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Postcards to SOAS: Japan

By: Bryony Mirus, BA Japanese and Music

My name is Bryony, but I am known to everyone as Bree! I am an English/Australian/Ukrainian studying Japanese and music, and I am currently on my year abroad in Tokyo, Japan. I grew up in Australia, and returned to England to study, thus resulting in me studying in my birth city, London. I have only been studying Japanese for two and a half years, and it is probably one of the hardest languages I have tried to learn. With two basic alphabets and thousands of kanji (Chinese-originated characters) to learn, there is no end to my study here.

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First impressions:

As a foreigner, I could really feel the difference in culture in my first few weeks in Tokyo. Here, despite it being a massive, booming city, many things are different, whether it is the food, treatment of foreigners, even fashion. It was, and still is, hard to cook for myself, as the ingredients here are different and all in unrecognisable kanji. However, it is very cheap, despite being Tokyo, to eat out, although perhaps my idea of cheap is somewhat swayed by London prices.

Japan is a very beautiful country in many ways. From the flashing lights of Tokyo’s streets at night to the traditional temples, shrines and architecture, the combination of both modern and traditional aspects is perfectly mixed to give a city full of character. One can never be bored here, although sometimes it can be a bit too much. My favourite places to visit in Tokyo are the arcades, temples, and the world renowned convenient stores that literally sell everything, 24/7.

A local temple in Waseda, Tokyo.


Yesterday, I returned from a trip to Nagano, and it was very different to Tokyo: it was as if I was visiting Japan for the first time! Unlike Tokyo, which is very “modern-techno,” Nagano was traditional and full of culture. I stayed in a hostel, with tatami mats and sliding doors, and exquisite Japanese wooden houses, covered in snow, felt like I had, yet again, gone to another world. My friends and I ate soba, the famous “Mont Blanc” chestnut cake, and visited the local temple which was very crowded. Religion is incorporated into Japanese lifestyle, so much so that it is more tradition rather than an actual belief, I have noticed. On special holidays such as New Year’s day, Japanese people always head to the nearest shrine to receive their fortune on a slip of paper, and the lines to get this fortune seemed endless!

Student life:

Currently, I am studying at Waseda University, a famous university in the heart of Tokyo. Although classes are very long (and completely in Japanese!), I enjoy my time here, though it is hard to make Japanese friends as a foreigner.

Japanese people are generally reserved and quite shy. This along with the language barrier, makes it hard to get close to them. They are, although perhaps somewhat of a sweeping statement, rather exclusive, and many times I have not been able to join a club because I am not Japanese! Nevertheless, there are clubs for international students, which is the best (perhaps only?) way to make Japanese friends.

University student life in Japan is very much different from England: Japanese study their whole lives, even going so far as attending cram schools during the summer, to get into a good university, yet life in that university is very chill and enjoyable. In Japan, rather than the grades one receives, getting a good job relies heavily on the prestige of the university, so many students take this opportunity to join many clubs and circles.

Social pressures and society:

Although I mentioned that university life for Japanese is enjoyable, there are many social pressures involved, such as getting into a good uni, and going into a “lifetime” job after graduation. This is often expected of young people in Japan, which makes it hard for people to follow their creative side. Another aspect of Japanese society that I have noticed is gender roles. Japanese men are expected to become salary men, and once they are in a company, they are then expected to join their colleagues for drinking after work/group activities. Women on the other hand, are subjected to pressure in the way they act, dress, speak, etc, and many times, when I go to the gym in my gym crop top and leggings, do I see Japanese women in skirts with leggings, and long sleeved tops.  For everyday fashion, a high, buttoned up blouse and ankle length skirt is all the rage, and I find it difficult to find any other outfit than this when I go shopping. When asking my Japanese friends if they thought that gender inequality was a thing, they all answered yes, one of which was applying for a year abroad to escape it!

This being said, there are many efforts to tackle these issues, such as women only trains and the rule that all cameras must have a sound effect when taking pictures.

Overall, Japan has been a wonderful eye opening experience, and I could not have wished for a better destination in which to spend my year abroad. I definitely recommend it!

Photo Credits: Bryony Myers

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