We have six lectures, all part of an already decided curriculum, and the best way to describe their content is by taking the ‘euro’ out of our programme’s title and replace it by ‘japan (-o)’. A great deal of the time we focus on Japanese history, both from cultural and political perspectives. All courses include a fieldtrip, and that’s why we spent a weekend looking back on the past and karaoke-ing with our professor in Hiroshima.
Jojanne van Andel
You know how it happens: at a party someone asks you what you do. And you answer you study Euroculture. The last word sometimes causes confusion, but in general: quite a normal response, right?
Well, not when you’re in Japan. I don’t remember how many frowning eyebrows I have tried to circumnavigate over the past two months. I have tried to explain it, but I got stuck most often after “it has something to do with culture”, which most of the times only raises more questions… At a certain moment I just gave up and answered vague words like “history”, “politics” or, after midnight, “mathematical engineering”, because in Japan for some reason that actually sounds plausible. And it’s way too complicated for anybody ask questions about anyway.
Nevertheless, it’s true that studying MA Euroculture here in Osaka is maybe not the most logical combination ever. It is obvious that Europe is both literally and figuratively far away. So, if you are considering taking a research semester in Japan and all you want is Europe, maybe this is not the best option. However, if you are up for learning new things, from different perspectives and most of all, adventure, this is perfect for you!
Even though the term ‘research track’ may cause some to suspect otherwise, what we do here basically comes down to taking university courses in small groups with some other international students that, for one reason or another, know exactly who and what we are. We have six lectures, all part of an already decided curriculum, and the best way to describe their content is by taking the ‘euro’ out of our programme’s title and replace it by ‘japan (-o)’. A great deal of the time we focus on Japanese history, both from cultural and political perspectives. All courses include a fieldtrip, and that’s why we spent a weekend looking back on the past and karaoke-ing with our professor in Hiroshima. Just one week later we were gazing at tanks during a military exercise at a Self Defence Forces basis, an experience I never expected to have in this country. Apart from that, we take a seminar on civil society development in Japan; a topic nowadays very relevant with regard to the anti-nuclear movement after the Fukushima disaster. And finally, there are some general courses on intercultural contacts, Japanese arts and a possibility to take a class to learn a little bit of the language. But that has proven quite a challenge for me up to now!
All in all, an interesting curriculum. Yet, the real strength of the programme here is the chance to learn a little bit about this country and to peel away the first superficial layers of its complexity. Just a stereotypical, but valid generalisation: Japan really is like nothing else. It will keep surprising you, way beyond the obvious chopsticks and forks. It clearly shows in the academic context we are part of here. During one of our classes, for example, I was corrected because I described something in a geographical way by using the word ‘oriental’. Then another time, one classmate delightedly suggested to us to go eat some good whale meat downtown. Never a dull moment! Being here offers a great opportunity to learn more about these kind of things, something that could, for sure, be beneficial when looking for an international job in the future.
Then, on the other hand, for the Japanese it is very clear that we are different as well! Sometimes high school kids walk the slopes of the lovely green campus after a tough day of entrance exams. And once they see blond hair at moments like these they just can’t help but stare. Not to mention the one lady that ran after us, screaming in the subway, just to say hello to the strangers. Your annual dose of celebrity status can be achieved here very easily.
The best excuse for studying in Japan though can be summarized with one word: adventure. Especially in the beginning, everything can be described as such, from finding your way in the metro, to having lunch in one of the student cafeterias. Also, in general, there aremany opportunities to go travel and, since Osaka is in the heart of the Kansai area, close to the historical capitals of Kyoto and Nara, there are many things to see.
So that is it, the things I have done here over the past few months put in a few words. Now that Christmas is coming closer, I think I may be expecting some more questions at parties. This time, however, I think I don’t need to wait for the gluhwein – because after three months here in Japan, I have enough stories to tell!
If you want to know more about doing a research track in Osaka, also read Juggling Culture Shock
Jojanne van Andel, Osaka Correspondent
Jojanne got her undergraduate degree in International Relations from the University of Groningen before starting MA Euroculture there. She studies also in the University of Strasbourg, and is currently completing a research track and eating good food in Osaka, Japan. Her interests are European politics, history and intercultural communication.