Paying for Your Study-Abroad Experience

If you’re like me, coming from a low-income family and paying for your own education, the idea of studying abroad, in Japan, may seem impossible. Not only do you have to cover the price of tuition and ordinary living expenses, but there is the cost of traveling overseas as well. To make things worse, with a student visa, you’re only allowed to work for 28 hours a week, making it unlikely that you can work to pay off your expenses. Nonetheless, don’t give up hope! It is possible, and here’s how:


As students, we tend to think of scholarships as something that only the best-of-the-best can get. They’re highly competitive, typically require you to submit an essay, and the deadlines always seem to be during times in which you’re already busy with midterms or finals for the current semester (if you’re a university student, that is).However, that isn’t always the case. Many scholarships (especially one’s aimed at students planning to travel abroad) look at a variety of different factors, in order to allow a wide variety of students the chance to pursue their academic goals. Take for example the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, a Congressionally-funded scholarship which helps low-income students, in the United States, who are planning on studying abroad. It does require that its recipients agree to complete a service project (of your choosing) which promotes awareness of the scholarship and check in with the United States Department of State, but the benefit far outweighs the work that is necessary to receive it.

More importantly, apply for every scholarship you can. Nobody will receive every scholarship, and even scholarships which don’t provide much money can be beneficial. To do so, check with your financial aid, academic, and study abroad advisers (if you are a university student), because they will likely be able to tell you about which scholarships you can apply for through your school. In addition, there are numerous websites which help students to find scholarships, and many local businesses offer them as well. Be sure to ask some of your professors/teachers to look over your scholarship essays for them too. Chances are, they’ll be more than willing to critique them for you, and it’ll greatly improve your chances of getting the scholarships you’re hoping for.

Student Loans

Yes, I said it, student loans. The biggest nightmare of anyone trying to pay for his/her own education. For most students, it’s not likely that you’ll get a full-ride scholarship, and in those cases, they’re almost always a necessity (Unless you’re from one of those awesome countries, like Finland, which pay for your schooling. In which case, why are you even reading this? No, seriously… Why are you reading this?). They don’t have to be an unbearable burden, either. Again, this will require a lot of time and research, but it is possible to find student loans which won’t require you sacrifice your first-born child or sell your mother into slavery to pay off your debt. It’s true that no matter what, they’re not going to be the most ideal way to pay for your education, but as long as you start paying off the interest while you’re still in school, they shouldn’t become too overwhelming when you graduate and have to pay them back.


Typically, people start planning where and how to study abroad at least a year before going, so it gives plenty of time to save enough money (if you manage your finances properly). In my case, I created a strict budget and limited nearly all unnecessary spending. At the time, it was quite painful – I couldn’t go to the movies with friends or buy any of the new things I wanted, and I even created a strict food budget. I probably didn’t need to be as hard on myself as I was, but looking back, it was completely worth it! I not only saved enough money, that way, to cover my plane ticket and some of my living expenses, but I got to enjoy all of the things I deprived myself, when I got here to Japan.

Come on a working-holiday visa

For those of you in Norway, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or the UK who can’t afford to go to school in Japan and aren’t students (I wouldn’t recommend dropping out of school or even taking a break, to go overseas, since that’ll likely cause you a bunch of problems down the road), you should aim for a working-holiday visa. It’s a great way to come to Japan to find work, and while you’re here, you can either do self-study or take some lessons. Actually, quite a few of my friends are doing this, and things seem to be going really well for them. Their Japanese isn’t improving as quickly as my friends who are enrolled at a university or language school – since their main reason for being here is work – but you can definitely notice a difference, since they first came here!

All-in-all, there are actually hundreds of different options you have for studying abroad in Japan and just as many ways to acquire the money that is needed to do so. The best thing to remember, though, is to be patient. Even if you can’t afford to study abroad right now, it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to in the future. Just put some money aside, do some research into which options work best for you, and plan ahead. If you do that, you’ll make it here to Japan in no time!



See you, in Japan!


Specified which countries are eligible for a working-holiday visa, thanks to information from Patricia Bowden.


Conquering Mount Fuji

One of the most thoroughly Japanese things you can do is climb Mount Fuji, Japan’s national icon and inspiration for proverbs (“a wise man climbs Fuji once, but only a fool does it twice”) and art.

