It’s not obvious, but I did actually come to Tokyo to study! So now I’m going to talk about my university – the beautiful amazing historical Tokyo U!
Here are a few facts about life at Tokyo U before we start: 1. There are a fair few campuses, and they’re all for different subjects and different years. As an exchange student you can utilise either one or two (just Komaba, just Hongo, or Hongo and Komaba). They both have a great studenty atmosphere. 2. The academic day is 8:30 to 20:30. Yes, I did type that correctly. However, you’re unlikely to ever have a full day. Most people have one, two or three classes a day. 3. Each class is 105 minutes long. Again, not a typo. This fact has no redeeming quality. 4. The ratio of male to female students is 4:1. FOUR TO ONE. As somebody who is fond of the idea of being surrounded by smart Japanese men, but also somebody who is saddened by the results of deeply ingrained societal sexism, I am in two minds about this. 5. It sounds a bit scary, but it’s actually really awesome and enjoyable. Let me tell you why~!
First off, anyone who got rejected by Oxbridge (which if you’re reading from Durham is most of you, right), CRY NO MORE. Tokyo University (shortened to Toudai from Tokyo Daigaku) is even more highly-regarded in Japan (and Asia more generally) than Oxford and Cambridge are in the UK. It’s actually insane. This is a conversation between me and Japanese person X: “I’m a student here, actually.” “Ehh, where do you study?” “Tokyo University.” “WHAT TOKYO U ARE YOU SERIOUS YOU MUST BE A GENIUS!” I’m serious, it’s a huge deal here. I don’t think any of us really realised how lucky we were to be studying at Toudai until we got here. It’s an amazing experience, probably sending our employability (especially in Asia…) through the roof, and we didn’t even have to work our socks off to get here like all of the home students.
Why is it such a big deal? Well, it’s one of Japan’s oldest universities, and as such it’s enshrined in Japanese history. Here’s me beaming cheesily by the historical red gate:
And if any of you have ever read any Natsume Souseki (known as the father of modern Japanese literature), you’ll know that a bunch of his novels are set here! There’s even a huge pond in the middle of Hongo campus named “Sanshiro’s pond” after one of these novels’ characters (it’s also stunningly pretty, and it has turtles and a load of fish in it).
As well as being culturally and historically important though, it’s also at the forefront of modern research (especially in sciences). One of the exchange students I met was so excited to get into Toudai’s labs that she was nearly crying. And not just science – anything you choose to study here will probably be a crazy experience.
We confirmed this through our first few lessons in Japanese language! We’re moving so fast, and we have a lot of homework and tests, but we can already tell that our Japanese is going be amazing by the end of the year. When we got here we were faced with the most god-awful exam of our entire lives – complete beginners got off with just an hour long beginners test, but those of us with any knowledge of Japanese were made to sit a FOUR AND A HALF HOUR LONG placement test in which we had to answer about 300 questions in twelve seconds each, write an essay in Japanese and do a speaking test into a computer. We were placed in classes appropriate to our level so I suppose the test worked. But it was the most intense test I have ever had to do! (If you don’t want to have intensive language classes you don’t actually have to take this test – you can have classes that are a lot more chill, but I think this is best for those of us who want to learn fast.)
So the university is historically significant, world-renowned for its research, highly respected by employers around the world, a fountain of abundant knowledge… Is there anything I’ve forgtotten? Oh yeah: THE FOOD on campus is so good! Getting lunch in the cafeterias is like going to Wagamamas, only it’s even tastier and every meal is around the £2 mark. If you don’t want to sit and eat in the cafeteria, there are stores that you can buy food from on campus (they sell great sushi lunchboxes, dangos, riceballs and a vast array of treaty bread).
One last thing it’s important to mention is that the students here aren’t all stuck up nerds with no social lives. On the contrary, everyone is really kind and friendly, and there’s a wealth of societies you can join! Every day on Komaba campus, which is the campus that all first and second year home students study at, you can find societies practicing their singing, dancing or acting out in the open. There’s also a society called TGIF (Toudai Global Interaction Friends, not thank God it’s Friday…) made up of local students keen to make us internationals feel at home by hosting events for us to meet home students and get to know Japan more.
I’ll be blogging more about my unique Tokyo University experiences as they happen! This was really a brief overview of academic life for an exchange student here. If I had to sum it up so far in a few words, I’d say it was intense, humbling and fun. I swear, the intensity does not cancel out the fun. Overall, I just can’t believe I’m here, and my life right now is insane and amazing.