Οι εμπειρίες της κ. Βλαχοπούλου
I will never forget my 27th birthday; it was the day I found out that I was going to Japan. Over half a year of frenzied preparations had finally paid out. I was about to plunge into the unknown and live some of the most colourful experiences of my life.
The following April, I was landing in Osaka without having caught a whiff of sleep on the plane and was told to make my way by myself to Yokohama. The airline was going on strike and they dumped me 500km away from my destination. Mind you, my Japanese barely rivalled those of a two-year old.
Two years of constant breath-taking adventures had started.
Since the very beginning, even before I landed to Japan, my case did not follow the usual path. I was already enrolled in a PhD in Marine Sociology in a Greek university and wanted to only conduct research in Japan. My prospective Japanese supervisor was not even employed by a Japanese University, so I had to have a second supervisor in order to become affiliated with an academic institution; my two wonderful sensei, who took me in their care and pushed me forward to achieve academic excellence and develop deep links with Japan full of fond memories.
I enrolled in Yokohama National University (YNU) which has a really good reputation and quite a few foreigners joining every year its courses. The staff are willing to support the students and their researchers and the facilities are well maintained. I started my research while attending Japanese language classes which really helped with surviving in the completely unfamiliar setting.
Still, everyday life was quite bumpy at the beginning. The extent of bureaucracy made my knees buckle. My lack of Japanese skills and the differences in mentality drove me crazy. I had to make great effort to adjust to the Japanese way of thinking and operating, which was very far from my own.
I had the opportunity to see breath-taking views across the country, both natural and built; Tokyo, Kamakura, Nikko, Kyoto, Osaka, Niigata, Nagano, Sapporo, Shiretoko, Ise – only some places among the ones I visited.
And of course, I had the opportunity to participate in once-in-a-lifetime practices; eating at stalls during the hanami in Kyoto, going to onsen in Hakone and Atami, hiking gorgeous mountains during the kouyou, kyuudou, chadou at the Golden Pavillion, whale watching, cosplaying during the Jump Festa, watching the snow monkeys taking a dip in onsen in Jigokudani, going to baseball games, walking on drift ice in Shiretoko, watching the Kagura dance in Sendai, eating piping hot mochi at dawn with the Ama divers of Ise after having gone fishing with them…
It has been a year now that I have returned home and I am completing my PhD which would not have been possible had I not spend these two amazing years in Japan. There is only one thing I can say to anyone who is thinking about applying for the scholarship: go for it!
It has been a year and with every day that passes, my longing for Japan grows. So much so that I have travelled back once already. The memories truly feel like that poem by Kiyohara no Fukayabu from the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu:
Too soon ‘tis passed away;
I watched to see behind which cloud
The moon would chance to stay,
And here’s the dawn of day.*
*Free translation by William N. Porter (1909)
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