Mount Fuji woodblock print art

Mount Fuji woodblock print art

I went with a bunch of friends from Waseda; all of them wanted to tackle Fujisan at least once before going back to their respective countries (we “graduated” from Waseda a few days ago). Our ascent was a little different than most climbers’ though. Apparently, many climbers stop halfway through the ascent, sleeping for a few hours, and resuming the climb, aiming to reach the summit in the early morning in order to see the sunrise. We, however, chose to do Mount Fuji in a single trip—an overnight climb—reaching the summit just in time for sunrise, and a daytime descent.

For the most part, the route itself was not extraordinarily difficult or anything, except that because of the way our group was organized—6 girls and 3 guys—it became a bit harder. The guys ended up carrying most of the weight as altitude sickness and fatigue seriously affected a few people (girls) in the group. Needless to say, the climb became considerably more difficult because of these factors; also, especially nearer to the summit, Fujisan became especially crowded, further slowing us down.

Some of the Mount Fuji wildlife. Climbers beware

Some of the Mount Fuji wildlife. Climbers beware

At times, parts of the route were very rocky; certainly, one can appreciate just how steep it is simply by looking back (or rather, down). These parts were probably very dangerous, as the wind kept hitting us, the poor ryugakusei group with what was probably a shortage of equipment (we didn’t bring walking sticks). Stories of people falling to their deaths or dying from hypothermia definitely did not sound highly encouraging.

Nevertheless, I still think that anyone living should try to climb Mount Fuji at least once! The view from the summit is extremely beautiful; all the more so seeing as how it seemed the climb would never end! A few people in our group became highly emotional and teary-eyed. As for the fear-of-death, do not worry too much; there are people with megaphones standing on tall rocks immediately outside of the main trail (rain or shine) whose whole job is to shout encouraging things to climbers: “Ganbare! Don’t give up! You are almost there!” This definitely added a touch of humour to an otherwise highly physically demanding climb.

Needless to say, the climb cemented our already strong friendships into lifelong ones. It truly is the best way to finish a year of living in Japan.

The Rising Sun

Once you reach the summit, you’ll truly understand why Japan is called “The Land of the Rising Sun.”

Tokyo Beach Day: Zushi

When I proposed last week to a New Zealander ryugakusei friend that we hit the beach on Saturday, she responded with an emphatic “no.” The beaches around Tokyo have a reputation for being  dirty, and this girl had already made up her mind that she could never swim there. However, after talking to a friend who is a longtime foreign resident of Tokyo, she came around to the idea, provided we went to Zushi, which is apparently the cleanest beach in the area (a statement I cannot verify at all). After ribbing her for declining my beach invitation then turning around and inviting me to go the beach two days later, I agreed to go, and our Saturday beach adventure was on.

The beach at Zushi

The beach at Zushi

“This is like spring break,” my American friend remarked as we arrived at the beach. I could see where he was coming from. Lined with shops selling overpriced food, bottles of corona, beach chair rentals, and massages, Zushi is home to an eclectic crowd. I spotted Japanese “bros,” (or “yarou” as my Japanese friend called them) “gyaru,” (tan, artificially blonde Japanese women with long fingernails)  older men wearing thong-like swimsuits, wind-surfers, men who appeared to play football for the University of Miami, one man with circular nipple piercings that looked like they were made of tinfoil, Brazilian women wearing skimpy Brazilian bikinis, Japanese women wearing skimpy Brazilian bikinis, and other foreigners too numerous and varied to describe here. Many people set up tents and canopies to protect from the wind, and the Brazilians even marked their area with a Brazilian flag. In a country where both tans and tattoos are rare, there was no shortage of either on the part of both Japanese and foreigners. It felt like someone had scooped handfuls of people from beaches across the world and dropped them off in Zushi, creating a strange cultural mishmash and above that an energetic beach atmosphere. While there were some children playing at the beach, they were far outnumbered by the scores of adults drinking and chilling with friends new and old.

Check out that good-looking group of ryugakusei!

Check out that good-looking group of ryugakusei!

Unfortunately, the beach was a bit more on the “shelly” side than I had hoped, but the absence of pristine sand did not dissuade us from enjoying ourselves.  On the contrary, my friends and I had a great time eating, drinking, swimming, sun-bathing, and generally enjoying the eclectic scene. The water itself was not dirty and I found it to be extremely pleasant.

