A Farewell Letter

To the ones who showed courage :

If you walked around Tokyo’s Ginza, it is dazzling at every corner. The Tsutaya store is lit in pale yellow lights and katanas (Japanese sword) are being sold for millions of yen. Pierre Marcolini hides in an alley but queues don’t seem to end. There are shops where five generations of the family have gained expertise in making the finest sweets and a huge clock tower reminding of the old and the new. Yet, 50 years back, this was turned into a fortress which the world witnessed on television.

The streets of Ginza boiled in blood and revolt. Dissent was out on the streets and no shield and no barricade could stop the students from wielding their iron rods on the police. Symbols of the protectorate of power, the police, lay injured. Red flags were raised and visors and smoke became inseparable garments. Student newspapers’ harsh criticism was far more pointed at times than the questions raised by the mainstream newspapers. Such was the opposition against the US-Japan Security Treaty and the questionable land acquisition by the government for Narita airport, then Japanese PM Nobusuke Kishi had to resign while US President Eisenhower cancelled his visit to Japan. The diet was dissolved and power faced a blow.

50 years have passed and Kishi’s grandson, Shinzo Abe, occupies the PM office. The student revolution led by Zengakuren, died down. Student newspapers which once questioned the authority, started writing about new plants growing in the campus. The idea of internationalisation was minimised to meeting foreigners over a drink and studying abroad. The public apathy was aching and being a foreigner, just to witness it in front of my eyes, was appalling.

50 years since the revolution, I found myself discovering Japan as an international student. I was writing since I was an elementary school student and over the years, the media fascinated me. I would be lying if I say that I did not tear-up when I saw Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Post’. The sheer power of media to make truth accessible to all was my infinity stone. So, it was natural to me within the first few months to search for such voices on the campus. Alas! The university and the other former imperial universities, had no trace of an English newspaper.  It could definitely be argued if an English language newspaper is really a necessity but in the process of internationalisation, I saw it as a huge potential to bring the Japanese academia to the level of a layman’s understanding. Something which was far more accessible.

2 years since then, the establishment of ‘The Sentinel’ took its own tides and turns. On one hand, we were able to reach more than 100 global cities and about 7,800 readers while on the other hand, we had no funding and the website got hacked on the New Year’s Eve of 2017. The stories we did for ‘The Sentinel’ were far from the accepted norm. The team took no step backward and asked sharp questions to the administration. ‘The Sentinel’ did not shy away from the massacre of 3,000 jobs at Tohoku University even when the administration expressed displeasure in publishing the story. It tracked down stories ranging from North Korean workers in Poland to the student who escaped from the university after nearing his arrest on charges of drug possession or usage.

‘The Sentinel’ did not stop asking questions.

Such is the freedom that is practiced, it was made clear to the team that the newspaper should not shy from publishing its own criticism. It should not hide from making its own finances public with balance sheets kept ready. The only thing that the newspaper has to protect is its own principles and integrity.

Over the last 2 years, ‘The Sentinel’ spearheaded the establishment of NESMAJ : National English Student Media Association of Japan. Keio University and University of Tokyo joined in as founding members and thought at an infant stage, NESMAJ was established with an aim to generate conversations between various student media groups in the country.

What began as a small team of three members and especially through discussions with Rohan Raj (Who went on to become the Managing Editor) in the corridors of the student dormitory, expanded to a team of 10 and also undertook volunteer activities such as imparting soft skills to high students at a local school in Sendai. The newspaper brought together talent from Venezuela, Germany, Thailand, China, Phillipines, Japan, Indonesia and India and tried its best to make a shift in the Japanese society. The Sentinel cannot be thankful enough to Prof. Yumiko Watanabe at Global Learning Centre for supporting it from the beginning to now.

Yet, there have been failures and as a leader, the responsibility shall be entirely mine. At times I expected too much and my communication broke down. I cannot offer anything more than a sincere apology to the team and the readers. To hold on to this newspaper would be utterly selfish and robbing opportunities from the younger members. Considering these, I decided to resign from the newspaper and pass the baton to Shenelle Lim and Arun Balaji as joint editors of ‘The Sentinel’. This, I hope, shall help in furthering the progress of the newspaper.

In a society where questions are often seen as a disruption rather than catalysts for change, ‘The Sentinel’ is an experiment worth trying. It shall encounter many more challenges but whenever the history of student English media shall be written in Japan, ‘The Sentinel’ cannot be ignored.

To the power of truth, dispelling all fear,

To the voice of the youth, In a little world here.

With this, signing off,

Trishit

November 9, 2018

A nation’s dilemma: Part One

Most people would think that the craziest president in the world right now is Donald Trump. I do not think these people have ever heard of the name of Rodrigo Duterte, the current president of the Philippines. While Trump has done crazy things, like claiming that he would build a great wall across the Mexican border, he has never received a warning about violating human rights from the United Nations. And he never told the United Nations to not f*** with him. Duterte did it and other crazy, stupid things as well.

