Hikone, Japan was a rather boring place to study abroad, especially after living in a vibrant city like Sevilla, Spain. The city was large enough, but JCMU was located at the far edge of town and we had only our bikes for transport. This made any trip into town long and annoying in the often poor weather. Even Lake Biwa, in which I had been excited to swim and windsurf, disappointed me since it turned out to be extremely filthy and unsanitary. To some people, the small and somewhat rural locale of JCMU may be a selling point, but to me it was a poor substitute to living in Kyoto or Tokyo, both of which I visited and found much more to my liking, especially Kyoto to where we often traveled on weekends. On the other hand, the Japanese language program at JCMU was well above par. The classes were intensive and immersive and challenged students while enabling them in all four basic language skills. I found the extra classes – taught in English – to be a rather annoying waste of my time. I took two of these classes, one at JCMU and one at the local Shiga Prefecture University. The class on Minorities in Japan would have undoubtedly been a fascinating class were it not for the professor (who seemed completely unprepared for and unknowledgeable about the material covered in the class) and the lack of any truly meaningful research being conducted or studied. The lectures were mostly vague and superficial regurgitated textbook information with one or two interesting points thrown in to appease our growing frustration and disillusionment with the course. Perhaps worse was my Buddhism in Society class at the local Japanese university. The professor spent several hours each week telling extraordinarily circular stories about his personal life that he attempted to connect with Buddhism. These stories while interesting anecdotes had almost nothing to do with Buddhism as far as I could understand. The only bright spot in these weekly lectures were the few guest speakers we had who, probably because they taught only once and on a specific topic, actually managed to connect Buddhism with the Japanese culture and society in a much more conventional fashion. Also, since we routinely ate lunch with in the ESS (English Speaking Society) classroom with Japanese students who were interested in improving their English skills, we were able to make other Japanese friends besides those in our Buddhism class. Overall, I am glad that I had the chance to study in Japan and make many good friends, Japanese and others, but I am sorry that my semester had not been in a larger and more vibrant city like Kyoto or Tokyo.
Here are a few pictures that I took of Hikone-jo and Lake Biwa. The green buildings in the second photo are those of JCMU.