Sakura Mentor

A Day as an International Student in Japan
Lai Hung Wei Updated in December 2020

Konnichiwa and salam sejahtera! It is finally fall and we are enjoying the cool temperature in Tokyo right now. One of the questions I received most from the SSC communities is “how is it like to be an international student in Japan for a day?”. Therefore, I decided to just answer the question from my own perspective.

As a doctorate student in the biological field, I spend most of my time in my laboratory with other students and my supervisor. I usually wake up early in the morning at 7 am and went for a 30-minute jog around the park nearby. Keeping your head fresh is a good way to kickstart your day. Then, I would take a shower and have an onigiri (rice ball) as breakfast. I took the 8 am train to the university and would arrive in my laboratory at 9 am. Depending on which day is it, I might have a 2-hour progress meeting with other members of the laboratory. In this meeting, everyone would report and discuss experiments they have done for the past week. It is crucial to be consistently active in scientific discussion in order to grow as a mature and independent researcher. This is probably one of the main reasons why Japanese universities are so highly competitive.

Next, I would carry out some light experiments such as taking microscopic images of cells or preparing protein samples. The remaining time will be used to prepare for the more challenging experiments in the evening. I would then have a 45-minute lunch break in the canteen at 12:30 pm with my lab mates. My university canteen has a food buffet that are healthy and delicious at a very reasonable price (about 400 yen). Then, I would go back and continue with my experiments in the afternoon.

Photo: Pixabay-felixioncool

The evening session are usually slightly more relaxed where I teach my juniors how to carry out certain experiments or help them on their researches. I enjoyed teaching as much as doing my own research. It is satisfying to share my knowledge and I often view it as a way to contribute back to the community who has spent the past few years educating me to who I am today. I spent the last 90 minutes reading journals and brainstorming for new research ideas before leaving the laboratory at 7 pm.

Live in Japan isn’t all about work. The real fun starts after university. I would have dinner with my lab mates as dinner at our favourite ramen shop. A ramen usually cost around 750 yen, which is relatively affordable as a student. Occasionally, I would join my lab mates / other international students for a drink (Nomikai). Nomikai is one of the best ways to get close with the Japanese. We talked, joked and laughed together over a session of drinking. Then, I would buy my breakfast for the next day at a convenience shop before heading home around 10:30 pm. I would take another shower and went to bed at about 11 pm.

Enjoy your bowl of ramen!
Photo: AC Photo - K-chan

In contrary to the stereotypic view on the Japanese work-life balance, I think life in Japan as an international student is enjoyable and most importantly, very fruitful. One always has a good balance between work and having fun, which in my opinion is the best thing one could ever asked for.