My nation’s president seems to delight in making obscene and highly inappropriate comments. Aside from giving quite the colorful reply to the United Nations, he has also joked that he would pardon soldiers who raped women by claiming responsibility for it. He also proclaimed that he would pay people 500 USD per communist they killed and has likened himself to Hitler. Hitler, the man who killed over 3 million Jews and was one of the instigators of World War II. For some bizarre reason, this man, who appears to have never heard of the life-saving advice “Think before you speak.” is now the president of my country. While he has irreparably damaged the image of the Philippines with his lewd and brash words, his choice of words is the least of my nation’s problems.

Duterte has spearheaded the “war on drugs” in the Philippines. Other nations would attempt to jail drug users, pushers, and lords and try to stem-off the drug trade through socially acceptable means. Instead of heading to jail, some drug users could be sent to rehabilitation centers, giving them a second chance at life. In the mind of this strange man, a “war on drugs” also means giving the go-signal to kill people who are related to the illegal drug trade. He is firmly entrenched in his stance. When the United Nations came upon his doors shouting “This is a violation of human rights! A crime against humanity!”, he bluntly said, “Crime against humanity? In the first place, I’d like to be frank with you. Are they humans? What is your definition of a human being?”

With this this policy in mind, he mobilized the Philippine National Police to perform anti-drug campaigns, such as “Oplan Double Barrel” – an operation that was performed against high-value drug targets. In addition, he has also encouraged civilians to take up their own arms and to brutally punish these drug personalities.

The result? 12,000 Filipino lives snuffed out in a matter of 14 months.

The Philippine National Police killed 2,555 Filipinos. The other 9,445? Slaughtered by vigilante groups through extrajudicial killings, killings which are performed without any legal or judicial sanction.

Picture1
A victim of extrajudicial killing left on the streets, dead (the carboard sign says, “I am a drug lord.”)

Now, Duterte wishes to give 42,000 guns to the public in order for them to effectively combat crime and drugs. His harsh and unforgiving anti-drug campaign is still ongoing and has lowered the number of drugs users in the Philippines. The drug personalities are being snuffed out one by one and the public knows better than to start doing drugs, as the fear of being targeted by an extrajudicial killing runs high. In fact, a 2016 Social Weather Stations survey reported that 78% of Filipinos feared that either they or someone they knew would be assassinated via an extrajudicial killing.

Duterte is on his merry way to winning his drug war through the use of fear and violence.

Picture3
Behold, the President of the Philippines in all his glory, holding a gun

Yet, the anti-war drug cannot solve the dire problem of poverty, a dilemma that affects at least 26 million Filipinos. It cannot build the 30,000 classrooms that children and schools across the nation need. It cannot stop corruption from occurring throughout the government. All it can do is raise a death toll and cause fear. And as history has shown, a leader ruling through fear will not last forever.

In 2022, Duterte’s presidency will end, and a new president will take his place. If this president were to be against such violent policies, such as I am, then where would Duterte’s war on drugs go? To the garbage bin, never to see the light of day again. What would happen to the illegal drug trade? It would probably spring up again and recover, given the right conditions and amount of time. What would happen to all the lives lost, the time and effort spent, the money dedicated to the cause? Utterly wasted.

Everything my nation’s current president has campaigned so much for, gone in the blink of an eye. My nation would be back to square one, with its bloodied hands holding all of its old problems and making space for new ones.

And this is why I can only say, does this war on drugs not sound crazy and stupid?

Until next time.

As expressed by Jose Edelberto de Santiago. Jose is a student of Tohoku University.

Image References:

  1. https://deathpenaltynews.blogspot.com/2017/08/stop-wasting-human-lives-manila.html
  2. https://nypost.com/2018/06/15/duterte-wants-to-give-the-public-42000-free-guns/

Lost in translation : When culture shock shocks

One day, I introduced the Kawauchi campus of Tohoku University to international students. I was going to introduce ‘danwasitsu’ in Japanese. It is a room where students can relax, drink tea and do their homework. I wanted to tell them about it, but I couldn’t recollect the English word so, I just said, “This is the restroom”. After I said that, I realised that I made a mistake. Restroom is ‘toire’ (Toilet) in Japanese. I was very embarrassed about it but, I didn’t know how should I call the room otherwise? I thought that rest means ‘yasumu’ only and room means ‘heya’ in Japanese. Therefore, it can directly translate to ‘yasumu heya’ in Japanese. This is the reason why I made a mistake and I said ‘restroom’. Now that I have learnt from my mistake, I know I should use terms like ‘resting room’ or ‘break room’ and so on. English sometimes causes misunderstanding. This experience is very funny but embarrassing at the same time.

However, Japanese can also lead to similar mistakes. For example, take a case of a foreigner who wanted to ask his girlfriend’s father “atama ga itai desuka?” in Japanese. It means “Do you have a headache?”. But he misunderstood it and rather asked “atama ga warui desuka?”. It means “Are you stupid?”.  In English, the word of ‘warui’ and ‘itai’ are very similar. They can totally be lost in translation and hence, it is very confusing.

There are so many other examples in culture shock. Here are some examples that I read in a book: A man thought that Japanese always use chopsticks and so he tried to eat curry and rice with chopsticks! Another example is about the song of ishiyakiimo. The song is played when they sell baked sweet potatoes. The melody sounds sad and so when he listened to the song for the first time, he thought it is a funeral song!

