Today’s College Scene / Japan’s own city upon a hill
The following is an excerpt from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s new series, “Today’s College Scene,” which visits a different university each week.
BEPPU, Oita–Beppu is one of the nation’s most famous hot-spring resorts, with steam from the water being apparent throughout the city. But there is more to this city than its fame of old, as it has now become known as the home of a “global village.”
About a 40-minute bus ride from the city center, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) sits on a vast hillside that overlooks Beppu Bay and the Kunisaki Peninsula.
When The Yomiuri Shimbun visited APU early last month, it was the last day of finals. In the cafeteria could be found many foreign students, including Md. Asaduzzaman, a 20-year-old sophomore from Bangladesh.
The young Muslim was eating chicken, as his religion forbids him from eating pork. The school canteen offers a number of halal items on its menu for students such as Asaduzzaman, allowing them to eat comfortably within Islamic Law.
Asaduzzaman is among about 2,800 foreign students studying at APU as of November. The institution is currently tied for first place with Waseda University in terms of number of foreign students.
As APU’s foreign students come from 87 countries and territories around the world, the cafeteria offers more than 200 items to meet their needs. In addition to dishes suitable for Muslims, there is a wide variety of vegetarian food, as well as kimchi imported directly from South Korea.
“I’d like to apply to my home country the business knowledge that Japan has developed as an economic giant,” Asaduzzaman said in fluent Japanese.
Although most courses at APU are available both in Japanese and English, all students are required to study one of the languages intensively for their first two years to develop a high level of communication in both tongues. As a result, students can be found studying at all hours at the campus library.
The university’s dormitory houses about 1,200 foreign and Japanese students. One of the residents, Takeya Tsuji, shared with me one particularly interesting episode from his life with people from many different countries.
Last summer, the 20-year-old freshman got to know a student from another Asian country as they had decided to stay at school during the semester break. The two talked with each other regularly, but Tsuji remembers something his friend told him.
“I’d like to see my family, but at the same time I’d rather stay here than go home,” the foreign student said with a sad look on his face.
The remark made Tsuji worry about the difficult situations facing the friend’s home country. At the same time, however, he was glad his new friend had confided in him.
“I imagine it’s pretty hard to find a place like this where you can spend so much time getting to know so many foreign students–APU isn’t your typical Japanese university,” Tsuji said. Now he has joined a club on the campus to promote awareness about the damage caused by the Agent Orange used by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War.
APU was established in the hope of having “foreign students account for half of the student body.” For the past nine years, the institution has welcomed students from 104 countries and territories. However, the institution says it has been facing increased competition from other foreign schools.
As the university looks outward, it also looks inward, maintaining close ties with the local community, which helped establish the school. APU also has been looking into ways to stimulate the local economy and has presented plans on how to boost tourism to Beppu.
APU students are also engaged in nearly 200 community activities every year. One of the biggest events is the Sento Taisai festival, which the school inaugurated in 2005. As suggested by the name “Sento,” a play on words that translates as “the capital of hot springs,” students carry a mikoshi portable shrine to visit every one of the city’s eight major hot spring districts.
Hirotsugu Hosokawa, 22, served as the head of the organizing committee for the fourth annual Sento Taisai festival, held in November.
“Working with so many people to organize the festival helped me to realize what it is I want to do,” the senior said.
Hosokawa will begin working next month at a travel agency in the Kansai region, and is determined to promote Beppu’s rich hot springs and hospitality.
Profile of Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University
Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University opened in 2000 after then Oita Gov. Morihiko Hiramatsu invited a new higher educational institution to be set up in the prefecture. The public and private sectors contributed to the establishment of the private institution–the Oita prefectural government and the Beppu municipal government donated the land for the campus and a total of 19 billion yen to cover the cost of construction, while the business community donated about 4 billion yen in scholarships for foreign students.
Aiming to foster an internationally-based workforce, APU consists of two schools–the College of Asia Pacific Studies and College of Asia Pacific Management, the latter of which will change its name next month to the College of International Management.
The school currently claims a student body of 5,900 students, 47 percent of whom are foreign students. About half of the faculty is non-Japanese, and includes APU President Monte Cassim, a Sri Lankan, who once studied in Japan.