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Living Like a Local:2 Weeks in High Density Japan

Just at the beginning of this year, I was in Japan for a little over 2 weeks. I had the opportunity to be a part of the “Living Together” global study program led by the School of Architecture. This experience has become a core memory of my life.

To begin my journey, I’ve never been overseas without a parent or any other family member. This program was the first step to being independent and getting out of my comfort zone in a completely new country that I have little knowledge of, not even the language. Never had any Japanese language lessons, and only basing conversations on words I’d heard in entertainment films, or not at all.

This program was jam-packed with so much physical travelling that we visited 8 different locations in the span of 2 weeks (Tokyo, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Koyasan, Naoshima Island, Teshima Island, Shodoshima Island & Fukuoka). Alongside many other Master, Architecture and Interior Architecture students, we visited different housing typologies to learn about the different conditions of everyday living in a country as dense as Japan. A moment that made me realise how incredible this opportunity was – was when we visited the Culvert Guesthouse by Nendo, which is an iconic precedent in architecture, and the location?

It’s a secret shhh. Not even the local taxi drivers know where it is.

Within 3 days, we visited 3 different islands and 2 of them were Art Islands filled with unique sculptures, structures, and a lot of cats. I remember walking from one end of Naoshima Island to the other end all on my own with no wifi, taking up about half an hour as the island was so small. It was actually a very enjoyable walk with an immaculate view of the sea and breezy weather. Everyone else rode rented electric bikes around the island, while I lacked the ability to ride one. However, that is okay if that’s the case for you as there are bus options – just not very frequent. Google Maps was the MVP of my trip, it displayed all the train and bus schedules on them daily.

Outside of these architectural building visits, we were allowed to enjoy and explore Japan on our own. I’ve gotten to see many sets from the Netflix series “Alice In Borderland” personally, go shopping for many new apparel and gifts, and eat many under $10 meals at restaurants. One of my personal favourite meals was at a restaurant in Akasaka Tokyo serving this set of beef slices, chicken karaage with salad, rice on the side, and miso soup. A fulfilling meal on a chilly night.

Overall, this 2 week long experience was very enriching. This experience have definitely influenced me as a person and as an architect, allowing me to immerse myself in a new environment and seek real life inspirations for my future works.

Vivian Zhang

Bachelor of Design in Architecture / Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation

Global Short Program Student (Faculty-Led)

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