A Western Scholar in an Eastern School

IMG_1800 IMG_1798 IMG_1795 IMG_1788 IMG_1766Despite that I have been here for over a month, this week is only my second week of classes. The education system here is a lot different than I was expecting, with me having multiple weeks of orientation only Mondays, Wednesday and sometimes Fridays, while at New Paltz, orientation is a straight week. It was nice just having only like 2 hours twice or three times a week of academic commitments and then getting the rest of the day and week off. Still, I really would have preferred it to be like the states and for classes to have started sooner, but I did take the time to see a lot of things!

Once I got to point of choosing classes, that`s when things got a bit difficult. While I have always had a love and fascination with Japan, I can not speak Japanese, so I was placed in the English language track and I figured and my advisers agreed that taking introductory Japanese in Japan would make sense. However, the starting bar for Japanese language classes even in the English track requires that I know all of Hiragana, the Japanese alphabet consisting of at its most basic form, 46 characters. I decided that Japanese was not for me, but Meiji University heavily insisted that I try it, needless to say it did not work out. So I guess that i`ll try Japanese back at New Paltz, probably easier there for an American.

Choosing my other classes went a lot smoother, the first week of classes was going to the different ones and if I liked the classes then I would hand in a sign up sheet to take them. I am taking Liberal Arts Studies, Animation Culture A, Japanese Performing Arts A, Manga Culture A, Asian Studies A and Japanese History A. Classes here are only worth 2 credits each, so I need to take 6 in order to have the minimal number necessary to be a full time student, but the classes are a lot easier with a heavier percentage of the grade coming from participation and attendance, its a pleasant experience. Classes only meet once a week for an hour and half, so the length is the same as back at New Paltz, something I am quite content with. I do not really have any homework aside from readings and answering questions based on those readings, so as soon as classes are over, I usually can explore more of Tokyo and my days off are filled with all kinds of adventures.

It pretty much is a straight shot from my local station, Shin-Koiwa, to my universitys station at Nakano, so do not have to transfer to get to school, but there is an express to Nakano that starts around halfway through my trip, so I often take that to skip 8 stops. I bought a commuter pass, so the trip is already payed for in advance for the next 3 months and as well all the stops between my station and Nakano are covered including Akihabara, pop-culture Mecca of Japan, the baseball stadiums of both of the teams in Tokyo and a bunch of other cool places, so plenty of fun to be had! Just as the expectation goes, the trains are punctual, clean and have a much nicer appearance than the ones in New York. 

My classes are pretty fun especially since they are all in English and the subject matter interests me. Of my six classes, one is taught by a Canadian and two by a British professor, so I can very easily understand them. Most of my classmates are Japanese, who are taking the English class to improve the value of their resume, when they go job hunting, they are not always very confident in their English, so many of them only talk, when asked, still I think that their English is understandable and I have offered to help them if they wanted, though they are a little shy. Among my classes, my Liberal Arts Studies class is my favorite, though the name sounds vague, it is about the history, influence and impact of American Television on American society and the world. Of course, I have a very good grasp on it from years of `research, so I am very knowledgeable on the subject and often explain elements of Television to my Japanese classmates. It is very interesting to have to analyze Television from a scholar`s perspective rather than a viewers.

Both Animation and Manga history are taught by the same professor, so they seem like companion classes. We havent gotten to more modern history yet on the subjects, but I thoroughly enjoying them and often have just as good of a grasp on the subject as the professor. Performing Arts is also interesting, learning about the different classical forms of Japanese theater arts like Kabuki and then discussing it in class as groups, who then have to present our findings to the rest of the class. Asian Studies is about Japan`s relationship with its neighbors, so it really allows me to better understand Japanese political relations better. Japanese History, despite the name actually starts in the 19th century, so I was kind of bummed about there being no samurais, though I have a much better understanding of modern Japanese history as a whole over medieval, still the first few classes involved Samurais and I impressed both the professor and my classmates with my knowledge of it.

Overall, I am enjoying my classes and I look forward to them every week. Next week is a National holiday, so I only have my Liberal Arts class, so I will take the opportunity to go on some amazing adventures outside of Tokyo. My Classes are pretty fun and my classmates are also really great. The education system here may be different, but like everything else, I am adapting to it well!


Aaron is a History Major with the desire to see the world and learn as much as possible about it. He cannot wait to write about his adventures in Japan, making new friends, living in Tokyo and exploring both new & old Japan. This is Aaron's second Study Abroad program to Japan through SUNY New Paltz!

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