Cultural lessons from the Japanese

Katrine K, Bachelor of Nursing

University Life in Japan: Kimono, Matcha and You at Sonoda Women’s University (December 2016)

Konnichiwa! My name is Katrine, and I’m a third year student studying the Bachelor of Nursing. In the first two weeks of the December holidays, I have been very fortunate to be given the opportunity to participate in a cultural exchange program hosted by the Sonoda Women’s University in Amagasaki, Japan. Not only did this unforgettable experience enrich my awareness of cultural diversity, but the kindness and warmth of the Japanese people made it possible to form friendships with almost anyone I encountered; whether that be at university or on the streets of Osaka! Throughout this program, I have been incredibly lucky to experience many unique and wonderful moments.

One memorable highlight of my trip however, would have to be the week-end I stayed with the Fujii family in Ojiro. Although I could speak or understand little Japanese, my host father, mother, sister and visiting locals were extremely sympathetic and accommodating to my needs and often tried their best to speak in English to ease my anxiety and restlessness. I thought this gesture was very thoughtful and generous of them and once again empathised the kindliness of the Japanese people. From the moment I arrived, my host family offered me food, snow boots, manga, fresh clothes, and my very own tatami room! I was also surprised and deeply touched at the lengths of preparation they put into arranging my bedroom. I never expected to have a mini decorated Christmas tree with flickering lights standing before me when I entered to unpack my bags! These experiences made me reflect on a time when my classmates and I had a cultural lesson with Keiji. He stated that Japanese people generally have a “you”-centred attitude or a “guessing culture”. This meant that they will often try to guess what the other person is feeling in order to accommodate their needs, believing this showed humanity. As a foreigner, I found the Japanese culture in this context quite refreshing and surprisingly relatable. I eagerly wanted to learn more about their culture as I too, coming from a nursing background, believe passionately in upholding similar values.

While living in Ojiro, I went on many insightful and exciting adventures! This included visiting the captivating sand sculptures at the Sand Museum and conquering the Tottori sand dunes through freezing winds. Another memorable highlight of staying in Ojiro was the opportunity to design and sculpt my own jewellery from stone.  The stone used to make our pendants were known as “magatama”, and were traditionally made from jade, glass or rocks. What I enjoyed most about this experience was not only learning of its historical value and appeal since the Jomon period, but the connection magatama had to religious practices including shamanism and Shinto. In addition to its spiritual significance, I found the crafting of magatama a challenging, but truly rewarding experience that I will never forget!

During the time when my classmates and I were not living in Ojiro, we inhabited the cosy grounds of Sonoda Woman’s University to learn Japanese or explored the historic highlights of Amagasaki where we took part in cultural activities. While at Sonoda Woman’s University however, I immediately noticed how small and homely the campus was in comparison to the blocky high rises that occupied the grounds of QUT. Unsurprisingly, nearly all of the students (which were no more than 200!) noticed our presence and gave us their utmost attention. My allocated group were particularly fortunate to receive a dynamic culture class presented by the university’s students themselves which I had the pleasure of attending. One unforgettable moment from our experiences was taking part in the traditional Japanese game, “suikawari”, and then learning about the meticulous process in which “katsuobushi” is made. Katsuobushi, in particular, made the most impression on me as I never expected dried fermented fish to appear as an oddly shaped rock or a chunky piece of wood that would later become an essential ingredient used in traditional Japanese foods, such as dashi. In addition, the kindliness and welcoming mannerisms of the students were, again, infectious and I felt a great sense of belonging and acceptance when I was asked to introduce myself to the class and share with them the cultural practices I engaged in while living in Australia.

My cultural experiences in Japan have been endless, and I felt so grateful for the time the Sonoda University staff gave us to make it such a pleasant experience! I would also like to say how very thankful I am to the teachers who managed, without fail, to remain optimistic and deeply passionate about teaching Japanese. I’m very proud to say that I’m now quite confident in ordering food in restaurants, thanks to a large appetite for Curry House CoCo and the multiple visits I’ve had to the “taiyaki” (fish-shaped pastries filled with custard or red bean paste) stand near Amagasaki station. I would highly recommend this exchange program for anyone, both young and old!

