Report: Former MEXT Japanese Studies Students (Mr. Swartjes)


It is our great pleasure to share a report about the experiences of one of our former MEXT Scholarship grantees.
Name: Mr. Mick Swartjes
Program: Japanese Studies Students
Term: 2018-2019
University in Japan: Nagasaki University

Before I was granted the MEXT scholarship in 2018 I was already studying Japanese at Leiden University. At the time I had heard that it would be possible to study in Japan for one year, but I had feared that this would have to be at my own expense, something that I could not afford. Fortunately, however, the one-year exchange was tied to a few different Japanese scholarships of which I was fortunate enough to receive the MEXT scholarship.

Another worry of mine was that it would be very difficult to find all the correct documents and make all the arrangements for getting the scholarship, but this too was not as complicated as I had thought. Leiden University and Nagasaki University, where I was going to spend my year in Japan, took care of finding most of the documents and all I had to do was fill them out, sign them and visit the Japanese embassy, where once again the employees were very helpful and things went on without a hitch.

MEXT also took care of my air plane ticket and so my journey leading up to staying in Japan was all taken care of.
Arrived in Japan, I spent one year at the University of Nagasaki. There I enrolled into the Faculty of Education and I attended lectures and seminars. As I believe any prospective MEXT exchange student will be enrolled in a university, or will have graduated from a university, I believe that you should have no problem following along in classes or succeeding in tests and papers. Likewise, there are programmes for those who do not speak Japanese fluently. Before I signed up for MEXT I was worried that I would not enjoy the Japanese style of education or that it would be very difficult, but I must say that I very much enjoyed studying in Nagasaki. The people of Nagasaki and Japan in general were also very kind and would do their best to help me if I ever had any issues.


Photo: View of Nagasaki Bay

Though it may depend a bit on the city you are living in, I have asked some friends who also received the MEXT scholarship and in general we all agreed it was plenty of money to live from comfortably. I enjoy cooking for myself and I am quite frugal, but the MEXT scholarship made it possible for me to eat at restaurants with my friends and enjoy karaoke on the weekend. I could also buy games, clothing, visit the arcade and go on trips. If you are not going to karaoke every day, then you should have no problem saving up the funds to visit anywhere in Japan during Golden Week. I myself visited Miyazaki, Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo and more.

Photo: Haniwa Park in Miyazaki

Luckily for me, Nagasaki had plenty of free entertainment available. Many of the local museums and historical sites were free to visit for foreign students and temples and shrines are usually free. The mountains too were close enough that you could easily go hiking. There would also be regular events like performances and tea ceremonies that would either be free or very affordable. I also joined the judo club and had a great time there.

Photo: Night view from Inasa-yama, Nagasaki

I think that is enough general advice and so I would like to end this by recounting some of my experiences.
Strangely enough, what I miss the most about Japan are small things like convenience stores within walking distance, beef-bowl restaurants and ramen shops. I miss the mountains in the distance and being able to climb them for a spectacular view. I also liked the Japanese open attitude to fashion. Some people would look very silly, but just the fact that they could dress as they liked without being harassed was very nice to see. I too found some of my favourite clothing here that I still wear today. In comparison, the clothing in the Netherlands is, unfortunately, a bit boring.

I also enjoyed karaoke a lot more than I ever expected to. We have karaoke in the Netherlands too, but usually this would just mean singing in a bar, in front of everyone present and I could never really get into it. The experience of having a private room with your friends brings out a very different dynamic. It is like having a party with friends, but instead of the music being only on the background, everyone is participating in the music. You can take turns or sing together and there are usually a few tambourines for people to just play along with the music. You will most likely find at least some of your favourite songs in these karaoke booths, but there is a chance that a song that is popular in the West will not be available. Especially songs that are not in Japanese, Chinese, Korean or English can be very difficult to find. That being said, this is also a great opportunity for you to learn some Japanese songs.

If my experiences sound like anything you would be interested in, then do not hesitate to apply for the MEXT scholarship. I am certain that you will enjoy your time in Japan.


Photo: Nagasaki Okunchi Festival, one of the nationally designated Important Intangible Folk Culture Assets in Japan, people carrying a festival float in the shape of a Dutch ship