Being a Student in Japan
Author: Inge Kjærbølling, postdoc, Chr. Hansen, firstname.lastname@example.org
First impressions – a country of contrast
My impression of the Japanese people is that they are extremely decent and polite. It can be illustrated with a few examples such as the fact that there are no public trash cans but the streets are clean. Everyone waits for the bus or train in straight lines in the order people arrive – demonstrating an exemplary queuing culture. Everything and everyone has a place and follow it. As a whole, Japan is also full of contrasts – extremely modern and high tech but also with a rich history and a deep respect for tradition. Artful gardens with serene calmness and beauty are neighboured by gaming arcades with vibrant colours and deafening mix sounds visited by men in suits on their way home. It is deeply fascinating.
The university setting – Being the odd one out
In general, I would say that it is a relatively closed research environment compaired to theother universities, I have been at. Here there was a mix a many different nationalities represented, but this was not my experience in Japan. I think, it to a large extend is due to the language barrier as manyJapanese people do not speak English, or they are too shy to try, and the information in many places is only in written in Japanese. A simple thing as going for lunch turned out to be my daily adventure. The first day my supervisor showed me how it worked, but thereafter I was on my own. Basically, there was a machine where you would buy a vaucher based on what you wanted to eat, and then you would go the canteen and exchange the vaucher to food. The only problem was that all the buttons on the machine were only in Japanese, so for me it worked more like a lottery ticket of the day. At that campus, I think, I was the only foreigner clearly sticking out everywhere. Some of the bigger universities might have more foreigners,but in general I think the language barrier is a large challenge.
The art of communication
Mindset at work
Last but not least, I have to comment on the impressive efficiency and high work ethics. I am not sure how they do it, but it seems like they go 100% all the time. People do their very best, if it is in research or as cleaning staff in the Shinkansen train. I have never seen such fast and efficient cleaning of a train, at the end stations there is only a few minutes reserved for cleaning, so the staff basically run in order to make it. I got the feeling that this is the same attitude and work moral for other jobs as well.
In conclusion, I must say that I am deeply impressed by Japan. I believe, we can learn quite a lot on the work ethics and efficiency but the language barrier is quite inhibitory and needs to be addressed in order to open the research culture. Additionally, after returning, I have found a new appreciation of our open communication and more flat management structure commonly found in Denmark. I hope some of my experiences have shed light on this exciting country both opportunities and pitfalls.
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