Bulletin

An online magazine of news and opinions from the Asia New Zealand Foundation

Studying in Tokyo a transformative experience

Feeling that he was treading water in New Zealand, John White decided to get out of his comfort zone and move to Japan to study Japanese. In this article, John describes his experience of living and studying in Tokyo and how it has impacted his life.

After 11 months in Japan, I can safely say that it was the best time of my life. Although I am half Japanese, I was stepping into the unknown a little bit and through this experience, I feel have grown up a lot.

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John and three friends in front of Itsukushima Shrine

First of all, I feel a lot more independent. In New Zealand, perhaps I was in a comfortable bubble. I had a routine of going to university, working part time, and playing football. Not to say I wasn’t busy; however, I had a routine where I was starting to get stuck in.

Living in Tokyo, I had to find my way around in a city that is insanely bigger than Auckland. Every day you could do something new in Tokyo and always be challenged. To sum it up, I was taken out of my comfort zone and forced to adapt to a new and exciting way of life.


"To sum it up, I was taken out of my comfort zone and forced to adapt to a new and exciting way of life."


A big factor on going to Japan on exchange was improving my Japanese language skills. Although I learned a lot in the classroom, making native friends and going out and just being immersed in the city was where I felt my Japanese really kicked on.

I am now more comfortable speaking Japanese, especially my Keigo (honorific language), which is used when speaking to a person that is older than you.

Travelling around Japan was a chain of amazing times. Tokyo itself is so big you could spend a lifetime exploring it. However, I travelled around to quite a few cities, including Kyoto, where you can get a sense of the olden days of Japan; Osaka, a city with amazing food that will want to make you stay longer; and Hiroshima, a place with a sad past but now a thriving city. These are just a few places I visited.

Another benefit of the exchange was meeting people from all around the world. In my dorm, there was a wall of flags with all the countries that students living there came from. There were around 50 flags and I got to be close friends and experience Japan with many students from various backgrounds. I learned about different cultures and saw things from a different perspective. Now that I have contacts around the world, I feel like if I travel somewhere, I will always have someone to meet up with again!

John feeding a deer

One drawback about living in Tokyo is that it can be a bit expensive. As well as basic things like groceries being expensive, since you’re on exchange, you don’t want to miss out anything so you are inclined to spend a bit more on doing activities that you would not be able to do back home. Therefore, I learned that getting on top of your finances is crucial and making budgets are the way to go. Also, sometimes just eating out is cheaper than cooking so finding out where the locals eat is a good tip!

In conclusion, Tokyo was everything and more than I expected and I experienced so much in my year there. Tokyo, especially, is the perfect city for a student and I can see why it is known as the city that never sleeps! It will be an experience I will never forget and I hope to back soon!

Each year young Kiwis keen to experience university life in Japan have the chance to receive a financial boost to help them on their way.

The Asia New Zealand Foundation teams up with Japanese food giant Nakashimato Co Ltd to grant $1000 to selected senior secondary and undergraduate students who have been accepted on exchange programmes to Japan.

Find out more

21 September 2017