My academic learning experiences at UTokyo
Over the past four months, when I was on my way to the University of Tokyo, sometimes I stopped to gaze at the huge wall painting in the Todaimae station for a while. It is an imitation of Raphael’s immortal work, the School of Athens, in which the ongoing dialogue of philosophy between greatest thinkers took place in a beautiful space. This painting always reminds me of the nature of my destination: a community in which people discuss, nurture wisdom and pursue truth. It is exactly how I feel about the academic atmosphere of the University of Tokyo. Indeed, studying at GraSPP, UT is one of the most intellectually stimulating and unforgettable experience in my life.
Although the aim of GraSPP seems to be more practice-oriented, that is, to cultivate future world leaders and a new type of civil servants in accordance with the era of public management, and to equips them with comprehensive theoretical knowledge and broad vision, as a student who studies comparative politics and is more interest in the historical dimension and cultural dynamics in East Asia, I still found many interesting courses in the curriculum of GraSPP. By taking those courses, I received necessary methodological training which I had not been taught before, developed basic understanding about Japanese politics, and discovered many aspects of Chinese society and Chinese identity which I were not fully aware of when I was in China. All of these laid a solid foundation for my future study about East Asia.
CAMPUS Asia exchange students are required to enroll in at least three courses in GraSPP and are encouraged to take GraSPP Japanese language course. The three course I took are “Statistical Methods”, “Japanese Government” and “Law and Society in East Asia”, and my Japanese was greatly improved through the weekly GraSPP Nihongo class taught by Ms Ayana Inoguchi.
GraSPP offers the most comprehensive and systematic course series of economic policy and research methodology among the three schools, and both beginners and advanced learners in economy and political science can find the knowledge and training they need from the wide variety of courses. “Statistical Methods” is the one of the most basic courses in this series. The introductory course makes students without knowledge background of advanced mathematics become familiar with key statistical concepts and methods, and enables them to use EVIEW to conduct regression analysis. Thanks to Professor Miyamoto, who can explain the profound in simple terms, I could still keep up with the class and effectively understand the teaching contents, although I had not studied mathematics for five years. After I learned this course, I found that the quantitative methods used in literatures of comparative science which had once made me confused now became much plainer to me.
For those who come to Japan to learn more about Japanese politics and policy, Professor Kudo’s “Japanese Government” is a good choice. Not only does it provide an anatomy of the system, key actors and operating modes of contemporary Japanese government from the perspective of public policy, but also discusses many important current issues in Japanese politics, such as Abenomics and the emergence of the Japan Restoration Party (Nippon Ishin no Kai). It is until I took this course that I got some sense of reality rather than stereotypical image about Japanese politics. For example, I used to consider Japan Restoration Party to be a far-right wing party whose members are all extreme right wing politicians, but after listened to Professor Kudo’s analysis on the developing process and composition of this party, I realized the complexity and heterogeneity within it, and learned to avoid jumping to the conclusion without examining the facts carefully and rationally. Professor Kudo also encourages students to freely express their own opinions and welcomes voices from different points of view in the brown bag meetings after the classes, during which I had opportunity to talk about my feelings of Yasukuni shrine and my deep concerns about the concept of the Japanese state expressed there.
The GraSPP curriculum also includes some courses taught by professors from Faculty of Law, which enrich the curriculum with theoretical insights and historical depth. Professor Matsubara’s “Law and Society in East Asia” is one of them. This course discussed some basic problems concerning the formation of legal institutions in China, in which different legal traditions were integrated into “a pluralistic yet coherent legal regime” and a common identity to the Chinese state was developed. Those problems includes lineages, rural religions, traditional family concept and property inheritance law, and colonial experiences. I was about to understand the identities of others (such as Hong Kong people, who are away from the central Chinese authority and have experience of being colonized) through the course at the beginning of the semester, yet after participating in all the seminars, I found the course not only helped me get some ideas about the identities of others, but also stimulated me more to reflect my own identity as a “Chinese”. By learning about Chinese traditional customs and legal practice, I realized that many once indispensable elements of common people’s lives in ancient China exist neither in my daily life nor in my previous reading experience, and I began to doubt whether the meanings I received from the ancient Chinese classical texts are the original ones since the authors and I seem to live in different worlds, although the relative stability（compared with linguistic changes in Europe）or at least traceable changes of Chinese language can be regarded as the last anchor at a sea of uncertainties. I appreciate this kind of feeling of confusion and uncertainty, for it reminds me that the “Chineseness” is not a matter that can be settled once and for all, but a subject that needs to be continuously discovered through endless study and discussion.
Studying in UT is not just about taking courses. I still remembered how happy I were every time I discovered a new “spot” in the campus for reading and studying. I also liked to visit different department libraries, and to experience the unique academic atmosphere of each of them. When I was reading books at the old wooden desk in the elegantly decorated General Library, I felt a strong sense of belonging to my surroundings: although other students in the library and I come from different countries, but at the moment when we are studying, we belong to a community in which all people are longing for knowledge, wisdom and truth.
Now I have left Japan, but the days when I walked in the beautiful Hongo campus, sauntering between the historical buildings and old gingko trees and pondering academic questions, will be cherished in my heart forever. I believe that this beautiful memory of studying in UT will always encourage and inspire me in my future research.