Spring in Japan

Written by Megan McClory, (Brandeis University) Student Correspondent CET Japan, Spring 2017

In the U.S., September is a blank slate. It’s when everyone goes back to school shopping, picking up new notebooks and new outfits to get ready for the school year. Even though the New Year itself starts in January, somehow September, when the summer heat lingers and the trees are still full and green, seems like the bigger change. It’s not aligned with any seasonal change or major holiday, but you have to get used to a new schedule of classes, after all, and start playing catch up with your assignments. It’s back to the grind for a student. I can’t say the same for working adults – thank goodness I still have some time before I have to get used to that schedule! – but the start of a new school year is an important part of the year for us.

In Japan, the excitement is just the same. For universities, there are the welcoming ceremonies for the new students and even new hires start working around the same time. However, instead of following the harvest schedule like we do in America, the Japanese calendar is more closely associated with the change of seasons. Spring is considered a time of rebirth, with the sakura trees blooming and the rising temperatures encourage more outdoor exploration, and the school year lines up with this. The new semester begins around April, here. Instead of a long summer holiday, students take their finals in February and can enjoy the slowly warming weather. April 1st is traditionally the day when recently graduated students have their first actual day in the real world with a proper job and it’s around the same time that students go back to class. If you’re thinking of studying abroad in Japan in the spring, this is an important thing to keep in mind.
There are many study abroad programs that follow the Japanese way of doing things, but to be honest, they didn’t particularly appeal to me. Although I knew I wanted to be in Japan for the sakura blossoms, I also wanted to have my summer open for an internship, since those are much harder to find during the winter. CET follows the American calendar, one of the reasons I was drawn to it. I arrived in Osaka in January and will be taking my final exams around the same time as many of my friends back home. I’ve got an internship lined up for the summer, so I’m really glad for this schedule, but it did make it much more difficult to merge with the local students. For half of the semester while I was studying, my Japanese housemates were on break. Of course, that didn’t mean they were free – Japanese university students usually work part time jobs during vacations and many traveled with their friends – so our schedules rarely matched. Campus was nearly empty, too, so there weren’t many strangers to strike up a conversation with and practice my language skills. At times, I felt like I was missing on out on the full Japanese student experience.

It’s May now, so campus is much livelier. People are excited to talk to the foreign students and you can run into your housemates in the dining hall. Still, I can’t help but wonder if I would have had more opportunities to talk to local students and really immerse myself with the other students had I come in the fall. But then I see the last of the sakura blossoms clinging stubbornly to the branches and the greenery that’s starting to emerge around the city. The Japanese love the spring and when I see the beauty of Japanese spring, I can clearly see why. I’m truly glad that I got to see the changing seasons here in Osaka and the program’s timing worked well with my schedule, but it’s important to keep in mind what’s important to you when you’re picking a program. Studying abroad is its own kind of practical experience, but for third year students like me, internships are also something to think about.