As soon as I became a sophomore, I made a firm decision to go on exchange to Japan – “the land of the rising sun”. However, the only obstacle holding me back was the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since autumn 2021, Japan has not let anyone enter the country, except for residents. I did not lose hope, and was certain that the borders would soon open for foreigners. March 1, 2022 was one of the best days of my life, when Japan announced the issuance of visas to foreign students. The visa preparation process took a lot of time, so I was only able to arrive in Tokyo by the end of May.
My first impressions of Japan were excellent, particularly how beautiful everything seemed. Driving past rice fields during a glowing pink sunset, I could not resist the incredible charm of my temporary home.
This picture was soon replaced by the city landscape of Tokyo. What I like most about Japan’s capital city is the harmonious combination of fast highways and high-rise office buildings alongside green parks and quiet temples. Everyone will find here what their hearts are truly looking for.
Visiting parks and temples is definitely my favourite part about this vibrant city. Shinto is an ancient Japanese religion, and its main idea is the worship of the spirits of nature. Before entering a Shinto shrine in Japan, you need to rinse your mouth with water in a fountain. After this, you can get closer to the temple to throw a coin: some Japanese people who are seeking true love throw exactly a 5-yen coin, as its name “go-en” in Japanese sounds similar to the word “relationship”. This is followed by two bows, two handclaps, and any wish of your choice. The final step is to bow for the last time. Also, you can buy a list with predictions (translated as "omikiji" in Japanese) at various temples, which are available in English at larger temples like Meiji. My prediction recommended me to spend more time developing natural talents.
Sometimes, when passing by local temples, you might stumble upon the celebration of festivals in honour of the birthday of the saints. My friend and I witnessed this by chance when we were exploring the Tokyo area. The locals dress up in traditional costumes such as yukata. Children play games, and everyone enjoys street food like soba, takoyaki, caramel apples, chocolate-covered bananas, and more. Among the different festivals, the fireworks festival is what I was looking forward to the most.
In this exchange programme, I studied with Keio University, one of the best universities in Japan. The university has excellent programmes for economics and finance. Other departments for engineering and science also have a solid reputation. I am a biomedical engineering student at CityU, and the courses I took at Keio include the Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, and Mechanical and Biomaterial Engineering. To learn more about the culture of Japan, every Saturday I visited a class called ARTS/ART WORKSHOP: DISCOVERING ARTS AND CULTURE IN JAPAN. In the first lesson, we watched films about famous contemporary artists from Japan. In the next lesson, we drew a model in a yukata using charcoal and calligraphy ink. Basically, this course allowed me to learn more about the different aspects of Japanese cultures and I enjoyed it very much.
What surprises me the most about my university is its ancient history and large network of schools and campuses You can even start studying at Keio in elementary school. On the main campus of Mita, there is a museum dedicated to the history of the university, which describes in detail how the institution survived such important events as the Kanto earthquake and World War II.
Even though I missed the cherry blossom season (from late March to early April), I was still able to enjoy the rainy season in June, when the hydrangeas were in full bloom. Our university organized a trip to the neighbouring cities of Kamakura and Enoshima for us to get better acquainted with Japanese culture. The hydrangea blossom is followed by the lotus blossom season. In honour of this, natural matcha and seasonal sweets in the form of lotus flowers can be tasted in traditional Japanese tea houses.
Summer in Japan is all about vibrant festivals with deep history. My favourite was the Tanabata (Star Festival) celebration in Hiratsuka. The streets of the city, where the parade took place in the morning, were brightly decorated and full of colour.
The Miitama festival in Tokyo surprised me with the vast number of paper lanterns. On the last day of the festival, I was able to enjoy a taiko, which is a Japanese drumming show.
Besides its rich culture, Japan is very popular for its animations. As a fan of the Naruto anime, I was over the moon to visit FujiQ Highland Resorts where you could enjoy statues of your favourite characters, play anime-related games, or even try thematic food.
Going on exchange to Japan was an amazing experience. The country captivates you with its incredible scenery, high-tech entertainment, and pristine parks and temples. Since I had to study online during the first half of the semester due to my visa issuance, my time in Japan felt too short. If I had the chance, I would spend an entire year in Japan to see every facet of this magnificent country during each season.