A multinational student group explored school uniforms and slang in Japan

In August, the University of Tokyo hosted a field course for an international group of 22 bachelor students. During the Tokyo Field Research course, students practised global interaction at grass roots level for ten days through familiarisation with research methods and practical fieldwork.

A group of University of Helsinki students had an opportunity to familiarise themselves with research methods and the strategic research areas of the University at the beginning of their studies. During the course, jointly organised by the University of Helsinki, the University of Tokyo and the Hungarian Eötvös Loránd University, small groups of students examined phenomena such as wearing a school uniform outside school hours, the vernacular of higher education students in online, mobile and face-to-face communication, movie-going experiences and habits, as well as the daily routine and activities of Tokyoite university students.


International collaboration

The Tokyo Field Research course was hosted by the Center for International Exchange at the University of Tokyo and Project Lecturer Yusuke Sakurai, a doctoral graduate from the University of Helsinki. The University of Helsinki was represented by Riikka Länsisalmi. Hirokazu Hatta, a student of the University of Tokyo, served as a teaching assistant. Hatta will spend this academic year as an exchange student in Helsinki, working as a course assistant for Japanese instruction at the Language Centre or the Bachelor’s and Master’s Programmes in Languages.

To encourage students to travel to Japan, the University of Tokyo made the course as inexpensive as possible. The total price of €190 covered meals and accommodation at the former athletes’ accommodation centre used in the 1964 Olympic Games.

A short Japanese summer holiday season in August clashed with the course schedule, posing a challenge for affordably accommodating a fairly large group of people. Sharing and changing rooms, as well as using washing facilities typically Japanese in style, baths and all, required patience and flexibility from the participants.


Working with a research-oriented approach

Before the workshop-like course, the students independently planned their group work projects. At the beginning, several teachers initiated the students into methods of data collection and analysis, group work and ethical issues of fieldwork. The bulk of the time was spent conducting actual group work, which comprised of refining project plans, experimenting with fieldwork, analysing collected data, as well as completing and presenting poster presentations.

A lot of time was devoted to the analysis of data collected in Tokyo and online, while the intensive group work on the poster presentations engendered animated discussion. The groups worked primarily in English, but the course also included a handful of lectures given in Japanese to provide the European students with an opportunity to hone their language skills in groups of varying proficiency levels. From Helsinki, four students of Japanese, Asian studies and anthropology participated in the course.

Riikka Länsisalmi highlights the importance of knowledge about Japan and good Japanese language skills to finding employment:

“The English proficiency of the Japanese is not good, which makes professional proficienty in Japanese and genuine experiences of the country an asset in the labour market. During the course, the students had a chance to work intensively in an international group and to try out fieldwork techniques in practice. The days were long and intense, yet the students worked hard and adapted well to the demanding schedule. I believe their new friendships will be long lasting ones. Often, these friendships are the best part of courses such as this.”


Urgency and new contacts

Despite minor complications relating to accommodation and the course schedule, Julia Veromaa, a student of anthropology, would recommend the course to others interested in the subject matter. According to Veromaa, the amount of information available in advance was good, and students courageously using Japanese were able to improve their conversational capabilities in even a short time. Patricia Rautio, who is studying Japanese in the Bachelor’s Programme in Languages, also managed to advance her proficiency in fieldwork and Japanese.

The intensive short course covered a lot of ground, a reason for the somewhat conflicted feelings of Riku Tsokkinen, a recent graduate of Asian studies:

“Quite a lot of material had been squeezed into a short course, which was both good and bad. I liked that we could immediately put into practice what we had learned during the course. What I did not like was that, due to the briefness of the course, we were under constant pressure and in a hurry.”

According to students, friendships established with course mates, thanks to the tight-knit community, was the course’s best offering. Rautio was prepared to focus on learning the language and fieldwork techniques, but gained something more:

“I didn’t think I would form so many new relationships with students living all over the world. We were all different, studying different fields, coming from different backgrounds. Yet, for two weeks, we were like family. New friends motivate me to study further, trust myself and experiment with new things in life. The course challenged my personal view of the world.”


Development of international summer courses continues

Based on feedback from participants, the content, focus, scheduling and practical implementation of the Tokyo course are being developed further. A new course is already being planned for summer 2019, with registration most likely opening in March or April.

Tandem Learning Language Project (TLLP), a student seminar, is available for students proficient in Japanese and English and writing a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation on a topic related to Japan. The seminar is jointly organised by the International Media, Communication and Tourism Studies programme of the Hokkaido University, the East Asian Studies programmes of the University of Sheffield and Riikka Länsisalmi (Japanese language and Japanese studies). During the annual seminar, organised alternately in Sheffield, Sapporo or Helsinki, European students will give presentations on their research topics in Japanese, while students of the Hokkaido University will present their research in English. The seminar is preceded by online pair work. Further information on both summer courses will be provided by Riikka Länsisalmi in the spring term.