A Perspective From Japan


Matthew Modlin, a sophomore majoring in international relations, is currently studying abroad in Hirakata city, Japan, in Osaka prefecture of the Kansai Region. He is taking four classes: a spoken Japanese class, a reading and writing Japanese class, a course on democratization and human rights, and a course on international financial markets. Matt says his classes are not difficult, thankfully.

So far, the most exciting thing about Japan for Matt has been the traditional culture, specifically the amount of temples there are. Because there are so many, it is more than likely that only person will be at one of these temples or shrines at any given time. Matt says that there is nothing more peaceful than the ringing bells of a temple and hearing the wind blow. “This kind of peace and tranquility, existing in the middle of highly populated and highly developed country, is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. In addition to this, travelling within Japan is exciting. Going just an hour or less away, you find a completely kind of different people and landscape. So far, he has hiked to the summit of Mt. Rokko in Kobe (with a few inches of snow on the ground), visited a Buddhist fire festival in a traditional yukata, fed the bowing deer in Nara out of his own hand, and walked around the busy shopping streets of Namba in Osaka.

Although Matt has been studying the Japanese language for several years, he still has not mastered it completely. He can get around the city using Japanese only, but finds it impossible to read the newspaper. In addition, there is a Kansai dialect that Matt has had problems with as well. However, for an English-speaking college student, Matt is doing surprisingly well.

On one of his first nights in Japan, Matt had a significant learning experience. As he was walking the streets at night with some friends, he saw an old man laying on the ground bleeding. Looking around, he asked some passersby if he was alright. They responded that they don’t know. Matt called an ambulance and the man was extremely grateful, saying that these foreigners are “nice…so nice.” He bowed and hugged Matt and his friends goodbye. That night, Matt learned that, although the Japanese are very polite and helpful if asked, they will rarely go out of their way to influence the life or well-being of another person if they are not asked to do so. Contrarily, he also reflected that while Americans are loud and not nearly as polite, they do feel the need to help others.

An interesting fact that Matt wants his fellow Americans to know about Japan is that the Japanese are extremely punctual. If the train or bus says it will come at 10:06, do not expect to get on the train or bus at 10:08 or 10:04. “The train will arrive exactly on time, every time,” he said. All in all, it has been a wonderful semester so far.