I just stumbled on a very cool little website called Laura at Sodai (早大, a contraction of 早稲田大学). She's a second-year student in SILS, the international school into which all the exchange students are placed. The site's a great, down-to-earth guide for foriegn students interested in (or already in) studying at Waseda. It's more targeted at four-year exchanges than one-years, but worth a read whomever you are. A few selections:
It's important to mention that Senpai/kouhai relations are really important, so you definitely have to be willing to show a lot of respect to your seniors, even outside of the dorm.
oh, and there's a biiiiiig staircase you have to climb to get to it. my friend attests he lost a lot of weight because of it, haha.
Doesn't sound so appealing, I guess, but it's the dorm with the most culture/history…
If you were ever doing business with a Japanese company, and one of the Japanese businessmen went to Waseda, you would definitely get on his good side if you were to say you stayed at Wakei.
As well, Murakami Haruki stayed there, and his book Norwegian Wood partially takes place there. It's also very close to the former residence of Matsuo Basho.
All in all, it's a definite recommendation for extroverts who want a memorable experience,
but I couldn't recommend it for people who are more introverted.
Here's a great longer-form piece, "Climbing the Ladder." I'd truncate and link to the full post, but there aren't any div markers on the site, so here it is in its entirety.
There are many many overused statements about Japanese culture.
My personal favorite (and frequently abused) is "Japan is notable for it's four distinct seasons."
For studiers of Japan and its culture, there is a certain ledge that one reaches–on what I like to call the "Japanese Aficionado Unanonymous" bookshelf–at which point previously insightful phrases like this one are reflexively scoffed at.
"Oh please" you snob, "are you here to tell me that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down, too?"
This is nature of the pathetically eclectic social order I belong to… With each successive step up the ladder, admittance to the next level becomes harder and harder.
Greenhorns don't count on this scale, but I suppose it's worth mentioning that most people start out their journeys by loving ramen, and memorizing catch phrases from their favorite anime… striking the peace sign in family photos.
But truly, the first rung of the ladder is much above this. In the earlier stages of development you have very simple tasks, such as denouncing your love of Japanese animation, saying you prefer Dramas, feigning love for acquired tastes such as umeboushi, prefering miso or tonkotsu ramen over cha-shu.
From there things get a little more tricky. Membership requires you to naturally blush red with embarassment when foreigners sprawl themselves out in the reserved seat section of the trains, learning to wash your hands before entering a shrine… you eat nigiri sushi (not that silly maki business) with your hands…
Then you get into all these aformentioned concepts about Japanese culture… "I know about Honne and Tatemae, about Aimai, about Shuudan Ishiki and Giri and Oku." "I know what Japan is really like."
Somewhere along the line you head off to Japan and then it just gets tougher and tougher. You must first declare all those cultural observational statements as plebian knowledge. You must look down on those below you on the ladder. You must reflect on your actions: do you go all the way to the Family Mart across the street to get the particular brand of tea you like, do you only listen to summer songs in the summer and winter songs in the winter, do you have a teiki on your PASMO, and did you get the PASMO because at one time it was more convenient than Suica and you knew it? Have you walked all the way home after missing the last train? Do you really like umeboushi?
What's interesting is that once you get past most of this standard qualifier stuff, moving onto the next level of Japanese snobbery requires you to renounce statements and beliefs that got you to where you were: You eat tekka maki after all, liking Anime is okay and necessary in the case of Sazae-san and Chibi Maruko-chan, Anpanman and Doraemon; you have to have cried when you saw The Dog of Flanders, you have to like Laputa best. You embrace the four seasons, you get excited by Japanese Royal Family gossip… You get above it all only to slowly sink in and flow along.
I can't quite fathom how many more shelves I need to climb in order to be able to see how high up Dave Spector is, but I do know I'll need to start liking natto before then (not to mention bleaching my hair blonde) so I'll have to stay content for the time being at the level I am at now, somewhere between reconciling my past love of anime and being able to separate newly burnable from unburnable plastics. Let me tell you, I'm pretty well up here.
So back to this statement, "Japan has four distinct seasons," I admit to it, knowing how stale the phrase has gotten, but agreeing like the good wa-protector I am. October first, I swear by the Chuo line being delayed at this very moment, the Japanese government flipped the season switch and it became Autumn. An instantaneous, almost 30degree faerenheit drop, and now it's 60 every day and cloudy. The short sleeved tshirts are away in storage, the trench coats are out, chestnut candies are back in stock, and school is back in session. (風敗かないように） don't catch a cold, as they say, because new TV announcers are in the studio and we all need to get on with fall.
Finally, the gem of the site for prospective four-years, the Sils Setsumei. It may not be a peer-reviewed piece of academic excellence, but it rings true to me, mostly corroborates with what I've learned from talking to SILS graduates and upperclassmen, and is a great place for people thinking about doing college in Japan to start.
I can't decide whether the site is abandoned or just oddly put together, but it feels very late-90's to me. That said, the content's quality, so it's well worth a look.
Also, this strikes me as just the sort of site begging for a little sprucing up, advertising, and interactivity. To be the #4 Google Result for "Waseda SILS," but have no way to connect to or profit off the people accessing your page, seems a little wasteful to me. Even if you don't go to the advertisers, you could make a dandy little profit using your popularity to blackmail the SILS administration