The details of what it’s like living in Japan as an exchange student

Source: Louie Martinez @thetalkinglens

I decided to go to Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech), namely because I believe global experience and a constant change of pace is important to energize your mind. Tokyo is a city, very unlike Delft, where I was living as an undergraduate at the time and it was certainly refreshing. And food, food, food, 24/7. I gained 8kg in the first month, and I’m not even kidding.

Before my final application I got in contact with an exchange student from Aerospace Engineering who just arrived back from the university. He gave me insight on what life is like there, how classes were arranged, as well as how the logistics was arranged. We met at the TUDelft library and it was a simple chat, but it helped me understand a lot and I would be very happy to share my insights with your expectations too. But here is a short breakdown, and the advise really is tailored to a student from TUDelft to Tokyo Tech.

Tokyo Tech Hult Prize

After I was selected by the LR faculty first at TU Delft, I had two weeks to apply at the Tokyo Tech in order to be a candidate for a grant from the Japanese government of about 700 euros per month (the infamous MEXT). However, the competition for the grant is high and I didn’t get it. You should just try anyway! There was a manageable amount of documentation to be arranged, but they could easily be found on the university’s website along with a detailed description. And the people at Tokyo Tech are very helpful! Say hi to Kenichi-san for me.

Komaba Trip!

One thing you have to arrange is getting a supervisor at Tokyo Tech by sending emails to professors provided on a list. It might take some time to get a reply, so I advise you to start with this task as soon as possible. Next to that, Japanese like to strictly follow the rules, so you need to arrange your documents right, otherwise you need to do it again. It’s very clear that Japanese people love physical copies of things, so expecting A LOT of documentation fillings when you’re there! I find it a very social system because people help you along with these forms too.

Some interesting courses that I did at Tokyo Tech:

1. Advanced Earth and Space Sciences J — 4ECTS

2. Project evaluation for sustainable society — 2 ECTS

3. Basic Japanese 1–2 ECTS

4. Technical Management for sustainable engineering — 4ECTS

5. Technology and product in context — 2ECTS

6. Our sustainable energy future: role of business and technology — 2ECTS

7. Theory of algorithms — 4 ECTS

8. Nuclear non-proliferation and security — 4 ECTS

9. Astrophysics — 2 ECTS

10. Nonlinear dynamics — 2 ECTS

11. Graduate Lecture in cognition, mathematics and information F1A (same as Linguistics D) — 2 ECTS

12. Innovation System I — 2 ECTS

I recommend 1 because it was under Prof. John Hurland, who, in his field is basically a superstar in the geosciences field. And when I arrived midway through the course, there were only people in his class, and they were all doing their PhD! It was so mathematically intensively but he took me through all the way and I got to experience a true master/doctoral like teaching which made me realize — nope, a pure academic career is not for me. I recommend 2 because basic Japanese is really important and not the difficult to learn. I recommend 6 because you get to present any topic you’re interested in. 11 because the lecturer and the course was incredible, he bought pizza for all of us during the last class.

Outside of the classroom, this is something you have to know about Shibuya, Shinjuku, some parts of Roppongi: They are completely different places from day and night. In the day, people are rushing to work and enjoying the sun with their families and pets in the trolleys. At night, the cool kids come out to play and the city’s streets are transformed into one big party. There are people singing, throwing up, ‘cheers-ing’ outside family marts. It is one of the most fun places to be if you know how to play by the rules.

One place I really recommend going if you are into street fashion and cheap vintage clothes is Shimokitazawa! Please, please go there. They also have this mozzarella cheese naan where the cheese ratio is ginormous!

The workload is really manageable but do expect this: even though the class is stated to be held is English online, in reality some professors might speak Japanese 80% of the time. But it really depends! You just really have to get lucky in this regard. Some classes, there are great notes, some lessons none, some is all in Japanese, such as astrophysics, so taking notes was necessary, but still hard when the lecturer’s first language isn’t English, but I don’t blame them! Also, make sure of your attendance, it’s really important that some classes only judge you on your attendance, it’s also Japanese working culture — read more into that!

