Embracing Japan: Jose’s Journey of Love, Education, and Cultural Exchange

Japanese Dream


Many people from Asian countries are now working and studying in Japan. What made them decide to come to Japan? In “Japanese Dream,” we interview them and introduce their dreams and ambitions that they hope to realize in Japan.

In the first interview, we spoke with Jose Luis Lacson from the Philippines, a doctoral student at the University of Tsukuba Graduate School. He talked about not only his dreams, but also the advantages of studying in Japan, the cultural differences between Japan and the Philippines, and the difficulties of living in Japan. 

Could you introduce yourself?

Nice to meet you. My name is Jose Luis Lacson. I am from the Philippines and was raised in the capital, Manila. I’m currently a first-year doctoral student at the University of Tsukuba, specifically in the international public policy program, where I am researching what countries can do when they disagree. I’m happy to be here today and glad to answer your questions. 

― What was your view on Japan before you came here?

When I was young, around 10 years old, I watched satellite TV broadcasts from Japan. I remember thinking that there was only good news in Japan. The cities and neighbourhoods were so clean, the people seemed friendly, and the technology was something I had never seen before. It was unbelievable. Now that I’m older, of course, I know that Japan has problems and challenges like every country, but when Japanese people ask me what I think about Japan, I simply tell them I truly love Japan from the bottom of my heart, and I can talk all day about the reasons why I love Japan. But if you ask me, I don’t need a particular reason. I love Japan simply because I do. That’s how I feel about the country.

― Could you tell me how you came to study in Japan?

I have studied in Japan several times already. The first time I came to study in Japan was when I was 18 years old. I joined the Japanese language summer program and gradually my interest in Japan became bigger. That was one of the reasons why I decided to come back here and take my doctoral studies. At this point in my career, I want to accomplish my life goal of obtaining a doctorate and would like to contribute to global society. If you ask me, Japan is one of the best places to achieve both goals. That’s the reason why I’m studying in Japan right now.

I should also add that I’m lucky to have the ability to speak, read and write in Japanese, so I felt I’d like to take advantage of that ability. Coming to Japan was an obvious choice for me.

Meeting talented and brilliant people in Japanese education

― What are the advantages of studying in Japan for you?

Japan is a good place to receive a world-class education. This is something I’d like students around the world to know. While studying in Japanese universities, I’ve certainly met a lot of very talented and brilliant students and professors. I’ve had classmates who launched satellites into space or classmates who participated in their local governments and changed their societies. It’s great that I’ve been able to meet such people and I feel that the high quality of Japanese education makes meeting such people possible. I believe that Japanese universities can do the same for other foreigners who are thinking of studying here.

Beyond racial discrimination

― Did your view on Japan change after you started studying in Japan?

Before I answer that question, maybe it’s better to discuss some of the difficulties I’ve experienced here. Racial discrimination, unfortunately, exists in Japan, but I think it exists everywhere in the world. I’ve been told in Japan that Japanese people hate Filipinos and look down on them. There were several times when I couldn’t rent an apartment simply because I’m Filipino. Honestly, it hurts. Some people don’t want to talk with me after they find out I’m Filipino. This sort of thing happens all around the world, so we need to deal with it. That was one of the difficulties that I, unfortunately, experienced during my years living in Japan.

Going back to your earlier question, has my view changed after I started studying in Japan? Despite everything that I have experienced in Japan, I must say that my view about Japan has not changed. I can still say, honestly, that I still love Japan from the bottom of my heart, and I will always be grateful for the kindness and opportunities that this country and the people in this country have given me. Why can I still feel that way? I think it’s because the many good experiences I had here allow me to overlook the bad experiences and I’m happy and feel very lucky that I’ve had many good experiences. Japan will always be special to me.

― In which circumstances do you notice cultural differences between Japan and your country?

Regarding cultural differences, I would say, in general, Japanese people are much more serious than Filipinos. Like when you’re in the Philippines, you get the sense that people are more easygoing. They might be a little happier, tend to smile a bit more, and look at the brighter side of life. On the other hand, in Japan, there’s a tendency to focus on important things such as work or studying, that sort of thing. I don’t think that being serious is a bad thing, and being happy all the time isn’t always good, to be honest with you. There are some times when we need to take something seriously, and leave enjoyment for later.

