The Center For Professional Exchange

My Tokyo Experience Trip

By Hana Springer 

Sojitz HQ: Office Antics

I have never been more intimidated in my entire life than I was on my first day at Sojitz HQ. I told myself time and again that there was no reason to be nervous, that both my ability to speak Japanese and my past experiences in the country ensured a smooth transition into Tokyo life. Instead, I found myself shaking as I was swallowed into the throng of Japanese professionals, a bumbling gaijin that had already managed to get in the way of multiple office-bound business people. My rusty Japanese skills made me all the more nervous as I was welcomed by the Soken staff, who were friendly but reserved in the typical Japanese manner. The office was beautiful, and I would look up from my work every so often and stare out the window, the Tokyo Tower in my direct line of sight. I could barely fathom that I was neither studying nor touring, but working in this megacity, a foreign metropolis so unlike any American city.

Hana TSE

(Visiting the Tokyo Stock Exchange with Sojitzers)

 My first day consisted of a session with the HR department that went over Sojitz history and Japanese corporate culture, the latter of which was extremely useful and also somewhat amusing: as a foreigner, I could only imagine how frustrating the Japanese concepts of honne (internal feelings) and tatemae (expected behavior) could sometimes prove for non-Japanese employees. On Friday, Tada-san gave me the rare opportunity to visit Prime Minister Abe’s office. I sat in in on a meeting between Tada-san, another employee at Sojitz, and Tomohiko Taniguchi, a special advisor to the Prime Minister’s Cabinet. Walking through the wide, airy corridors of Abe-san’s office—the Japanese equivalent of the Oval Office—was a surreal experience, one that I never dreamed I would be lucky enough to have.

Hana Tada PM Abe's Office

(Visiting the Kantei, Prime Minister Abe’s office with Yukio Tada)

 The following week was when the workload began to pile up, as my coworkers and Tada-san arranged various meetings for my benefit and I began to compile research for my final presentation. Throughout the week, I visited the Tokyo Stock Exchange, spoke to two policy studies professionals at Keizai Doyukai, met and sat in on a class with a professor on International Relations in East Asia at Waseda University’s Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, and was introduced to the previous Japanese ambassador to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Each event proved to be an invaluable experience that broadened my knowledge on the subject at hand and sometimes even overlapped with my own research. In addition, I spent any spare time I had completing my research assignment from Tada-san.


(Lunch with Soken staff)

If you asked me about the latest developments in digital currency a week ago, I could tell you that things like Apple Pay and Venmo are miracles in the world of easy financial transactions from one’s smartphone. Tada-san’s assignment, however, covered something far more complex than a debit card linked to an app and one’s Facebook profile information. “I want you to find out about new developments in the field of cryptocurrency and tell me how it will target social issues, particularly in Japan,” he told me. I was baffled and entirely unsure as to where to even begin looking. But as an intern, you say no to absolutely nothing, and so for the next few days I switched screens between my own research and multiple articles on cryptocurrency technology. By the end of the week, I was much more well-versed on the latest developments in digital currency and, of course, my own research topic.

 My research topic of choice was based on my desire to combine my interest in China with my connections to Japan. As I thought back upon a think tank I had attended in D.C. on perceptions of China from various continents, I decided upon a research presentation that focused on perceptions between Japan and China and why the two have such a difficult bilateral relationship. But as I gathered information, I began to worry about the nature of my topic: was it too trite? Would people find it valuable? How would I effectively present it? My weekend exploring Tokyo and witnessing the swarms of Chinese tourists (the devalued yen was benefitting everyone, it seemed) proved to be a relevant part of my research as I dove into the tensions behind Sino-Japanese relations and the latest situation between the two countries. My fear of public speaking made my final day at Sojitz the most stressful of them all, and while the presentation portion of my topic was as nerve wracking of an experience as I had anticipated it to be, it was also one of the most valuable. I have had little practice with legitimate presenting in front of others, but the amount of both positive feedback on my research and advice—“slow down”—I received inspired me to perfect my presentation skills for the future.

