Bachelor of Arts
Bachelor of Arts

 Image of student and friends in traditional costumes

Since entering university, it had always been a dream of mine to study abroad. However, given the huge financial burden studying abroad can create, I was never quite confident I would be able to make my dream come true. It was through a UQ Abroad scholarship, the generous OS-HELP loan scheme, as well as the JASSO Scholarship from the Japanese Government, that I was able to turn my dream into a reality.

Having studied Japanese for the past 10 years, (and it being my major at UQ) there was no questioning where I would choose to study abroad. I had been to Japan, on holidays, several times prior to my exchange—I had many friends there and had grown to love the country’s many unique customs and its culture. Anyone who has been to Japan has his or her favourite spot—mine, is Tokyo. As such, I wanted to go to a university that was close enough to the neon-lit metropolis without being right in the center of it.

Hitotsubashi delivers on just that. Located in the western Tokyo neighbourhood of Kunitachi, it’s just a short train ride to Shinjuku, but far enough away that it’s not too in-your-face. Hitotsubashi is one of Japan’s top national universities and so it carries a good reputation.

Hitotsubashi has four undergraduate faculties: the Law Faculty, the Business and Commerce Faculty, the Economics Faculty, and the Social Sciences Faculty. You will be assigned to one of these when you enter Hitotsubashi; however, as an exchange student, you can undertake classes in any of these faculties. As an exchange student, you have pretty much free reign over what subjects you take: you can take faculty classes with Japanese students; additionally, you can take Japanese language subjects through the Centre for International Education, and also classes in the Hitotsubashi Global Program (HGP). HGP classes are taught in English and while they are mainly taken by exchange students, some Japanese students will also take them—particularly if they are preparing to study abroad themselves and want to take classes in English.

You will need to take 12 tani (credits) per semester. The majority of classes are worth 2 tani each (thus, 6 classes per semester) but some are worth 4. You can take more than 12 if you wish but Hitotsubashi will require you to take at least 12 (it’s also required to receive full credit back at UQ!) The Japanese language classes are decent but this will vary upon teacher. Any class taught by Naomi Yanagida (柳田直美), Hayato Kanai (金井勇人), Yoko Takai (髙井曜子), or Reiko Saegusa (三枝令子) will be super beneficial and teach you a lot. Classes with Masanobu Gomi (五味政信) will guarantee a laugh-a-minute. Gomi-sensei is an amazing teacher and will entertain you with his funny English and life stories! At the beginning of your first semester, during orientation, you will sit a Japanese language placement test to determine what level of classes you should enrol in. This is by no means final, and you are free to choose higher or lower level classes if you find the ones the placement test recommended to be too easy or too difficult. In my personal opinion, there are more language classes aimed at intermediate level students than advanced, so if you are at an already high level prior to coming to Japan (roughly JLPT N2), it’s best to keep this in mind.

Regarding faculty classes with Japanese students, if you feel your level is not up to it or you’re worried you can’t perform well, you can always consider attending as what is called an “Audit Student” (聴講生 chōkōsei). This means you just attend the class to learn about the subject without having to take the assessment. Of course, this means you won’t get credit but is something to consider if you are interested in a topic and want to learn about it in Japanese. Most teachers are happy to let you do this. HGP classes, being in English, are fairly basic and mostly comparable to first-year classes back at UQ. There are HGP classes on all different topics such as Japanese society, Japanese cinema, Management, Economics, as well as the famous Explore Japan Seminar.

Explore Japan Seminar is a 2 tani course run by Jin Abe (阿部仁), a Japanese professor who is very American—having lived and studied in America in the past. In Explore Japan Seminar, you will experience all kinds of interesting cultural activities such as going to watch sumo wrestling or baseball, wearing a kimono/hakama, sake tasting, and tea ceremony. The best part? You get to have all this fun and get credit for it at the same time! The catch? The class is insanely popular, but is limited to only 15 students per semester and undergraduate exchange students in their first semester of exchange get preferential treatment. I was fortunate enough to get a spot in this seminar and was so glad I decided to take it. I cannot recommend it enough.