Exhausted from the hot Japanese sun, my group decided to call it quits in the late afternoon.  As we packed up to leave, I got the vibe that the fairly chill beach would soon transition into an all out-party. A group of American-looking dudes in RVCA shirts and snapback hats longboarded past us on our way out:

Longboarder Guy: “Where are you guys from?”
American Friend: “San Diego!”
Longboarder Guy: “Party!”

It was a fitting end to a fun day at the beach.

Parents Not Told of Intruder

Word has come out that a man who injured three students in a knife attack at a Tokyo primary school last month had likely previously entered the school. It is not confirmed that these two incidents involve the same man, but witnesses of the first incident do believe this to be the case.

schoolThe man originally entered the school to complain about noise from children practicing for an athletic meet and eventually left at the request of school staff. Although an email alert system was instituted in 2011 to contact parents about an incidence such as this, the school decided that this man was not dangerous enough for that treatment and only alerted the Nerima Ward Board of Education.

Some parents are outraged as the man was apparently mumbling to himself as he left the school and shouted such phrases as “Children will be murdered.”

In my eyes, (and I would like to think most other people’s) that phrase alone merits a serious reaction from the school. Although it may have been seemed unlikely to the school that this man would ever return to attack students, it is best to play it safe and take threats such as these seriously when schools are involved. Obviously, I was not present for the incident, and hindsight is 20-20, but it doesn’t get much worse than “children will be murdered.”

Instituting the email alert system for parents was a positive first step to safety for these primary school children, but this measure alone failed to prevent the attack. Safety measures will need to be increased at this school, and schools across Japan should use this scary incident as an opportunity to discuss improvements for child safety.

However, while it is extremely disturbing that a man such as this could enter a school so freely and harm young children, we must remember that instances such as these are rare and make sure not to overreact. Cameras and alert systems are good ideas, but precautions seen in other countries such as security guards and metal detectors seem like overkill to me.

Japanese Advice: Idioms

Oh Japanese idioms. One would think that these don’t make sense at all, but actually we have to keep in mind that idioms never make any literal sense in any language. For example, see this English idiom:

“Ed kicked the bucket.”


This isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but okay.
Now, take the following Japanese idioms:

尻に火がつく (shiri ni hi ga tsuku):


As you may have guessed, translated, it means “my butt is on fire.” What it really describes though, is the pressure you feel when something urgent is approaching, say a deadline for example: “So much pressure! Feels like my butt is on fire! I gotta finish this blog post before the deadline!“
腕に縒りをかける (ude ni yori wo kakeru):


A very painful-sounding idiom, it literally means “to twist one’s arm,” but it’s used in a similar to頑張る (ganbaru). It kind of means to put your best effort into something: “I will do my best at this just like professional wrestlers try their best to break people’s arm by twisting them.”
And finally, 腕が鳴る (ude ga naru):


Terry Crews making sounds and music with his biceps? Yes, the literal translation means “to make sounds through one’s arm.” But again, it means something totally different than its literal translation; it’s a bit difficult to explain, but it roughly means to be excited or hype about something you will do: “I am so hype about watching Terry Crews in the movie White Chicks tomorrow!”
Like most idioms, these three are seen most often in writing. Only 腕が鳴る though, is a common staple in anime as well:


Classic Japanese Videogame Ports: Sonic CD

The lot of us who grew up playing videogames have certain nostalgia for old school Japanese games. Now that almost everyone has a smart phone, many Japanese videogame companies are porting their classic games in hopes of quick profits. Unfortunately, like the quality of most Japanese games nowadays, these ports usually suck (gotta be honest here guys). Control schemes of classic consoles like the Super Famicom and Sega Genesis do not translate well into a touch screen; furthermore, a lazy emulation process often results in choppy frame rates, tiny unreadable text and an all-around bad experience—I mean, nostalgia can only go so far to get us past these problems. Because of this, it is always exciting when at least one classic game gets it right. Case in point: Sonic CD for iOS.

