Tufts Samurai Jumbos brings American college culture to Japanese students

Apr. 21, 2015: Tufts Samurai Jumbos. Courtesy Yuki Zaninovitch.

After a lifetime of living in and out of Japan, two first-years, Shunta Muto and Yuta Okada, have decided to bring their unique perspective to the blogosphere. Their blog, Tufts Samurai Jumbos, was launched in February, and aims to educate Japanese high school students about the daily experiences of a Tufts student, as well as the discrepancies between Japanese and American education.

Their idea for a blog for Japanese students hoping to study abroad came from personal experience and observation, according to Muto, who is majoring in Mechanical Engineering. Muto was born in the United States and has lived in Thailand and Japan as well, but considers himself fully Japanese. He spent most of his primary education in the Japanese city of Nagoya before going to school in Kentucky from sixth grade through high school.

Being a part of both Japanese and American cultures allowed Muto and Okada to realize that most Japanese students don’t even acknowledge American universities as an option, Muto said.

“One day, we were studying in the [Carmichael] lounge, and we were talking about how a lot of Japanese people that grow up in the states, most of them go back to Japan just because they’re Japanese,” Muto said. “We talked about how we feel that they’re missing opportunities by going back to Japan and going to college there. There are so many good colleges in the United States. We wanted to do something that will connect Japanese college prospects with the students that go to U.S. colleges.”

Okada, who was born in Nagoya, spent most of his life in Japan until he moved to California in the tenth grade and stayed until high school graduation. According to Okada, the closed-community culture in Japan motivated him to inform Japanese students about the opportunities available at American universities.

“When I go back to Japan and talk to my friends who have only lived in Japan and their parents [who] have only lived in Japan … it’s not that they don’t want to [go outside Japan], but they don’t have the information or they just don’t have the opportunity to get exposed to, or to get to know, that there are other things outside of Japan,” he said.

Okada, a potential Biochemistry and Computer Science double major, felt responsible to inform Japanese students about his experiences outside Japan’s educational system.

“Because I was given that opportunity, and that’s not quite ordinary for people in Japan, I’d like to share what I have experienced with other people, so that more people in Japan will be able to experience what I have experienced and broaden their perspectives and their choices,” he said.

The lack of Japanese students studying abroad has been recognized by many different campuses. Blogs similar to Samurai Jumbos exist at Wesleyan University, Pomona College and Brown University.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also recognizes the significantly small percentage of Japanese students that study abroad. In their 2014 edition of Education at a Glance, the OECD reported that only one percent of Japanese college students studied abroad in 2011.

According to Okada, the 99 percent who decide to remain in Japan for college often do so without knowing the potential benefits of college education in the United States. He added that in Japan, schools are more focused on professional development, which pressures high school students to decide their career at the age of 16. When deciding between American and Japanese colleges, he appreciated that American universities such as Tufts put more focus on undergraduate students than universities in Japan do.

These educational differences are subjects on the Tufts Samurai Jumbos blog, according to Muto. Other topics include the application process in the United States, why they chose Tufts, why they chose an American school and anything else that they feel like discussing. But according to Muto, the main point of the blog is to write about their experiences as Tufts students.

Muto explained that “[the] application process, to be honest, people can just Google it and get the right answer, right? But I think what readers would want more is more real experience–”

“–What the real experience as a student of Tufts is like,” finished Okada.

According to Okada, the blog hopes to reach both students who are familiar and those who are unfamiliar with colleges in the U.S.  

“There are two target audiences: one that knows they want to come to American universities, and the other target audience are people who have no idea what American universities are like, but if they read our blog, they’ll learn more about that,” Okada said.

According to Muto, the blog is just one platform that they are considering. He is looking at different ways to communicate in a more direct way with students in Japan.

“Personally, I think that the media doesn’t have to be a blog,” Muto added. “Blog is just one way to share our experience, but it could be video. If we could make a platform where we could interactively communicate with [a] high schooler in Japan, that’d be awesome. Or have a Skype with them or something.”

At Brown University, students run a similar Japanese student blog called Brown Bears Japan. Tomonobu Kumahira began the blog when he transferred to Brown University in his sophomore year after spending his entire life in Japan. Three years later, Kumahira is about to graduate, but the blog is going strong with nearly 1,000 likes on its Facebook page. 

 Agreeing with Muto and Okada, Kumahira said he felt that most Japanese students believed they had no choice but to study in Japan. Even for those like Kumahira, who had lived in Japan all his life but was curious about studying abroad, there was both a “lack of information and lack of peer-mentoring” in Japan about opportunities abroad, according to Kumahira.

Brown Bears Japan helps fill this void, and has elicited an enthusiastic response from Japanese students curious about study abroad in America.

“As soon as we started, in the first few months, we got a huge response from Japanese high school students, as well as teachers in Japan — and parents — to demand more beyond just blogging,” Kumahira said. “Because, you know, studying abroad is a huge life decision, right? So people wanted more than just blog. What they wanted was info session, or direct communication.”

Starting in summer 2013, Brown Bears Japan has conducted a series of information sessions across Japan. They traveled to seven cities in 2013 and ten cities in 2014, hoping to address the lack of information through direct interaction and peer mentorship, said Kumahira.

Currently, the Brown blog is raising money for this year’s summer series of info sessions, which will travel to the cities Osaka, Niigata and Fukushima.

When Kumahira heard about Samurai Jumbos, he was excited about the growth of the effort to inform Japanese students about American education.

“I’m really glad to hear that a new group of students are starting their own blog, and I think it’s essential that each university has these blogs to express their own university culture,” Kumahira said.

Samurai Jumbos  is still very young, but it has a strong and simple mission. When asked what schools like Tufts can do to promote study abroad to Japanese students, Muto and Okada were quick to clarify that Samurai Jumbos is only one channel of information. They say that they want to expand Japanese students’ perspectives on where their future education could take them without pressuring them to choose any specific path.

“As much as we say how good American universities are, there are certain circumstances that make you unable to go to American universities … It’s fine if you consider all the opinions and then decide to choose Japanese university,” Muto said. “I don’t want to make the blog an advertisement to Tufts or American universities in general. All we can do is share the experience and let them know that there are other options they can consider,”


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