Clifford Pham Waseda University
San Francisco State University - Majoring in Japanese
I first went to Japan in 2006 as part of my high school's exchange program, but it wasn't until I entered SFSU that I took a shot at learning the language.
Studying Japanese at a college level got tougher as each semester passed, and I started to realize that if I wanted to truly acquire a second language, the best way would be to put myself in an environment where I could use it every day. CSU-IP gave me the chance to really see this idea through, and there could be no better opportunity than this program.
It is difficult to say what really defines Tokyo. It is a city whose buildings tower over the rise and fall of the sun and whose streetlights guide one in the night for all sorts of adventure. It is a city condensed so tightly that you can get lost in a sea of people.
And for me, Tokyo is the city that harbors my excitement for living in Japan. From tasting the noodles in the hidden shop on a narrow street, to absorbing the ambience of a traditional temple juxtaposed by the enclosing big-city atmosphere, Tokyo represents, in a lot of ways, everything Japan is as a whole.
As part of the CSU Japan Program, students study at Waseda University located in Shinjuku. Waseda's campus sets a brand new tone with each coming season. This is Ookuma Garden, a tranquil spot on campus where, in the summertime, the humid breeze and sounds of the purring cicadas really brings out how special Japan's seasons are. I find with each coming season something enthralling always appears.
When the weekend kicks in, options for some fun abound. A lot of times students have the urge to do some shopping. Whether it's because of the changing temperature or an amazing sale right after New Year's, Harajuku is the place to shop. Exiting the station takes you right to Takeshita Dori where all the latest and craziest things in Japanese fashion can be found, and if shopping doesn't sound fun, there is always the option of eating a super awesome crepe while watching people with some peculiar fashion sense.
One of the great things about Tokyo is that even though it is a global city, several locations still maintain the country's cultural spirit. Asakusa is an amazing place where you can spend time at a great temple, catch a kabuki show, or every now and then a festival. Exiting the station leads everyone straight to Sensou-Ji, where there are the Fuujin and Raijin, specific gods only found in Japan, and Buddhist-influenced artwork. My favorite thing is the picture of a Buddha surrounded by lotus plants that can be seen looking straight up at the ceiling.
Seeing Mt. Fuji always leaves a special impression on me—kind of like looking at the Grand Canyon. Sometimes out the window of a bus or train Mt. Fuji can be in complete clear view, and other times Mt. Fuji's position in relation to a temple or shrine just gives you this "Wow!" vibe and you can't help but stare. Mt. Fuji is one of the best natural sceneries to take pictures of, too—there is even a museum that has nothing but pictures of Mt. Fuji.
Studying abroad for a year will give you the opportunity to explore other places around the country. One of my recommendations is Fuji-Q Highland. Located in Yamanashi Prefecture, Fuji-Q now holds the Guinness World Record for the steepest roller coaster, and if that is not hardcore enough, the rollercoasters here are roughly 2 minutes long. My time here at Fuji-Q with other Waseda students has definitely been a highlight of my year abroad.
College life in Waseda is truly one-of-a-kind due to clubs that are called circles in Japan. I came to Japan really wanting to immerse myself in the Japanese college experience, and luckily I found a really international friendly circle called Waseda International Circle-or WIC. This is the morning after a crazy night of activities for one of the circle's interesting annual trips. Spending time with a Japanese college circle is truly something you can only do while studying abroad.
There was a really nice theme park in Yamanashi called Heidi's Village. I spent the afternoon there with my friends just enjoying the scenery. It really isn't anything too amazing, and if anything I would call it quaint. Really what made this day special was just spending quality time with friends that I would never have had the chance to meet without this program. Truly, the friends I've made will be the greatest part of this exchange program.
Food is amazing. Although certain dishes, especially foreign dishes, are not as cheap as they are in California, there always is a special or local dish to discover. My favorite is okonomiyaki. It is kind of a pancake/crepe dish that you can either have prepared or cook yourself. Some places offer an "all you can eat" style menu that can last from 30 minutes to 2 hours at a good value—and really it can't get much better than that.
New Year's in Japan is the most enjoyable and tiring holiday of the year. I like to say it is a jam-packed holiday extravaganza. It starts out with a few end-of-the-year traditions, like eating soba noodles, which then moves on to a normal New Year's countdown and all night partying, and afterwards visiting a temple in the early hours of the morning, and finally, extreme sales at almost every store around the early afternoon. It's exhausting but totally worth staying awake for.
Being part of the CSU Japan program provides me the opportunity to participate in group trips around Japan. Here we went to Naraijuku in Nagano to experience a rural and traditional-style Japanese town. Students from Waseda also frequently attend these trips, giving CSU students the chance to make new friends and practice their Japanese. It is hard to really get to know Japanese students because they are a bit shy and need a situation that allows them to make a good friend. Without these trips, I would never have had some of the opportunities I did to build the friendships that I now have.
Learn more about the study abroad program in Japan.