I am just over a month into my study abroad program at Aoyama Gakuin University, a SCU partner university in Tokyo, Japan. I first came to Japan on a short trip a couple of years ago and fell in love with its unique and welcoming culture. Japan was at the top of my list for study abroad options and my experiences so far have outshone my expectations.
Tokyo is the most populated city on Earth; it is an urban jungle that goes on for as far as the eye can see (the observation deck at the Shinjuku Metropolitan building is a great place to test the theory for free). Every available space, whether above, below or in between is put to use making it a bizarre labyrinth of cement and bright colours. Every street or back alley you find yourself in yields a new and strange surprise and every corner is jammed with something to see, do or eat. Tokyo has something for everyone and quite a bit more. If you are into anime culture Akihabara is filled with cosplayers, manga stores, game arcades and an unbelievable variety of anime paraphernalia. If you want to experience Tokyo’s fashion scene you can go people watching in Harajuku or head to Shimo-kitazawa which is filled with vintage clothing, record stores and tiny music venues which operate most nights of the week. If you are looking for something tasty to eat, no matter where you are just look to your left or right and you are sure to find something. Pro tip: convenience stores are a located on almost every corner, open 24/7 and are stocked with cheap and tasty food which rivals anything you can get in a Japanese restaurant in Australia.
When you first arrive in Japan it can be quite a shock, the garish lights and advertisements, the sheer number of people and the way that everything and everyone seems to operate in unison like a fast paced, well organised machine which never misses a beat. It is an extremely good idea to brush up on a little bit of basic Japanese (yes, no, please, thank you, etc.) before coming as very few people speak English. However almost everyone in Japan is extremely polite and happy to go out of their way to help so the combination of a few basic phrases and some body language can get you a long way. A number of times I have asked people for directions and they have dropped what they were doing (once a person closed their store) to walk me there personally. It is also a good idea to learn about Japanese etiquette, which is a cornerstone of their polite and functional society. It is easy to say or do something that seems commonplace to an Australian but is considered highly embarrassing to a Japanese person. Luckily this kind of information is pretty easy to find and Japanese people will appreciate the effort and be understanding of the occasional mistake.
Don’t let the language and etiquette challenges dissuade you from choosing Japan for your study abroad program, Aoyama Gakuin University doesn’t require Japanese as a prerequisite and offers a huge range of courses in English. Also during orientation week they will give you a basic rundown of the do’s and don’t of Japanese etiquette. The campus is located just a 10 minute walk from Shibuya station, which is one of Tokyo’s main city centres, so there are plenty of cool places to eat and hang out with friends in between classes. There are around 80 other exchange students at Aoyama Gakuin at the moment and there are regular hangouts, day trips and parties organised by various student organisations and the super friendly Japanese students at the University. So far I have managed to make a heap of friends and have never been at a loss for something fun or interesting to do. I am extremely happy that I chose Japan and Aoyama Gakuin University for my study abroad experience and I could not recommend coming to Aoyama Gakuin University more highly!