If I describe cultural differences a bit more, here in Japan, I will say there is a lot of importance placed on being in a group. Because a group consensus is very important, you often can’t make decisions on your own. Also, it’s very important to behave properly as a member of a group. There are many occasions where you shouldn’t stick out. You should remind yourself that you are more a member of a group than an individual. I get that feeling a lot when I’m in Japan. 

I used to work for the financial industry in Tokyo. In some projects, I kept wondering why they kept insisting on everybody’s approval before doing something. It was impossible to understand because it was an urgent project. We needed to finish things quickly. However, I had to slow down and realize that obtaining consensus and understanding from everybody involved was important to my Japanese co-workers. Eventually, I realized that from their perspective, getting agreement was what they felt was a success. If I didn’t support them in getting a consensus, they would never have felt the project was a success. So, if I could do something to help my Japanese co-workers achieve that, then I think I would have done a good job. That’s one example that I can give from my past experiences.  Another cultural difference I would say is enduring things, “gaman” in the Japanese word. Even if you don’t like the way things happening in your life or around you, there is often an expectation in Japan that you’re just supposed to accept or endure it. Let’s say how this is different from living in the Philippines. The Philippines certainly has a culture of individualism. If you feel bad about something, you should speak up and have the freedom to say what’s on your mind or express what you feel. I think that is one difference between Japan and the Philippines.

Learning the language not to miss out on opportunities

― Do you have any difficulties living in Japan?

On a day-to-day basis, I would say that very sudden temperature changes are difficult for me. You can probably imagine the Philippines being a tropical country, the temperature doesn’t change very much. Every day, it’s about 30 degrees and it never deviates from that. The temperature will go down or up to 3 degrees, but never 7 or 10 degrees in one day like what happens in Japan. At first, my body was having a hard time adjusting to the changes in temperature. Somehow, I’ve learned to survive.

The language can still be difficult even for somebody like me, who has passed the Japanese proficiency test level 1. One of the most frustrating things about communicating in an environment that uses a different language from your native language is explaining something very technical or a very difficult concept and finding the right words immediately. In my classes here at the university, I must explain very technical concepts, and there are many times when I simply haven’t learned the right words or the most natural way of explaining them in Japanese. Then, I find myself fumbling there and thinking what the right way is to say this. That’s frustrating, honestly.

However, living in this kind of environment can also be a good thing because I can feel a little proud of myself for trying so hard in a less familiar environment. I could have had an easier time if I were living in mainly English society, where the culture is more similar to what I grew up with. Since I decided to come and live in a society where the language and culture are very different, I can feel a little proud of myself that I’ve been able not just to survive, but also to improve myself in such an environment. That is a good part despite the difficulty. 

― Do you have any advice for Asian people who are thinking about studying in Japan?

Learning the language. It’s one piece of advice that anybody wanting to study in Japan should remember. Honestly, there are more than a few foreigners who don’t learn any Japanese words beyond Konnichiwa and Arigato. Although it is still possible to live in Japan without learning the Japanese language. I think such people are missing out on a lot. They really could enjoy life more if they learned more about the language. Aside from that, after you’ve arrived in Japan, go out and make friends with both Japanese and non-Japanese. This is a pattern that I see with foreigners who come to Japan. Those who speak Japanese well also have a lot of Japanese friends. Foreigners who don’t speak Japanese well tend to stick only to friends from the same country.  Every day, they are always talking in their native language and rarely go out into Japanese society and experience all the different things Japan has to offer. I think that’s a little unfortunate. By making not just friends from your own country but also Japanese friends, foreigners can have a fuller experience while they’re in Japan. That’s one of the other pieces of advice that I’d like to give. I hope somebody finds it useful. It has certainly been useful for me.

More open to people from outside

― What changes do you think should be made in Japan to make it more attractive to Asian people?

