[Study in Japan Report] By Paul from PIASS
Kani Bahoya Paul our former exchange student from Protestant Institute of Arts and Social Sciences, Rwanda, who studied in Japan from Mar. 2022 to Feb.2023 wrote an essay of his one year stay in Japan.
Kani Bahoya Paul
Report of my stay in Japan (April 2022 – February 2023)
The culture of Japan has made it a destination to many tourists, and so have international students been attracted to come to Japan. The tall buildings and food add an accent on the accommodation that Tokyo, particularly, is claimed to be the most convenient city in east Asia. Tokyo is therefore exposed to a unique diversity and artistic activities as well as amusement that makes the city alive and shiny. My stay in Japan as an exchange student at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies for ten months was successful as I met, or exceed, some of my expectations.
This is me on the photo, a Congolese artist and videographer named Paul. I am a student from Protestant Institute of Arts and social sciences (PIASS) in Rwanda. I came to Japan as an exchange student at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies within the period from April 2022 to February 2023.
In this brief report I will show the activities I did; present the opportunities I was exposed to as well as elaborate the challenges I faced and how I alleviated them. I will also point out the uniqueness of some courses at TUFS as well as giving a look on my life out of the campus.
Being in Japan, particularly in Tokyo, represented a unique opportunity to me as I was closely exposed to Japanese culture. I experienced all four seasons in Tokyo, and spring was my favourite. However, from an artistic perspective, autumn looked beautiful too as the leaves turned brown. I remember summer the most, as I built a lot of memories during that season.
I was hosted by the Association of Aid and Relief (AAR/Japan) to curry a three-month internship through which I was exposed to the Japanese workflow. My tasks involved project design and financial record tracking for their operation in Meheba; Zambia. The workflow at AAR was detail-oriented and well-organized compared to my previous internship in Africa. I enjoyed eating a variety of Japanese food, but ramen was my favorite. Interestingly, Jato and I used to go to a shop in Mitaka (just a 15-minute walk from TUFS), and the shop awarded us T-shirts and free lunch in recognition of our loyalty as good customers before leaving Japan. The karaoke style in Japan is different from that in Rwanda and DR Congo. In Japan, I sang only with my friends, while in Rwanda, I sang for the audience, and in DR Congo, karaoke involves a music band.
Being in a different culture represent both opportunities and challenges simultaneously. This ambivalence, sometimes, makes had to decide whether it worth staying or not; though quitting would not be an encouraged option in some instance. Language represented an obstacle to me; few Japanese, from my observation, would feel confident to express themselves in English. I took the Japanese language class and it helped me to initiate a conversation but running a discussion was still a mystery. At some point I could use google translate but the lack of engagement in the conversation made it not interesting and to some extent it could miss interpret. I made sure I mastered the basics of the Japanese language and continued to challenge myself: I even presented a speech in Japanese at the seminar of ‘Artist reflecting about Africa and Japan’.
Well, the communication in Japan does not limit on the language, it also encompasses the cultural norms. With my experience, Japanese people tend to be friendly with you not because of the language in the first place, but rather how you show respect to the manners gives as much of attention that the language could bring and once establishing this trust you could even use translations tool and everyone would, most likely, feel comfortable with it. This manner and norms in Japan call upon the challenge that international students faced all the time: the expectation of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’.
Being uncertain of the culture makes it difficult to know how one should behave in some circumstance. The respect of time management, for instance, is universally accepted as an appropriate personality trait. In Japan, however, I observed another view toward time management. I could get on time when having dinner with my sensei but apparently it was not enough. Japanese friends around the campus told me it would show respect if I could present myself 15 or 10 minutes earlier when I have appointment with my sensei and next time, I came 15 minutes earlier and the sensei reached at about 6 minutes earlier. Later, I was told it is respectful that I wait for the sensei and not the opposite. The respect of sempai and sensei is not a favor in Japan, it is an expectation.
University represents an environment exposed to the diversification of activities, ideas as well as achievement. However, the memory of the process prevails in the rest of the life of the students as far as their future is concerned. Some courses I attended at TUFS differ from the one at my home university on the point of how the student pictures his future and how enjoyable the process of leaning feels like. The classes I took in Spring semester 2022 at TUFS represent an opportunity I wish to repeat twice. In particular I found interesting courses like: career design and development, English for entrepreneurship and Film Analysis. In contrast, the fall semester, to me, was the opposite of the first though few courses still were academically interesting.
I visited the Hamamatsu musical instrument museum in Kyoto and two weeks after my visit I went to Kiyosato for a musical concert mixed with Kodan narration. The event was made for the fundraising for Ukraine. (Kodan is a storytelling traditional Japanese performing arts. Unlike rakugo, Kodan focuses on historical war, revenge, human compassion and so forth: https://www.japanese-wiki-corpus.org/culture/Kodan%20(storytelling).html)
The visit in Kyoto was quite adventurous, Jato and I went to Tokyo just to get a photo in front of those gate. Well, we did lots of other things but the priority was Kinkakuji and the gate. Our trip ended in Osaka; surprisingly, we managed to cover a tense schedule for only one day.
