Sunny Raj Shrestha, a student in the Mechatronics Program at the School of Engineering and Technology, reflects on his enriching experience during an exchange program at the University of Tokyo.
Japan, a lifelong dream, now a cherished memory. I embarked on an exchange program at the prestigious University of Tokyo, renowned for engineering, particularly robotics, my passion. With the unwavering support of my professor, Dr. Manukid Parnichkun, my family’s excitement, and my late grandmother’s blessings, I set foot in Tokyo on October 1, 2022.
Tokyo is an incredible city that effortlessly combines the old and new, giving you a sense of time travel. The University of Tokyo, especially the Hongo campus, is a dream come true with its century-old, beautifully designed buildings that blend tradition and innovation. Under the guidance of Dr. Wen Wen, I delved into neuroscience and human-machine interfaces, surrounded by cutting-edge EEG headsets and robotics equipment.
I was filled with enthusiasm upon joining Professor Wen’s lab, specializing in neuroscience and human-machine interfaces. Their lab was equipped with cutting-edge EEG headsets and robotics gear. I had the chance to meet the lab members who were working on innovative research projects. We brainstormed together, and they provided valuable insights for my thesis topic. Additionally, I had the opportunity to choose from top-ranked courses globally, including micro mechatronics, nanotechnology, and quantum science, which offered a profound learning experience. Although it required late-night study sessions, the knowledgeable professors and diverse international students enriched my perspective. I was situated on the 8th floor of Engineering Building 14, where I had access to excellent robotics tools and resources. Overall, my time at this world-renowned university was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that propelled my academic and professional journey in the right direction.
Tokyo offered a delightful culinary experience. From ramen and sushi to okonomiyaki and tempura, I tried a variety of Japanese dishes. As a Nepali, I missed spicy food occasionally, but I had a great time exploring different Japanese cuisines and searching for the best restaurants for specific dishes. Despite a hectic schedule, I savored pastries and matcha cheesecakes at Ikebukuro station, where the aroma of freshly baked goods filled the air, pleasing both my taste buds and sense of smell.
Traveling alone in Tokyo initially terrified me due to my poor sense of direction. However, necessity forced me to improve my navigation skills, and now I can navigate the city like a local. Daily train commutes from Narita airport’s Kaiser Line to my dorm in Meijirodai International Village on the Yurakucho Line were a novel experience. Tokyo is vibrant, with something happening all the time. I vividly recall getting lost in Shibuya’s bustling streets and exploring Akihabara’s electric town, which was exhilarating. Akihabara is a must-visit for anime and electronics enthusiasts. Shibuya is perfect for clubbing and karaoke. Personally, I adored Ikebukuro for its diverse offerings. Sunshine City Complex, like a city in itself, includes an aquarium, Pokémon Center, maid café, and cosplayers dressed as anime characters. Arcades, claw machines, and ‘gashapon’ machines are everywhere, offering cute anime figurines. I even had the chance to attend an exhibition on dinosaur fossils and meteorites, receiving unique Japanese souvenirs that now decorate my study table.
I explored Tokyo extensively, enjoying cherry blossoms at Ueno Park, just a short walk from Hongo campus. Witnessing the vibrant pink and white Sakura flowers was like a movie scene. On weekends, I explored tourist hotspots like Asakusa and Odaiba. The Kawagoe festival was an incredible experience, reminiscent of festivals in my home country with deity-pulled chariots. Visiting Meiji Jingu shrine provided a peaceful contrast to the bustling Shibuya, which is just one station away and famous for the Hachiko statue. I also witnessed a historic moment with a giant Pokémon billboard celebrating the anime’s 20th anniversary.
I regret not visiting Mount Fuji earlier. When I finally did, the weather didn’t allow for a clear view, but it was still magnificent. I might add climbing Fuji san to my bucket list for next time if the opportunity arises. My friends and I looked into it, but it wasn’t open for climbing at that time. Additionally, I had a fantastic experience visiting JAXA, the Japanese Aerospace company, where I learned about rocket designs and even tried their innovative space travel simulator.
I had the opportunity to meet and learn from a diverse group of people, including classmates, professors, and fellow travelers. Japanese people, known for their kindness and discipline, inspired me with their strong work ethic. Despite receiving a C in my beginner Japanese language class, I found it beneficial, especially when navigating train stations, dining at restaurants, or striking up conversations with locals in Shibuya. Once, I helped a 94-year-old man who had fallen in the street. Despite our language barrier, we exchanged numbers, and I could understand bits and pieces of our conversation. It was a heartwarming experience.
My trip to Japan feels like a story straight out of a dramatic movie or anime. Sadly, the day I had to leave finally arrived on March 23, 2023. My time in Japan was incredibly special, and all I brought back were memories that will forever hold a special place in my heart. Every journey has its end, and I’m grateful for the exchange program that allowed me to fill my phone with pictures of Japan and its wonderful people.