Saturday, November 13, 2010

Do you want to visit Japan?

If you want to visit Japan to see its beautiful sights and culture, plan to settle there, or study, here is a short article that may help you know what is in store for you before getting there. Published in the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO) in 10 November 2010, this may well help students to understand the Japanese academia. Enjoy reading!

Mr. Gino C. Matibag from Philippines

Studied at Hokkaido University Graduate School of Medicine as a Japanese government scholarship student from 2002-2009.

Mr. Gino C. Matibag
Japan is a fantastic country. Spending more than six wonderful years in Hokkaido University, made me learn more about the culture, people, systems, and everything that the country has to offer to international students and foreigners like me. Although Japan and its people are not perfect—and nobody is—I will always treasure the fine things that I learned from the Japanese. I thank Japan’s taxpayers, my professor, the Japanese and international colleagues of our department for the experiences, which I shall forever carry with me.

Hokkaido University International Food Festival, 2003From the moment I arrived in Japan, I had nothing but admiration to them not only because of their world class infrastructure, the beautiful sights, and the almost no traffic jam roads, but more importantly, the very professional services they provided everywhere—airports, banks, entertainment spots, hotels, malls, post offices, restaurants, taxis, trains, ward offices, and all. The Japanese cleanliness is outstanding. Its natural and social environments are places to behold. Almost all the streets in Hokkaido Prefecture have excellent roads, public toilets with running water—and toilet paper. I also feel safe walking in the streets—day and night. I did not feel that any thieves were around to pick on someone else’s pocket. I was surprised to see that the police did not carry firearms, for they don’t have to. They have wide sidewalks, which pedestrians and bicycle riders use freely. The air is clean. The drinking water is crystal clear and very delicious. As well, lakes, ponds, and rivers are not polluted. Colorful flowers and my favorite sakura or cherry blossoms bloom especially during the spring. Almost every home has a garden. A very wonderful sight, indeed!

Being in a foreign country could bring surprises and challenges due to cultural differences and language barriers. But one should not worry when one is in Japan. The Japanese people are forgiving. They very well understand that international people are not familiar with everything in Japan. They are very polite even in arguments where one is expected to be polite to the other party. Direct confrontation is rarely seen, if at all.

Working at the lab, 2006I like the years when I was in the academe. More often than not, the Japanese follow everything according to schedule. Seldom did I experience waiting for more than half an hour for an appointment. If there will be delays, they will give notice in advance. In the Graduate School of Medicine, a month’s notice was sent by email to all of us in the faculty when there were scheduled maintenance procedures for Internet and power supply, and building maintenance. In that way, everybody can get to fix their individuals’ schedule.

All of us in the department worked quietly in our respective small cubicles. Due to my limited Nihongo ability, I seldom exchanged with the Japanese. But that did not mean that I did not interact with them. As a matter of fact, I can answer with very short responses like hai (yes), iie (no) or tabun (perhaps). I worked with them pretty well. Body language manifested by bow, smile, soft and non-imposing voice tone are non-verbal cues to express harmonious working relationship with peers. During fine weather I enjoyed time roasting foods and picnicking with my professor and colleagues in the campus. This is known as the Genghis Khan party where we roasted lamb meat, vegetables, and ramen. We had beers, too. I love Asahi Beer, Kirin Beer, Sapporo Beer, and Suntory Beer.

Presenting my research at Hokkaido University International Symposium on Sustainable Development, 2006I had a pretty good relationship with my professor. He trusted me not only with academic loads but with departmental and managerial activities, too. There were many times that I felt I was the secretary of our department having to deal with the hotel accommodation and flight schedules of our foreign guests in scientific meetings and trainings, which our department hosted in Japan and Sri Lanka. I also gave lectures and coached my colleagues in their researches, presentations and scientific publications. There were many times that I also made the slide presentations of my professor for local and international presentations. Unable to give lectures due to his hectic schedule, I also gave lectures to medical students on his behalf. I cannot forget the many opportunities to edit and proof the speeches of the Dean of the Graduate School of Medicine.

My dedication to work hard and smart in Hokkaido University bore so much fruits that I was able to publish eight scientific researches in peer-reviewed international medical journals in a span of six years. This was very much liked by my professor that he gave me many opportunities to visit Asia, particularly in Sri Lanka—to conduct at least three community-based surveys—and in Thailand—to present the results of my research works. Many times, he also sent me to Europe to present my research works, and visit important international offices, viz. the International Labor Organization, Institut Curie, Institut Pasteur, the John Snow Museum, the University of Geneva, the World Health Organization, and all. I give profound thanks to my professor for having been so kind to me for these opportunities. We were more like friends than a professor-student relationship.

First time in Kyoto, 2003After my two-year stint as a Postdoctoral Fellow of the renowned Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science scholarship, I was offered by my professor to become an Assistant Professor of our department. It was such a good offer to miss. After careful thinking and weighing what had transpired previously, I turned down his offer. Having to leave Japan is one of the most difficult decisions that I had to make in recent years. I have considered it as my home. I have acclimated to the Japanese systems and ways of living that it was not easy to leave the institution I worked for—and have learned to love.

Do you want to know what could be the reason/s for me not to accept my professor’s offer? Find out the answers—and more—in a literary work that condenses my life in Japan and other countries. I have written and published a book called “JAPAN Lights and Shadows”. This book will not only reveal the answers to that question but it will also bring back the memories of Japan to those who have experienced Japan. For current students in Japan, and to those who consider studying there, this book will open the Pandora’s Box about the many things in a Japanese university—things that are not found in any other books nor openly discussed in the Japanese society. It will help them understand more clearly how the Japanese system works and more importantly, how to deal with them. To know more about the book “JAPAN Lights and Shadows”, visit the Web site at

To my professor, Japanese colleagues, and all friends whom I met in Japan—some are now scattered around the globe—my heartfelt thank you for the good times and memories. I will never forget you. The book “JAPAN Lights and Shadows” is an expression of my sincere gratitude to Japan and its people. Minna sama, honto ni, doomo arigatoo gozaimashita. Kampai!

JAPAN Lights and Shadows


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