Meet Musashi at Waseda University in Tokyo!
Name: Musashi Lauren Miyashita
University: Waseda University
Degree: Liberal Arts Degree (Concentration in Political Economic International Development)
Year of Study: 3rd year
How did you choose your university destination and course of study?
During the pandemic, I took a gap year which acted as a buffer between me and the daunting idea of adulthood and gave me time to think about the next couple of years of my life. I’m half Japanese and half Indonesian and grew up in Indonesia creating a disconnect to my Japanese side. I’d never lived in Japan and I didn’t really have any Japanese friends in Bali so ,consequently, I didn’t know about Japanese culture. To further widen this disconnect, when my mother talked to me in Japanese, I would respond back in English causing me to suffer in my Japanese speaking ability (although my listening was okay).
Initially, I planned to study in the Netherlands with most of my classmates but after taking the time to consider what was best for me, I decided that Japan would be a better fit. Luckily, my mom and younger sister moved to Japan at the beginning of Covid so I had an easier transition moving countries.
Regarding my course, I’ve always been someone who likes to experience new things and I tend to look at things holistically. When I was in 11th grade, Sarah made me familiar with the idea of a liberal arts degree. This degree seemed fitting as I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to study but had an energy that needed to be channelled in a certain direction. I was lucky to find that Waseda offered only a few International courses and one of them was a liberal arts course (SILS).
What have been the highlights of your academic programme so far?
I am delighted that Waseda offers a liberal arts programme and gives a student like me, who was afraid of committing to only one field of study, a chance to find a personally tailored path while being in the presence of the country’s most hardworking individuals and have alumni in incredible positions around Japan and beyond.
The courses I have taken at SILS have been spread very widely across a variety of fields. Although I have only recently decided that I would like to focus my studies on Political and International Economic Development, I have a few highlights studying Japanese culture.
My seminar on the “third place” (sociology) required that I carry out fieldwork and explore the Izakayas of Japan. Izakaya are Japan’s bars that predominantly welcome salarymen/women and university students. While researching the relationships between those who were regulars at the Izakaya and the owner, I became a regular myself after bonding over countless drinks and yakitoris (these drunken nights got me an A+).
I also studied the historical culture of jazz in Japan and got to visit several prominent jazz cafes including the New York Bar in Park Hyatt where they filmed “Lost in Translation” (2003).
What do you enjoy most about living in Tokyo?
Because Tokyo is the largest metropolis in the world, one of my favourite things to do is make a playlist, put on a nice fit, plug my headphones in, and take a walk anywhere my gut tells me to go. I’ll get off at a random station and just walk. I’ve encountered so many interesting people and places exploring little alleyways in lesser-known areas. I also love the vintage thrifting and the fashion scene here, being inspired by people on the street almost every time I step outside.
The city life is lively and there’s rarely a dull moment but I find myself gravitating to nature quite often. With the abundance of Japanese temples and public parks, I can re-centre myself when I need to and take a break from the fast-paced urban environment. On the contrary, the nightlife in Japan can get pretty hectic and if you miss your last train (which is pretty early), you have three choices: keep partying, karaoke, or spend the night at a love hotel.
How supportive is your university to international students?
Waseda is located in the centre of Tokyo and attracts quite a handful of international undergraduate and graduate students each semester. My university is therefore very supportive of integrating international students into various programs and campus life.
Although I have never participated in these programmes, I have heard through friends that the university hosts welcoming parties and dinners encouraging international students to meet with Japanese and other international students to ease the integration process.
The Intercultural Community Center (ICC) is a place where international students new to the university can go and ask questions and meet new people. They also host events like lunch meets and picnics. At SILS, almost everybody speaks English so making friends isn’t too difficult.
What have been 3 of the main challenges you have faced during your time at university?
