The University of Tokyo

International Student Discussion

International Student Discussion

This woman from China selected kendo as her research theme, while this man from the Dominican Republic has been a long-time judo aficionado. What will they talk about when we bring them together at the Shichitokudo Martial Arts Hall on the Hongo Campus?

Gian talking with Yuan

Giancarlos Troncoso, third-year Doctoral student at the Graduate School of Engineering
From the Dominican Republic. In addition to judo, he used to play baseball. When asked what inconveniences him in Japan, he says “the fact that ATM services are not always available at night.” He worked as a volunteer in Fukushima where he went camping with junior high school students and taught them English.

Pan Yuan, first-year Master's degree student at the Graduate School of Education
From the People's Republic of China. She majored in public finance and English at Zhejiang University. Besides martial arts, she has also played table tennis. When asked what inconveniences her in Japan, she says “the fact that a lot of stores are closed during the New Year's season. I think this period would be a good time for them to make money.”

Pan: I spent my undergraduate years at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China. I came to Japan in October 2010 and attended a Japanese language school in Kyoto for one and a half years. I then became a research student at the University of Tokyo. After my one-year experience as a research student, I enrolled in the University's Graduate School of Education.

Gian: I am from the Dominican Republic. I enrolled in the University of Tokyo in 2009, so I've been here five years. I am a member of Professor Noboru Harada's Laboratory in the Graduate School of Engineering, where I conduct research on urban transportation.

Pan: As a Master's program student, I research the reiho (etiquette for displaying respect) used when practicing kendo. Kendo starts and ends with these respectful gestures. I visit junior high and high schools to investigate how kendo's reiho are taught as part of the school curriculum. When comparing martial arts education in Japan to that in other countries, you see that in Japan, learners are first instructed to practice techniques until they have committed them to muscle memory, while coming to understand the theories behind these techniques in the process. In Western countries, meanwhile, learners are taught in the exact opposite order, with theories studied before actual practice takes place. This kind of difference fascinates me.

Gian: The same is true in judo. When I started learning judo, the first thing I was told was to learn the reiho by heart. Being respectful holds a great amount of significance in martial arts. If you are not consciously trying to protect your opponent while engaging in physical contact sports like martial arts, it's dangerous for both of you. This makes the mutual respect displayed using reiho all the more important, I think.

What got you interested in martial arts?

Pan: I have admired martial arts since I was a child. However, at that time I did not have the chance to actually try to do any of them myself. After coming to UTokyo, I was fortunate enough to have chances to experience some martial arts, including Wing Chun, Savate, and Kashima Shin-ryu, through club activities and orientation classes offered at the Gotenshita Memorial Arena. Encouraged by these experiences, I decided to incorporate my favorite form of martial arts, kendo, into my research.

Gian: Karate was popular back when I was in the Dominican Republic. My mother studied Japanese gardens, and one of her Japanese teachers was a judo practitioner who offered judo lessons at his training hall. His influence led me to start practicing judo at the age of 13. Since then, I continued to attend lessons at his training hall off and on until I began my undergraduate studies at a university in my country. Currently, I take judo lessons at the Kodokan Institute in Kasuga (district adjacent to the Hongo area). I am currently a second dan (rank) at judo.

Pan: Kendo has two main characteristics that appeal to me. One of these aspects is how kendo allows us to connect with the past. I was told that observing kendo forms from long ago is the same as connecting with the people who invented those forms. When hearing this, I was moved. The other attractive aspect is how we can connect with our opponents through kendo. I asked one of my teachers what the joy of kendo is, and he answered that it is the moment when he meets a strong opponent with whom he can feel he was born to compete.

Gian: That sounds similar to judo, where we sometimes have to learn self-defense skills and other traditional techniques as forms in order to rise in rank. So judo also makes me feel connected with the past.

What are your impressions of each other's martial art (judo for Pan and kendo for Gian)?

Gian: The bamboo swords and bougu (protective kendo wear) look cool. But I don't think I'll start practicing kendo at this stage in my life.

Pan: I tried practicing judo a little and found it to be a sport requiring great intelligence and skill. Watching it on TV, I thought judo was similar to sumo wrestling because many of its practitioners have large physiques. However, it turns out that the art of judo does not rely on pure physical strength, but rather the creative and skillful ways in which that strength is channeled.

What do you like about judo or kendo in comparison to other sports?

Gian: In judo, practitioners uphold two principles: the maximum efficient use of energy (seiryoku-zenyo) and the mutual prosperity for self and others (jita-kyoei). These principles were set forth by Master Jigoro Kano, the creator of judo. They describe a philosophy that should be applied to not only judo matches, but also life in general. This unique way of thinking makes judo different from other sports.

Pan: Martial arts are practiced with more sacred, reverent feelings than you would have when playing other sports. They are not sports that can just be played with a smile on your face. One reason why kendo is taught to children is to have them feel pain, which makes them aware of and work to avoid causing pain in others. In Japan, there are ample opportunities for students to participate in extracurricular activities, including sports clubs. I believe this is one of the strengths of Japan's educational system. In China, we generally don't have these kinds of intensive club activities.