Tradition and Technology in Japan

Diana O, Bachelor of Creative Industries

Ritsumeikan University Japanese Winter Program (Jan – Feb 2017)

It was at the beginning of summer when I decided I needed a change, so QUT’s short-term mobility program in Japan was the perfect opportunity to do something productive in holidays while continuing my Japanese studies. Ritsumeikan University is located on the north side of Kyoto, close to Kinkakuji Temple; the campus offers a brand new library, computer labs, convenient stores, numerous vending machines, and several co-op restaurants that are cheap and offer delicious food. Generally a lunch at the co-op restaurant is between 5 to 8 AUD.

Ritsumeikan University

As part of the Ritsumeikan Winter Japanese Program, I stayed at Taishogun International Dorm, which belongs to the university. The accommodation is only a 15 minutes walk to Ritsumeikan. The dorm is a modern, close to affordable restaurants, supermarkets, Emmachi Train station and buses. Living in a dorm is an essential part of the experience as you live and share most of your time with the other students. This was a wonderful opportunity to make new friends and meet people from other cultures.

Taishogun International Dorm

When you do an intensive language program there is a lot of content covered in a small period of time. This short-term program runs for 5 weeks, so you need to continuously study throughout the program in order to keep up with the content. Additionally we had Japanese cultural studies, 3 times a week, which were my favorite as we had the opportunity to meet Geiko-san and Maiko-san (Geishas), do pottery, cook Japanese food, play traditional Wadaiko drums and so much more.

Cultural Class: Japanese Cuisine, Geiko san and Maiko San

Living in Kyoto was fantastic. Kyoto is considered Japan’s cultural capital; it has over 2000 shrines and temples plus 17 Unesco world heritage sites. In a magical way the city is able to blend tradition and technology seamlessly, thus making Kyoto one of the most exciting places to visit in Japan. Thanks to the excellent transport system, I was able to take day trips to Osaka, Nara, Kobe, etc. My time in Kyoto gave me the opportunity to take risks, experience another culture, explore new things and make new friends. If given the chance I will do the short-term program again.

If you are interested in undertaking a short-term program during the QUT semester breaks, check out the QUT Global Portal for more information.

My Internship Experience

Hi, my name is Tiffanie and I’m scared of sharks, women who wear white pants, snakes, tall people, running out of hand sanitiser, sea cucumbers, crying children, weak handshakes, cane toads, 4s, accidentally swallowing gum, the Caboolture line and my own shadow (no, I’m not scared of spiders – don’t be ridiculous).

So you’d be correct in assuming that, upon hearing I’d managed to organise an internship, I was mildly terrified. What if I hated the work? What if I hated the people? What if I broke something important? What if I offended all their clients? What if I was wasting my time and money?

You see, realistically, the internship had very little to do with what I’m studying. I’m a second year journalism student, and I undertook my internship with a Queensland based trade organisation, who have offices worldwide (including in Tokyo, where I worked). These two fields have about as much in common as a hedgehog and a spoon. And yet, during my albeit short stint in the office, I was able to acquire and/or practice skills that are universally desired in the job market.

            The view from the office that I worked in

I primarily performed administration and research tasks applicable to the Queensland education, resources and agriculture sectors while in the office. I did everything from filing and making cups of tea, to attending an event at the Australian embassy, and researching opportunities for the practical application of drones in Queensland. However, through it all, I was able to develop and practice skills and qualities that are essential in any workplace, such as; teamwork, communication, attention to detail, organisation and time management.

Within 48 hours of starting my internship, all my fears were calmed. The work I was tasked with, although not something I’d usually do, was interesting; the people I worked with were welcoming and willing to work with me, even though I had no previous experience and my Japanese skills were severely lacking; and, above all else, this experience was not even close to a waste of my time and money.

For anyone considering undertaking an internship, whether domestically or abroad, I could not recommend it more. If you throw yourself into it and make the most of every opportunity to learn, you’ll come out the side with learning outcomes that are applicable to literally any field. Honestly, if I enjoyed it, you’re bound to also. At the very least, you come out of it with an experience to add to your CV and impress future employers with.

Sincerely,
Tiffanie.

A Semester in Tokyo

Chanelle J, Bachelor of Business

Rikkyo University, Japan (Semester 1, 2016)

New Colombo Plan mobility grant recipient

My decision to do exchange in Tokyo was influenced by my love of Japanese design and architecture, and also because I was interested to learn more about the culture. I was excited for a challenge to live in a country with a different language and way of life to me. And what a challenge it was, but I loved every minute of it!

n the top of Mt. Fuji with friends from Rikkyo University

Rikkyo university in Ikebukuro is a beautiful campus, though much smaller than QUT. The gym, swimming pool, tennis, basketball facilities are amazing and free for students to use. The orientation process to use these facilities is a bit tedious, especially for non-Japanese speakers, but well worth it!

