Humans of Waseda: Sakiko

For the latest installment of Humans of Waseda, learn more about Sakiko, a bright Japanese student at SILS with a unique international background since her childhood who holds keen perspectives of Japanese society.

Why did you decide to study an international program at Waseda University?

I decided to study at SILS for 2 main reasons.

The first main reason is that I am a so-called ‘third-culture’ kid, so I wanted to go to a place where there were people whom I could relate to. Growing up in multiple different cities, I kind of lost my Japanese identity along the way, but at the same time, there were no alternative nationalities that I could relate to. I was stuck in a weird limbo between all the countries that I’ve lived in (if that makes sense). I grew up partly in Hong Kong, Japan, Hungary, and the UK but in all of these countries I didn’t stay long enough to be able to identify as a national. Now, I’ve embraced this and I don’t see it as much of an issue - but I thought that it would be great if I could find people who also have gone through similar experiences. Therefore, I hoped to find them at SILS.

The second reason is that I wanted to study abroad. SILS has a great study-abroad program because it has contracts with many different universities and they can transfer the credits that you’ve earned. When I looked at the long list of study abroad destinations, I felt that the opportunities and possibilities were greater than any other university.

It is very interesting to learn about your special multicultural background. How much do you think these different experiences shaped your personal growth?

I wasn’t really aware of personal growth/wasn’t really self-aware of my identity because I was in the process of becoming an adult (still am, to be honest). But looking back, I guess being exposed to many different cultures, ways of thinking, and people has made me able to form my own set of principles and personal morals.

Also, like I mentioned before, growing up in many different countries does create a national identity ‘crisis’ and it became an issue for me for a while. However, when I studied abroad in Germany, I realized that I would always be Japanese in the eyes of everyone I met, and for me, that was reassuring. Even though I don’t feel fully Japanese because I am not a ‘jun-japa’ (defined as pure Japanese and used to describe Japanese students with no study abroad experience) I was comfortable to accept that how people abroad perceive me will be the same. When I came back to Japan, I’ve decided to learn more about Japanese culture so that I could be a good representative of Japan, if I go overseas again.

After receiving education and inhabiting so many different countries, you eventually chose to stay in Japan for your undergraduate studies. Are there any specific issues that you pay attention to in Japan as a student with international experiences?

One thing I find a huge issue is the relationship between animals and humans in Japan. Have you seen dogs in baby strollers? Or being carried by their owners? If they were elderly dogs, I would understand the need for some assistance but they were not old. Some owners dress them up in costumes. I get the feeling that some people do not see animals as they are, but rather as babies or children. This is dangerous as they are attributing human traits to animals, and so it makes one less perceptive of the animals’ real needs.

Another dark side of the booming pet industry is the people exploiting vulnerable animals. Animal cafes are popping up everywhere, and some of them (could say most of them) keep them in deplorable conditions, and do not consider the animals’ needs. There are some good articles from the Japan Times that report on breeders who keep animals in terrible conditions and the fact that many abandoned dogs get executed every day. Smuggling of exotic pets such as otters is also a huge issue - they are illegally poached in Thailand, and most of them end up in Japan to meet high demands. And you can see many Instagram accounts that have thousands of followers, featuring exotic pets that should remain in the wild. One closer look makes it clear that the owners are Japanese.

I know that animal cruelty and neglect is an issue everywhere, but the obvious and open signs of ignorance and lack of respect towards animals in Japan is hard to ignore. In the future, I would definitely like to contribute to improve the lives of animals in Japan because it’s something I’m passionate about.

From your multicultural experience, you have decided to study abroad at a different country - Germany. Why did you make Germany your study abroad destination?

I've learned violin since I was 7 years old, studied music history/theory for three years, and have always had a keen interest in classical music. Germany is the home country of so many great composers such as Brahms, Mahler, Bach and of great musicians such as Christian Tetzlaff. Their tradition of music is deeply rooted in its society. I wanted to see that for myself and also be a part of that experience, such as going to concerts and to join an orchestra. I was also interested to see and learn how immigrants were perceived and treated. So when it was time to choose my destination of study, it was no question as to where I would go.

Do you have any advice for people who want to study abroad?

As for study abroad advice - make many friends as possible and come out of your comfort zone. Be prepared for challenges, but also be spontaneous and be able to adapt to different situations. Also, many people will ask you questions about Japan, about a broad range of topics from politics, whaling, sushi, to anime… etc etc. Be prepared to answer them.

All images provided by Sakiko