As the clouds above soaked a dampened atmosphere, I hurried under an awning to take shelter from the first shower of the rainy season. As if being conducted by maestros along the tops of adjacent skyscrapers, flurries of hotfooted salarymen began to weave between their fellow commuters in a rush hour ballad, only to crescendo in the simultaneous opening of their clear plastic umbrellas as they left the stage of Shinjuku station. Once notorious for employing “pushers” to push commuters onto overloaded trains, Shinjuku station remains one of the busiest train stations in the world with over 3.5 million commuters passing through its gates every day. Although maybe not something that everyone would find amusing, it is a sight that made me truly appreciate the scope of the world.
I grew up surrounded by the sugar plantations sowed along the hills of Hanapepe, Hawaii. Though I would leave the island for university, I would again find myself in a bucolic bog in the wheatlands of Pullman, Washington at Washington State University. Studying computational neuroscience and Japanese, I decided that I should study abroad in Japan to gain an immersion into the language and culture to understand more of what Japan was about. That is when I discovered IES’s summer Tokyo program.
If chosen to participate in the program, you will meet up with your fellow students for a few days of orientation and placement examinations. At the time of my writing this review, there are six total classes spanning from the 1000 to 3000 level with two classes in each division. They are all held on the same campus that you will dorm at in the National Olympic Memorial Youth Centre in the outskirts of Shinjuku. You will dorm in an on campus dormitory, living in an approximate 15’X 5’single room with a desk, communal restrooms/wet rooms, and communal laundromat. I had tested into the higher division of the 3000 level classes. I believe the level of instruction in class is more than satisfactory. Classes are quite personal (~8-20 people). Each class does various extracurricular activities throughout the semester based on level. These range from cooking classes with native Japanese students to traveling to national museums to learn more about the country and culture of Japan. But I believe the true value of the program is found beyond the boundaries of the campus.
Shinjuku station lies a twenty-minute walk or five-minute train ride to the North of campus. From there, the entirety of Tokyo’s 23 wards, an area spanning 239 sq mi, is accessible via subways. metros, buses, and a multitude of other modes of transportation. A new perspective of Japanese culture to the commuters that get off at every station. From the hub of anime and everything Japanese pop related in Akihabara, to the 3-starred Michelin restaurants and ultra-luxury malls of Ginza, every destination that comes to mind when thinking of Japan is within a stone’s throw from the youth centre. You could even take a weekend trip to Kyoto or Sapporo if you wanted (something that I frequently did via the bullet train coming out of Tokyo station).
I have made many friends in the program, fellow exchange student and native Japanese alike. I will never forget the memories that we made in class, the nights in the karaoke booths in Shibuya, or the subsequent trips to the adjacent streets lined with “izakaya”s. You can only learn so much about Japan from inside of the classroom. But, if you are truly interested in learning more about the country, what its people and culture are really like, then why not take a summer to learn abroad in the most populous city in all of Japan?