The People and Places of Tokushima

Pictured: Shikoku U

Last week’s entry was about what a typical week is like for me as a Monbusho Research Scholar in the Calligraphy Department of Shikoku University in Tokushima, Japan. This week I want to write about the people I’ve meet here, and about my surroundings.

The People
The person I was most nervous to meet was my advisor, Professor Morikami. This is the person I’d be working with for the next two years, so my whole experience would be greatly influenced by how well I got along with him. Before arriving to Japan, I had never talked to him, and didn’t even know what he looked like. My contact with him had been limited to a few e-mail exchanges conducted in Japanese. He used extremely formal Japanese, and his e-mails were always short and businesslike, which lead me to wonder if he wouldn’t be a distant, strict teacher. I envisioned him scowling in disgust at my poor speaking and listening comprehension during our first actual conversation.

All of those worries dissolved immediately when I met him for the first time. He’s extremely friendly and patient, and goes out of his way to use simple, clearly spoken Japanese when he talks to me. I couldn’t ask for a better advisor.

Pictured: The venerable Professor Morikami, in his office

My fellow students are also great. I have a desk with the other calligraphy grad students, and they’ve taken me under their wing, helping me get settled in when I first got here, inviting me out on various outings… a bunch of class acts, all the way.

Pictured: Some friends at my birthday party. No one parties like calligraphy grad students… NO ONE!

The Places
While I couldn’t be happier about the school, faculty, and students, it’s a bit harder to get enthusiastic about the area I live in. I mean, it’s adequate; there’s a place to do grocery shopping within walking distance of my apartment, a couple restaurants… it’s just kind of boring. I’m living in a suburb of Tokushima called Kitajima, about a half hour away by bus from the city center, where all the action is. That wouldn’t be too bad, except that the buses only come once every ninety minutes or so, with the last one leaving at like 7pm. So you can’t just show up at the bus stop, you really need to plan ahead, and make sure you wrap things up really early, or you’re stuck with an expensive cab ride. I’ve always been impressed by Japan’s public transportation system, but when you get out in the sticks it’s less inspiring. A bicycle is high on my list of things to acquire.

Pictured: A couple shots of the area I live in. Like I say, it’s alright…

My apartment is fine too, though it sort of feels like it was put together from a plastic model kit. And I swear the walls are made out of textured poster board.


It’s actually bigger than I was expecting, but then that’s not saying much because I was expecting it to be the equivalent of a short hallway. It is, but it’s the equivalent of a short hallway that’s really wide, like they have in hospitals. Awesome! As you can see from the photo below, I sleep in a weird bunk bed type thing, with the area below the bed, and the trianglar stairs leading up to it, serving as storage.

So all-in-all my apartment’s okay, except for the ridiculously small “kitchen”, shown here:

Pictured: My kitchen… shown at ACTUAL SIZE

So to sum up my impression of my first two months here:
Shikoku University’s calligraphy program, students, and teachers: Great!
The area that I live in: Meh. But my opinion may approve once I get a bike and can explore a bit further out.

I’ll write more about my experiences as a Monbusho Scholar at some point in the future, but that’ll do it for the time being. The next two entries will be devoted to finishing up a long delayed series of posts about my process for creating my graphic novel Tonoharu. So check back the next two Fridays for that.

  • Anonymous

    So from the picture I guess your at the Four World Big School; my Japanese lessons are finally starting to pay off. I like your place too. Maybe one of these days you send me an invitation to come visit..?

  • Lars Martinson

    Maybe I will, Anonymous, maybe I will…

    But actually probably not, since you’re anonymous and all. I wouldn’t know where to send the invitation. Oh well, happy journey to you!


  • Hi Lars,

    I was on Awaji once. Its nice. Looks like you’re not too far from it. You’re not terribly far from Kobe either. When I lived in inaka (and mine was chou-inaka) I was a bit lost until I got a car. Of course, things were cheaper then. Sounds like you have a nice set up all in all.

  • Lars Martinson

    Hey Ronan,

    Yup, as I say Kitajima isn’t terrible or anything; I think I just got spoiled from the area I lived in during my JET days, with the trains that came every fifteen minutes, and a little cafe and a kaiten sushi place a five minute walk from my apartment. Ah well.


  • Yo!

    Wow, I didn’t notice you were on Shikoku. I spent my 2 JET years in Matsuyama, the biggest city with a whopping half a million people! ^_^

    I’m applying for the MEXT scholarship, too. Your postings really helped me understand the process and your proposal also helped a whole bunch. Kudos for being so forthcoming about your experience. I expected to find more information from people who’ve gone through it, but so far there’s really no personal accounts out there as descriptive. I’ll chalk it up to the artist in ya. ~_^

    I’m aiming for the Kansai area (Osaka, Kyoto), or Kinki (Nara). Hard cities to get but I know I’d love it. Plus it’d be ideal for a central location that I could travel from (since my topic would require some travel, probably to Tokyo).

    Inaka-living is conducive to saving, but how are you finding your expenses with the stipend? I’ve still got debt to pay in America, and combined with with Kansai, I may need some extra…

    Keep us posted! And wish me luck, won’t you?

  • Lars Martinson

    Hey PrinnyS,

    Bear in mind that I’m living on the cheapest of the main islands, and in inaka, so the cost of living is pretty low (by Japan standards). But so far, the stipend has been more than adequate. I think/speculate that even in a big city, you could get by on it (if you didn’t go out every night or whatever).

    All the best of luck to you!


  • Kouki

    Hi, Lars! I am going to Japan this October, as a MEXT scholar too. I will be studying in University of Tsukuba. Thanks to your information here.

    I can’t contact anyone else who is there… I am just wondering: Has the stipends been cut down? There were others saying that they are not giving any allowance once we reach at the airport?

  • Lars Martinson

    Hello Kouki,

    Congrats on getting the MEXT scholarship.

    Yeah, they didn’t give me a travel stipend, so you’ll need to get yourself from the airport to your university. The monthly stipend so far has been 170,000 yen a month for me, which is 10,000 less than what I heard it was before…


  • Kouki

    Thank you for your information again, Lars! :)