First Month of Adjusting to the Culture of Japan

Cayhil Grubbs explains the process of adjusting to a new culture while he is abroad in Tokyo, Japan on the Student Exchange Program to Rikkyo University. “I knew how to deal with this feeling – laugh”

When I first landed in Japan, I didn’t truly feel like I had left the U.S. There was English under each kanji character on every airport sign, every staff member greeted me in English, and there were foreigners everywhere. I didn’t truly process where I was until I went to the supermarket a few hours later to look for things like hand soap and paper towels. At first everything felt normal. The supermarket’s layout was similar, I could here American pop music playing through the loud-speakers, and I even heard the Migos’ song “T-Shirt” playing a few minutes later.

The soap section changed everything. Everything was in Japanese. I couldn’t tell the difference between hand soap, body soap, and shampoo. Trying to pick which soap brand I wanted was humbling. It marked the first time I felt helpless in Japan, but I didn’t mind because I knew how to deal with this feeling – laugh, pull out Google Translate, and learn more Japanese. These are the basic survival tools of living in any foreign country for the non-fluent nomad/exchange student.

One thing I’ve quickly adjusted to is the dorm and surrounding area I live in. Like Ohio State, Rikkyo University has more than one campus. The main campus is in Ikebukuro, Tokyo and the second campus is in Niiza, Saitama. Unlike Ohio State, Rikkyo’s dorms aren’t on campus. I live in the dorm right outside of Asakadai Station, called RUID Asakadai. The many restaurants and stores in and surrounding the station can be very lively during the day, but the area gets nice and quiet at night. There’s a certain sense of serenity in the air, a calmness, peace. I think this aspect of Japan is overlooked. The calmness is unmatched in the world.

Since I have Japanese class at 9 o’clock every day, I have to take the train during rush hour. Any train I get on before 8:30am is packed. The train ride to school is extremely uncomfortable, not because of how you get body slammed with the collective force of nine sumo wrestlers every time the train car rocks back and forth, or that at each stop five people try to squeeze their way in for every person that gets off, or even the fact that it’s a 23-minute ride. What makes it uncomfortable is the strange pose I inevitably end up in. It’s like playing twister, but all of your color’s spots that are close to you are gone, you only get one spin the entire game, and there’s no room to fall.

Having lived in Japan for nearly a month, I’ve noticed a few cultural things that are different. The one thing here that has stood out the most to me is using a public bathroom. Not all public bathrooms have soap and there’s nothing to dry your hands with. Paper towels only exist in grocery stores and the rarer than unicorn hand dryers are weaker than Derrick Rose’s knees. Lastly, anime, video games, media, and sushi are not representative of real life. Americans don’t eat hamburgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s better to not come to Japan with expectations, especially not ridiculous ones. Allow yourself to learn through experience. Let yourself be surprised.

Networking at Rikkyo and Job Hunting

Through one of his classes at Rikkyo University, Cayhil Grubbs had the opportunity to visit Adidas Japan! Hear about his experience interacting with business people in Japan on the Student Exchange Program.

My interactions with Japanese business professionals were fairly limited in number, but significant, especially in a class I took called Business Project. In this class, Adidas Japan came in and presented us with a marketing related problem that they are currently facing. We were tasked with finding the best way to measure Net Promoter Score (NPS), and where we could measure it best. We formed groups to solve this problem, and in mid-October and early December we went to Adidas Japan’s headquarters to present our research and solutions.

During my two visits to Adidas Japan’s HQ, I had several opportunities to network with current employees and Rikkyo alumni at Adidas. The employees were more than willing to talk about what it’s like to work in Japan and their experiences with Adidas Japan. I also met several senior executives and mid-level managers that were happy to talk about their career paths, and what they liked or disliked about working in Japan.

I learned a lot about searching for jobs from Japanese students. Looking for a job at a Japanese company in Japan is very different from the United States. Internships differ between the two countries as they usually last one or two days in Japan versus two or three months in the United States. These one day internships are unpaid. Students do most of their network through these internships and career fairs. In Japan, looking for a job once you graduate is called “Job Hunting” as they typically take time off of school to schedule a lot of interviews, do as many one day internships as possible, and go to a lot of career fairs. Japanese workers rarely change companies. As far as networking goes, reach out to your professors and counselors to find out about career fairs and potential job opportunities. Several of the professors at Rikkyo teach part-time and work at various firms. Most networking techniques that work in the U.S. also work in Japan, so put them to use and be persistent.

Studying at Rikkyo

Jumping in to academics at Rikkyo University and Tokyo, Japan, Cayhil Grubbs shares the unique differences in taking classes in Japan on the Student Exchange Program.

Studying at Rikkyo University is very different than at Ohio State, especially as a business student. One of the big differences you’ll immediately notice is that unless it’s a Japanese language class, you’ll only have class once a week. Stacking your schedule with a ton of classes on one or two days so you can be free the rest of the week sounds nice, but each class is 90 minutes instead of 55. Multiple classes back to back can really take a toll on you, and the back of the class is too crowded.

An important difference between the actual business courses at Rikkyo and at Ohio State is the type of assignments your professors will assign. At Ohio State, we typically have quizzes, two or three midterms, a final, and maybe a case study or two. Midterms and finals tend to be tests, and if you have a group project, there are right and wrong answers to whatever questions you are tasked with answering. At Rikkyo, tests are few and far between as papers and group projects dominate midterms and finals. Papers rarely come with rubrics, and often times there’s no absolute final answer to the group project you are working on. It’s up to you to embrace the ambiguity as you can’t run away from it. If you struggle with things like this, talk frequently with your advisor and professors. Professors help you save money since they don’t require you to buy textbooks.

The last major difference in classes is that the semester starts and ends much later at Rikkyo University. This year classes started September 20th, and the semester won’t end until mid-February. The timing of the semester affects which classes you can take as some don’t allow students to leave early. Classes taught in English are offered at specific times, and if there are two classes you want to take but they’re at the same time, you’ll have to pick one. Even if you can leave early, you’ll probably still have assignments due long after you’re gone.

I recommend taking Japanese language courses because you’ll be living in Japan for the next four months and English and pointing will only get you so far. You should at least learn how to order food, ask where the bathroom is, ask for help, and ask someone if they speak English, plus learning a foreign language is fun! I had six semesters worth of Japanese under my belt before I came, and that was just enough to communicate the basics and really important things. Unless you place into an advanced class, you’ll have Japanese every day. There’s typically homework and quizzes every day, which is helpful for studying if you like to procrastinate. The Japanese program is excellent and truly builds your ability to speak and listen to Japanese from the ground up.