Doing a language degree, you always know that you are working your way towards your year abroad. It’s always there, hidden and looming in the background, until suddenly you’ve finished your second year exams and you realise you have 7 weeks to sort your life out before you fly away…
For all of us studying Japanese at UEA, we are the first year to leave for our year abroad in Japan – kind of exciting, kind of really scary… But no one could have prepared us for how amazing Japan actually is! So busy and built up, yet so quiet, safe, and pretty. There can’t be many places in the world where you can travel for around 30 minutes from a city and be in a completely countryside and mountainous area, like a totally different country!
I’m currently lucky enough to be spending my time studying Japanese at Meiji Gakuin University (MGU) in Tokyo, a private university located only about a 15 minute train ride from the lively and eccentric area of Shibuya. Meiji Gakuin is a Christian university, meaning I was one of the few from UEA to actually have a day off on Christmas! Spending Christmas in Japan was a crazy experience for all of us – they have all the lights and decorations, yet Christmas day is another working day for Japan. All the shops are open and everything is running. So what did us exchange students at MGU do to celebrate? Go to an British pub in Roppongi (a busy nightlife area in Tokyo) on Christmas eve (Mulled wine and eggnog, anyone?), gave secret Santa presents, and on Christmas day did what we couldn’t do at home- Go shopping and get Starbucks! Our teacher Mika Sensei even managed to visit us in Tokyo a few days before Christmas!
Tokyo itself may be known for its huge buildings, cute mascots, shopping and advanced technology, but one of the best things about being in Tokyo are all the traditional shrines and vast gorgeous parks just between all the skyscrapers and train lines. Each area in Tokyo has many tiny local shrines, plus big famous ones such as Meiji Jingu in Yoyogi park by Harajuku, and Asakusa Jinja in Asakusa. These shrines are the most amazing things you can see, and regularly have festivals that you can even join in with! You can also do the traditional Japanese thing and make prayers and get your fortunes. My fortunes at the beginning of the year abroad were, well, let’s just say not great. But once New Years came and I was lucky enough to be at the front of the crowd at Meiji Jingu (a crowd that had 2 million people come through at midnight might I add – crazy!!) and one of the first to make a New Year’s wish, strangely my luck here in Japan changed and all my new fortunes have been really good!
In October some of us at Meiji Gakuin got the chance to go to Mount Fuji for the tiny price of 1000 yen (around £5!) thanks to our amazing international office! Seeing Mt Fuji is so breathtaking, and it’s crazy to think that even though it is dormant, it is still a live Volcano. We even got to eat traditional Japanese Nabe (a stew like udon noodle dish) a special type to the Fuji area, and make our own candles overlooking the lake next to the mountain.
I also got the chance to do a home stay in the middle of the countryside with a Japanese family, which was a wonderful experience! My family were very well suited to me as they loved sport, and took me on one of their Sunday family hikes up TWO MOUNTAINS. It was the most amazing area and an incredible view, and Japan being as strange as always, had a small cafe on the top of one of the mountains! An experience I will never forget!
Japan’s weather is definitely also an improvement on England! Summers are really hot and humid – when I first arrived in Narita my thoughts were that I was actually too English to be here because it was so humid. But you quickly adapt to the heat (with the help of an abundance of air conditioning units), and enjoy the sunshine something of which there is actually a lot of! Warm weather lasted until the middle of November, and not having to use your winter coat or jumpers until then was definitely a pleasant surprise for all of us here. Now it’s the start of April, and the coats are already firmly back in the cupboard and we’ve had some glorious weather to see all the Sakura Hanami Festivals. Japan also has a typhoon season that typically lasts between June and September, meaning we actually had 3 days off from University in our first month! Saying you have a Typhoon day rather than a Snow day, not something you’d really ever imagine…. Typhoons are actually quite interesting, and so are the strangely regular earthquakes. Getting accustomed to earthquakes is not something I expected, but as Japan is on a fault line these happen all the time. Luckily most we get are between Magnitude 1 – 3, the biggest so far since I’ve been here in Tokyo has been a Magnitude 5, and hopefully that will be the biggest that we get.
The last semester of my year abroad starts tomorrow, and it’s back to normal routine for all of us here at MGU. Knowing we only have 4 more months left has made us really want to make the most of Tokyo and improving our Japanese, anyone who thinks it would be like any other capital city should really come and visit or study here! It is literally the best place I have ever been, the mix of old and new, strange things and cute objects – I couldn’t imagine my year abroad anywhere else in Japan!!!
Camilla Bishop studies Japanese at UEA.