Trip to Hakone with the gang
Ski Trip to Japanese Alps with Nienke, Johan and Arie

In Tokyo, supermarkets are quite expensive and restaurants are cheaper than in the Netherlands. Therefore, it is quite common to go out for dinner instead of cooking every day. However, the dorm cooks together sometimes.

Expenditure (in euros)

- Enrolment fees = 0

- Tuition fees = 0

- International travel expenses = 1000

- Transport expenses at your destination (metro and bike) = 400

- Accommodation expenses = 300 x 6 months

- Insurance = 15 x 6 months

- Vaccinations = 0

- Study materials = 0

- Food = 20 per day

- Trips in Japan (snowboarding, hiking, onsen trips) = 2500

- Trip to Indonesia = 1000

- Activities Tokyo = 800

Total = 9000 euros (Tokyo is expensive, especially food, drinks and entertainment)

Accommodation

Tokyo Tech provides dormitories for exchange students. There are several dorms with ranging prices

between 300–600 euros/month at different locations. Around July I received an email that announced which dorm was assigned to me and how I could confirm. The dorm I had consisted of three floors with about 20 private rooms and one big shared kitchen at each floor. It was 300 euros per month, which included furniture, bed linen, private bathroom, wifi, air conditioner and cleaning of the shared areas. Tokyo Tech does not really offer an introduction programme for exchange students at which you can make friends, therefore the assigned dorm is an easy way to make friends.

Language and culture

To enter Tokyo Tech you need to have documented proof of your English level. In case of Dutch students, a note from the international officer stating you have Dutch high school level of English is sufficient. The international office staff could speak English and most of the professors too, although their average level was as high as European standards. Tokyo Tech also offers free Japanese courses.

When getting around in Japan, you do not necessarily need to speak Japanese, although it is helpful, since most Japanese are not comfortable using English. There are major cultural differences between Japan and the Netherlands. Japan is considered to be a high context culture. Hierarchy is important, so please always show respect. Next to that, Japanese always strictly follow the rules, so try to do the same, even if there are more efficient ways, just bear with it. Most importantly, try not to bother others. Be kind and respectful, always.

Other activities

On top of this I did many other things at the university and in Japan:

  1. Tokyo Tech funded a pilot project I initiated and I brought Nienke and Chariskha from UTwente with me to Indonesia to conduct research and meet farmers
  2. Had a date in Asakusa — traditional thing to do for Japanes couple!
  3. Gave a speech at Venture café Tokyo about sustainable energy transition
  4. Went to Hakuba to snowboard with a few friends
  5. Went to Hakone for hiking and onsen trip with the guys
  6. Went to Nikko with mom
  7. Went to Atami for onsen getaway with friends
  8. Went for karaoke almost too much in the last weeks
  9. AMAZING Halloween party — its tradition in Japan for everyone to go to Shibuya on 31st Oct
  10. Got really cool trendy clothes — I recommend Shimokitazawa!
  11. Met so many celebrities (I can’t name them all, but I have really good stories trust me :) — I can tell you also the place where I met all of them: Beat Cafe in Shibuya.
  12. Got close to locals, I had two a really great Japanese friends, Ami and Sora
Alex Metric in this photo!

If you have any more questions about the trip and about details regarding applications to Tokyo Tech/TUDelft, please feel free the whatsapp me at +31 0641571462 or email me at marcel@pyropower.eu.

If you are reading this to decide if you want to go or not. It’s not about the decision, it’s about what you do with it when you get it. But I promise, Japan is as cool as they say.

I hope you will enjoy the experience as much as I did!

Marcel Kempers.

Halloween Shopping

Co-founder @ Pyropower | Reef Support | Social and Climate Impact — Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish!

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