Introduction

Hajimemashite.

Hajimemashite.

My name is Brett, and I’m a third-year student double-majoring in International Relations and East Asian Studies. Around this time last year, I was in Graham Library filling out an application to U of T’s Centre for International Experience (CIE). Right now, I’m living in Tokyo.

A neon-lit street in Tokyo at night. People can be seen walking along the street.
My new neighbourhood.

I’ll briefly explain why and how I ended up here. I have a long-standing fascination with certain areas of Japan: its tech industry, modern history, and cityscapes, to name a few. This fascination directs my studies at U of T, where I devour courses on Japanese history, politics, and literature. But, studying in Toronto for the past two years has been somewhat bittersweet for me; my Japan-related courses allowed me to study topics that I am genuinely interested in, but they also reaffirmed my desire to actually be in Japan. Studying abroad at the University of Tokyo presented itself as a perfect way for me to continue my undergraduate studies, while satisfying my desire for fresh experience.

When I began my application to study abroad, I was right in the middle of a busy period. Essays and exams seemed endless. Now that I’m in Tokyo, I’m really glad that I took a moment to apply. When school gets tough, it’s easy to become shortsighted; next week’s midterms and essays might seem infinitely more important than anything beyond even a month away, e.g. an exchange. The good news is that CIE’s initial application is simple. It only requires a résumé, a brief (250-350 words) statement of interest, and two reference letters (just give your professors lots of time to write them!).

After being nominated, that is, accepted by U of T to go on exchange, CIE gave me specific instructions from my school of choice. In my case, there was an interview at CIE and some paperwork from the Japanese government. Once I finished those two things and went to a few orientations, I waited until June, when I received my letter of admission from the University of Tokyo. Finally, I arrived here on October 1.

 

A suitcase on a metal trolley at Narita airport. A conveyor belt for luggage pick-up can be seen in the background.
At Narita Airport

Now that I’m in Tokyo, I’m watching months of planning come to fruition; unfamiliar locations on maps have turned into tangible places. The past three weeks have been a blur of orientations, moving in, and starting classes, but my time here has been fantastic so far.

A tree-lined corridor at the entrance of the University of Tokyo's Hongo Campus. Buildings made of light brick can be seen on both sides of the corridor.
Entrance to the University of Tokyo
A neon-lit street in Ginza, Tokyo. The ground is shiny with rain. Two people holding umbrellas can be seen standing on the sidewalk.
Ginza at Night

Tokyo is a metropolitan maze of themed districts – Night life? Shibuya or Shinjuku. Electronics? Akihabara. Street Fashion? Harajuku. Fish markets? Odaiba. The list goes on. To provide a sense of the city’s complexity and expansiveness, here’s a comparison of the TTC’s subway map versus the Greater Tokyo Area’s train network.

The Toronto Transit Commission's (TTC) subway map. The top left corner of the image reads, "Ride the Rocket."
TTC
(http://s3.amazonaws.com/hs-static/transit_maps/137665090_6053bd1e7ed509dbf382e35bb87bb4de.jpg)
An image of the Greater Tokyo Area's immense train network.
Tokyo’s train network
(http://www.meik.jp/2rosenzu/jpg_640/tkyo_yko_chba.jpg)

Tokyo’s size is intimidating at first, but it also promises a wealth of things to see and experience. I’m looking forward to sharing these experiences here over the next few months. For now, I’ll wrap things up with a track from Tokyo’s very own Nujabes:

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