I asked some of my friends from overseas about culture shock and funny stories they have experienced in Japan. A Chinese friend told me four stories. First, the size of a crow is big in Japan and she had never seen so many crows in China. So, she was very surprised. Second, Japanese eat dumpling with rice and most Japanese eat grilled dumplings. However, Chinese don’t eat them so often. They almost eat boiled dumplings. Third, she confuses with the phrase “iidesu”. It can translate both ok and no in Japanese. Even Japanese sometimes misunderstand. The phrase “sumimasen” is also confusing. It can translate to “thank you” and “I’m sorry”. The words are sometimes very convenient, but we often misunderstand them.

A Swede friend shared two interesting experiences in Japan. First, he was overwhelmed whenever he entered stores because every employee greeted with ‘irasshaimase’ which literally means ‘welcome’ and is a terminology often used in customer service. He was overwhelmed but he felt happy. Second, he thought the word ‘benjo’ is more polite than ‘toire’. They mean ‘restroom’ in English. He thought because ‘benjo’ is written in kanji whereas ‘toire’ is written in katakana and he believed that kanji is more polite than katakana. Usually, kanji has a more polite impression than katakana and hiragana but I had never considered such a thing until I heard from him.

One of my professors who has been to several countries shared some of her experiences of culture shock in Japan. First, Japanese are very punctual. The conference was scheduled to begin at 12:00 noon. However, when her friend arrived at 12:00, the conference had already started. Indeed, Japanese people always occupy their seats at least five minutes before. Second is the delivery system. The delivery item is always delivered to our home or company on time. Third, molds grow on the tatami. Most Japanese houses have tatami but, she didn’t know she had to take care of them. Fourth is the complicated hierarchal system. If she wants to inform something to another professor, at first, she has to tell her secretary. Then, the secretory will tell the professor’s secretory. At last, the secretory will tell the professor who she wants to tell. I don’t know if it happens only in this university or only in this campus, but it’s a very cumbersome process.

Here is a culture shock I experienced recently. When I went to an Indian restaurant with my Indian friend, a clerk brought water for us. He gave my friend water without ice but she gave me water with ice. Therefore, I wondered why she made this distinction. Then I found out that Indians don’t drink water with ice. It was very surprising. He thought it is since very hot outside in India, so if we drink something very cold, it may affect our body. He told me about some culture shocks in Japan. First, when he came to Japan for the first time, it was surprising for him that Japanese eat raw eggs. It looked so strange, so he can’t eat them even now. Second, he realised that there aren’t many trash cans outside such as on streets or in parks in Japan. Actually, when I went to Canada, there were so many trash cans that I could easily throw away my trash. I think that’s why Japanese usually bring back the trash. Third, he is in trouble that he has a lot of Japanese coins in his house. It’s because there are a lot of coins in Japan and it’s difficult to understand which coin is worth how much. I experienced the same thing in Russia. There were also so many coins with similar sizes that I have many Russian coins in my house now.

Many people have experienced culture shocks and they’re almost very funny stories. I was very interested in their culture shocks, because though it is usual for me, for foreigner it is unusual. Therefore, I learnt a lot of things. Culture shock depends on country, where it occurs, and nationality and character and so on. Have you ever experienced some culture shocks or funny stories so far?

I would like to express my gratitude to my foreign friends who help to answer interview.

As expressed by Shuka Endo. Shuka is currently a second year student of nursing at Tohoku University and has a keen interest in knowing about the world.

“Honestly speaking, this achievement exceeds our expectations.” – Prof. Kimio Hanawa

To dear all international students,

How are you doing?  I hope everything is going well with you.  I am Kimio Hanawa, the former Executive Vice President for Education, Student Support and Student International Exchange.

First of all, let me introduce to you my current situation. At the end of March, I stepped down as my position due to expiration of my term. At the same time, I retired from the university since my age reached the regulation age of 65 years. Now, as a Professor Emeritus, I spend and enjoy my time especially studying my research field, at the office of the Physical Oceanography Laboratory at the Graduate School of Science in the Aobayama Campus.

For six years from academic year of 2012 to 2017, as an Executive Vice President, I have engaged to accelerate the internationalization of the university from various points of view: increase in number of international students, preparation of various courses taught in English fit for international students, and construction of University Houses (UHs), among others.  One result of such changes is, international students increased from 1,431 as of May 1st, 2012 to 2,027 as of May 1st , 2019.  We are now able to accept more international students than before from various countries and regions.  Honestly speaking, this achievement exceeds our expectations.

I absolutely think that this tendency of internationalization should be continued at Tohoku University.  On this point, I strongly believe that new executives led by new President Hideo Ohno will endeavor towards the same direction.  Actually, President Ohno mentioned in his message which appeared on the English website that “I want to continue that growth, to make Tohoku University an institution that is universally respected for the quality of our research and educational standards.”  I also trust that the university will provide more comfortable environment and occasions for your studies, research and campus life. As you must be knowing, UH Aobayama with 752 rooms will be open from this October. Some of you will have a chance to enter this dormitory.

