Life in Tokyo University

Life in Tokyo University

From the university’s website, by May 2011, Tokyo University had only 241 international students out of 13,887 domestic students, making the international students’ proportion only 1.7%. What makes it alarming, there are only four Indonesian students – way less than students from countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. I wish to see more Indonesian students coming in the future.

To that end, I will highlight three aspects about studying in Tokyo University that I find interesting.



The undergraduate education is divided into two parts: 1.5 year of general education, continued by specialized major education. Students are divided into categories, such as sciences I (mostly engineering), sciences II (life science), sciences III (dentistry and medicine-related), humanities I, II or III depending on their specialized fields. Being a sophomore in sciences, my explanation here will be focused on the sciences. For more information about lists of majors including the schedules, please access the university website.

An academic year consists of two semesters, summing to eight semesters in a four-year education. Students register for lessons that are taken for the whole semester – each lesson runs for 90 minutes a week, and a day could at most consist of six lessons. Freshmen usually take as many lessons as they can, averaging at about 18 lessons/week. While the general education curriculum required us to take compulsory subjects, there are still plenty of rooms to take lessons that fit our specific interests.  It might too abundant at the first sight, but according to Japanese view of education, “Do not narrow what you want too fast. Stay broad.”

What I enjoy about the general education is that we are free to choose anything, even those that are unrelated to our designed majors. These general education classes are typically held in big lectures, although there are also small seminars that I find very appealing. A lot of seminars are carried yearly, including lectures held in other universities, field-works to other regions or countries, laboratories or mechanical studios’ introductions. For example, this semester I am taking UTokyo-MIT material science introduction seminar and another seminar for making F-1 cars. The crucial point here is that we should match our academic coursework with our interests and personality.

Non-academic activities

Apart from going to classes, students are considerably involved in club activities and part-time jobs. Most of the students join at least one club and have one part-time job.

There are two categories of club, one is “sakuru” (“circle”), and another is “bukatsu” (translated as extracurricular activity by Google).  “Bukatsu” are activities that require heavy commitment from students, while “circle” are typically more relaxed and more hobby-based. “Sakuru” include things like volunteers, sports, debating, leadership, arts, and even NGOs. “Bukatsu” are typically competitive, such as team sports.

A typical busy day for students at Tokyo University goes like this. After taking classes until afternoon, they will have practices or club meetings with the clubs. Some of them join more than one circle and work at part-time jobs in the evenings or on weekends. For instance, a couple of semesters ago, I joined the ballroom dancing “bukatsu” – the practices were held twice a week and each consisted of four hours of compulsory practice. Since the club is competitive, members are advised to join additional practices on other days.

Club activities could be overwhelming here. As an international student who only has one year of Japanese, I spent my first year focusing on academics and language. As my language ability improves gradually, I have more time to spend on club activities.


Living in the megacity

University of Tokyo has four campuses, with two main campuses dedicated for undergraduate education. Unlike other big universities, Tokyo University’s main campus (Hongo campus) is located in the heart of the city, making the academic life more colorful. Seven minutes apart from the business district of Tokyo, Hongo Campus is also located near Ueno, famous for its sakura (in springtime), the zoo and museums.

Studying in University of Tokyo might make you feel hectic at first time, especially the language barrier, the daily life and not to mention, the train (google “Tokyo train’s system”). Highlighting three things mentioned above, I am sure students will find the experience worth fighting for. I am indeed positive that students will feel a reverse-culture shock after being accustomed to the organized and safe city.


All in all, I love studying in Tokyo University, and I hope you all will consider it as your study abroad destination! Feel free to leave questions in the comments.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Karina Jayaputra is currently studying at the University of Tokyo. She is a sophomore majoring pharmaceutical sciences. She is pursuing her study in Japan under the Japanese Government Scholarship (MEXT).