Hana presentation

(Delivering my presentation of my research project)

Sojitz Group Photo

(Post-presentation with Global HR and Sojitz Research Institute employees)

The Tokyo Experience: Outside the Office

My interactions with my coworkers proved to be some of my favorite. My first day at Sojitz ended with a filling meal of real Japanese sushi (a far cry from the Westernized delicacy that is so sought after in the States) amidst my new colleagues and a fantastic view of Tokyo from the rooftop of Tada-san’s apartment. I was nervous to eat with my elders, who I so desired to make a good impression upon, but interacting with Tada-san and my other coworkers was nothing but fun and the perfect way for me to reconnect with my Japanese-speaking skills. Tada-san treated me and a few other colleagues the next evening to a delicious dinner of okonomiyaki, or as he called it, “Japanese pizza.” Eating lunch with my coworkers almost everyday and my outings with a few of them gave us a chance to connect on a personal level and made my experience in the office that much more enjoyable, for which I was extremely grateful. Saying goodbye to them was one of the hardest parts of my last day at Soken.

Sushi Party


 Life in Tokyo on my own was thrilling in just about every sense of the word. I have a few friends and a cousin in the city, and I was lucky enough to experience various districts in Tokyo with each of them. I experienced Shibuya on a Friday night, and seeing all kinds of people amidst the neon lights and crowded streets was a true “only in Tokyo” experience. The following day, I spent almost an hour getting lost amidst the various food vendors in Mitsukoshi before wandering the crowded, ancient streets of Asakusa. I spent my Sunday exploring Roppongi and witnessed the amazing view from the 54th floor of the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills before meeting a friend in front of Takeshita-dori. We walked from the crowded streets of Harajuku to Omotesando (one of my personal favorites) to Shibuya, by the end of which my legs were exhausted. My time in Tokyo was more than just a chance for me to experience the various aspects of Tokyo life or try delicious foods; it was a taste of what my dream life would be like. I only hope that one day I will be so lucky as to work and live as a young person in this amazing city.

Walking around Akasaka

(Walking around Akasaka)

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(View from Mori Tower)

My Tokyo trip came to an end as quickly as it began, but not without exploring Tokyo a little more first. My dad arrived in Tokyo the morning I checked out of my hotel in Akasaka, so we were able to spend the day exploring areas I hadn’t seen yet before I left to go visit my grandparents in Kyushu, where I would lead a very different life from the one I had gotten used to in the past week.

Tokyo Imperial Palace with my dad

(Visiting Tokyo Imperial Palace with my dad)

 As I retreated into the quiet lifestyle that my grandparents lead down in rural southern Japan—sleeping on a tatami floor, bathing in a Japanese onsen, and eating my grandma’s mouthwatering food in a sprawling but old city where most people are over 60—I reflected on all that I had experienced in the past ten days. I could not have asked for a greater experience: I learned more than I ever thought I would, met brilliant people who I would not have otherwise had the opportunity to, and experienced what it was like to live on your own in a magnificent city. I am indescribably thankful to all of the people who made each moment of this trip possible, and I cannot express how inspiring and motivational this entire internship has been for me. In the simplest terms, I have been given a taste of a life I hope I will be so lucky as to one day have, and this experience has both opened a number of doors and set me in the direction I intend to pursue. It truly excites me to know just how much future CEPEX winners have ahead of them.

In Soken

(With Michiko Iwanami in the Soken office)

Japan Street Scene



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Hana Springer

Hi everyone! My name is Hana Springer, and I am a rising sophomore at the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. I am majoring in international affairs with a regional concentration in Asia, and I am currently studying Mandarin. While I speak Japanese fairly well, there is still so much I need to work on, and I hope to have perfected my Japanese and mastered Chinese upon graduating. As a dance minor and a Presidential Scholar in the Arts for dance, I am also very active in the dance department at GW.