Finally, I would like to say that, I strongly hope and expect that all of you can achieve your purpose of study abroad at Tohoku University and enjoy your university life as well as life in Sendai.  After graduation, most of you may leave Tohoku University but, you are members of the Tohoku University community.  The friendships you have nurtured on our beautiful, green campuses, and your relationships with your instructors, will be valuable assets.  I hope that you will think of Japan and Tohoku University as a home away from home and build bridges between your home countries and Japan, and in particular Tohoku University.

As expressed by Prof. Kimio Hanawa, Professor Emeritus, Tohoku University. He is the former Executive Vice President for Education, Student Support and Student International Exchange at Tohoku University.

E-mail address: hanawa @ pol.gp.tohoku.ac.jp

 

How can Japanese Universities become Leading Universities in the World?

Japanese top universities are at last coming of age and visualizing themselves to rank among the world’s top universities. I believe that this can happen, although, not without some major changes both in infrastructure as well as in educators’ and students’ consciousness.

One thing that is already beginning to happen now in Japanese top leading universities is for certain subjects to be taught directly in English. In order for students to be successful, they will need to increase their ability to understand English. Also they will need to increase their reading skills in English, as many of the best and most up-to-date, new textbooks in all subjects are written in English. I feel that bright students at elite universities in Japan will be able to overcome these obstacles in a relatively short amount of time.

There is, however, another very crucial aspect of the classroom experience that students will have much more difficult overcoming in order to become real world leaders of the future. At the crux of this is a big black box of CAN’T DO and CAN’T SPEAK that is very difficult to explain in words, although I experienced it daily with my students.

One student presented a paper titled “Japanese nature.” He listed four major aspects that he felt characterized Japanese nature: 1. Japanese are negative, 2. Japanese don’t like difference [I think he meant to use the word ‘diversity’]. 3. They themselves don’t want to stand out as different, and  4. They also shun others who are different.

Because I have been living and working with students in Japan for so long, I have learned various techniques that work well to get passive, reticent Japanese students to speak out in English, even if their language proficiency is very low, and also even if they are very withdrawn and shy. I can even do this quite well with large classes of 45 or more students. For example, I might call on a student by name, ask them a direct question, and then guide them with a few prompts. If they just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, further prompt them with, “because . . .”.  I usually go down the attendance list (in a random fashion) and call on each student during every class at least once, or I go down a list of their names on a seating chart and use eye contact to encourage them. There is peer pressure to answer correctly. Elite students reflect deeply on themselves when they are not able to answer well. They also look to their fellow students who can answer well as models that they strive to emulate. Techniques like this and peer pressure help to stimulate learning in the classroom.

However, this is not getting anywhere near to the problem of the black box. What is that thing that is so different in a Japanese classroom among the Japanese students compared to, for example, most of the foreign students in the same class? What is different that I see in the Korean, Indian or Bangladeshi foreign students in that English class from the Japanese? Could it be their worldview perhaps? What is it that holds back even the brightest of Japanese students? And how can this problem be overcome? Do Japanese people hope to ‘overcome’ this ‘problem’? Do they see this as a problem for themselves? Are they even conscious of what this is? I am not sure, but what I am sure of is that if they can overcome this inability to come out of themselves, so speak up, to rally themselves that they will greatly benefit in the end.

As expressed by Prof. Laurel Kamada. She worked at Tohoku University as a lecturer-professor of English and had classes in general oral English, reading and so forth from 2009 until she retired in 2016.

Presumption of Innocence

“Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty”. Universal Declaration of Human rights, article 11.

Though it may appear that everything has been said and done regarding the drug-related incident that involved students of Tohoku University last year, the circumstances of the arrests are still a blur. In order to clarify on what grounds the students were taken under custody, the team of The Sentinel contacted one of them for an interview. The student, decided to stay anonymous.

  • According to the police reports, all the students involved in the incident consumed an illegal drug, allegedly cocaine, in parties either in a night club or in the University dorm. Were you actually in one of these? If so, what happened during the event?

“It’s true that all detained students consumed illegal drugs at some point. We did it in the club one night where we got it from Australian guy who was arrested first. None of us planned on doing that, it’s just that we were pretty drunk and at some point he offered us drugs. Also that night, other people who were not found by the police used drugs that he possessed but they were not students and known to me.”

  • When the police took you into custody, were you, at any moment, told the reason why you were being detained?

“It’s their obligation to tell you why they are detaining you and explain it all, so yes.”

  • Were you in possession of any illegal substances when you were detained?

“No. None of the other 6 students possessed or bought drugs. Only the guy who was arrested first and who bought them had drugs when police came.”

  • Did someone, at any moment, told you the charges you were accused of?

“After police arrested a couple of our friends, we suspected we might be next. Also some other students were just brought in for questioning and we were informed that police might arrest us too.”

  • Did the police provide you with a translator?

“Yes. Even during the arrest, and later when I was held in custody, during every interrogation there has to be a translator. “

  • Were you subjected to any form of mistreatment while you were under custody?

“No. Police was nice to me. They tried to help even though communication was a bit difficult due to the language barrier. “

  • Did you have a trial? If so, were you allowed to contact a lawyer?

“We had government assigned lawyers but we didn’t have a trial. On the second day of the custody, police took me to talk to the prosecutor and judge where I admitted that the thing I was accused of was true.”

