By Silvia Bolzani
The first time in Japan
The first time that I came to Japan was in 2016 for a short period of training abroad during my PhD course. The choice of this country was partly dictated by the availability of funds, without a precise and clear knowledge of the country, but with a great interest in discovering it. This allowed me to come into contact with this new and particular culture directly, experiencing firsthand a hint of what the country of the rising sun is. During that short period, three months, I had the opportunity to become aware of the Association of Italian Researchers in Japan. I think that living abroad is always a wonderful experience that leads to a personal growth, not reachable by other ways. Despite this, there are many difficulties that can be encountered, either at work or in the private life. This experience means to deal with a different culture, different rules and alternative ways of living and working that can sometimes turn into a real obstacle in everyday life. Moreover, this can be amplified by the great difference that exists between Japanese and Western culture. The problems I have encountered here in the first period have been of various kinds, especially with regard to the academic system and working life and I really got a good help and assistance from the association.
Back to Italy
The association was even more helpful when I finished my training abroad and had to return to Italy. I really desired to return to Japan as a postdoc and through the association it could be possible to keep the “oriental” contacts and be always informed about scholarships, grants and different job opportunities, it could be not so easy to manage it by myself from Italy. I applied for different positions and finally I won a postdoc scholarship at Gunma University in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture.
Working and living in Japan
I have been living here for 1 year and every day I find it a unique and very challenging experience. Living in a small city in Japan, as in any part of the world, is significantly different from living in a metropolis. Surely the biggest difficult that I encountered was the language. Unfortunately, the knowledge of English is not particularly widespread here, this can be a problem especially with regard to the bureaucratic procedures to be carried out in the public offices. On the other hand, however, the kindness and willingness of those people cover every language gap. Personally, I have always received a help on every occasion and I have never been in the condition do not know how to do or do not receive answers to my questions at all. One thing I would like to recommend is to learn the language. By taking away the personal advantage that will surely come in everyday life, it allows you to fully live this country and its people. It can help you to better understand the rules, the customs, the culture and, why not, it can enrich your cultural background.
Another important aspect of living in Japan is the participation in the events of the city. The sense of loneliness, due to the big change in the lifestyles, can be so much harder to deal with. The Japanese people are the people of kindness and cordiality, there will always be a hand ready to help you in any situation. Anyway, in some respects, they are also the society of the individuality and silence. From my experience, something that sometimes you miss a lot in a small town is being together, in contact with other citizens. They are sociable people, but at the same time they really appreciate their individuality. For this reason, I think that participating in traditional festivals and fairs can help to feel a part of a community. Japanese people are very fond of being attached to the tradition and their ancient and fascinating culture. I think there are very useful opportunities to get closer to this society, to get to know it better from a social, recreational and, why not, culinary point of view.
Given the great difference between Western and Japanese society, I think that before making decisions about long-term stay in Japan, the best thing to do is to get a look at the country first. If it is possible, it could be a good choice personally experience the place for a short-term period. After that, all you have to do is pack your bags and leave for this wonderful island. Regardless of personal experiences and difficulties that will be encountered, there will always be a smile and an outstretched hand ready to welcome you.