- Online classes: For the better part of my first year at Waseda, around 90% of my classes were still online. Japan had incredibly strict Covid restrictions for an extended period of time compared to other countries around the world. During this time, classes were very mundane as a result of the lack of face-to-face contact with professors. It was also very difficult to make meaningful connections with classmates when you only had a 10-minute break-out room session with a random classmate. My motivation to learn, make friends, and even do activities went down the drain.
- Language Barrier: Although Japanese people learn English from a young age, the majority of people will not be able to speak English. Even though I can speak better Japanese than the average international student, I sometimes struggle to get my exact thoughts across. There are also times when I will find it very difficult to talk to Japanese friends because of their use of slang and it makes me nervous because I don’t know that much slang. Reading Kanji is also a headache and I believe that I’ve given up on opportunities or missed chances just because I’m unable to read certain information.
- Finding fulfilling courses: As mentioned, SILS offers many different courses but what I’ve found is that only a fraction of the courses are personally fulfilling or have high-quality professors that make the class engaging enough. As a result, I often find myself regretting the choices I’ve made for the semester. This also happens because of the limits on the number of students allowed in each course, so filling in your timetable just to meet credit requirements is pretty frustrating.
What activities are you involved in outside of your academic programme?
Outside my programme, I am part of the core marketing team at Japan’s Venture Academy (JVA) which is a start-up community of university students around Tokyo who are eager to build entrepreneurial efficacy. JVA brings in industry experts from Google, Figma, Mercari, etc. to advise those enrolled in the 3-month programme. JVA also organises pitch competitions inviting investors and venture capitalists, networking events, and podcast sessions.
Thanks to my close friends from high school, I’ve been training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) for around 10 months now. I joined a BJJ gym close to campus and have created many new relationships with both staff and other members. BJJ has benefited both my physical and mental well-being. I train around 4-5 times a week after school and my part-time job, preparing for my first national competition at the end of the month! Occasionally, I join Waseda’s Mixed Martial Arts club and a friend’s wrestling club at a different university.
I’m also a part-time English teacher and work around 3 times a week.
How easy is it to find accommodation? Can you describe your living arrangements?
Around the Waseda campus, there are many student dormitories and private student housing. If those don’t fit your needs, there are a ton of apartments and shared houses available all around Tokyo and the access to any station is really good.
I currently live with my family around 45 minutes from campus. It can be quite draining standing on the train after a full day of school and work so I am planning to move into an apartment closer to campus with some friends.
Do you think your university experience is preparing you well for the working world and do they offer support with finding jobs and internships?
Many students at Waseda are very focused on their lives after graduating and Japan has a very prominent job-searching culture (known as shuukatsu 就活). That being said, there are lots of opportunities for students to intern at a company in their 3rd and 4th year through connections or even Linkedin.
However, I have noticed that a big percentage of the internships and job offers require high-level Japanese which has been a factor that has intimidated me. The University also offers Internships through their website (although not that many) and also a career support service. I think the best way to learn about the working world is by talking to older students and or anyone in the working world. For example, I teach English part-time and I have the opportunity to talk to the student’s parents after class and they have been very helpful in terms of giving advice.
What opportunities have you had to travel and explore during weekends and vacations?
Because the transportation system in Japan is so efficient, I can easily take short trips during holidays. Some memorable trips were climbing Mount Fuji, travelling to Kyoto and Osaka with some friends from Bali, skiing in Hakuba and Niigata, and solo backpacking through Kofu prefecture.
During my longer breaks, I was lucky enough to visit Europe for the first time, being reunited with some of my close friends and peeking into their lives abroad. I travelled to the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.
This summer I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live with a tribe for a week, off the grid with no electricity and no signal on the island of Mentawai.
What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would offer an international student thinking of coming to Tokyo and Japan to study?
- Learn some Japanese beforehand! Learn some basics: How to ask for things, self-introduction, what the convenience store clerk is saying to you, etc.
- Be aware of the cultural differences, there are a handful of unfamiliar and unwritten rules in Japan that might be good to know.
- Do thorough research about what documents you need. I have heard a lot of instances where students have had trouble with registering residence cards and bank accounts.