  • Under what conditions were you left free?

“I believe me and my friends were pardoned by the judge since it was our first crime and it wasn’t anything serious. I wasn’t convicted of anything or paid any fine to be released. Also, I think university assured police that I and my friends will leave Japan after we are released. I also wrote an apology letter to the judge where I stated my intention to leave Japan if released.”

  • Were you officially expelled from Japan?

“I’m not really sure cause after I got out, people from Tohoku University helped me with moving out and all that and after that I went to Tokyo for the airplane. I wasn’t under any surveillance by the police, I met with friends and even spent a day in Tokyo before I left. Also my lawyer told me that we can return to Japan as tourists if we want. Maybe it will be more difficult to get a job and a permanent stay but I don’t think there is a problem to come back and I intend to do that one day.”

As per this statement, the student was treated with respect and kindness while under custody.  However, all of the 6 students were arrested without any physical evidence against them. Whether or not they were presumed innocent is, perhaps, a point open for discussion, but the crux of this matter is if there is no incriminating evidence against someone,  on what grounds is this person arrested?

Disclaimer : The Sentinel is unbiased regarding any incident that takes place within or outside the university. It seeks to state the facts and not take any side. It respects the law of the land but at the same time, seeks to have an open discussion about the same from opposing perspectives.

The Sentinel is not obliged to reveal any details about the interviewee to anyone. No requests regarding revealing of details shall be entertained.

Experiences with students in Tohoku University classrooms: Can Tohokudai become a leading university?

Dear Readers of The Sentinel,

I was asked to write some monthly articles for this newsletter on topics of gender, ethnicity, race or identity by the editor-in –chief, Trishit Banerjee. I accepted the offer, not really knowing what you readers of this column might be most interested in reading about, so please give me some feedback on topics that interest you by contacting the editor.

As many of you might know from seeing my name above, I worked at Tohoku University as a lecturer-professor of English and had classes in general oral English, reading and so forth for some eight years, from 2009 until my retirement in 2016. I also volunteered for a few terms teaching a class to foreign students called ‘Nippon jijou’ which I took to mean ‘Japanology.’What do you think ‘Japanology’ means? Actually I made up the curriculum myself after learning topics that most interested the foreign mix of students at that time. The topics ranged from education, social history, interpretations of history, to cinema and literature, the arts, religion and ideology, health, to youth cultures, to ‘Cool Japan’ and so forth.

I had also taught a very similar course to Japanese students called gaikoku jijou (=things of foreign countries). I used nearly the same curriculum and teaching materials for both classes. I did not use any text book for the course, although I am considering writing my own text someday. I have also taught elementary school children in a volunteer project following the 3-11 triple disaster in Tohoku along with student help from both Japanese and foreign students at Tohoku-dai. I feel that children could use the same or a similar text to one that I might use with university students.

Experiences with students in Tohoku University classrooms

(Originally written: November 13, 2009)

When I came to work at one of the top universities in Japan, I had very high expectations of my students as Tohoku-dai was very competitive and difficult to enter and I respected the students there as elite and hard-working.

I felt that I was facing classrooms of Japan’s elite students. I was sure that I would be able to expect a lot of them. And, indeed, a roomful of 40 plus students, with bright eager faces, listening intently to my English-only first lecture on the first day of class impressed me. It was a class of Engineering students, the pride and joy of the university – the elite leaders of our future in Japan. I immediately worried that perhaps the text I had chosen for my class might be too easy for them.

I found that what the students really excelled in was study-skills. After all, a good proportion of them had attended cram-schools throughout much of their schooling to learn, not only the basic skills of mathematics, Japanese, English and science, but also good study skills.

When I gave them a pop-quiz in class one day, I was impressed how they immediately went to work, underlining, jotting notes, dividing up the tasks at hand and then writing quickly and energetically. When homework was assigned, they all had it completed by the next class. I could see that they were really trying their best. Their attendance was also good.

But what I noticed immediately as well was that even with these elite students, they often would not raise their hands or volunteer to speak up. They even often hesitated to raise their hands when I just asking “Please raise your hand if you have ever been overseas.” Or :“Please raise your hands if you have ever heard of something.” After every class I set aside the final ten minutes for them to write a short note of what they learned or felt about the day’s lesson. Invariably, when it came to expressing themselves in writing, many of those students who had neglected to raise their hand during class were able to do very well in expressing themselves in writing.

Another unexpected event happened later that first term with the first year students. I had given them an assignment to choose a chapter from the reading text and supplement it with another English reading (from another source of their choosing, such as a book, magazine or even The Internet). They were to read the two source materials and make a written report of it and then later present it orally to the class. As it turned out, in a class of 42 students, half of them later admitted to plagiarism (=copying someone else’s writing and claiming it to be one’s own), when I asked each student to fill out a form on the matter. I then held a discussion with them to determine WHY they had plagiarized so blatantly. Was it because they thought that the teacher (me) would not notice? Did they think it was acceptable to plagiarize? Did they misunderstand the assignment? When I opened this to a class discussion and called on individual students to offer rationale, some students admitted that it was easier or faster, or that copying insured that their English would be perfect. They thought that because the Internet is so big that the teacher would never find out. They were busy with lots of other classes. Most of them knew it was NOT alright to do it. I am certain that this sort of thing goes on in all countries, in all universities, and in America too.