I like to say a lot of changes have been happening in Japan over the last 20 years and the Japanese government has put a lot of effort into internationalizing the country. This is a simple example. If you go to the major train stations around Tokyo, you can see a lot of signs in different languages. I also get the sense that a lot of effort has been put into promoting tourism and educational exchange programs. Those are very good activities that the government has been focusing on for the past several years. However, if you ask me, internationalization isn’t something that only the government should do. It is something that an entire society must do, and people have to cooperate.

When I think about it, Japanese media companies could do a lot to internationalize Japan and promote Japan’s amazing culture to other countries in the world. To give more specific examples, Japanese media companies could probably put more English content on their websites and make their content more accessible to a non-Japanese audience. That would be very helpful. Another helpful step for media companies here is to provide subtitles in the videos that they stream on various platforms and social media. There are a lot of people around the world who would like to watch Japanese videos. So, if only there was a way for them to understand what the people in the videos are talking about.

Another suggestion. It would help if Japanese talents would at least try to speak in English. Every time I see talents in streaming videos, they are trying to speak in an unfamiliar foreign language, whether English or a different language, like Spanish or Chinese. I think it’s a great thing because they’re taking an effort to try and connect with their fans, not just in Japan, but in other countries. When I see a talent or somebody making that effort, I feel like they are thinking about my concerns and trying to communicate with me. I don’t mean to say that Japanese media companies should start making English songs or similar content, I’m simply saying that making the Japanese content they already have more accessible to a non-Japanese audience might be a good change.

When it comes to internationalizing Japan, Japanese companies would probably benefit a lot if they were able to hire foreign students from Japanese universities. I think that a company can only progress and innovate if they are open to receiving new and unique ideas. What I’ve seen in Japanese industry over the past 15 years is that they tend to look inwards. They look only at the Japanese market and how Japanese consumers and industries behave. When you only look at yourself, you can’t think of something new, and you’re only looking at the things you already know. Then, it’s very difficult to progress and to think of new things with such a mindset. In my opinion, if Japanese businesses and corporations are more open to ideas from outside, they can combine them with the ideas they already have and create something new. That can be of great benefit not just to Japan, but to the whole world. Combining Japan’s strengths with the strengths of people in other countries is what’s going to make Japan an even more special place than it was before. So, I think those are just some of the changes that Japan might do to internationalize and evolve itself.

Patience and understanding can create something new

― We would like to see fruitful exchanges between Japanese and other Asian people. What are your thoughts on how such an exchange can be realized? 

If there is going to be an exchange between people of different cultures, patience and understanding are very important. They’re essential. I think it goes both ways. Let’s say there’s an exchange program between a Japanese group and a foreign group, both sides have to be patient with each other and make efforts to understand each other. The moment that one side expects things to happen in the way they want or based on the way they think about the world or based on the way they’re used to, the exchange is not going to be so meaningful. Being open to new ideas can create something new and can help people progress and innovate. If people just look at what they already know and never think of anything beyond that, nothing new will ever be created, and no progress will ever be made especially in a more globalized society. When people of different nationalities and cultures get together, understand each other, put themselves in each other’s shoes, and try to understand the other side’s point of view and opinions, exchanges could be very successful and effective.

For Japanese young people and all students lives after university

― Could you tell me about any dreams or ambitions you would like to realize in Japan?

If I were given the opportunity, I would like to be a university professor here in Japan and communicate with young Japanese people about how I feel about Japan and their country. I say this because Japanese people often tell me that they have nothing to be proud of as a Japanese person and Japan is not important in the world. However, for me, Japan is an incredible country, and there is a lot to be proud of by being Japanese. Although it has a beautiful culture and an incredible history, and so many great things have come out of this country and still can come out, why do so many Japanese people seem to have a less than good opinion of their own country? So, if I had the opportunity, I would like to show Japanese people how great their country is. When Japanese people hear those words from me, it will be more meaningful for them because I’m not a Japanese person and I made the conscious decision to admire their country. 

I would also like to help prepare young Japanese people for life after studying. If I were a university professor here, I’d teach them the skills, mindset, and attitudes that will help them succeed after university studies. Since I understand that universities sometimes get criticized all over the world for not teaching their students the skills they need to do a good job in their careers, I would like to address such criticisms. In addition, I would like to give my students the skills and knowledge they need to move up in their careers. That is something I’d like to do here.