University Update: March 2020

Toyonaka, Osaka ー The weather is starting to warm up in Japan, and the cherry blossoms blooming serve as a reminder that yet another year has passed. So much has changed in these past years, and I wanted to take the time to reflect on my university life here in Osaka, Japan.

After a year of intensive Japanese courses at Osaka University’s Minoh Campus, I entered the School of Law, Department of International Public Policy not really knowing what to expect. The first year went by almost uneventfully. I made some great friends, did well in my classes, and got a job at the university. But Osaka requires at least one year of general education before starting your major and so I was still waiting to see what my program would really be like.

Last April, second year began and I was relieved at the sight of a much lighter course load, not to mention many more courses that directly related to my major. From second year, students in my program join a seminar, and I was fortunate to get my first choice. I spent the next year studying under a former UN employee who had been educated in Japan and at some of the top universities in the US. By second semester, I was working one-on-one with her to submit a paper to a conference on Global Governance. At this point, it looks like the conference may be cancelled, but the writing process itself was so rewarding.

My research for the past year has focused on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that is being fought between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Specifically, I have been looking at the application of legal dispute mechanisms such as arbitration and how strengthening democratic institutions might contribute to an increased likelihood of participation. By publishing the paper in English and Japanese, I hope to bring some awareness to a conflict that is not well-known, but has significant implications on regional energy and security.

On a lighter note, I have continued working at the School of Law’s International Support Office doing translation work and supporting Japanese and international students. There is never a dull moment and it keeps me pretty busy. Last December, we were asked to assist with organizing an international legal conference that was to be held at the university. After scrambling to get together enough bilingual staff to support the conference and set up all the venues, I actually had time to sit in on a few of the sessions and network with a few experts from around the world. One of the more notable presentations was one by Carlos Ghosn’s lawyer just weeks before Ghosn fled the country. It was a great opportunity to network with academics from around the world and gave me insight into one potential career path.

In February, I was able to go back to Canada for a few weeks to visit family and friends. Thankfully I made it back before the spread of the novel coronavirus, although my return flight to Japan was quite empty. I am now safely back in Japan, working from home, starting a new research project, and, of course, FaceTiming and Skyping everyone back in Canada.

A lot of people have been asking what things are like here in Japan. Are we on lockdown? Are people social distancing? Obviously I can’t speak for the whole country, but people here seem to be slightly apathetic toward the whole situation. There is a strong sense of disassociation from the problem. That being said, some companies have allowed employees to work from home; elementary, middle, and high schools were closed a few weeks before Spring break (and then were reopened for graduation? Still don’t understand that decision…); and there are a few less people going out. Mind you, restaurants are still open, people are still having picnics under the cherry blossom trees, and trains are still packed in Tokyo. A lack of testing may be to blame for the seemingly low number of cases. Now that the Olympics have been postponed, it appears that the government is starting to take things more seriously. (For those of you interested in following the situation in Japan, Motoko Rich, the New York Times Tokyo Bureau Chief, posts regular updates on Twitter)

My university sent out an email last week stating that classes will be starting as scheduled on April 9th. Considering that some of the core law classes have over 200 students, it will be interesting to see how they plan on mitigating the risk of infection.

We are lucky to be living in a time where even if we are locked away at home, we can all still be connected. Reach out to your family and friends and do what you can to contribute to the community – even if that means just staying indoors and away from others. Thank you for reading this update, and I promise there will be more to come soon! Take care!

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