Some differences you will notice about Japanese university compared with UQ is that Japanese universities are a little bit like high school. Classes run on a period system rather than a timetable. There are five periods each day of 90 minutes in duration. Like school, a bell is rung to indicate the beginning and end of each period. First period (beginning at 8:50am) is commonly avoided by most students—particularly so in winter semester when it gets quite cold. (I write this as I look out my window and see snow a foot deep covering the ground)

You have two choices for accommodation: a dorm room or finding your own apartment. Given how expensive the latter can be in Tokyo, I chose to live in the dorms. There are two dorms that you could possibly live in, but you don’t get to choose which! The one I lived in is the dorm in Kunitachi (colloquially referred to as “Kaikan”) and is right on campus. Your room comes furnished and includes a toilet, but showers, laundry, and kitchen facilities are shared amongst the floor. There are three floors of rooms and 18 rooms per floor. This dorm mainly houses graduate students and research students, but some undergraduate students (such as myself) also get to live here. It’s a very quiet dorm, and the building is quite old. On the first floor is Cross Cultural Hall (C.C. Hall) where dorm-organised parties are held. You can also reserve the hall to hold your own party and when it’s not reserved, you are freely able to enter and watch TV, play Wii, or play table tennis.

The second dorm is in a town called Kodaira. It’s about a 15-20 minute bike ride or a 30-minute train ride to campus (involves two trains). This dorm is newer, larger (containing several different buildings housing students from several universities in addition to Hitotsubashi students) and the living arrangements are different. There are flats containing six rooms in each flat and showers, toilets, laundry, and kitchen facilities are shared amongst these six people. This dorm houses a lot more undergraduate students and a lot more partying goes on at Kodaira. No matter which dorm you get placed in, you are able to go to the other dorm freely to visit any friends you might have living there.
Overall, my exchange experience has been incredibly beneficial. My Japanese has improved immensely, I’ve been able to live in Japan, and it’s helped me to realise how much I wish to live in Japan in the future on a more permanent basis. The friends I have made during my time at Hitotsubashi are people I will never forget. Not only did I make Japanese friends, but also friends from a whole stack of other countries including America, UK, Germany, Taiwan, and Korea. I have learned so much about myself, Japan, and other countries, thanks to the people I’ve met, and the experiences we’ve shared.

If I can offer any tips, they would be:

  • For the singing inclined, Karaoke Ban Ban offers very cheap karaoke for students. There are two of these in Kunitachi: one near the station, and the other on Asahi-doori.
  • Mister Donuts and Mos Burger (both on Daigaku-doori) are excellent locations to study. Mister Donuts has the added incentive of free coffee refills—perfect for when studying!
  • Get a bike! If you don’t know how to ride one, learn! Kaikan dorm rents out bikes to residents for free. If you’re living at Kodaira, community group “mahō no lamp” rents bikes for cheap. Getting around is much faster and easier than walking, or taking the train. Great exercise, too!
  • Kobeya Bakery, on the corner of Fujimi-doori sells insanely delicious baked goods! If you go in at around 8:30pm (just before closing), everything is discounted and so very cheap!
  • Tachikawa is the place to go for any major shopping. It’s just one stop further down on the Chuō Line and has nearly every store that there is in a busier town like Shinjuku. There’s a Bic Camera for your electronic needs, a MUJI (you’ll need this when you first arrive to buy homewares and bedding), and plenty of other stores.
  • If there’s a store you’ll be going to frequently and they have a point card (most stores in Japan do), get it! Points can generally be used for discounts on future transactions and you’ll be surprised how quickly they add up.
  • Torikizoku is a well-known chain of izakaya and there’s one in Kunitachi on Fujimi-doori (opposite SEIYU supermarket). All items on the menu are 280 yen (plus consumption tax), the food is great, and the atmosphere is super fun!
  • SEIYU and Saeki are the two supermarkets here in Kunitachi. Saeki is very close to the Kaikan dorm but is a lot smaller and slightly more expensive than SEIYU. SEIYU is right across from the station, their prices are decent, and the best part is it’s open 24 hours so you can do your shopping at 3am if you feel so inclined.
  • Lastly, don’t be afraid to try new things! This is a unique opportunity and it’s important to make the most of it!

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