Japan in the Eyes of Yulia Bushueva
Yulia Bushueva, student of the Bachelor’s programme ‘Asian and African Studies’, is currently on an academic mobility programme at Akita International University in Japan. Yulia shared her impressions of studying at the partner university.
— What advice would you give to students who are afraid to go to a distant and unfamiliar country like Japan? Have your fears and expectations come true?
— My educational programme at HSE University-St Petersburg is ‘Asian and African Studies’, so I learn Japanese and everything about Japan. So, I knew what to expect and what to pay attention to. Make sure to learn about the culture, social rules, etiquette, mentality, and language (at least the most basic phrases) beforehand.
— Akita International University (AIU) is a highly competitive university with intense competition for places. What kind of people study there? Is it difficult to interact with them?
— Students at AIU are different from students at any other university in Japan. At first, they may seem a little shy, but when they start to open up to you, it becomes clear that they are very intelligent and curious young people who want to learn everything about this world, so communication with them is very pleasant. During classes, we are often asked about our experiences or thoughts on different issues, and Japanese students often express very interesting opinions, although sometimes they are a little shy to voice their answers in front of everyone in the class.
— Are there any differences between your programmes at HSE and AIU? Is the teaching style or approach to learning any different?
— HSE’s ‘Asian and African Studies’ programme is very intense and complex. The workload at AIU is much less, but for many courses, we have to turn in a lot of written assignments such as essays, presentations and projects.
— What sights do you recommend seeing? Are there any unusual places or hidden gems that you would like to share?
— Akita is in the Japanese countryside, and it is interesting to explore it if you have already seen the ‘well-advertised’ parts of Japan (with their high skyscrapers, themed cafes and anime shops on every corner) and want to see another, more traditional Japan. The most popular tourist places here are the samurai city of Kakunodate, the city of demons Oga, and Lake Tazawa, which is the deepest lake in Japan and has its own interesting legends. Few people know about the Akita Inu Station, where you can meet dogs of this rare breed and buy cute products—the revenue from which goes to help Akita Inu centres. Also, try to go to other cities and prefectures such as Nara or Osaka. And if you find yourself in Akita in the cold season, make sure to visit any local onsen (hot springs)!
— Is it difficult to live in Japan without knowing the language, especially if you don’t live in Tokyo?
— I came here with sufficient knowledge of Japanese. To be honest, this is the ideal option for me. Comparing my first visit to Japan four years ago and this time, I got the impression that everyone seems to have completely forgotten English, even the staff at Tokyo Airport. But since Japan is finally fully open to tourists now, perhaps the situation will improve soon. At AIU, you will definitely have no problems even if you don't know Japanese, since absolutely everyone speaks English here. But outside the university, at a mall for example, you may have a lot of trouble. It was hard even for me when one time, a taxi driver suddenly spoke to me in the Akita dialect, which is very different from standard Japanese.
— Are there any myths about Japan that actually turned out to be false? What shouldn’t one be afraid of?
— I think the main myth about Japan is that it is a high-tech country where everything meets the most modern standards. In reality, Japanese offices still can’t function without fax machines, credit and debit cards are not accepted in many stores even in Tokyo, and to order a taxi you need to call a taxi company since Uber and other services are not available in many places. I think that lots of foreigners are disappointed when they realise this.
— Tell us about the campus and its infrastructure. What events are held in Akita?
— AIU is one of the top 20 best universities in Japan, but out of all of them, it seems to be the smallest one. The campus consists of four dormitories (one of which is now closed for renovation), several lecture buildings, halls for events, and a big and beautiful library. There is a university shop, a canteen, and a cafe. The campus itself is far from the city, but a 15-minute bus ride will take you to a huge mall that has literally everything you may need in life.
There are a lot of events in Akita. The most famous of them is the Kanto Festival, which is held in August. Omagari-no-Hanabi is known throughout Japan as the largest fireworks festival. In winter, there are festivals related to snow and the change of seasons. I noticed that every weekend there are some thematic events near Akita Station, including Culture Day, an Italian Food festival, and so on, so I think you can always find something interesting here!
— What should exchange students going to Japan definitely take with them?
— Carefully review the Japanese laws on the import of medicines, collect all the necessary documents and take all the medications you may need with you. Contact lenses are also considered medical equipment for personal use, so pay attention to the amount that you can import into the country at a time.
Buy socket adapters.
Get an IC card after arriving in Japan, eg Suica. You can use it to pay not only for public transport, but also to make purchases in some shops and restaurants.
Take as much cash as you can with you.
Don’t forget to bring souvenirs or small treats from your region or country to share with your new friends.
Text prepared by the Study Abroad Opportunities team.