Next Generation Talent:
Temple University Students Learn the Art of Curating Their Own Tokyo Experiences

Temple University, Japan Campus (TUJ), was founded in 1982 as the first Japanese campus of a US university offering the highest level of American education delivered completely in English. But Tahera Vajihi, an Indian student currently in her final year of an art major at TUJ, also got something else in addition to campus life: a bespoke Tokyo experience tailored to her particular interests.
"As long as you're willing to explore the city and things around you, Tokyo has something unique for every person."

Finding Your Own Tokyo

The popular image of Tokyo is that of a 24/7 pop-culture technotopia of manufactured mountains of steel and glass where life moves at the speed of light, figuratively for now at least. And while that is a part of Japan's capital and its charm, there is so much more to this city that more than fourteen million people call home. "One time at Shinjuku Station," Vajihi recalls, "I saw a person dressed in cyberpunk-themed clothing, so you definitely see glimpses of that culture bleeding through in different parts of the city, but I like the simple life, and that was what had drawn me here."

It might seem strange to go looking for the simple life in an international city like Tokyo, but she had no trouble finding it. She explains: "What makes Tokyo life simple is its focus on having a safe home environment, having convenience when it comes to food, convenience in transport, like biking, just doing simple tasks every day in the most convenient way possible. That and making sure that you have a sense of community with your family and other people around you make life in Tokyo so appealing."

Vajihi finds tranquility and a sense of beauty in being able to bike everywhere around Tokyo.

Tokyo's Gift of Freedom

Hailing from India, Vajihi has always had an adventurous spirit and a passion for art, which she eventually wanted to explore abroad. One day, while researching foreign universities, she saw an ad for TUJ, which offers art as one of its twelve undergraduate majors. Together with elective courses in Japanese and other non-English languages, as well as—as she later found out to her delight—dedicated professors who always had time to discuss art theory and practice, it was everything that she was looking for. After what she describes as "the easiest application process ever," she suddenly found herself in Tokyo, as if the city itself had personally reached out and invited her to come. Once here, though, she found the metropolis to be refreshingly hands-off.

"When you first come to Japan," she says, "it is mandatory to stay in the dorms so that you're surrounded by people like resident assistants and like-minded people. You are all kind of encouraged to explore this world together in a safe environment. This gives you the freedom to do whatever you want." And what Vajihi wanted was to let the city speak to her.

Tokyo is a city of a million voices. The best way to understand it is to listen to them.

"I love the amount of detail that the Japanese grandmas put into the gardens outside their front doors and just these wonderful flowers and pop-up colors. One place I love visiting is Shimokitazawa with its secondhand stores. For me, just going to these places, looking at these old things with such rich history and just thinking about where these things came from is a big inspiration for me, this reminiscing on the past and the history of different objects." Ultimately, having the freedom to pursue their own interests may actually help exchange students like her to focus on what really fascinates them and, as a result, discover what Tokyo means to them.

Tokyo Can Be Whatever You Want It to Be

When asked if living in Tokyo fosters the artistic spirit, Vajihi paused for a while before answering: "It is there if you want it to be. If you go looking for it, you will find it." Sometimes quite literally, it seems. "My friends are always commenting on this. They go: 'Tahera, you always find the craziest things on the floor.' And it is more like I just take the time to notice them. I will find a button on the floor. I will find a paper crane on the floor. And I think Tokyo just has these kinds of moments where if you are looking for them, you will find them. If you do not, then the city is going to seem very ordinary to you."

Vahiji's artwork exhibited at TUJ Art Faculty's art gallery, an open-to-the-public space curated at its Tokyo Campus.

Besides seeking a simple life, Vajihi also wanted to explore self-expression through various media in between writing essays on art, discussing her work with her professors, and learning different perspectives on life from fellow Temple University students. She actively pursued those interests, and Tokyo responded by giving her lots of opportunities to do so. For example, she was able to get a studio-assistant job by walking up to a visiting art lecturer and asking about the position. "That's how I got the job," she says. "It was something I really wanted to do. I wanted to know how a professional artist works, and it was absolutely a wonderful opportunity." When you know exactly what you want, Tokyo seems to make it all happen for you.

Tahera Vajihi

A final-year student of the art program at TUJ. Originally from India and developed a passion for painting at a young age. In her spare time, she studies the works of Akasegawa Genpei, her favorite avant-garde artist, and cycles around Tokyo.

Art Major Undergraduate Program

At the undergraduate level, TUJ offers majors in a variety of disciplines all taught entirely in English at its Japan Campus. As part of the Art Major students can work in the media of their choice and learn about the socio-historic context required to embark on an artistic career.

Temple University, Japan Campus
Interview and writing by Cezary Jan Strusiewicz
Photos by Miyaji Shingo