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Japanese Café: A safe space for cultural exchange

This café on KUA campus is a meeting point for everybody who loves Japanese culture

Now in its second year, Japanese Café is a place where everyone is invited to share experiences and meet new people with a cup of green tea in their hands. It takes place every week at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) KUA campus.

Anders Schultz, a bachelor student in Japanese Studies launched Japanese Café in September last year. Now people gather here to exchange ideas, play board games and practice languages.

”I was talking to one of my classmates, a Japanese exchange student named Hidenori, when we realized how much social interaction lacked in the department between students of Japanese studies and the Japanese students,” says Anders.

Building bridges

Even though they were in the same year of their studies, Anders and Hidenori didn’t know each other. That’s why Anders thought it would be a great idea to provide a space for sharing information about Japan.

This idea grew into something bigger when Japanese exchange students came to the café, and made it what it is now – a forum, and a place to share experiences across different cultures where everyone is invited to take part.

Photo: Alexander Paez Garcia

The café opens every Wednesday around 15.00 and gets full very quickly. Entering the room one finds itself in a new world – a culturally diverse social gathering between Japanese and Western students.

Lost in translation

Most of the stories from Western students are related to their travels to Japan, or how they started to feel attracted by the Japanese culture, its language and traditions. However, the most interesting stories are the ones told by Japanese exchange students.

Photo: Alexander Paez Garcia

These stories are explicitly about how exchange students are received in Denmark. While there are plenty of alternative ways to meet new people – welcome parties, mentor programmes, introduction days (with some snack parties later), and well-known cafés like Studenterhuset, they don’t work for everyone.

”I went to these international parties but I felt so frustrated because I couldn’t meet anyone and I didn’t make any friends,” says a Japanese girl, a participant of the café, who wished to stay anonymous. The cultural difference was so shocking for her that she felt blocked. Japanese Café, however, is suited for people who are looking for a more relaxed environment that allows them to adapt at their own pace.

Not just the organizers

Anders runs the café together with Rasmus Fugl, who joined forces with Anders when he was being tutored by him on his first year of Japanese Studies. However, they are not just organizers of the cafe. They also prepare meetings with other organizations, barbecues, and tours around the city.

For example, in September some students and professor Ishizuka from the Tokai University of Sapporo came to the Japanese Café to show some of their short films. They also made a presentation about their studies and campus, and some of the Tokai students performed two different Japanese dances. Anyone could join them, so everyone started to dance.

Photo: Alexander Paez Garcia

”I think we need to show international students that there are alternatives at the university for newcomers,” says Anders.

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