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The other side of the world – Japan

Exchange Semester @Kanagawa University, Yokohama, Japan

Japan. Land of the rising sun. Samurai, Sumo, huge cities, ground-breaking new technologies, weird (mostly) delicious food and lots and lots of people. What a change of scenery when you grew up in Switzerland! But wait, how did I even get here?

Akihabara station (Tokyo)

First of all, I am really, really happy to be the first FHGR student to spend my exchange semester in Japan, at the Kanagawa University (KU). The process of applying at the university seemed quite complicated to me. This must’ve been because the application procedure of KU was a first for me and also for our International Office. Future students will have it a lot easier here! But once everything was sorted out, I took the flight to Tokyo and headed directly to Yokohama where the University as well as the student dorm is located. Yokohama city is a 30 mins train ride from Tokyo, is the second largest city in Japan and home to many major Japanese companies like Nissan or Fujifilm. It offers trendy neighbourhoods with an enormous number of bars, cafés and restaurants. It would not even be possible to try all of the restaurants in the city if you’d eat in a different restaurant every day for the whole semester!

Noge bar district (Yokohama)

Roppongi district (Tokyo)

Kanagawa University provides a student dormitory which has a capacity of around 200 students, all from the same university. It is located in a very calm residential area called Kuritaya (栗田谷), just a 7 min. walk away from KU Yokohama Campus. The other, Minato Mirai Campus, lies a 45 min. walk away from the dorm or alternatively it’s possible to take the metro which cuts it down to around 30 mins. I got myself a bicycle to be more flexible with moving around the city because the distances can be very far. For me, choosing the dorm option instead of getting my own apartment was the best decision. Yes, there are a lot of international students and not many Japanese staying there but it’s still a great opportunity to meet people! So there’s absolutely no need to worry about finding friends here. Inside the dormitory students will be organizing events like welcoming parties, Mario Kart evenings or movie nights and the list goes on. There’s always something to do there, for everyone.

View of Mt. Fuji from the dormitory

The dormitory from outside

Yokohama skyline from the dormitory

KU Minato Mirai Campus

KU Minato Mirai Campus terrace

Yokohama skyline

Sunset from KU Yokohama Campus

Neighbourhood around the dormitory

So then, a few days after checking in at the dormitory, making some friends and getting used to the dorm-life, the orientation period starts. There’s a fixed plan with events which are mandatory to attend where all students are going to prepare for the coming semester in Japan. This includes for example opening a Japanese bank account or registering at the local ward office. There’s just one thing I need to mention here… please be patient. However, there’re also events like evacuation exercises in case of fire or earthquakes and even CPR. Yes, they are well prepared. During the orientation period it’s necessary to choose the classes for the semester. Those can actually be chosen shortly before the semester begins and even though the semester already began, there’s a possibility to change them in the first week.

What I personally found very interesting were the student clubs. There is an event where student clubs and organisations, called circles, can introduce themselves and students can join the ones they find interesting. I have to say I was a bit overwhelmed because there is a club for almost everything! From cooking to building rockets and from dancing to manga drawing, whatever excites you there is a club for it. I joined the Tennis club as well as the Mountaineering club, which was also a great opportunity to interact with Japanese students. Events inside clubs are mostly held weekly while some meet more frequently and some less.

Hike to Mt. Oyama with the Mountaineering club

My favourite experience of the exchange was the golden week. This is a one-week public holiday in Japan, when Japanese people usually go to travel or go home to meet their family. 6 friends from the dorm and me, we planned a road trip on the island of Kyushu where we spent 10 days of adventure and with of fun! With two of the group being Japanese, it was easy to get in touch with the local culture of the island. I will never forget this time!

Road trip life with friends from the dormitory

Aso National Park (Kyushu)

Camping region around Tokyo (Doshi Valley

Traditional houses found everywhere

Road trip vibes in the car

But what would my Japanese exchange have been without the real Japanese experience? Of course I’m talking about earthquakes. Japan is known for its many earthquakes. There are earthquakes on a daily basis in Japan and I’ve felt some of them but only very gently. Although the one which happened 5 weeks after the semester has started was different. At 4am the dormitory building was shaking so intensely that it woke me and all of the students immediately while things were falling off the shelves and glass shattered. It felt like in a bad dream at first until I realised what was going on. Seconds later it was already over.
Fortunately, nobody got injured and there was no major damage. Most of the Japanese students didn’t bother that much while the exchange students did and even had nightmares about that earthquake. I have to say, if experiencing an earthquake, Japan is probably the safest place to be (except for Tsunamis).

There’s no place I would rather have spent my exchange semester than in Japan. This wasn’t my first time being in Japan, but seeing the country from this point of view offers a whole new perspective which is a once-in-a-lifetime experience! ありがとうございます!

Cherryblossoms in Naka-Meguro

Lukas Frölich is currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Tourism with a specialisation in Service Innovation and Design at the University of Applied Sciences of the Grisons. He completed a semester abroad at Kanagawa University in Yokohama, Japan.

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