To Break Out From Your Own Shell: My Journey in Japan

Author: Trishit Banerjee 

Apart from Sushi, Tokyo and Mt. Fuji; my understanding of Japan was absolutely nothing. Back in India, we do not really grow up reading Japanese manga (comics). The only Japanese word I knew was ‘Sayonara’ (Goodbye) and that too because of the popular 1966 Bollywood film ‘Love in Tokyo’. The TV cartoons however, are still immensely popular.

I first visited Japan as a leader of the Indian contingent for the JENESYS 2.0 Cultural Exchange Program organized by the Japanese government back in 2014 when I was in high school. Until that time, I had not visited any foreign country and the only foreign language I knew was English. During the 2 weeks I spent in Japan, I was in awe and wonder with its culture, innovation and high sense of discipline. As a middle-class student in India, I never considered pursuing foreign education until graduate school. However, my experience in Japan during the program encouraged me to approach such a goal.

In India, the most popular foreign education destinations are US, Canada, UK, Singapore and Australia. There is also a considerable number who think about Hong Kong and New Zealand. However, Japan was off the list for a long period of time. The reason? It was majorly the language and the sheer unchartered territory. However, when Japan launched its ambitious G30 program in 2011 by introducing English language undergraduate courses at its select 13 premier universities, the interest soared. [1] I realized about this program only after I returned to India after my maiden trip to Japan and spoke to the University of Tokyo India Office at New Delhi. My interest in Chemistry was firm and the 2 universities offering English-language courses in Chemistry at the undergraduate level were the former imperial universities of Tohoku and Nagoya. I went on with Tohoku and was accepted with a full ride scholarship.

As I think in retrospect, it is undoubtedly challenging to decide to move to a country whose language you know not of and whose culture is alien and distant in all honesty. However, I do believe that the power of education is not only academic excellence but also the ability to create opportunities for yourself and others when you see none. My tryst with writing in English seemed to be over before I left for Japan however, there are always hotspots waiting to be tapped where you can discover your calling. 

It was only after I moved here, I realized the extent of innovation and contribution to the science this country has provided. The stereotypical cameras from Japan faded with my newfound knowledge about the classic TV antennas (Yagi-Uda antenna), split-anode magnetron in microwave ovens, carbon nanotubes, flash memory and even the first observation of CRISPR; that were all discovered/invented in Japan. I could also experience the sheer blend of culture and high technology in this part of the world and the various streams of thought that binds Asia together. I could participate in high school mentoring activities, help the 2011 Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami victims and also venture out in meeting young people across the country to discuss youth activism, journalism and identity in the same breath as field research, curiosity and quest for knowledge.

International education does lead to a better understanding of complexity for both your host and home countries. [2] And if you are already in Asia, why not challenge the east?


[1] Hakubun Shimomura, Minoru Matsutani, The Japan Times (September 02, 2013)

[2] Mohamed Abdel-Kader, Homeroom (November 19, 2015)