But the big difference is that in America, this is considered an extremely serious offence. In some instances, students can be suspended or expelled from the university and certainly flunked in the class where it occurred. I have heard of elite students in the prestigious medical department of highly ranked universities in America being expelled for cheating or plagiarism. Also, most students in America realize that it is illegal to take someone else’s words as one’s own. I felt that these bright faces at Tohoku-dai that so eagerly followed every word I spoke during those first few classes had let me down.

As a teacher with integrity I could not allow this problem to be ignored. In mid-sentence of their reading of their oral presentations, I stopped a few students to ask them what percentage of their paper was copied directly from the Internet. It is so easy for a veteran English teacher in Japan to spot when a Japanese student copies sentences from some English source. There are certain expressions and usages of English, that Japanese, even very good English speakers rarely use.

In the end, I allowed my plagiarizing students to save face by adding several pages in their own words summarizing what they read and inserting their own feelings and attitudes towards the topic. I then resolved for future classes never to allow students a window for plagiarism by allowing them to access the internet but selected all reading materials myself.

As expressed by Prof. Laurel Kamada. She worked at Tohoku University as a lecturer-professor of English and had classes in general oral English, reading and so forth from 2009 until she retired in 2016.

Bears, Ghosts and Grades : My First Impressions of University Life

First impressions count. When I first saw Tohoku University’s website about the Future Global Leadership program, I was excited. Japan is known as a land full of great food, historic sites, and cherry blossom trees. I jumped at the chance to study in such a country. Several months later, I arrived at the university dorm room and looked out the window. There were no houses nearby. No view of any nearby temple. No beautiful trees. Instead, I saw the sun brightly shining over a cemetery. I promptly chucked out my initial impression.

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My room overlooking the cemetery

As I tried to piece together a more accurate depiction of life as a Tohoku University student, I stumbled upon a strange find. I found anti-bear bells in the campus store. It was funny at first. I thought, “Who would buy bear bells? This campus is near the city. There are supposed to be no bears.” Until I heard that Tohoku University had a particular campus on a mountain. There, the mountain bears would occasionally come out of the forest and approach a certain building. For some odd reason, it was my faculty’s building.

While the fear of bears and of seeing ghosts did influence my opinion of life at Tohoku University, they did not matter as much when I started to attend my classes. Some of the professors were kind; others, strict. But they were human and held some compassion somewhere in their hearts. Their lessons, however, did not. I remember walking into a class one day, sitting down, listening to the professor talk for an hour and a half, and leaving the room without understanding anything. This happened several times for some of my classes. It was utterly frustrating.

Aside from mind-blowing lessons, I found out that the Japanese GPA system was quite unique. Basically, I could get five possible grades for each class: AA, A, B, C, and D, the last of which is a failing grade. Which letter grade I would get depended on what range my score fell in to. For example, a score from 90 to 100 points meant an AA while a score from 80 to 89 points translated to an A. So, even if I got a raw score of 89.99, my grade would still be an A, which translates to a value of 3 when calculating for my GPA. Compared to the grading systems of other countries, my own included, I found this to be quite unfair. Here, students who received an 89 would get an A while students who managed an 81 would also get an A. It made little sense to me as why the two would be given the same letter grade.

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One would think that, by that point, my impression of the life as a Tohoku University student would be quite negative. The combination of bears, perhaps ghosts, and mind-boggling lessons and grading systems does not seem to lead to anything positive at all. Yet, my impression is that life here is just different, and not necessarily in a completely bad way. As cheesy as it may sound, my friends were the ones who gave me a much brighter view of life as a Tohoku University student. Because as much as living accommodations and the university system matter in a great university life, the community plays an even greater role.

The community here is tight-knit. The network of senpais (upperclassmen) and kohais (underclassmen) is surprisingly welcoming. Unlike the stories of upperclassmen that I have heard from my friends back at home, the senpais here are not unfriendly at all. They give us plenty of support for anything and everything. Tips about classes. A list of the best places to eat. Apartment-finding advice. Advice on how avoid the bears. I was also infinitely relieved that someone could help me decipher all the messages in Japanese that I received in my mailbox. It was nice to know that there was someone who experienced the Tohoku University student life and was not afraid to share his wisdom.

Aside from senpais, my classmates in the FGL program are amazingly smart, talented, funny, and kind. No one hesitates to help anyone who asks. In a foreign land with only each other for company most of the time, it was not difficult for us to become friends. We laughed and cried together. We cringed over our perfect views of the cemetery and cracked jokes about the bears. We went over the lessons we could not understand by piecing together the whole picture with the different bits that each person understood. We had movie nights that lasted until dawn, and cooking parties almost every month. It was this gathering of brilliant people that really made my life here at Tohoku University enjoyable.

Being a student at Tohoku University is not how I first imagined it would be. The University system is tough and confusing. There are no magnificent views of temples or cherry blossom trees to soothe the tired soul. But in the end, there are amazing people here who brighten things up. Life here may not be perfect, but somehow, it is enjoyable. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what matters?

