Jake - University of Tokyo

B Science/Arts
Semester 2, 2018

Academic experience

I studied 4 Japanese language courses (one of which was intensive) for the arts section of my degree. They undoubtedly improved my Japanese abilities more than could be possible in Australia as the classes involved interviewing people on the street about current issues in Japan, conversing with Japanese students at the university, and completing reports in Japanese about major global challenges that face us today. Unlike UQ, teaching at the University of Tokyo is still mainly face to face. For chronic lecture skippers like myself, that means no recorded lectures and having to hand in assignments in person - but you'll get used to it. In addition, each class (excluding intensive classes) only has one session per week which often means that there is comparatively more homework you have to do, but less contact hours than courses at UQ. 

The course registration process is relatively simple, and is much like UQ where you just have to go to a website and search for a course and click enrol. To those who will be doing Japanese courses, you will have to do a placement exam before you are allowed to pick what level you wish to study Japanese at, although you are allowed to ignore their placement level if you are feeling brave.

Personal experience

During my time in Japan I made friends from all over the world and I can't wait to see them all again someday. As it was not my first time in Japan, I had already travelled outside of Tokyo to Kyoto and Osaka before, so this time I opted to travel with friends to less known cities around Japan. I definitely recommend random trips to places you've never heard of, as well as the big cities, because ending up lost in the middle of nowhere with your friends is always a funny story to look back on later. 

For my personal skill development, I definitely feel like I've become a more independent and confident person, and also can now definitely hold my own in a conversation in Japanese. I think no matter what you're looking to improve on a personal level, after you finish your exchange you will look back and be surprised at how much you actually grow.

Accommodation

I lived off campus in a share house in Shibuya, about 15 minutes from the Komaba campus of university. As Shibuya is one of the major districts of Tokyo the cost of the rent here was very expensive (although electricity and water are usually paid for in these arrangements). Compared to my friends who were living in one of the University lodges, people who were living off-campus were generally paying over 10x the amount in rent. For this reason I really recommend applying for the Komaba lodge accommodation as it is extremely cheap, convenient (2 minute walk from uni), and also quite central in Tokyo (2 stops from Shibuya station). 

However, the spaces for this lodge are extremely limited and most people end up getting accepted into their second choice for accommodation which is generally the Mitaka Dormitory. While this dorm is even cheaper than the Komaba lodge, it is about an hour from university and the main districts of Tokyo, so to my friends who lived they often felt it was a huge chore to get to university or to get back home after a long day/night out. Additionally, the rooms are not provided with mattresses, so when you first arrive in Tokyo you're already tasked to somehow carry a mattress back to your room. Despite this it will definitely save you at least a couple thousand dollars to stay in this dorm over other options, so it is definitely a case of how much you are willing to spend on convenience.

Costs

In terms of the cost of food, restaurant food is about 1/3 of the price of food in Australia if it is a Japanese restaurant, but western food is often the same price as in Australia. In addition, fruit, vegetables and meat from the supermarket are about the same price as in Australia, but fish is significantly cheaper. I think on average I spent $20 a day on food, but I did eat at restaurants quite often with friends. 

Transport in Tokyo is about $2 if you are riding anywhere within the city, but the University can provide you with a special commuter discount which cuts that to just over $1 if you are travelling to university. If you want to travel out of Tokyo on the local or express trains, it costs around $10, and the bullet trains to further away locations will cost you upwards of $70. 

At the end of my exchange, I also did a big trip with my friends to Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan over 3 weeks. In total the cost of the flights totalled to around $500 which is pretty cheap for a 3 country trip so I definitely recommend putting some money aside to travel after the semester ends. 

In total I spent around $8000, but if you manage to stay in University accommodation I think you could easily cut that to $6000, but don't forget to allow for unexpected expenses!

Challenge

The biggest challenge in Tokyo is definitely that there's always things to do. For example, in one day you might have class, a day trip out of the city, then a party at the dorms followed by a night out at the bar and then you'll go home and have to finish an assignment - and then the next day you'll repeat it all again. It can definitely be super exhausting and I encourage you to do as many things as you can before your body says no more, but definitely don't be afraid to take a timeout for a day.

Professional Development

The main thing you will gain in terms of professional development on exchange is definitely networking with people around the world and also connecting with professors at the university. If you ever wish to work in Japan in the future, a reference from a professor at the University of Tokyo is like a reference from Harvard in the US. So if that is your goal in the future definitely be nice to your teachers!

Highlight

The highlight of my experience was definitely the friends I got to make during the 6 months I spent in Japan. As I said before at the end of my exchange I went on a pretty big trip with a lot of them and it was a crazy and unforgettable time. I definitely recommend trying to find people who will travel with you!

Top tips

There is a scholarship at the university of Tokyo called JASSO which you can apply for by simply submitting your GPA in an excel document! From what I saw if you make the GPA cut-off you're almost guaranteed to get the scholarship and it's about $1000 a month if you receive it so definitely apply.