My interest in Japan-U.S. relations is the product of a lifetime of exposure to both Japanese and American culture. My mother is from Japan, and she began to teach me Japanese and all about Japanese culture ever since I was a young girl.  My dad is from New York, where he is the head of the Japan and Asia desks on the trading floor at Morgan Stanley. I have traveled to Japan several times throughout my life to visit my grandparents in Kyushu, and the older I get, the more I appreciate the cross-cultural perspectives I have gained from my family.

My experience with Asian culture has led to my interest in international affairs, especially between Japan, the U.S., and China: I hope to one day work in a field where I can help strengthen the Sino-Japanese-American relationship. I am fascinated by the way historical events and modern-day economic and political issues have shaped the relationship between these three countries, and I am extremely interested to see how the relationship between each of the countries will change as China continues to rise up in the international system. I am so excited about my next three weeks with Sojitz because I will have the opportunity to expand upon these interests and simultaneously learn how a Japanese trading company with a global outlook works.  I look forward to gaining new knowledge from an array of perspectives, stepping outside of my comfort zone, and experiencing new things that will ultimately help me pursue my goals.



JET Event with Mrs Abe

JET Alumni and special guests joined Mrs. Abe and Mrs. Sasae

The First Lady of Japan took time out of her busy schedule on April 29 to meet with 18 alumni of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program and the families of Taylor Anderson and Monty Dickson in Washington, DC.

Abe Tada Sasae JET

 Mrs. Abe, Mr. Tada, Mrs. Sasae

Mrs. Abe has been an important supporter of the JET Program and its focus on grassroots internationalization. In 2007 she joined her husband to greet American JET Program alumni at the Japanese Ambassador’s residence in Washington, DC. Since 2013, Mrs. Abe has met with current and former JET participants in Tokyo, Canada, Ireland, and China.

JET event

Mr. Tada of Sojitz Research Institute made introductory remarks and facilitated the conversation with the assembled alumni of the JET Program. Everyone shared where they lived and how long they participated in the JET Program, with many of the placements located in inaka areas (countryside) of Japan. The alumni included think tank scholars, a Washington Post reporter, government employees, nonprofit organization leaders and employees in the private sector. After 27 years, the JET Program has produced over 60,000 alumni in 63 countries who have become the next generation of Japan hands and “influencers” in their communities. 

Andersons Frederickson Mrs Abe

 Mrs. Abe with the families of Monty Dickson and Taylor Anderson

While the JET community suffered the loss of Monty Dickson and Taylor Anderson during the Great East Japan earthquake in March 2011, their families have become important members of the JET alumni community. During the discussion, Shelley Fredrickson encouraged greater ties by JET alumni to members in her home state of Alaska. Laurel Lukaszewski of the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation JETAA Initiative is striving to do just that, connecting the diverse alumni associations throughout the United States. Assembled participants discussed how to increase opportunities for the program participants post-JET, including initiatives to increase professional skills development or graduate school fellowships. No matter where the participants lived in Japan, the JET Program has had a profound impact on the alumni and helped shape future careers. 


 Special omiyage from Mrs. Abe

A thoughtful gift to each attendee included a handicraft from the Otsuchi Sashiko Project. The Otsuchi Sashiko Project began at an emergency evacuation shelter in Iwate Prefecture to create professional jobs for female tsunami victims. Sashiko, which means “little stabs”, is a traditional form of decorative embroidery in Japan. You can support this great project by visiting tomotsuna.jp

CEPEX along with USJI (U.S.-Japan Research Institute) hosted a special event on February 10, 2015. Sojitz Research Institute’s Masayuki Kobayashi gave a presentation to undergraduate and graduate students in the Washington, DC area about Japan, World and ‘Sogo Sosha’.

February 2015 PresentationMr. Kobayashi discussed Japan’s history, the impact of Abenomics and the role of the sogo shosha (Japanese trade and investment companies).

