Japanese Studies Scholarship Experience
Guest article by Rebecca Paterson, recent returnee of 2014 - 2015 Japanese Government (MEXT) Undergraduate Scholarship Programme

I had never been to Japan prior to receiving this scholarship. Japan has always been a curious country to me, often portrayed by British media as being a graceful mix of beautiful tradition and impressive modern technology with a hint of eccentricity, and I was one of those people who were drawn to her elegant traditional culture. From the age of fifteen I began teaching myself Japanese using the internet, eventually acquiring a GCSE and an A level in it, then went on to university to further my language skills and deepen my knowledge of the country. However no matter what I did, whether it be entering competitions to travel to Japan or searching for exchange programmes, I hadn’t had my chance to visit the Land of the Rising Sun just yet.

I first found out about the Japanese Studies Scholarship from my peers at university who had previously received it. They described how much of a great opportunity it is to participate in an independent programme - away from what is arranged at your university, allowing you to find the most appropriate course for you and experience a different city, while also having the financial support to pursue your interests. At first, I wasn’t certain whether this would be the right course for me as I was already mentally prepared to participate in the university's regular programme with my friends, but with some advice and guidance from my professors I was soon filling out the application forms.
Having been brought up in an area with no Japanese people, I viewed Japan through a lens created by British media, anecdotes from relatives and friends and later the internet. However, unlike many people my first encounter with Japanese culture was through my father’s interest in Japanese weaponry and my own attraction to the intricate and delicate art of Origami, as opposed to anime and manga. I then came across other aspects of traditional culture such as food and dress and from the age of fifteen I decided to start teaching myself the language, first with books purchased at local book shops and then with the internet.

To me, Japan was a mysterious and exotic country boasting a wealth of fine arts and a unique culture. The internet allowed me to access a greater range of Japanese related resources and I gradually began to learn more about the country and the people through my language exchange chat partners and media such as drama. I knew I that my impressions of Japan were highly skewed by my indirect exposure to the country and that my study of the language needed to be more in depth - this drove me to pursue Japanese Studies at university.
What made my experience very different to most who spend a year in Japan is that I wasn’t located in the bustling city as many would associate Japan with, but rather on a small almost remote campus in the northern reaches of the Osaka Administrative Prefecture. At first I was quite disappointed with the lack of excitement of the metropolis or the wonders of matsuri (festivals) like my peers were experiencing but I soon began to appreciate the valuable and unique experience I was given. Many people believe Japan to be a futuristic, eccentric and inaccessible country for foreigners and many people travel to the country in search of these, but having lived in a very normal town with everyday people carrying out their quotidian lifestyles I came to see the normality of Japan and her true essence. Japan indeed is a highly convenient and fast country in terms of infrastructure and service where people go about their daily lives maintaining a comfortable balance in society. The local people whom I made contact with on a daily basis were helpful and friendly and even if I weren’t visiting temples everyday or trying on different types of kimono which I had assumed prior to visiting I got to experience deeply rooted aspects of Japanese society that are found in both large cities and small towns and never felt out of my depth.


The location of my course proved frustrating and tiresome at the beginning. There were only supermarkets and convenience stores, no restaurants, the transport was infrequent, going to forms of entertainment such as karaoke required a well planned trip, and I had very little opportunity to meet young Japanese people. In other words, my much anticipated Japanese university life fell short of expectations. This however helped me grow from a lost university student to an independent young adult who ardently pursued her ambitions. I had several issues due to health in Japan each time I did not shy away from receiving medical treatment. I filled my weekends and holidays with domestic travel alone or with my classmates. I learnt to prepare local dishes with previously unknown ingredients. I ensured that no time was wasted and met a wealth of unique and interesting characters both on my campus and throughout the country.
The programme itself was the most rewarding aspect to the scholarship. The Japanese Language and Culture programme provided by Osaka University and MEXT is probably one of the most varied and interesting courses on offer. The level of the course was demanding, with most students being at an advanced level in Japanese, and requiring end of year paper that would be published. Not only was my Japanese ability pushed beyond what I thought I was capable of, we were able to pick from a range of Japanese culture classes, which taught in Japanese that matched every student’s interests from economics and modern society to Japanese folklore and dialectology. Emphasis was placed on our experiences in Japan and our research rather than worksheets and homework so each student could tailor their time to what suited them. Outside of class the programme provided excellent day trips and overnight stays to places often unvisited by the locals such as the Naruto Strait, Tokushima and Tojinbo, Fukui as well as the picturesque Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima. By living in the foreign student dormitory I was also in close contact with my classmates all the time and developed strong relationships with people from all over the globe. I am confident to say that not only did this year allow me to travel independently with a sense of adventure for the first time, but I have also made some wonderful lifelong friends.

One of the most attractive features of the scholarship is the financial support. Your entire year abroad is funded by the Japanese government, which in particular for first time visitors like myself, is highly reassuring to know that you can fully experience and explore Japan without financial constraints. By the end of the year I had visited twenty one of forty seven prefectures, which is significantly more than most of the locals and got to see many different aspects of Japan. In addition, by choosing a separate course from your peers you’re given a greater opportunity to be independent and pursue your personal interests with a sense of excitement and adventure. The process is much more rigorous than set university exchange programmes but by applying to a course specific to your needs, you are more likely to be surrounded by likeminded people who have gone through the same process from all over the world which truly enhance your time in Japan. Finally this scholarship looks brilliant on your CV as an approved scholar by the Japanese Government which would be an asset for anybody considering employment or scholarship in Japan.


Rebecca Paterson