Student studies abroad at home: Kim Takinami (’13) reflects on her choice to spend a semester “abroad” in Tokyo, Japan.
by Kim Takinami
Studying abroad…at a university less than an hour from my home, by train. To most, it may seem strange for me to be “studying abroad” at Waseda University, in Tokyo, Japan. But although I lived in Tokyo until the age of nine, and although one of my parents is Japanese, I have not attended a Japanese school since preschool. My dream is to work in Japan as a social worker, or in a field related to Japanese family and child psychology. As of now, my Japanese language skills are limited to informal speech and casual grammar, which is why I applied to study at Waseda University: to learn how to speak formal Japanese, write academic papers, and basically prepare myself to enter Japanese society in the future as a legitimate, culturally-oriented Japanese adult.
Towards this goal, I decided one day in July to embark on a grand journey to visit all 47 of Japan’s prefectures. I knew there had to be more to Japan than the bright neon lights, convenient but jam-packed trains and the abundance of people, stores and restaurants of Tokyo that I was familiar with. I figured the fastest way to find out was to actually go to the countryside and experience it for myself – the people, their dialects, their food, and their landscapes.
Within the first two months of my voyage, I have already visited 22 prefectures. Throughout the first leg of the journey, I toured Edo castles, hiked mountain paths surrounded by thousands of hydrangeas, explored the historical city of Hiroshima, visited Momotaro (Peach Boy’s) reported hometown, crossed the Inland Sea by train, saw whirlpools from a boat, enjoyed a hot springs, and wore a traditional Japanese yukata to a summer festival and a fireworks display, both of which took place in the still recovering Tohoku region.
Of course, traveling on a student’s budget, without a driver’s license, and for the majority of time by myself had its lonely and stressful moments from time to time. However, I can assure you that the wisdom and spiritual experience I’ve gained from Japan’s diverse and unique cities and countrysides far outweigh the mental and physical obstacles I’ve encountered.
With still over half of the country remaining in my grand quest, I am forced to take a break. For, finally, after over four months of summer vacation, we are finally allowed to move in to our dorms this week. Time for a very different and exciting chapter in my year “abroad” in Tokyo!