Sega had ported games to iOS before—Gunstar Heroes, Phantasy Star—but they suffer from the smart phone dilemma, mainly, choppy frame rates and terrible controls not designed for a touch device. One fan confronted the problem though: not wanting to see a favorite franchise get butchered by bad emulation, during his free time Christian Whitehead secretly began re-engineering Sonic CD for the smart phone generation. Through reverse engineering Whitehead dissected the game and designed a completely new engine (the Retro Engine Development Kit) with iOS in mind; naturally, this engine avoids the problems of bad emulation and runs at a brisk 60 frames per second.

Community buzz about his work was so loud that Sega quickly contacted him and hired him to port the entire game to iOS. And to sweeten the deal, new content like achievements, leaderboards, extra characters and time attack modes were added. So successful was the re-mastered port (it won numerous awards and averages a 93% rating on Metacritic) that now Whitehead is re-mastering other games (The original Sonic, currently. Apparently the iOS version is of much higher quality than its Xbox Live counterpart—better than a console port!) as well.

What’s most important though, is that this shows that indie developers can have a great impact on the industry, all the more so now that entry into it has in a way been ‘democratised’ by the explosion in tablets and smart phones—anyone, never mind small budgets (and thus maybe even getting past giant publishers too), can code a game for these platforms. And if big budget developers pick-up on these trends, like Sega did with the Whitehead case, then all the better. Japanese companies should follow such examples; they need the fresh thinking of indie developers because they certainly aren’t doing much of anything these days!

And now, for some pictures:

You won't need to buy one of the worst console add-ons ever made to play one of the best Sega games ever made anymore

From now on you won’t need to buy one of the worst console add-ons ever made to play one of the best Sega games ever made

Brand new splash screen

Brand new splash screen

Touch to play!

Touch to play!

Check out the new game modes

Check out the new game modes

Actual gameplay. Oh, and did I mention the game costs only 200 yen?

Actual gameplay. Oh, and did I mention the game costs only 200 yen?

For more of Christian Whitehead’s work visit his website at

Interview with Documentary Filmmaker Nick Sugihara

A native of San Diego, California, Nick Sugihara attends Bard College in Upstate New York and is currently an exchange student at Waseda University in Tokyo. He has begun filming for his project “Growing City,” a documentary on urban agriculture in Tokyo, but is still seeking funding. Nick was kind enough to stop by to discuss his project with us.

Nick Sugihara

Nick Sugihara

Ryugakusei Town: What was your inspiration behind growing city?

Nick Sugihara: When i came to college i started working on farms a little bit and quickly fell in love with the work. Deciding to come to tokyo was kind of a separate thing from that but when i got here i really missed that kind of work and being involved in agriculture so i started looking around for ways that people were interacting with farming in the city.

RT: What is unique about Tokyo compared to other urban farming?

NS: One thing is the effect that Fukushima has had. A lot of the new urban farming projects that I know of and even some of the older ones have been influenced by people who are afraid of radiation. Some of the farms and farmer’s markets have seen a drop in business as people are unwilling to buy food that is grown near tokyo…There is also a sort of renewed interest in where people’s food comes from. With the fear comes a kind of “hype” and awareness about what’s going on.

RT: Are you afraid?

NS: No. if i’m living here, i want my food from here. The only things those plants are being exposed to is what I’m exposed to every day. If I was scared I would move.

RT: What are some challenges of urban farming in tokyo?

NS: Taxes are expensive…

RT: How about the lack of space?

NS: I think a really common misconception is that you need a lot of space to grow a lot of food. That isn’t really the case. I talked to a guy i know at Bard who runs the farms there and they just harvested 210 pounds of garlic from a little over an acre of land. The scale thing is not such an issue. We’ve been sort of tricked into thinking it requires a lot of land to grow a lot of food in the states but this is probably due to the fact that “big ag” (America’s massive farming industry) has taken over so much land. But i think tokyo has plenty of space to grow a lot of food.

RT: What do you hope to show in the movie?

NS: I hope to show the “state” of urban farming/agriculture in tokyo and the real tangible things people are doing. “What it looks like:” not an abstract concept but as something that is happening.

Urban Farming

Urban Farming

RT: What has surprised you with your experience making this film in Japan?

NS: I was surprised at how willing to talk to be a lot of the farmers were. Not all of them were, but a lot of them were very nice and open and excited to talk to me about farming.

RT: Thanks for stopping by Nick.

NS: It was a pleasure.

Make sure to check out the trailer for Nick’s project and see how you can get involved at