Emily, studying abroad at Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan.
Jumping from the multicultural metropolis of London to the alien nation of Japan can be both very exciting and frightening at the same time. It is as far east as you can get from the UK (within Asia at least), so don’t be expecting to be able to ‘pop home for a long weekend’, no my dear, you are here for the year. Of course that’s not to say you can’t go exploring! On the contrary, Japan is in prime position for country hopping among the Asian nations, or within the nation itself. Though I’ve only been to Saitama so far.
For those of you BAScers hoping to come to Tokyo, BASc currently (or so far as I know) only has associations with Waseda University or Hitosubashi University. I attend Waseda, studying at SILS, and honestly it’s great. I love it. The modules are not so challenging in themselves, it’s run rather differently to BASc, but at least they’re all in English! Academics aside, Waseda has a lot of school spirit, and every year we have what’s known as the ‘Soukei-sen’ – as in Waseda and Keio University abbreviated to become ‘Soukei’. (Note: the Japanese abbreviate everything). They’re like UCL’s Kings, and as baseball is the biggest sport here I went to support Waseda during their match against Keio.
And what an experience. I was rather drained on energy before going as it was Halloween the night before (and my goodness was Halloween extreme in Tokyo, note: going out in Tokyo can be a hassle, there is no night bus system, the trains stop running at half twelve, and don’t start again until about 5am, so if you go out for the night, you are out for the night), and you’ve got be there early for good seats – I actually turned up ‘late’ (11.30am) by Japanese standards.
Seated near the front of the second area allocated for Waseda I was right by the ‘Ouendan’ – the cheering circle. These guys are intense. The game started at 1pm and finished at 3pm, and though I was in good view of it I was so distracted by the ouendan that I missed much of the game. These guys cheered as if their life depended on it! Cheerleaders held up chants for every different player that was pitching or batting, and we sang very military-esque songs about Waseda whilst having our arms out in zealous support.
Yet, the most amazing part of this whole experience was just how incredibly ingrained the cultural code of politeness and respect is among the Japanese. Despite the fact that Waseda and Keio are archenemies, we cheered for each other…Keio’s cheerleading girls and ouendan come to our Waseda side and did a little performance as we sat politely, watched and followed to applaud them, just as Waseda did over at Keio’s side with the same amount of respect. At the end of the match after Waseda had beat Keio (wahey!) Keio sat graciously and listened to us sing our statesmanlike university anthem, which we ended with cheering on Keio. The applause was incredibly moving and genuine from the Keio side. Then it was our turn to take our seats as we listened to Keio sing their anthem and end it with chanting on Waseda. Emotions were raw, authentic and sincere. The Japanese are truly so respectful. Imagine UCL vs. Kings, I can think of some chants going on about the other teams, but um, I know they wouldn’t be respectful in the least – quite the contrary in fact…
Moving on into autumn, Waseda held its famous ‘Waseda Sai’ (Waseda Festival) the weekend just gone. Now, this festival was one of the best weekends I’ve ever had.
Saturday was a beautiful morning of sunshine and blue skies, though my student self slept in and missed it along with the opening ceremony. I managed to haul my body out of bed eventually and into the masses to watch a group of about 40 Japanese girls belly dancing to Arab music. It was like AKB48 Arab version – baffling yet actually pretty good. However, things were only going to get better.
The ‘Odori Samurai’ followed and was the absolute highlight of my day. They’re a Yosakoi circle, ‘yosakoi’ is a unique style of Japanese dance derived from the Awa Odori – typically a summer dance. This circle is huge, I couldn’t even guess the numbers, but they’re broken down into little groups and all do variations of the dance. It was incredible. I could watch it a hundred times and simply not get bored. The music, the energy, the costumes! Truly, this is something not to be missed if you come to Waseda. I finished the first day watching the Falcons perform – an all girls cheerleading squad, and having never seen cheerleading in the flesh I was overly excited, and the performance has definitely been imprinted in my memory. What a day.
The Sunday was a more jam-packed day of events as I’d received a program the previous day, and thus prepared myself a schedule of activities. I set off at 9.50am in my Waseda shirt (#pride) towards the Toyama campus’ stage (there were 4 stages across campus) to watch the extremely popular ‘Shockers’ circle performance at 10am. The Shockers are an all male cheerleading squad, and though I was severely impressed by the Falcons the day before, the Shockers just blew my mind.
Darting in a little late (as per usual) I didn’t have the best view of the guys who weren’t getting thrown in the air, I could only see the tops of their eccentrically dyed hair, it was like walking into Baskin Robbins and seeing all the artificially made flavours – delicious. The performance itself was the best thing I’d seen at the festival. The heights that these guys were getting thrown up into, the spins, the twists, the catches, and all the smiling! The Shockers are actually a very big deal and compete globally so check them out if you can (YouTube link to their 2014 Waseda-Sai performance here).
I spent the rest of my time watching several other performances and waddling through crowds of people and their umbrellas, past many food/beverage stalls, and people in cosplay (because it’s not Japan if there isn’t cosplay), until the Ending Festival. The Ending Festival was phenomenal and very emotional. It was a short montage of the big name circles, and integrated dances such as ‘Samurai-Shock’ (the Odori Samurai and the Shockers) and musicals. It all came to an emotional high point as the organizer of the Waseda-Sai took to stage to receive his hard earned applause from the people and we all swayed together to sing the university anthem (of course). Tears were everywhere, the Waseda-Sai is the biggest event of the academic year and not only the performers, but all other circles that sell goods, create interactive spaces or work as staff for the event felt a great wave of emotions as all their hard work had come to a successful culmination.
So, here are two of my best experiences as an exchange student at Waseda University thus so far. Of course there are many more technical things that were probably worth mentioning such as mobile phone acquisition or opening a bank account (both a hassle), but these kinds of experiences are what I’ll take away with me when I get back to UCL, so for any of you BAScers hoping to come to Waseda – or studying abroad in general, when an event/opportunity arises on your adventures abroad, in true UCL spirit I say just GIAG it!
You are always welcome to drop me a message on Facebook or an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like any advice on applications and want to know more practical aspects of living in Japan.
Until then, ostukarasema desu!