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A WASEDA Miscellany

Manuela Almaraz

Life in Japan― As exciting as ever.

David Hooper
Professor, Faculty of Political Science and Economics

I suppose it’s inevitable that the longer you live in a place, the more blasé you become about events that surround you ― events that only a comparatively short time earlier would have been curiously unusual, quite fascinating and, on occasions, completely shocking. The world is getting smaller, and the opportunity to travel and experience different cultures and societies has never been easier. The number of foreign students now enrolled at Waseda is at an all time high, and there is an abundance of overseas study programmes for Japanese students. Things, however, were not always thus.

I came to Japan on my own as a teenager in the 1970s, determined to practise karate at the Japan Karate Association’s main dojo in Tokyo. As a foreigner in Japan in those days, I frequently felt as if I were on display ― not so much as a celebrity in a crowd ; more on the lines of an escapee from the local zoo that everyone suspects is really quite harmless, but nobody wants to be the first to approach too closely. It is hard to imagine now that being a foreigner in central Tokyo in the late 70s could make you the object of such intense curiosity.

I remember being seated on the train one day, returning home after the morning’s karate practice. A small child, about four or five years of age, suddenly noticed me. He stared for several seconds, his features temporarily frozen in shock as it suddenly dawned on him that all those stories he had heard about the existence of life on other worlds were actually true. Without taking his eyes off me he grabbed his mother’s arm and proclaimed in a voice loud enough for the whole carriage to hear,

“Hora! Gaijin da!” (God! It’s an alien!)

The mother, I was sure, would quickly admonish her son for his rudeness. She would no doubt explain to the child that it wasn’t my fault that I had had the misfortune to be born non-Japanese, and that it was impolite to draw attention on a crowded train to the obvious deformities that characterized my kind : strangely coloured eyes, body hair, huge noses and preposterously tall. This was, however, Japan. The mother turned her head in my direction, and then, in a voice almost as loud as that of her forthright offspring exclaimed,

“Honto da!” (Gosh! You’re right!)

Life was so exciting in the 70s!

Japan, alas, no longer feels as exhotic as it once did, and visitors to these shores are not the rarity they once were. That’s not to say, however, that coming to this country is not a stimulating and rewarding experience. Life is what you make it. Foreign students fortunate enough to have the chance to study here at Waseda, can experience a unique cultural setting through which they can learn not only about their host country, but about themselves.

As I flew back to Narita at the end of this summer, after teaching karate in Thailand and Nepal, I couldn’t help thinking that even after so many years in Japan, the novelty hadn’t yet quite worn off.

Teaching the Waseda High School Karate-bu

日本での生活― 今もなおエキサイティング