Gian: We don't really have anything like that in the Dominican Republic, either. There aren't any after-school activities. If you want to do something after school, you have to go to local training halls or sports clubs.

So, why did you come to UTokyo?

Gian: Through my experiences practicing judo while in the Dominican Republic, I grew interested in Japanese culture. That's why when I decided that I wanted to go to grad school, I made up my mind to go to one in Japan. I got into Kyoto University, the University of Tsukuba, and the University of Tokyo. Ultimately, I chose UTokyo because it offers a wide range of classes that can be taken in English.

Pan: When I was a third-year undergraduate student, one of my friends asked me to take Japanese courses with them. I became fascinated with the beauty of the Japanese language, particularly keigo (Japanese honorifics).

Gian: Keigo is the most difficult part of the Japanese language, but I can sense the beauty of the Japanese language, too. Like in kanji, for instance.

Pan: Kanji are from China, you know! (laughs) I heard from a teacher at my Japanese language school that UTokyo is the greatest university in Japan, so I decided to aim for it. I thought about becoming a Japanese language teacher, but, as you know, UTokyo does not have a Japanese language department. So, I chose to enter a Graduate School that was related to education instead.

Have you visited China (for Gian) or the Dominican Republic (for Pan)?

Gian: In 2010, as part of UTokyo's workshop, I visited Sichuan, China. A place called Dujiangyan.

Pan: Ah, Dujiangyan! The city with the famous irrigation system.

Gian: When I was there, I remember sensing that a huge developing country like China would have a difficult time being maintained through only democratic means.

Pan: I have never been to the Dominican Republic. Talking here with Gian-san, though, gives me the impression that everyone from his country must be optimistic and full of energy.

Gian: People often tell me that they think I'm probably a noisy person just because I'm Latino.

Pan: Chinese people get told the same thing. In fact, I think we probably have you beat there!

How is life in UTokyo as an international student?

Pan: UTokyo has international students from more than 100 countries. This wide variety of international students gives me the opportunity to socialize with students from many countries, which is a source of great joy to me. Since I came to UTokyo, I have made friends who are from more than 20 countries. While at UTokyo, I can experience living in an international environment. For example, I go to museums with Japanese friends, practice martial arts with American friends, and go jogging with German friends. In my opinion, UTokyo is the best university in Japan when it comes to the variety of international activities one can experience here. Another point I like about UTokyo is that the University offers a lot of international exchange events.

Gian: When I first came to UTokyo, I was going to stay at the University's International Lodge in Komaba. The fact that my supervising professor met me at the airport and guided me to the Lodge was a big relief to me. I was anxious because I did not understand Japanese at the time, but I ended up not having any problems at all. One negative aspect about international student life here is that UTokyo sometimes doesn't effectively provide information to international students about international events and educational activities. This kind of information is out there; I'm able to find it since I'm interested in these events and I search for it in the first place. Other international students may not be aware of event information unless they're actively searching for it like me, though.

Pan: I wish that UTokyo would offer more classes taught in English for students in the humanities. It seems like there are already a lot of English classes for those in the sciences, after all… I want to be able to interact more with humanities students through classes in English.

How did you grow as a person after coming to UTokyo?

Gian: I guess I could say that I've come to rely more on myself. After thinking of a theme on my own in an academically free environment, I made a hypothesis. I then had to do my own fieldwork and investigative research independently while trying to prove or disprove my hypothesis. I think that through these experiences, I gained the ability to understand and navigate through the entire research process.

Pan: I think I've broadened my horizons by coming into contact with various ways of thinking while at UTokyo. I now realize that I have a wide range of possibilities. For instance, I never imagined that I would practice martial arts. Trying out and experiencing a number of martial arts, though, has made me realize that I can actually do them. Now I know that I can try new things and continue to challenge myself in the future.

Please share your future plans.

Pan: First, I want to complete the task at hand, namely my research on kendo. After that, I would like to get involved in work that supports international exchange regardless of whether I find employment or continue doing research. And I'd be willing to work anywhere!

Gian: I plan to remain at UTokyo as a researcher. After that, I would like to become an instructor at a university. I would consider working anywhere, but I also hope that I will have a chance to work at UTokyo, as the University has been making efforts to promote internationalization initiatives.

Finally, what does being “tough” mean to you?

Pan: If you are not swayed by changes you face within an ever-changing world and can follow through with your plans, I think that means that you're tough.

Gian: We often say in urban engineering that being resilient is considered tough. Also, I think that if you respond to changes flexibly, you can be “tough,” just as is the case when practicing judo, which literally means “the way of flexibility.”

Thank you. 謝謝! Gracias!

Giancarlos Troncoso

Giancarlos before UTokyo

Pan Yuan

Pan before UTokyo