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My Experience of Japan in UCD – Jennifer O'Keeffe

May 2024

Jenny’s reflections on her time in UCD - Congrats on your Stanford University’s Scholarship, Jenny! 

My interest in Japan began when I was a teenager, with Japanese popular culture, as it does with many people. However, after studying Japanese for the Leaving Certificate, I became much more interested in Japan’s history, language, and culture. I moved from Cork to Dublin to study Politics and Sociology in UCD, but I continued my studies by taking UCD’s Japanese classes, joining the Japanese Society, and attending events organised by the UCD Centre for Japanese Studies.

UCD Japanese Society
I was a member of the Japanese Society throughout college, and I chaired it in my second year. The Japanese Society was a great opportunity to organise a wide variety of cultural events such as language exchanges, gyoza-making, and tea ceremonies. Having won UCD’s ‘Society of the Year’ Award in 2019, the society provided a strong community both for students with an interest in Japanese language and culture, together with Japanese exchange students who were looking for a community in Ireland.

Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme
Upon graduating college, I had the privilege of living and working in Japan through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. JET provided me with the opportunity to teach students about Irish culture, improve my Japanese through immersion, and make friends from around the world. Through the JET programme, I was able to learn more about Japan than I would have by working in a multinational company, as I joined my town’s すずめ踊り (sparrow dance) team, and was able to dance at several festivals with my students and the wider community. I learned a lot during my time in Japan, and am very grateful for the lasting friendships and memories I built there.

Experience Japan
I have been involved with the annual Experience Japan festival since 2017. Held in Farmleigh in Phoenix Park, Experience Japan offers a unique opportunity to explore Japanese music, crafts, and food. I have worked on the main committee of Experience Japan for many years now, and spend much of my time designing the Treasure and Scavenger Hunts, and organising the Children’s Area. I really value the strong community built by both the organising committee and the wider community. 

My experiences learning about Japanese language and culture, both in Ireland and abroad, have really shaped me. This coming September, I will start an MA in East Asian Studies at Stanford University. I could not have gotten there without the help of the UCD Centre for Japanese Studies, the Japanese classes I was able to take during my undergraduate degree, and the support of the wider community I have met and learned from throughout these experiences. My special thanks goes to Nobuko Ijichi-sensei, Hugo-san and Kodate-sensei.