Time flies by and before I even realized I’d been here for 5 months. I haven’t regretted a minute.
Waseda is a superb university, and I truly feel like I’m among an elite, intelligent bunch of young people. Compared to Finnish professors and teachers the Japanese ones really tend to get to know you by name and remember what you have told them. I have received support from them, but their good memory also prevents me from skipping class. 😉 The staff at the international student center is also always ready to lend a hand, and one of the personnel even learned our names by heart before we even came here. I admire her dedication (and memory, whoah).
The course list satisfied me, as I’ve even gotten a chance to realize my childhood dream of practicing opera. I have happy memories of the truly unique class we had. I think I’ve also increased my Japanese proficiency with caring and talented teachers. Also, future Waseda students, I recommend taking Professor Morikawa’s classes in case you have the chance and interest in his subjects. He is a talented and entertaining teacher.
Japan… So many things surprised me, but I’ve also realized how much this place is just like I imagined it to be. I’m glad I have done my background research, since I don’t think I’ve experienced a big culture shock. Japanese people are truly as friendly as they are described, and you will get help when you need it: If you’re lost, some Japanese people will guide you to your destination themselves, disregarding how much time and effort they will sacrifice for you. The staff in shops is always ready to serve with a smile on their faces. You may make surprising friends in the streets and shops if you have an open mind and extroverted personality – I have.
Group harmony is even more important than I first thought, and that means keeping personal things out of group interaction. Nomikais (literally drink meeting) and other events with friends are there to relief stress, but even in a drunk state a Japanese person strives to keep everyone’s mood cheerful. Beverages flow, but the conversation never dives deeper than the surface. Covers are kept in order to not cause trouble or embarrassment for anyone. While I do appreciate the politeness and manners I find it’s fairly hard to surpass the walls and make friends with Japanese people. -At some point you will be bored of answering questions about your country and the mindless chit-chat. At least I am.
People in Tokyo never stay still. The streets are narrow and filled with people and bicycles, which makes it often necessary to flow with the crowd to get to your destination – there simply is no room to start bypassing, so make sure you have enough time to walk in the rhythm of others. There are no benches to sit down on. Trains are crowded but quiet, and you can rarely hear anyone’s phone, or loud conversations as they are frowned upon. Instead people stand patiently and quietly, playing with their Nintendos and PSPs, cellphones and the like, or sleep on the comfortable seats. Everything is controlled and people know to walk in the right (left) side of the stairs and road, queue diligently and move efficiently. In convenience stores you will never have to wait as the staff will hurry to serve as soon as they see you. -I feel so embarrassed when I have to find/calculate my cash and slow the line for even a few seconds.
However, it’s really hard to get by with only English, as signs and names are written in kanji and people rarely speak even simple English. For truly enjoying Japan with it’s quirks I recon one should learn at least some basic Japanese.
With the Yen and Euro course at the moment it is really, really expensive to live in Japan. In Tokyo vegetables, fruits, meat and dairy products are extremely expensive: One apple, for example, costs 150 yen on average. Rents are soaring, and it’s common to pay around 60,000 yen/month for a 12 square meter apartment. It’s a shame that I’m just a poor student, as the food culture here is imaginative: You can find so many amazing and delicious things to eat!
I love Japan and it’s contrasts and details: a short walk in Tokyo reveals blinding commercial lights, loud gaming halls and shop clerks, consumption and consumerism just to have a quiet temple/shrine or a small ramen carriage just around the corner. The places around Tokyo are completely different from each other: an electronic town of Akihabara (the mecca of nerds), stylish Shibuya, shady streets of Kabuki-cho, romantic Yokohama, traditional Asakusa… I never run out of things to see and experience. Right now I’m preparing to explore other places and varieties of Japan as the spring vacation has just began.
(These pictures are from all over Tokyo, and I’ve taken them during September – October. Please ask permission before using them anywhere.)