Kobayashi PresentationThe students enjoyed sushi and refreshments provided by CEPEX and USJI, as well as stimulating conversation with the visiting scholar from Tokyo. Mr. Kobayashi has a special interest in Japanese history, and was the key force behind the creating of the Suzuki Shoten Museum (http://www.suzukishoten-museum.com/).

Yujo no Niwa

Great Falls Elementary School held a special tree planting ceremony in their Yujo no Niwa (Friendship Garden) on Thursday, April 30. Mrs. Akie Abe had requested the chance to plant a cherry blossom tree, called sakura, in the garden. Her husband, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, had attended the opening ceremony for the garden in 2010. Unfortunately the tree ceremony could not take place when Mrs. Abe and First Lady Michelle Obama visited the school on April 28 and Mrs. Abe requested Mr. Yukio Tada participate in the tree planting as her representative.

Tada Kuribayashi PTA and First Ladies

Current and former PTA members, Japanese teacher Mamiya Worland, Ken Kuribayashi and Yukio Tada

Lonnett and Special Guests

GFES Principal Lonnett spoke to the students about the tree planting and recognized the special guests in attendance. Mr. Lonnett acknowledged Mr. Tada’s long-time support for the Japanese Immersion Program at the school and  his efforts to further U.S.-Japan ties. Mr. Tada gave an uplifting speech about the significance of cherry blossom trees to Mrs. Abe. “Every April, when the Sakura bloom, people across Japan hold special parties to celebrate their beauty and friendship with others. They sit beneath the trees, and enjoy their time with their family and friends. Cherry trees are also a symbol of friendship between Japan and the United States. One hundred years ago, Japan gave a gift of cherry trees to the United States, and they were planted around the Tidal Basin in Washington DC.” “Today, I am pleased to help you plant this Cherry Tree in honor of the continued friendship between Japan and the United States, especially as demonstrated by the visit this week by Mrs. Abe and Mrs. Obama. Yūjo No Niwa means “Friendship Garden”, and Sakura is indeed at Yujo No Ki, which means “Friendship Tree”.” He asked the students “when you look at this cherry tree – when it is in bloom or not – please think of the friendship between Japan and the United States, between your school and your sister school in Japan and this special week when Mrs. Abe and Mrs. Obama came to visit.”

Students Digging

The GFES JIP students enjoyed taking turns digging the hole for the cherry blossom tree.


Students posed by the Friendship Garden with photos created by the PTA to commemorate the special visit by the two First Ladies earlier in the week.
Uehara So

CEPEX Director Nicole Uehara and Japanese professor Sufumi So joined the tree planting ceremony.

Kuribayashi Tada PTA

The Friendship Garden and newly planted cherry tree will require continued care and support over the years. The families involved in the Japanese Immersion Program at Great Falls Elementary School are an integral element for providing the care for the garden and supporting the U.S.-Japan people-to-people relationship.

Arrival Ceremony 

Crowds of American and Japanese individuals arrived early in the morning on Tuesday, April 28, to pass the security gauntlet and find the perfect spot for the Arrival Ceremony of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and First Lady Akie Abe. While hundreds were invited, not everyone made it onto the South Lawn, with a number of hopeful attendees turned away at the gates after waiting an hour to 90 minutes in line. Welcoming visiting heads of Government with a military Arrival Ceremony held on the South Lawn of the White House has been a tradition since the Kennedy Administration.

Arrival Ceremony invitation

The Golden Ticket

The Arrival Ceremony included a 19 Gun Salute; performances of the National Anthem of Japan and the National Anthem of the United States; Review of the Troops; and speeches by President Obama and Prime Minister Abe. Media coverage of the event includes video by C-SPAN.

Arrival Ceremony

 Members of the U.S. military were dressed in their uniforms. Following the conclusion of the ceremony, the lucky attendees snapped photos of the White House and South Lawn on their cameras and phones.

Arrival Ceremony flags

The parade of American and Japanese flagbearers in front of the fountain, with the Washington Monument in the background, was a stirring visual as the State Visit commenced.