The university system is very different to what I was used to. Attendance is compulsory and counts towards your final grade. We were required to do a minimum of 7 subjects to be on a student visa. This was a lot more work than I was used to at QUT, however the assessment items were much smaller.

The international office staff were very helpful and organized many free events for exchange students. I always felt like I had somewhere to go for help and someone to talk if I had a problem. Every day would bring new challenges, like receiving mail in the post I couldn’t understand, so it was a lifesaver to be able to take this to the international office for help.

Rikkyo, Ikebukuro Campus in the rain

 

I chose to live in an apartment in Zoshigaya, which is about 15min walk away from Rikkyo. I really enjoyed this location because I didn’t have to rely on the train. I bought a 2nd hand bike to get around the city. I recommend this to everyone!

Renting an apartment by myself was a huge expense at approximately $2000 AUD. It came completely fitted out with everything I needed for my stay, which is very different to the dormitories where you need to buy everything. If I had my time again I would prefer to stay somewhere cheaper.

Exploring Kawagoe, a traditional Japanese town

 

My living expenses (excluding rent) were around $1500 per month. It is really cheap to eat out and drink. There is a very cheap cafeteria style dining hall at university where you could get basic Japanese food for around $4 to $5.

My highlights were climbing Mt. Fuji, Go-Karting around Akihabara and shopping for vintage clothes in Shimokitazawa.

Overall, I loved my experience at Rikkyo and would recommend it to everyone!

Bullet Trains, Godzilla and Temples – The Real Japanese Experience

Elise L, Bachelor of Business/Bachelor of Fine Arts

Ritsumeikan University (Semester 2, 2016)

New Colombo Plan mobility grant recipient

In the Fall Semester of 2016 I studied at Ritsumeikan University in Osaka, Japan. I was part of the short term ‘Study In Kyoto’ program (SKP), but because I study in the Business Track my home campus and life was actually in Osaka.

Ritsumeikan University, Osaka Ibaraki Campus, from the ninth floor

I lived in a studio apartment (in the same building as many other SKPers) about forty minutes by train from uni. OIC campus was only completed in 2015, so dormitories are still under construction. Our apartments were small (22m2) but had everything we needed and I really came to love that little space. Being based in Osaka, we also had places like Kyoto, Kobe, and Nara only an hour away by train! Cost of living in Osaka seems moderate – rent is quite high and travel can be expensive (a ride on the bullet train can cost hundreds of dollars…), but food is very cheap and it is easy to walk to many places.

Home base – Aya Mikuni apartments

SKP students were assigned a Japanese student buddy, and they helped us with the little complexities of day-to-day life – how do you pay your bills when you can’t read them? How do you call the maintenance guy when you don’t speak Japanese and he doesn’t speak English? Our buddies helped us to function as residents rather than tourists, as well as taking us sightseeing and making us feel very welcome.

Shinjuku, Tokyo, feat. Godzilla

I spent more time on campus at Ritsumeikan than I ever have at QUT, and the timetable was more intensive than I’m used to – going from part-time study to 10 x 90 minute classes a week was a bit of a shock to the system! I studied Japanese too, and I’d highly recommend it – the things we learned were very practical for everyday life. There are also many university events to attend – we volunteered in a Haunted House at the Halloween festival, and we supported the university team at their American football games (go Panthers!). I attended the first World Community Power Conference in Fukushima, which was fascinating, and also visited the Toyota factory in Aichi.

My top 3 tips for studying in Japan:
1. Say yes (hai/はい)!
A piece of advice that my Dad gave me when I moved from our small country town to the big city of Brisbane. Whether it’s a student excursion on offer, or grabbing dinner with new people, say yes. If you don’t enjoy it you don’t have to do it again, but at least you tried!

2. Learn the language!
Downloading an app, buying a phrasebook or enrolling in classes like I did – language was the biggest barrier I encountered in Japan. By the time I left, I was able to have very simple conversations, and that felt like a huge achievement when I couldn’t even read my own mail.

3. Get an ICOCA card
A bit like a gocard in Brisbane, except you can’t get a discount as an international student (boo). It streamlines your travel process (no queueing for tickets), works across the whole country, and you can pay for a travel pass –  I had unlimited travel between my university station and the central Osaka station (with my home station being in between) which was worthwhile. Just don’t lose your card!

