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One question you may get asked quite often if you come to Japan is, “Why Japan?” You will probably get asked this by curious friends/family before you even leave. It’s a question I’ve tackled with since there is no easy answer, at least for me. There are three main reasons why I chose to come to Japan and to pursue a PhD here, but there are also many smaller reasons which is why it’s not a simple one-sentence answer. If you’d like, you can also check out my video I made on this topic.

The first reason has to do with my upbringing. My mother is originally from Japan so there was always a culture influence from a young age. Being exposed that early to all the interesting facets of Japan really cemented my desire to at least visit Japan often. Usually we would visit family every five years or so, and one visit in middle school I liked it so much I cried because I didn’t want to go home. My brother and I both promised we’d come back and live in Japan which was kind of silly at the time but hey, I’m living it right now.

The other two reasons only came about after I studied abroad two years ago. While I was here I made some good friends, especially with the local frisbee team. Having to leave them so abruptly after the earthquake really created a strong yearning to come back.

Finally, on a more “professional” level, I enjoy my research group. In the US getting into physics graduate school can be very competitive, especially in theoretical physics since there is not much funding for that field. Coming to Japan afforded me an opportunity to study what I love in a large research group where I can comfortably transition between sub-fields if I was unsatisfied with my current one. I can honestly say I’m not so sure I would be able to do the same in the States, which is all the more reason you should do your best in school!

So what about you? What interests you about Japan?

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4 thoughts on “Why Japan?

  1. It was only last year when I was able to visit Japan. I actually got to go there twice, on April and August. Prior that, I have to say, I never really had the “drive” to visit Japan. I’m an eager traveler but I didn’t consider Japan as one of my “top” countries to visit because I had this assumption that traveling there would be difficult. The language barrier might hamper me from actually exploring and enjoying my stay in your country.

    This perception of mine changed though when I was selected to join this special exchange program. That was my first exposure to Japan. (: With the help of JICE and MOFA, students like me really got the unique chance to visit places like Tokyo, Sendai, and Fukuoka. Since everything was sponsored for by the government (yes, from the plane tickets, the accommodation in different places, the food, to the shinkansen ride… practically everything!), I had nothing to worry about. I was able to experience the food, relish some parts of the culture, visit sites and museums, meet students, stay in a host family for a few days, and all these other things. If I were a regular tourist there, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to experience that much. Thus, I’m really thankful for that chance. It expanded my worldview even more AND made me appreciate Japan all the more.

    Around four months after that, I found myself traveling to Japan again! Haha. I never thought that I would be back in Tokyo and Sendai that fast (I actually expected that my next visit to Japan might be a couple of years from now–not a couple of months after April. Lol). Of course, I’m not saying that I regret it. I’m just mesmerized when I try to remember all these. Japan was a country that I didn’t plan to visit before but, all of a sudden, I find myself gravitating to your country not just once, but twice, in one year! In my second visit, I made more friends and savored more of the food and the environment. (: Of course, I can’t say that I already know so much of your country (I only got to stay for around a week or so). Nonetheless, from the people I’ve met there and the experiences I’ve gained, I can confidently say that you have a very lovely country. (:

    By the way, on another note, you mentioned that your mom is Japanese? I suppose that your dad is of a different nationality? My parents are also like that–making me a dual citizen. I love being of mixed heritage because I get to call not just one but TWO countries as my home. I wonder how is it in Japan though, for people with mixed heritages? Do the locals treat you completely like a fellow local as well? Are there times when you feel more “American” in Japan, and more “Japanese” in America? I had this e-mail correspondence with a British-Japanese girl before and she mentioned something like that to me. (: I’m wondering how your experience is like. I’m just naturally fascinated by meeting people born out of parents with different races. (:

    • I’m glad you enjoyed Japan so much!

      Yes, my mother is Japanese and my father is a first generation American (his parents immigrated from Europe after WW2). My older brother was a dual citizen but I am only an American citizen. Anyone who doesn’t look Japanese sticks out and would probably be assumed to be a foreigner in Japan. So I’m sure Japanese citizens of mixed heritage are often mistaken for foreigners. However, in my own experiences, I’m not really treated differently as far as I can tell. My Japanese friends will occasionally ask me questions about America or English, but for the most part they would talk to me like anyone else. Also, the occasional faux pas or misunderstanding in Japanese is occasion to remind me of my non-Japanese upbringing. As for locals (shopkeepers, clerks, etc.) I’m typically treated no differently. I engage them in Japanese and it is a “professional” relationship after all so personal things like my race or heritage don’t usually come up. Occasionally someone will ask where I’m from. I could be an exception, though, as I don’t look like a stereotypical American/Westerner, and I have heard stories of people being treated differently quite frequently.

      To be honest, I lived my whole life up to the age of 22 (I’m 23 now) in America, so I am for all intents and purposes American. I of course do have bits of Japanese culture from my mother and the occasional visit here, but my norms and customs are American. Of course, I have adapted to the Japanese ones for the most part. I never really felt Japanese in America as my upbringing was pretty much like every other American, save for the occasional trip to a Japanese supermarket. We didn’t celebrate Japanese holidays, never spoke Japanese, and our lifestyle was American. My mother adapted pretty well to American culture, so maybe children in other mixed Japanese families feel more Japanese.

      I hope those answered your questions. Thanks again for reading and feel free to ask me again if you have more questions!

      Best regards,
      Michael

  2. Hi. Wow, thank you for taking the time to share your experiences. It’s like I’m the one who suddenly interviewed you. 😛

    I guess it’s a great advantage that you are also familiar in the Japanese language. I haven’t really mastered my dad’s language (Persian), so it’s a bit difficult to completely absorb my dad’s heritage and to engage with the locals (whenever we travel to visit relatives in Iran). Both my parents use English as the main medium at home which is why I never really “naturally” picked up other languages like Persian. I’m trying to change that though, by taking formal lessons, because I feel like I’m missing so much now (the literature, the ability to make friends, and such). I think being familiar–to the point of being fluent–in any language always gives one an edge when it comes to assimilating to another society and culture.

    Based from what you’ve shared, it seems like assimilation is no problem with you. That’s good. I wish that you continuously have a pleasant there. Good luck with your studies! (:

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