Message from foreign students studying at Gakushuin

Life and Study in Japan
Simeon Igbinedion, Graduate School of Law

Since I came from Nigeria to Japan in April 2001 as a Monbusho Scholar, a lot of water has passed under the bridge of my experience. Coming from a background structurally and fundamentally at variance with that of the host country, I, quite naturally, caught the image of a fish out of water in this Asian country. But such mood, much against my expectation, was momentary as it was shortened by the wonderful display of hospitality and warmth that I have met in Japanese people.

The good side of Japan

One remarkable feature that has held me spellbound till this day is the humility Japanese bring to bear on whatever they do or say. This quality is brought home by the frequency of bows (of the head) even within a short space of time as a sign of respect to the object of courtesy. A friend told me the other day that you tell a Japanese amongst a group of Asian nationals by determining who bows the most! In my country, we do offer a few bows within a given length of time but, in the great majority of cases, they are offered to elders. When I was in the Nigerian Law School, we were taught, as part of the curriculum, the traditional legal courtesy of bowing before a judge in the court room and our seniors at the Bar. The little experience I have had in my brief legal career shows that the lawyer (or the non-lawyer alike) bows to the judge before he or she sits down in the court room and repeats the same thing before he or she takes his exit therefrom. During court proceedings, the legal practitioner has many occasions to bow before the judge as a mark of respect.

But my sojourn in Japan has revealed that the practice of bowing is an internalised tradition of Japanese and that it is done without any consideration of the occasion or the age of the recipient.

Another demonstration of the politeness of Japanese is their willingness to always apologise whenever they think they have done something wrong or left something undone even if nobody really takes notice of such commission or omission or even if it is overlooked by the other party or parties.

They are also kind to strangers. A traditional adage from the Democratic Republic of Congo goes to the effect that you show your humility and kindness by the way you treat a stranger. Japanese have demonstrated this in so many ways. In times of trouble, for example, when I miss my way or get confused in the maze of similar-looking streets, they readily assist in re-charting me to the right path of destination.

In Japan, the hallmarks of a stable, progressive and great nation are alive and well. More specifically, as much as is humanly and mechanically possible, facilities work; schedules and programmes go as planned. It is a free society where virtually anything is possible provided it is within the bounds of law.

The Not-So-Attractive Side of Japan

But I am a bit surprised by the practices exhibited by some Japanese. Many times, especially in the morning, I see many workers, in the fullness of strength, running towards the nearest train station or hurrying into the train even when they see that the doors of the train are closing. Also, even when the train is filled to the brim, desperate passengers push their way in so much so that no breathing space is left inside the train!

But in the midst of these scenarios, nobody gets excited or irritated. Everythig is taken with a sense of mutual accommodation and philosophical calmness. While in the train, although many Japanese are either very quiet or read books/newspapers or discuss issues, many more either doze off or keep themselves busy with mobile phones apparently in violation of the regulation (repeatedly echoed through the address system in the train) prohibiting same on grounds of health and convenience.

Another development that keeps me in thoughtful suspense is the relatively general high prices of goods in Japan but it is a matter of relief to observe that the pay packet of workers is proportionately fat as well.

Study in Japan

Study in Japan for a person who is as yet not literate in Japanese language is quite difficult. Having prior knowledge of the language is the beginning of educational wisdom in this Asian country. With a good grasp of the basics and the ready cooperation and understanding of fellow students and teachers, study becomes increasingly interesting. In my case, because I had the misfortune of lacking the opportunity to study the language in my country prior to my coming to Japan, the beginning was really tough. But now, looking back to the early days, I believe the toughest days are over although I still have many rungs to climb in the ladder of Japanese language proficiency.

A Word for Those Interested in Study Abroad

As for those with deep interest in studies abroad, especially in the Asian Continent, I present to you a recommendation to study not just in Japan (for Japan is quite a big nation) but in Gakushuin University. A university which was blessed with the exclusive historical honour of having been the sole trainer of members of the royal family and the great and mighty men and women who laid and shaped the foundation of modern Japan, the school, situated in the heart of Tokyo, not only reigns in the glory of its past but much more than that, it lives in the glamour of churning out quality graduates who command high demand in the labour market. The university offers the opportunity and facilities which enable any student to study the ways of the past, the imperatives of today and to devise strategies against the vagaries of tomorrow and beyond,

But I urge you to do your best to study at least the fundamentals of the language so that when you come to Japan, the skeleton of your prior knowledge would be fleshened up with the details which would enable you to overcome the language barrier on time. However, if for reasons beyond your control, you were or are unable to study it in your country, do not hesitate to come over here to start from the scratch because the education system sufficiently caters for beginners. I have the strong belief that if you have been able to overcome some or most of the problems peculiar to your background up to this stage, your experience would serve you well in the adventure of study of the language and your discipline in Japan.