Amsterdam School of International Business

Journey to Japan with Joe


Joe standing among the cherry blossoms in Japan

Joe standing among the cherry blossoms in Japan

There he was, two years later, walking through the halls with a big smile across his face, I could see Joe just had an experience of a lifetime. After a big hug, we sat down in our office for a full interview. I wanted to hear all about his exchange, the dream he so often spoke about when inspiring prospective students at our open days. And so he began with his story, which began with an interest in anime in high school and grew even further during his first few years at AMSIB. By Alizia Kamani

“It took a long time to manifest, but my dream came true"

Joe Ihuoma - 4th year AMSIB student

I always had an interest in Japan, in high school it was a love for animé but at AMSIB it grew even more and it all started with Chie Misumi, my mentor, and a 40-hour project in my personal development module. I choose to help host Japanese students in Amsterdam and my role was to show them Dutch culture. As we roamed through the city and they tried our Dutch delicacies like eating patat it was where I got my first taste for Japanese culture. I started to understand the importance of non verbal communication and the importance of what I learned in Cross Cultural Awareness. The Japanese are not direct and they won’t say what they think, such as us dutchies. I really learned to pay attention to body language and non-verbal communication to understand our Japanese guests. It was with the 40-hour project that I confirmed that I wanted to go on exchange in Japan and so in my second year I chose to study Business Japanese.

Learning Japanese

I find learning languages fascinating, I’ve always wanted to become a polyglot. When I started learning Japanese I was pleasantly surprised how easily I took to it. But it was more than the language. We learned a lot about the culture, included making sushi, and having online calls with Japanese students.

Honours Project: Japan

In my second year I followed the honours project Japan hosted by Irena and Chie. It was a short exchange with Japanese students from Seinan Gakuin University in Fukoka. We hosted them and they hosted us. This was my first time in Japan and it was life changing. I now had a B1 level in Japanese, and I was able to communicate with the students. It was an incredibly local experience that I will never forget. We ate local food, explored the region and played Just Dance with Japanese politicians.

Global Exchange

After my short visit in Japan I knew I wanted to go Toyo University in Tokyo for my exchange. Spots were limited and there were many students who wanted to go. Entering the competitive ranking battle was necessary, and it was serious. My grades were good, I had done an Honours Project, and I studied the language, but there is no guarantee. I had done all I could do. When I saw my ranking confirmed for Spring 2020 I was elated! I had gotten in.

The Pandemic

It was the end of February 2020 and my bags were packed. I was leaving in a few days and the semester in Toyo started in March. We all know very well what happened then. I saw the news, I started to worry. Then I got the email from AMSIB: ‘Global exchange suspended’. I was heartbroken. My dream for years was going to be delayed for an unforeseen amount of time. I had to cancel my trip. But I wasn’t ready to give up.

The pandemic changed my entire plan. I took the semester off and worked and ranked again for the fall. But then exchange remained suspended and Japan was not open for international students. So I went to plan B: internship. With support from my mentor, I was able to get a job at Yakult, a Japanese probiotic yoghurt drink company in Almere. I got to drink Yakult every day, do real marketing assignments and I got paid. After my internship, Japan still wasn’t open and travel abroad was still suspended. Yakult hired me after my internship and I worked there throughout the pandemic. This kept me going while I waited for boarders to open again.

Japan: Closed to foreigners

Then I got the email. My programme was phasing out. Spring 2022 was my last chance to go on exchange, but Japan was still closed to foreigners. I ranked and I got into Toyo again, prepared to spend part of my exchange online. Throughout the winter I was on a Facebook group chat with students from around the world waiting for Japan to open. We exchanged information and tried to encourage one another positively.

The pandemic set fear in the islanders. Lots of news came out of Japan about people being scared of foreigners bringing in the virus. My perception of the country also started to change. I was disappointed to see and read about the fear of foreigners. I decided to give it a bit more time, and then…the boarders opened.

Welcome to Tokyo

In early February 2022 I packed my bags, arranged my flights, visa, vaccinations and the quarantine hotel. After ten days in quarantine, I only just caught the last day of the famous Cherry Blossom season. The first thing I did was meet up with a fellow AMSIB friend who had been in Japan since before the pandemic and stayed there throughout doing his exchange, internship and thesis. He showed me the ropes.

Women only

I was one of the first to live in the new AI House at Toyo University. It was super modern and beautiful. The living spaces are separated for men and women, which is necessary as I learned in Japan. There are measures in place to keep women safe from sexual harassment and abuse, which is a real problem. There are also separate train coupés for women to prevent unwanted touching or groping. And to prevent obscene behaviour, the click sound on the camera phone cannot be turned off. This way everyone can hear when a photo has been taken.

Do as locals do. But I still love the chair.

When my AMSIB mentor Chie Misumi visited Japan we had the chance to meet for a meal. It was wonderful to see her there and she also introduced me to some of her contacts. One of them became my Japanese aunty while I lived in Tokyo and I was invited on many occasions to have a home-cooked meal. Eating real local food, sitting at the dining room table on the floor was the most local experience I had. In an average Japanese home they sit cross-legged on the floor. But I still love the chair. I am a big guy and I did not get used to sitting on the floor.

I also learned about Japanese food etiquette. I did not know you cannot point with your chopsticks. You put them down when you speak between bites. Wasabi is also put in the sushi roll, unlike here where you dip the entire thing in it. Soya sauce is also just for fish, not for the rice. And eating sushi is done with the hands, not with chopsticks. That was a big surprise. Luckily for me I have a lot of experience eating with my hands because of my Nigerian culture.

Joe’s Top 10 things you must do/see in Japan

  1. Climb Mount Fuji. You can climb all the way to the crater. You start at 2,000m high and you need to take your time to acclimatize. But staying in a mountain hut is expensive. Bullet climbing (doing it all in one go) is not advised but is cheaper. Only go with good weather forecast!!!
  2. Onsen. Every person must visit an onsen. As a volcanically active country, Japan has 25,000 hot spring sources throughout Japan that provide hot mineral water to onsens around the country. Plus it is great for recovering from jetlag.
  3. Konbini . A 24 hour convenience store. They have a delicious ice cream called Coolish. There are so many delicious warm snacks as well.
  4. Kaitenzushi. Conveyor belt sushi starting at 100 yen/80 euro cent per plate. It is an experience you must have.
  5. Festivals. There are festivals everywhere and all the time. Small and big ones. They give you a lot of insight into the culture.
  6. Put on a Yukata or Kimono and visit a temple.
  7. A Toto toilet. Every toilet in Japan is a Toto toilet. They all have so many functions. Seat warmers, front and back water sprays built in and music that you can turn on. Coming back to ordinary toilets is a real adjustment.
  8. Robot servers. In many restaurants there are robots who bring you your food and clean off your table of dirty dishes.
  9. Vending machines / Ramen soup. So cheap and late night food at 5am after a night out. Or go to Fukuoka for some traditional and local Ramen.
  10. Visit Okinawa. An island in the south of Japan. It is beach life and the people look different and the culture is really different as well.

Your advice to future students

Global exchange will probably be the best time of your time at AMSIB and it is very important to take this seriously. Study hard, get good grades and get your top ranking. Then save money and prepare. Once you are there, travel, make new friends, explore the local culture, landscape and make lots of memories! Those memories will stick with you for a lifetime. Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your journey.

For more stories and to follow Joe’s adventures in Japan, visit his blog and check out his photos on Polarsteps.