world’s second largest economy and Singapore’s 5th largest trading partner (Singapore being Japan’s 8th largest trading partner). Additionally, an international exchange is a chance for students to bring themselves out of their comfort zone and grow through the process of adjustment in a new environment. With that in mind, I applied for an exchange to Kwansei Gakuin University (KGU).

For all the exchange students (Ryugakusei) in KGU, Nihongo Partners are assigned to them. These partners have been absolutely wonderful. They are very polite, helpful and they have definitely helped the Ryugakusei in settling down. I myself am very appreciative of the Nihongo Partners and because of my interactions with them I now have a very positive impression of the Japanese people. This initiative by KGU is highly beneficial and it allows Ryugakusei to have a chance to interact with the Japanese students and it helps in increasing understanding between people of different cultures.

For lodging, instead of choosing home-stay program, which would allow me to understand the Japanese lifestyle, I opted for dormitory, so that I may live an independent life and learn to take care of myself. This choice has forced me to mature at a faster pace as for once I must watch my utility expenses, given that every bit of electricity and water used would have to be paid for by myself. Not only that, I have to pay for the internet subscription and national insurance plan. Finally, I understand the exasperation faced by our parents when they check their mail boxes and all they see are bills. Even so, I appreciate this experience as it has allowed me to understand the responsibilities of working adults.

After one month in Japan, there are several observations I can’t help but make. Firstly, it is the lack of English speakers in this country. Everything is in Japanese and if one does not have sufficient proficiency in Japanese, life in this country can be quite difficult. Luckily for all foreigners, the Japanese people have an unexpectedly high tolerance for mistakes by foreigners and they are all usually very helpful. Next, I have learnt of the importance of politeness in the Japanese society. Japanese people are very polite. Very often, they would trouble themselves in order to help another. While they are forgiving towards foreigners who tend not to understand the ways of the Japanese people, for one who wish to live or work in Japan, it is vital to understand the various protocols of the Japanese society.

As Japanese people do not like to trouble other people, one must learn to read the body languages of the Japanese people and subtle implied meanings within their speech and offer help accordingly. Another aspect of the Japan society that I have learnt is that Japan is a patriarchal society. Coming from a society that is used to the meritocracy and the equality of men and women, this difference of status of the two sexes can be quite discomforting. Even so, women in Japan are given equal education opportunity and the society is slowly moving towards more equality towards the women.

This one month in Japan has been highly enriching and enjoyable. Although it has only been a month, I find myself having a great deal of fun and I am learning new things every day. In fact, I am looking forward to the days ahead, with more interactions with Japanese students and various trips to all the interesting and beautiful places in Japan. For all foreign students who are contemplating if they should come to Japan for an exchange, I have this to say: “Don’t hesitate, come to Japan, you won’t regret it.”

Thoughts after 1 month(1)

Severi Luoto, Exchange Student from University of Vaasa (Finland)

Thoughts after 1 month

The computer room in which I am now sitting is sweltering – a rare exception in the campus whose other classrooms are cooled down by air conditioning just a tad too powerful for people who opt to wear summer clothes. And a guy from Northern Europe like me would naturally opt to do to so, as the outside temperature still exceeds 20°C. That is to say, it still feels like summer here for me, even though it’s already mid-October. Nevertheless, a genial Japanese guy sitting opposite to me obviously thinks it’s hot in the computer room too, as he goes and opens the windows on his side of the room, and closes the curtains to prevent the still hot autumn sun from entering the room. I signify my approval with a wink over the side of my half-closed computer cubicle, and soon rise myself to open the windows on my side of the room too.

The guy’s name is Yuki, which means ‘snow’ in Japanese. (Probably the snowman felt he was melting in the computer room.) Incidentally, I met him yesterday in an event, where a number of international students volunteered to chat with Japanese students in their English communication class. Their smiling faces were (“as indeed faces generally are”) a fair index to their disposition: on the whole, a lot of the Japanese students at Kwansei Gakuin will be keen(ish) to chat with a foreigner. The ‘ish’ here would signify their reservations in talking in English; yet with a little bit of Japanese conversational skills, making Japanese friends in general is not too difficult here. Konnichiwas and kakkoiis – ‘hi’ and ‘handsome’, respectively – hover the air as you trod the campus ground and you feel, really feel, that you stand out amongst the 20,000 or so domestic students.

You stand out perhaps, but with that said, you are welcomed too. At the beginning of the semester, every international student is coupled with two nihongo partners. They are there to help you with everyday things, such as getting a cell phone, getting familiar with the campus, and of course learning to speak and understand the Japanese language. I studied Japanese for only one semester before coming here, and although initially it seemed quite a perplexing thing to communicate in Japanese, the realisation that I can actually do so grows more concrete day by day. With the teachers providing you with the formal in-class education of the language, and nihongo partners being there for you to practise the colloquial, everyday Japanese with, an international student at KGU will be well prepared to interact with and befriend people even outside the harmonious campus.

Himeji Castle field trip

Jennifer Ward, Exchange Student from University of British Columbia (Canada)

HimejiCastle field trip

Due to my tendency to not pay attention and not look at schedules, the Himeji-jo trip on the Friday of the orientation week came as something of a surprise. I’d heard of Himeji-jo, of course, every tourist guide for the Kansai area has it on the front page in full colour. And with good reason: you’d be a fool to miss out on seeing the biggest and most famous castle in Japan. Although the subsequent stop at the longest suspension bridge in the world held its own measure of modern appeal, the castle visit was the real highlight of the trip.

I foolishly didn’t bring a camera along for the trip – seeing as the castle is now under construction and will be for the next five years, I was very lucky to get a glimpse of it before the roves ended up covered with construction tarps and its walls started spouting repair scaffolds. But considering what it looked like upon our visit, I can only imagine what kind of vista will await those who patiently wait for the restoration to be complete. If possible, I would like to return to Japan then to see Himeji-jo the way it is meant to be seen.

Now if you’re extreme white bread like me, when you think, ‘castle’ you think of Lord of the Rings-style stone turrets and a moat. I wasn’t so ignorant as to think Japanese castles were like that, and I did get a moat, but there was still the half-unconscious expectation for a castle to be imposing rather than pretty; a threat to foes and protection for allies. So looking at the finely-crafted and maintained roof, at first I found it hard to believe it could withstand flaming arrows and catapulted rocks. But the signs along the tour pointed out the little things I would not have noticed on my own – slits in the walls through which they could fire arrows and spots for pouring out boiling oil, and secret chambers from in which warriors could hide themselves to burst out on invading enemies.

It was this kind of subtle power, the function hidden under the form, that so entranced me. Everything from the multiple floors of the castle with their steep, ladder-like stairs to the painstakingly crafted but heavy front castle gates had been designed with both aesthetics and defense in mind. This marriage of form and function is something I’ve seen many times since coming to Japan, but nowhere else is it so apparent as the majestic Himeji castle.