Japan is an amazing country and I feel like I barely scratched the surface, despite travelling as much as my budget allowed. My exchange actually postponed my graduation by a year, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat – in fact, I’ve already booked my flights to go back!

The famous red tori gates of Fushimi Inari shrine, Kyoto

Interning with Kyoto Journal

In the second semester of 2016 I was afforded the opportunity to study abroad at Ritsumeikan University, Osaka, Japan. During that time, I also undertook an internship with Japan’s longest-running independent English publication, Kyoto Journal.

Initially focusing on Japan, specifically the ancient capital of Kyoto, the quarterly magazine has broadened over the past thirty years to include insights and perspectives from all of Asia. The publication is run and produced by an incredibly talented and committed team of volunteers based locally, nationally, and internationally.

I discovered Kyoto Journal while searching for articles about Japan, trying to do some ‘pre-reading’ before I arrived in a new country. I loved the style of the magazine and was interested in the articles and the volunteer nature of the publication, so I emailed them to see how I could get involved. If you’re on exchange (or even if you haven’t left yet) and you find an organisation that you’re really interested in – reach out to them! You never know what might happen.

My role as an intern varied quite a lot. I did research, collaborated with other volunteers to build information databases, participated in brainstorming for new projects and PR, interviewed a local apprentice artisan, provided feedback on a crowdfunding campaign, and helped to prepare for an upcoming photography exhibition. Kyoto Journal does not have a designated office space, so work was done and meetings were held in coffee shops, public spaces and at Impact Hub Kyoto, a co-working space to which Kyoto Journal has a membership. I enjoyed this transient and collaborative approach to working, which also allowed me to see parts of Kyoto that I would not have otherwise encountered.

Impact Hub Kyoto (L) and working at the Rohm Theatre in Kyoto (R).

The volunteer nature of the work meant that the entirety of the Kyoto Journal team that I met, whether online or face-to-face, were very committed to and excited by what they were doing. Being a volunteer also allowed for a great deal of flexibility – I was based in Osaka and studying full-time, so it was understood if I could not make it to Kyoto on short notice. Everyone else has jobs, families and other commitments as well, which makes for a dynamic and engaged team – volunteers who have made time in their lives to be involved. Everyone wants to be there and bring their best to the job.

As far as I know, this flexibility and work-life balance is atypical of jobs in Japan, but I would assume that this comes down to the fact that involvement with the editorial side of Kyoto Journal is entirely volunteer-based.

Despite my short stay, lasting only a few months, I was made to feel very welcome and valued. It was incredibly rewarding to work with such a passionate, talented, diverse group of people and I’m very grateful to the Kyoto Journal team for allowing me to be involved with this unique publication. I’m looking forward to being involved in their Kyoto photography exhibition when I return to Japan in April!

(from L to R) Elise, Hirisha Mehta (Head of Design), John Einarsen (Founding Editor) and Ken Rodgers (Managing Editor) study an early edition of Kyoto Journal.

 

Highlights of my Time in Japan

Jackie: Kansai Gaidai University, Osaka, Japan – Semester 1, 2016

At KGU you have three accommodation options; you can apply for a homestay, apply to live in a dorm or you can find your own options. I chose to live in a dorm because I had never lived independently before. I had always wondered what on campus living was like and it was well worth it. I made close friends with the other girls I lived with and it was a nice area to be in. It wasn’t too far from school or a grocery store or the bus.jackie_4

The highlight of exchange in Japan was the amazingly rich and diverse culture. One day I would be in Osaka (which is known in Japan for being the life of the party) exploring all the weird and quirky things. The next day I would be in Kyoto exploring the incredibly significant and important government building, learning about all of Japans history from my friends who are smarter than me and staring in awe at the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) wondering how a flower could be so beautiful. (Side note: also the food was amazing. My friends and I still message each other about how much we miss Udon and Sashimi).jackie_3

My exchange was amazing and if I could do it again or go back and extend my trip I would. I learnt so much about myself and other cultures, which I would never have known otherwise. I can’t recommend Japan enough as a host country. I feel like I have seen so much of Japan because of my exchange and for that I will be forever grateful.

Interested in going on a QUT Student Exchange? Learn more here. Or drop in and see our exchange ambassadors at Gardens Point in A Block.

