At the start of the new academic year in Japan, early April, I joined a music circle and formed several bands with other members of the circle. During the summer break, one of my band’s members invited me to join his class’ study trip to Fukushima; gaining first hand experience at methods Fukushima’s civilians are employing to revitalize Fukushima’s tourist industry after the 2011 earthquake. Brief history The third largest prefecture in Japan, Fukushima is a northeastern region popular amongst Japanese not just as winter resort, but for its Japanese sake, food and many natural hot springs. Historically, Fukushima is known for it’s role in the last feudal Samurai war, the 1868 Bosshin War. Today however, the region remains heavily associated with the 2011 earthquake and subsequent... Continue →

Last April, I had the pleasure to my professor from KU Leuven on a study-trip to Matsumoto, accompanied by several KU Leuven schoolmates also present in Japan, as well as a Japanese historian and professor at Matsumoto’s Shinshū University, and his seminar students. On our study-trip, we would first visit the Old System Matsumoto High School Museum (Kyūsei Matsumoto kōkō kinenkan 旧制松本高校記念館) and received a guided tour to a tunnel in Satoyama, said to be dug out by forced laborers during the last few months of the Pacific War. Later on we would visit Shinshū University and hold an impromptu seminar on the topics covered that day, before the obligatory nomikai (飲み会). On our second day, we would join our professor in the morning for brief breakfast and recap, before spending the rest of... Continue →

During this year’s golden week in Japan, I joined several of my friends for a short trip to Okinawa Island, the main island of the Okinawa prefecture. Due its pleasant tropic weather and beautiful beaches at this time of the year, Okinawa is one of the more popular destinations during Golden Week, and for us too a good occasion to finally visit Japan’s tropics. Brief history One of 47 of Japan’s prefectures, Okinawa consists of over 100 small islands located between the island of Taiwan and Kyushu. Historically, the Okinawan Islands were home to the Ryukyu Kingdom and despite strong pressure from both Japan and China maintained a certain degree of sovereignty until complete annexation during the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th century. For this reason, Okinawa does feel culturally... Continue →

As an undergraduate student at my Belgian university, I took several courses related to the Korean language and Korean history, which in turn made me quite eager to visit the country, given that I’d be living relatively close for the next year and a half. During my first semester studying in Japan, I was fortunate enough to make several good friends from South Korea. One of them had already left Japan by the end of the semester, and two of friends still remaining took the academic break in March as an opportunity to return to Seoul for several weeks, inviting me as well: an excellent way of celebrating the successful completion of my first semester in Japan. Brief history South Korea, officially known as the Republic of Korea, is an East Asian country east of Japan. Despite being... Continue →

It’s been a while since I’ve posted my last blog, and while I’ve had some ideas on new posts, I had to prioritize schoolwork, including finishing my graduation thesis and preparing my cultural exchange. Courtesy of my university I received the opportunity to study and live in Tokyo for a year and half at Chuo University with MEXT scholarship, as part of my Master degree in Japanese Studies. I’m writing this small blogpost exactly a week after arriving in Tokyo, in order to talk a bit about my university, my first impressions of my surroundings, and my personal experience with the application process for my scholarship. Chuo Universty Chuo University (中央大学) is a private-run university with several campuses spread throughout Tokyo, and containing a plethora of faculties, graduate schools... Continue →

Having finished the final exams for my undergraduate degree in Japan Studies, we decided to spend some time off by visiting a friend doing an internship in Seville, Spain. We used our time there to get a glimpse of beautiful Andalusia and were not disappointed by the stunning beauty of it’s architecture and nature, it’s fascinating history and last but not least, it’s wonderful culinary traditions. Brief history Andalusia, an autonomous region at the most southward point of Spain, has had due it’s location - a gateway between Europe and Africa - strong ties with many cultures such as the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Jews and the Muslim Moors. These cultural influences have left a strong mark on Andalusia, both in national identity as cultural marks including architecture,... Continue →

