Benjamin Wang

Major: Physics and Astronomy

Hometown: Cary, NC

Study Abroad Program: Sophia University (Tokyo)

Looking back on my exchange at Sophia University, I never expected all of the adventures and experiences from studying abroad in Japan. I still clearly remember arriving in Japan from my flight to Narita Airport, unsure of what awaited me for the upcoming semester. Prior to leaving  My first week or so was nothing less than a sensory overload, from the hustle and bustle of the Tokyo Metro system to the crowded streets of downton Shinjuku where I lived. Studying and living in Japan provided an interesting interaction between what was taught in class Sophia University and its direct relationship to the current events and environment of Japan.

My semester at Sophia University gave me an in depth view at the society, politics and religion of Japan with courses that mirrored my interests in these topics. One of my courses on Japanese government and politics introduced the complexities of the Japanese political system, and had lecture topics ranging from Meiji era government to modern politics. During the House of Councilors election in July, I was able to experience firsthand all of the campaigning of the various parties in Japan and understand the process and interactions of the election itself. Another course that I took on Japanese religion and culture focused on the evolution of religion throughout Japan’s history, and most importantly gave me a deeper understanding of the religious climate in Japan and its place in modern Japanese society. The field trip to a Mt. Fuji shrine was something I will forget; our entire class walked to a miniature Mt. Fuji in the middle of Tokyo after learning about the religious importance of the real Mt. Fuji.

I wanted to experience being part of a Japanese club and also experience Judo in Japan, so one of my first goals during my exchange was to the join the Sophia University Judo club. Judo is a modern martial art focusing on throws and grappling, and is as common in Japan as basketball and football in the United States. Practice was three hours a day for four days a week, often followed by weight training and other exercises. Every practice began and ended with a short mediation followed by a sitting bow.  Training was never easy, especially under the careful scrutiny of Yoshigaki Sensei and Ishikawa Sensei.  Both of the instructors were almost 70 years old, yet amazingly strong and nimble. It is from them I learned repetition until perfection, even though I couldn’t always understand their Japanese commands. Every throw, every movement, and every pin was practiced until it became second nature. There is a saying that all policemen in Japan know Judo. On Fridays we often practiced at the Marunouchi Police Station. The other members of the Judo club warned me about the strong senior men at the club, and of course I was unsure what to expect. Changing from their suits to Judo uniforms these twenty to thirty Judo players train every week on the top floor of the police station. I now know what senior businessmen in Japan do after work; they train Judo.

I will never forget traveling to Nagoya with the Judo club to participate in the Jonan-sen sports festival, a competition between Sophia University and its sister university Nanzen University. Every sports club from Sophia competed traveled by bus to Nayoga to compete against Nanzan University. The Judo competition was a five on five team battle. The competition was close until the very last battle, but Sophia University won in the end. Even though the competition was fierce, it was still a friendly atmosphere and I was even able to compete in the open matches. Every night was filled with great food and exploration of the city of Nagoya with Nanzan Judo club members. By the end of the exchange program I had grown very close with all of the members of the Sophia Judo club and made lasting friendships that will stay with me beyond my time in Japan.

The number different places to explore in Japan are astonishing, and I was lucky enough to spend some time traveling to a few of these places. The convenience of the shinkansen, or Japan’s high speed rail, made travel extremely quick and efficient at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. I will never forget walking in the rain around the old capital of Kyoto, attempting to visit every one of the temples, castles, and shrines scattered throughout the mountainside and city. On weekends I often traveled to the coastal city of Enoshima, spending time exploring the traditional island community and enjoying time away from the city. I was able to visit many other parts of Japan during my stay including Kamakura, Tsukuba and Nagoya, with each city possessing something special and unique.

All of this could not have been made possible without the support of the Phillips Ambassador Program. The scholarship not only provided me with the opportunity to study, travel and explore Japan, but also added another dimension to an already excellent exchange program. As a Phillips Ambassador, I was not only able to act as an ambassador for UNC while abroad, but throughout the exchange I was able to share thoughts and personal journal entries with fellow Phillips Ambassador. The experiences and memories from my short semester in Japan will certainly stay with me for the rest of my life, and has positively shaped my worldviews on Asia and Japan.