Jackie’s Exchange in Osaka, Japan

Jackie: Kansai Gaidai University, Osaka, Japan – Semester 1, 2016

Nine months ago, just after Christmas, I was mentally preparing myself to go to Osaka, Japan to study at Kansai Gaidai University for 4 and half months. The whole thing terrified me. The thought of going to an unfamiliar country, where I knew two words of the native language, where I didn’t know a single soul and where I would be on my own for the very first time in my life, gave me so much anxiety.

Me and my New Friends

Me and my New Friends

However, I pushed through and on the 17th of January, with tears in my eyes and butterflies in my stomach, I said goodbye to my parents and went on my way. When I landed in Osaka I was a nervous wreck. I got through customs, pulled myself into the nearest bathroom and had a little cry. Little did I know I was about to embark on one of the greatest adventures of my life.

 

The first people I met at the airport were welcoming and lovely. They were exchange kids from all across the globe and all just as scared as me. There were some from America others from Argentina and myself from Australia (I guess we had an A thing going on?). We all stuck to each other as a survival method and became good friends. We hung out every day, had classes together and explored every inch of Japan that we could. We made friendships that I hope we keep for life.

The schooling was very different from back home. It wasn’t modeled on a Japanese system but rather an American. In a lot of ways it reminded me of high school. jackie_2I saw the same people every day, we all hung out during set lunch times and there were certain classes that were mandatory (Japanese). It was nostalgic but exciting. Sometimes I found the curriculum a little frustrating compared to back home as it wasn’t very academically challenging. I really enjoyed the Japanese classes I took and feel that they helped a lot. (If you are going to KGU, please, please, please take the Kanji class. I get it, it’s intimidating but if you’ve never studied Japanese before it will make your life so much better.)

Want to learn more about QUT’s Student Exchange Options? Click Here…

Always things to do

I budgeted around $4000 of my own money, my youth allowance and the $4000 QUT scholarship. However NUCB required prepayment of rent for one semester students before I received the scholarship. I had to actually borrow money from my parents to cover the shortfall as it was $4000 and I had already purchased my airfare.

Generally about Y15,000 easily covered my weekly expenses and left me a little to go out with. I was lucky and received a Y25,000 monthly scholarship which covered the shortfall from my youth allowance for my weekly expenses. I found it sometimes difficult to stick to my budget as there were always things to do, places to visit or new foods to try. So I often broke my budget a little when I was sightseeing outside of Nagoya.

I think the cost of living is lower than Brisbane, excluding rent (I don’t know what Brisbane’s rent is since I still live with my parents), as you can eat and travel cheaper.  There were lots of relatively cheap restaurants near the dorm and the convenience stores sold cheap bento. I got a prepaid travel card that saved my money for my uni travel but also let me ride for free between certain stations. NUCB also had half price bus tickets which was brilliant.

I generally used a travel money card and net banking instead of using an Australian card as it tend to charge extra overseas. Getting a bank account in Japan was fairly difficult and NUCB did not recommend getting one unless you were working while studying or staying there for a year. However it was annoying that I could only withdraw money at 7-11 and post office. ATMs and many businesses would not accept a foreign card. You are required to pay Japanese health insurance but it’s not expensive at about $20 per month and worth it if you visit the dentist or need to visit a doctor.

Studying Business from a different perspective

I studied only business and culture courses while at NUCB. Studying business from the perspective of a different culture as well as learning more about that culture and its history was very interesting. English not being the native language was not a problem due to how all the teachers and exchange staff spoke English. Although sometimes some of the teachers had trouble understanding and answering questions.

I think the academic intensity was higher due to more classes, but the actual assessment was a bit easier. Unlike QUT, lectures were more common, with less classroom work and interaction except for in culture class and innovation management. Presentations were used as assessment in every class, and were generally 20-30min or full period presentations long. This was a great opportunity to work with other students. Every class has a final exam, unlike QUT, this was a bit more stressful as exam period was over 5 days and you had to do around 7-10 exams, sometimes 3-4 per day depending on your courses.

Accommodation at NUCB

Accommodation at NUCB

My accommodation was a private dorm room. It came with furniture, bedding, a pan, dishes and cutlery and also had air-conditioning, a washing machine and a private bathroom. However the kitchen was rather small and only had one burner which made cooking somewhat difficult. But the large range of relatively cheap food available nearby meant I didn’t have to cook every night. It was located close to transport and NUCB while being walking distance vicinity of downtown Nagoya which was great. NUCB also had a share house and another dorm building in different areas; and are currently building a new dorm near Sakae.