During my class on the classical Japanese language (kobun 古文) last semester, I was introduced to a well known, Heian era poem named Iroha, famous for using all characters of the Japanese syllabary exactly once. Attributed to Kūkai, founder of Japan’s Esoteric sect of Buddhism, the highly allusionary meaning of the poem stuck with me (also, I had to be able to recite it for my exam), and thus I wrote a short melody to help me memorize it properly. After my exam period, I spent some time getting acquainted with electronic music composition and expanded the melody into a proper song. いろは歌 I begin most of my compositions by playing the piano. I tried to create somewhat of an otherworldly, esoteric feeling to the composition by constantly evolving and modulating the baseline and relying on... Continue →

私は先週、ブリュッセルで行われた日本語のスピーチコンテストに参加して、「ベルギー・日本友好150周年」のために歴史的なスピーチを発表する機会をいただきました。すると、参加者の他者が非常に高いレベルにあったし、質疑応答もやや恥ずかしくなっても、何とか第三位に入賞しました。このブログのエントリーは私が書いたスピーチの原稿です。 スピーチ 会場にお集まりの皆様、こんにちは!ルーバン大学日本学科3年生のスティービーと申します。私は子供の頃から日本の文化と歴史に大変興味がありました。そして日本学科に入学して2年間勉強をすることで自分の知識をもっと広め、深めることができました。更に、来年日本へ留学する可能性があることや、今年が「ベルギー・日本友好150周年」の年であることから、日本の歴史だけでなく、特に独立前のベルギーと日本の400年も前に遡る両国が共有している歴史への関心も高まってきました。そのため、この発表「我々の国民の共有している歴史」では、二つの歴史的逸話を紹介して、ベルギー人と日本人の友好についてお話したいと思います。 この共有されている歴史、すなわち、両国間の共感は、私たちの国の歴史的展開がほぼ同じように進んだからだと考えます。ベルギーも日本も強大な国々が隣接していたにもかかわらず独立することができました。ベルギーがフランスやドイツの大国に挟まれながらも何とか独立したのと同様に、日本も中国やロシア、欧米の中で、独立国として次第に世界で最大の経済大国の一つになりました。そのため、明治時代に岩倉使節団が派遣された際、「日本人と同じような独立の気概を持っているベルギー王国をモデルとしてはどうか」という記事を書いた日本人記者もいました。また、第一次世界大戦中にドイツ帝国の攻撃を受けたベルギーは「意志が強い、勇敢な国である」と日本で報道されました。 織田信長とアルベール一世... Continue →

For this year’s Japanese Speech Contest in Brussels, I had the pleasure to prepare and hold a speech in honor of Belgium and Japan’s 150th year of mutual friendship. Despite some hiccups and an incredibly high level amongst the other candidates (meeting all these excellent Japanese learners was both an extremely humbling experience as well as a perfect motivation booster for the coming years) I was awarded 3rd prize. This blog contains my speech’s English translation. Speech Hello everyone! I’m Stevie, a Belgian student at the university of Leuven and currently third year student in the faculty of Japan Studies. Lately, through my studies and the realization of 150 years of amity between our two nations, I’ve gained an increased interest in our mutual history; a long shared history... Continue →

This weekend the NHK Culture Center and the Embassy of Japan in Belgium organized the 30th edition of the Japan Cultural Festival, held in Antwerp in celebration of 150 years of friendship between our two nations. Together with a few classmates and upperclass students I had the honor and pleasure of joining this event’s staff of interpreter volunteers, spending my last 3 days assisting two incredible (and incredibly kind) artists convey their works to a large crowd of highly interested Japan aficionados. The festival included a wide variety of exhibitions, demonstrations and performances related to Japanese artistry: dances, drum performances, calligraphy, clothing, tea ceremonies, etc. During the festival I was responsible for a stand on artistic calligraphy and a Japanese embroidery... Continue →