As expressed by Shenelle Lim. Shenelle is from the Phillipines and is currently a first-year student under the FGL Program of Tohoku University. She is also a part of the editorial board of ‘The Sentinel’.

Farewell, Yoshiue-san!

“I have a dream for you,” Yoshiue-san wrote to me this morning. I had returned home in the wee hours after a late night cookie party at my seniors’ place. Yoshiue-san’s message was the first one I read during my morning ritual of checking social media. He announced that he shall be leaving the university library by the end of March and join another as an associate professor. The sudden announcement and especially during the weekend somewhat saddened me.

I always loved librarians and the temples they nurture. I always needed a library but never had an access to a wide variety of them. My desktop used to be filled with shutterstock images from the Congress Library in Washington, Trinity College Library in Dublin and the Clementinum National Library in Prague. My school librarian was one of my best friends and I always ran to her during sports periods because I never enjoyed sweating and gasping for my breath. Learning the classification system and helping organise the library soon became my past-time. I started making lists of books that I wanted in the library and had my eyes hooked to my favourite cupboard which housed the classics. On the opposite wall, Radhakrishnan and Ambedkar seemed to smile at me.

Yet, Yoshiue-san made a special place in my heart.

It was only in the first few weeks after I entered the university back in October 2015 that I started spending a lot of time in the library. Using computers to find a book amongst over 4 million that were stored in the 5 campuses of the university was overwhelming. After all, I was used to cards and ball-point pens. On one such day, I saw a man, somewhere around the age of 40 walking towards me. Wearing a plain white shirt and hands folded in Namaste, he asked me if I was Indian. I replied in the affirmative. This was followed by a moment of wow accompanying sounds expressing his ardour which I was still getting used to whenever I met a Japanese. He was quick enough to bring out a picture of an old man with greyish-white hair wearing glasses from the 50s or the 60s. The man looked Indian. “Do you know him?,” Yoshiue-san asked me. I remembered him from my conversations with my school librarian. “Oh yes! Dr. Ranganathan! The father of library science in India,” I identified. At that moment, he was taken aback. He was not expecting me to identify Dr. Ranganathan. “You are the first one,” he said and handed me a little white booklet which he wrote about him.

What are the odds that I travel 5,000 miles crossing seas and rivers and Shanghai sparkling below me like a moonlit bride to meet a man holding a different passport show so much love for Dr. Ranganathan? All his life he spent researching on this one man’s vision of library which has enlightened so many and yet so few. He spent some of his time as a student in Baroda and had also found his way to the then-famous Maharaja Club in Tokyo’s upscale Roppongi area. If you talk to him, he has so many stories to share while he sits at the reference desk in the university’s main library, binding us all through his strings of reminiscence.

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Yoshiue-San at the library

It was just last year that he became excited over a mail that he received from IIT Madras. “They have invited me to give a talk,” his face blushed as he spoke. After all, apart from Chennai, he would get a chance to visit Sirkazhi where his hero Dr. Ranganathan was born. “You must definitely go,” I encouraged him. “I should ask my wife,” he laughed. For the next few months, our discussions surrounded around spices and curries and he showed me Dr. Ranganathan’s books which he bought back in India where he has marked the key words and translated them into Japanese. I could imagine Dr. Ranganathan smiling and the gleam in his eyes reflecting from his glasses. It is rare to find such romances.

At times, he used to thank me for a box of white tea that I got for his wife during one of my visits to Delhi. It is rare even for us Indians to have knowledge about the white tea. Sometimes he used to wear his favourite kurta which he bought at the Delhi airport and paired it with his dupatta. Once, I helped him in getting some pictures from the Asiatic Society in Mumbai and he sent me the paper where he published the pictures with credits given to me. His elation was evident. He was always surrounded by his Japanese colleagues who learnt their India from him.

After my September 2016 trip to India, I met him in the library. “You got to meet Amitabh Bachchan!,” he shrieked after he saw my pictures on Facebook. These are the moments when I wear my cloak of modesty and try not to run away out of embarrassment. He almost pulled my hand and took me to the bulletin board near the library’s reference desk. There was an A4-size print out of my picture with the Big B holding a copy of ‘The Sentinel’. He looked at it with a broad smile. I could see a sense of satisfaction and admiration for me in him. To almost every new Japanese person he met in the library, he told them about me and showed them the Amazon web link of my poetry book. I am very unreactive in such situations as I still do not know what to do when someone praises you. But, I always wanted to tell him ‘Thank You!’.

When he finally visited Chennai, he sent me his pictures with students at IIT Madras and pictures of the library. He sent me his paper which he presented there. The title read ‘Transformation of academic libraries through higher education reform in Japan: becoming realized what Dr. S. R. Ranganathan would want to see’. He always talks about active learning spaces and complained since the IIT Madras Central Library had no place for active learning or group work. 58.2% of university libraries in Japan have already incorporated active learning, he stated in his paper. When he returned, he looked happy. He enjoyed eating with hands during a traditional South Indian dinner and kept on revisiting the pictures from his talk. “They were laughing and enjoying it a lot,” he said to me. He also got to visit his spiritual home in Sirkazhi. I really wonder what did the locals think of him visiting this small town to find someone’s footprints who remains largely unknown amongst our generation.

