Although I have lived in Tokyo for two years, Tokyo never fails to amaze me. There is order in disorder. Every morning, I take the fully packed train to the university. At the platform, people queue up in twos to get on the train. When the train arrives, the queue splits into two and alighting passengers alight with ease. Only after the last alighting passenger has alighted, do the passengers who were waiting on the platform board. This movement of people on the platform seems extremely disorderly but in less than 45 seconds, the movement of people between train and platform is complete, the train moves on and the queuing starts again. It is as if everyone knows his or her role in the rush hour commute. I guess this is what makes rush hour commute a bit more bearable.
It is easy to think of English as the common language among a group people from various countries. This might be true if you were in Europe or in the United States. In Japan, I speak to my Indonesian or Thai friends in Japanese rather than English. We understand each other better in Japanese. Indeed, it was a bit strange at first but I got used to it after a while. It may seem that there would be fewer opportunity to interact with other international students in Japan because there are relatively fewer international students when compared to Europe and the United States. On the contrary, it is precisely because there are so few of us here that we make more of an effort to interact with one another. In addition, with so few Singaporeans here, I was forced to break out of my comfort zone and interact with more Japanese and international students.
These are just some of the things that make receiving an education in Japan different. There is much to learn besides the usual. For example, I am able to better appreciate Asian values such as humility better in a country where Asian values fuse with Western progress. Armed with the experience I have gained and will gain from my education in Japan, I am confident that I will be able to handle challenges better in future.
Gerald Choo (currently reading Chemistry at the University of Tokyo), June 2008