Being part of the TUFS_Create circle help me getting exposed to some of the club activities and make friends around the campus. We manage to work together on the short film: “Chair in the Park” that I was the director, regardless of the language barrier. Well, I was assigned to be a new president of the club when the representative went temporarily to South Korea. I wrote the story of my first film in the club in English and the club assigned a team to help me translating because my actors were confident in Japanese than English. The availability of everyone caused problem, we planned in separate groups for approximately three months. We managed after a long plan to shoot the whole short film in one day. The sempai members provided free lunch and I get to know the cheap restaurants around TUFS through this club. Though the club does not have lots of experience; their courage, fraternity and commitment made us producing a very interesting work.
Here is the film ‘A chair in the park’: https://youtu.be/233_wy_cVo8
On 6th February 2023, with the joint assistance of FENICS, Grant-in Aid for Scientific Research and African Studies Center-TUFS, I took part into the seminar ‘artist reflecting Japan and Africa’. I streamed my short film of ‘A chair in the park’ and also explained the conflict transformation in the context of my country, DRC. The questions brought up by the audience allowed me to reflect deeper on which contribution should I bring as a Congolese youth.
I was invited by Musashino Family Association to talk about the culture in my country. I explained the tradition of Bashi culture, that I am adequately informed about, the seminar was quite successful. Bashi is the majority ethnic group in the eastern Congo, particularly in Bukavu, my home town. Among the presenters, there was a French man who did a presentation about Rakugo and showcased an English rakugo.
Gaigosai Festival: theater performance
At first, I was frustrated when proposed to perform on stage as a King in a Tanzanian-based story named Nunda. I made intensive practice and fortunately they could not interfere with my classes. I worked on my voice and many other aspects that make an ordinary actor to become a good actor. My experience as a director helped me understood what the story wanted to tell the audience.
Feel Africa Exhibition
I always remain grateful to the IAfP program and the African Study Center (ASC) at TUFS. First, for creating the bond between African exchange students and Japanese students. Well, most of the Japanese friends I have on the campus were introduced to me, directly or indirectly, by IAfP. Secondly, the activity that met the most of my expectation was organized by the IAfP with the assistance of ASC.
As an artist, the idea came across that I could exhibit my arts at the university. The IAfP coordinator, Chihiro, came up with the idea to organize it much larger by getting other African students at TUFS involved as an exhibitor. We found out many African student have interesting stories about their countries. In remarkable turns of event, a Sierra Leonian graduate student, Theresa, was also looking for an opportunity to present her book. A Burundian student, Rodrigue, whom by then was almost graduating, appeared to be a musician and had some interesting song we could sing together. We named the activity: “Feel Africa”.
“Feel Africa” was supposed to be a simple activity of exhibiting arts but its exposure turned it into a memorable event that the joint effort of IAfP, ASC, African major students as well as the African students were responsible for its achievement. I exhibited my arts about peacebuilding in my country, the DR Congo. The book of Theresa pictured a typical village life of an ambitious young boy in Sierra Leone and her speech made it alive. The joy poured out of our smiles at the conclusion event of the exhibition when singing a song that Rodrigue helped us organize. Everything felt different when I heard the sound of the violin that a Japanese student was playing during the performance.
Feel Africa was successful; in fact, it went beyond my expectations.
Expectations vs achievement
I expected Japan to present opportunities for me to exhibit my art and improve my ability of filmmaking. In this respect, I exhibited in a coffee bar in Shibuya and at the university through ‘Feel Africa’. I had a class on filmmaking and I joined a filmmaking club that exposed me to a team of pears in the safe field.
I expected to visit Okinawa not only for the beautiful nature but also to see how the prefecture looks like regardless of the hash past it has experience. The cost to go seemed higher than I expected. I could not go to Okinawa but I took classes that could inform, at some point, the history of Okinawa.
Making friends was also an expectation I had. I made some Japanese friends from TUFS and outside the university. I also made foreign friends who say in Japan from different countries: China, Korea, UK, France, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indian, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Chili, Mongolia, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Cameroon, Czechia and many other countries.
After my exchange program in Japan, I accompanied one Japanese and Tanzanian friend in their donations process of medical equipment to Panzi Hospital in my home town where Dr. Mukwege is the doctor in chief. Through this experience, I got the chance to participate in a meeting with Dr. Denis MUKWEGE, the Nobel peace prize laureate of 2018.
The exchange program at TUFS has been an opportunity that shaped my view of seeing the world, and Japan in particular. Coming from a developing country to a developed one is a process that help me identifying the gaps and look upon the contribution I would be able to bring. As a developed country, the capital city of Tokyo looks very convenient; though, this has a price to pay. I extend my gratitude to JASSO for the scholarship they provided every month for me to cover the basic need while concentrating on my studies. I am thankful for the crowdfunding effort that contributed to my living expenses in Tokyo and IAfP to my flight ticket, your effort was sufficient enough to bring all these dreams to life.
To everyone who made my stay in Japan a memory,
To all of you who took your time to show me around,
To all the others whom I never met but they supported my initiatives,
To my home university (PIASS) and the TUFS exchange division,
To JASSO and the crowdfunding contributors,
To IAfP and ASC;
I am grateful for your efforts.