I do not know how would I describe my relationship with him. I revere him as a mentor, colleague, friend and family. When he finally decided that the library should also have its own English newsletter, a first time at the university, he reached out to me and my team to lead the project. “How does the name ‘The Concierge’ sound?”, he asked me. I smiled and gave it a nod. The team of ‘International Concierge’ at the library which is responsible for helping foreign students in different languages on how to use the library is something he deeply associates with. He finds himself as its part even though there are not many who come to seek help at the desk. Yet, he smiles. That keeps the library alive each time I go.

I look back at the message again. He wants me to collect farewell messages for him from the colleagues at the library. He wants to be missed deeply and wishes to take a piece of memory home with him. In this world of real and solid objects, his little wish takes all our space in our hearts. I will miss Yoshiue-san in the fragrance of the books stocked in the basement. I will miss him in the threads of his kurta. I will miss him in the skies that keep both my homes across the seas connected. I will miss him whenever I talk about falling in love with India all over again.

Farewell, Yoshiue-san!

As expressed by Trishit Banerjee. He was born and brought up in India and is currently a third-year undergraduate student of Advanced Molecular Chemistry at Tohoku University. He is the Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Sentinel’.

In Search of a Better Me

“I am not what has happened to me, I am what I choose to become” – Carl Jung

Back in my country, studying biotechnology, public health and working were not the only responsibilities I had. Becoming a public figure at the age of sixteen, as I became a singer/performing artist and an actress, allowed me to get involved in various fields of work. I became engaged in different capacities starting from volunteering at orphanages and hospices to being an ambassador for children’s and women’s rights with local and international organizations, such as the UNDP, United Nations and Good Neighbours –  which is an international non-profit, non-religious, humanitarian development NGO in General Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Leaving behind my long-built career, shutting down my newly launched business, and most importantly leaving my son for a certain period of time to pursue my studies in Japan was a step of faith. Yes, we are here to achieve our academic goals but, building both academic and personal aspects equally are important. I believe that we all need to live the life of leaving our comfort zone. Whenever we take good risks we are stretched and eventually advance on to the next level of understanding, competence and maturity. It is never easy but, it is the life of adventure and rewards. Life with its ups and downs is an amazing journey after all!

 

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On the cover of ‘Cosmopolitan’

We never know what impact one may cause if a foreign student or a researcher becomes a temporary but a true citizen of Sendai.

Our first years in Japan usually are the time to learn, discover, and adapt to the new culture. Frankly speaking, Japanese people possess the qualities that we don’t see much in other nationalities. We are happy to be the chosen ones to receive the benefits of Tohoku University as well as the ones that the city of Sendai extends to us. That’s why, out of my thankful heart. I want to contribute back to the city – my city of Sendai!

Thus, as I live in Sendai during my academic years, I chose to view Sendai as my home in Japan and not just the place where I am obtaining my doctoral degree. Sendai is my home city that has become inseparable from my life during these years. In the 21st century a lot of people can experience “global citizenship”. Now, home for many people is not necessarily one geographical location and one neighborhood but, can be several places on earth with international community and friends that transcend geographical, ethnical, linguistic, cultural, political and religious differences.

 

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Being awarded on the 70th anniversary of the United Nations

Even though I lived most of my life with my family in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, we decided to live locally with a global perspective. My mom and dad spoke Russian to each other and English at home (besides Mongolian), especially to my younger brother to make him a global citizen from his childhood. So, English has become a part of our family culture since I was little. We had American, Swiss, Finnish, Russian, Korean and Japanese people as family friends. I went to Russian secondary school, and later Mongolian International University in UB (run by Koreans), and had exposure to Russian culture and language. Now since I am in Japan, I want to integrate the best Japanese culture and language into my daily life and me.

 

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With members of my department and Prof. Ken Osaka at School of Dentistry, Tohoku University

My allegiance and loyalty is not primarily to one country, nation but to the ideology of building bright future where people with pure hearts genuinely love each other and make the earth a better place. I am a Mongolian but, there also is some American, some Russian and some Japanese in me too – I am a GLOBAL CITIZEN!

Regardless where life may take me in the future, Sendai will always be the place in Japan I would call home with the familiar streets I walked, the places I went, the University I studied, and the friends I made! It is in my best interest that Japan as well as Mongolia, Sendai as well as Ulaanbaatar would prosper and become better places for its citizens and foreigners to live!

 

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People lining up for autographs before I arrived in Sendai

We spend tons of our time to master our pieces trying to build our future with academic skills. Just as we enter academic research, have we ever researched ourselves? Are we doing research for its outcomes only or are we searching our hearts to discover the better ME that may or may not achieve great academic heights but, still would choose to give more than receive? Do we have a BIG vision and mission beyond our own selves that may inspire and impact many for good? We need to pursue excellence in all the things we do but we should never forget that we are a man (human) in the first place!

With love,

Tselmuun

As expressed by MPH Tselmuun Chinzorig. Tselmuun was born and brought up in Mongolia and is currently studying as a PhD candidate at the Department of International and Community Oral Health, School of Dentistry, Tohoku University.

The featured image of the writer and her son was published in the magazine ‘OK’.