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Lifestyle changes to expect as a research/ postgraduate student in Japan

jophillia

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Hello everyone!

I did a search and could not find any threads so far which addresses the topic of lifestyle adjustments to expect as a research/ postgrad student in Japan. I am not sure if this is the right place to post this thread (mods can delete/ move the thread if it is not >_<).

Currently it’s the dreaded waiting-period for those who have applied for the MEXT scholarship and for those aiming to start school in April 2011 >_<. Hope that everyone’s doing fine and that we would get our desired outcomes soon! In the meantime, was hoping that we could share some tips on how to prepare ourselves, should we get a chance to study in Japan.

Personally, from conversations with friends/ lecturers who have experience working in Japanese institutions or who have been to Japan, I have been provided with a rather one-sided view of life as a student in Japan =( Would like to share what I have learnt so far though:

1) I know that Japan is a very patriarchal society and that sometimes women in the workplace are required to pour tea for their superiors. From a conversation with a person in the research field, I heard that this is no exception in a laboratory. If you are a girl (even more so if you are the youngest in the lab), you have to come in earlier than everyone else to make tea/ clean the desks before the day starts. I have nothing against this and I understand that this is part of the Japanese work-ethic.

2) I am not sure if this occurs only in the workplace or in the laboratories as well… But I heard that it is good practice to come in before your boss and leave only after he leaves.

3) With regards to the Japanese work/ lab-ethic, was wondering if there would be time to go back home during the summer breaks/ holidays. Personally, I am prepared to stay in lab for long hours and even over the holidays (have been doing that in Singapore already >_<) but it would definitely be a bonus to be able to go back once in a while.

4) Now comes the more questionable part… I know of a researcher whose friend went to Japan on a scholarship to do her PhD (but that was about 10 years ago). Being a headstrong and vocal “gaijin girl”, she was bullied very badly in the laboratory by her senpais (her supervisor was nice though). The worst thing was not that she lost a lot of weight but that she almost lost her virginity (her senpais threatened to deny her help for a major experiment if she did not sleep with them). Also, a friend who works in a Japanese company in Singapore told me that a Japanese boss who had come to Singapore for a business trip tried to get her to sleep with him for ‘business’ (this within the last 2 years). These situations may be unique but it did make me worry a bit of how foreign students are perceived in the Japanese schools/ labs.

5) With regards to 4), a quick internet search did not reveal much on past MEXT scholars’ experiences in Japan. However, all the good reviews seem to be concentrated in embassy websites (where they would of course post the good stuff only) while there was only one bad review on www[dot]debito[dot]org (the comments to the review contained both good and bad experiences).

I do know that every case is unique and that life in a foreign country (not only Japan) would definitely not be a bed of roses. But I believe that it would not be impossible to adjust to as well if one has an open and teachable spirit. If you guys do not mind, I would find it extremely helpful if you could share your experiences/ questions regarding adjusting to student life in Japan (^_^)

Pardon my long post!:sorry:
 

flidar

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I do have heard several sexual harrassment case for girls in the labs previously in Japan. But I do think it happens everywhere and there are only particular cases because most of the female students as far as I know have had great experiences in Japan.
 

jophillia

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Just to clarify, I am not trying to say that the things that I was told of in my first post are the things to expect when going to Japan. (haha i really hope not)

The motive of creating this thread is for people already in Japan to share about their experience in adjusting to the new educational environment so that those who have not gone to Japan yet can be better prepared. :)

I really do not believe that everything is all bleak. Maybe the people I talked to happened to have bad experiences only.
 

ijulia

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thanks for opening this post jophillia!

i am also wainting for the decision of mext in december. actually i am having the same worries as you are having. there seems to be a problem with sexual harrassment against women in japan.
i really hope that women are having at least the same rights regarding this topic as here. if there is one thing that makes me aggressive and i really can't stand- its nasty bosses and guys. but thats maybe the middle-european approach where feminism is big among my friends.

it would be super interesting to hear something- about daily social life, uni life and the living situation in general (housing, nightlife, etc.) from people who are already there at the moment! hope someone will post something! or if some of you people in japan right now have a blog or website- it would be cool if you could post the links here!
 

Glenski

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Personally, from conversations with friends/ lecturers who have experience working in Japanese institutions or who have been to Japan, I have been provided with a rather one-sided view of life as a student in Japan
I would ignore info from people who have only visited here.

1) I know that Japan is a very patriarchal society and that sometimes women in the workplace are required to pour tea for their superiors.
Don't expect that it will be the case for foreigners.

2) I am not sure if this occurs only in the workplace or in the laboratories as well… But I heard that it is good practice to come in before your boss and leave only after he leaves.
You leave when the work you are doing is finished. I teach in a university with an all-science program, if that matters. You may not even see your lab boss much at a university.

3) With regards to the Japanese work/ lab-ethic, was wondering if there would be time to go back home during the summer breaks/ holidays.
When classes are not in session, yes. If your personal research requires more work or your attention, no.

4) Now comes the more questionable part… I know of a researcher whose friend went to Japan on a scholarship to do her PhD (but that was about 10 years ago). Being a headstrong and vocal “gaijin girl”, she was bullied very badly in the laboratory by her senpais (her supervisor was nice though)...These situations may be unique but it did make me worry a bit of how foreign students are perceived in the Japanese schools/ labs.
Key here is "unique". Have worked at my uni for 5 years and never heard even a hint of such sexual harassment.

Being a "vocal headstrong gaijin" is not going to win anyone any points in Japan, male or female. The biggest things are trying to fit into the culture and learn as much of the language as possible. Few Japanese students speak English well, and at the grad school level it may even be worse because they tend to get their English credits out of the way in the first year of undergrad school. You are (going to be) in Japan, so it pays to try learning the language so that simple lab communication and chitchat is possible and smooth. Some unis will even require intensive language training before you start a day on campus (certain scholarships, too).
 

ykk

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I hope all the sexual harrassment thing are just "rare" cases
That's the only thing that scares me about the scholarship ☝
 

jophillia

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Thank you everyone for your replies so far!

@Glenski: Thank you! Your view provides a lot of insight into student life in Japan. And I agree that being too headstrong and vocal won't win you points in Japan where its more beneficial to preserve the ヒ彗 in interpersonal relationships.
 
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