The First Ladies of the U.S. and Japan Visit Great Falls Elementary School

GFES Immersion Classroom Visit

First Lady Michelle Obama and First Lady of Japan Akie Abe visited Great Falls Elementary School (GFES) on April 28, 2015. GFES is one of two public elementary schools with a Japanese Immersion Program (JIP) in Fairfax County, Virginia. Since 1989 students in Grades 1-6 have had the option to spend half of the day learning science, math and health in Japanese and the other half of the day learning subjects in English. The First Ladies’ visit included observation of a Japanese Immersion Program classroom and a school assembly with speeches, Taiko drumming and vocal performances.


Taiko drumming performance by GFES students

Mrs. Obama told the students that “building friendships between people is how we truly build friendships between entire countries.” She was also impressed with the “powerful” performance by the taiko drumming students.  

GFES SingingSinging songs in Japanese

While this was the first visit to the school by Mrs. Obama, Mrs. Abe and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have been long-time supporters of the Japanese immersion program. Mr. and Mrs. Abe were instrumental in establishing a sister school relationship between Great Falls Elementary School and the Kake Educational Institution in the Fukuyama area of Hiroshima. In 2010 the友情の庭 (Friendship Garden) was created at GFES with funding from a Japan Foundation grant, and then former Prime Minister Abe attended the ceremony. Unfortunately, Mrs. Abe was unable to attend the ceremony in 2010 and wanted to plant a cherry tree at the Friendship Garden during her time in Washington in 2015. The Abes have also welcomed students from GFES during their annual 6th Grade trip to Japan to the Prime Minister’s residence.

GFES First Ladies and Tada-san

CEPEX President Yukio Tada (right) and his wife, Hiroko, also attended the special visit to Great Falls Elementary School, along with Sojitz Washington, DC General Manager Ken Kuribayashi (pictured on the left). This school visit by Mrs. Abe and Mrs. Obama comes at an important time for public schools with language immersion programs as budgetary pressures and declining interest in Japanese places immersion programs such as GFES at risk. The continued support and friendship from high profile education advocates such as Mrs. Abe and Mrs. Obama is truly appreciated by supporters of the U.S.-Japan community.

Graduate School Scholarship Opportunity for JET Program Alumni


Graduate School:       Showa Women’s University; located in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo.

Eligibility:                   JET Program alumni (as of October 2015); men and women may apply

Japanese Ability:        Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) N1, or equivalent language  ability. If applicant has not passed JLPT N1, a separate entrance qualification examination is required; application due May 7-15, 2015.

JET Scholarship:       Qualified applicants can receive financial support for graduate school in exchange for work as an office and Teaching Assistant up to 28 hours per week. Scholarship covers enrollment fee, facilities and equipment fee, tuition, housing and training materials costs.

Awards Available:     (2) scholarships for JET Alumni are available for 2015.

Award Duration:       2 years for Master’s Programs; 3 years for PhD (Doctoral Programs)

How to Apply:            Applicants must submit all documents June 1-16, 2015 to the Showa Women’s University Admission Center. Applicants will be required to take the Graduate School of International Students Entrance Exam and have an in-person or Skype interview (duration of 15-20 minutes).

Required Documents:          

             Completed JET Scholarship Application form <Word>  or <PDF>

            Certificate of Eligibility application <PDF>

            Copy of Passport Photo Page <PDF>

            Curriculum Vitae Page 1 <PDF>

            Curriculum Vitae Page 2 <PDF>

            Graduation thesis summary <Word> or <PDF>

            Research Plan <Word> or <PDF>

            Graduate Studies Major <PDF>

            Financial Statement <PDF>

            University Transcripts

            Proof of Graduation

            Certificate of JET Program participation from contracting organization in Japan

            Recommendation Letter from office where applicant worked on JET          

            Copy of JLPT N1 certificate (or take separate qualification exam) 

Selection Criteria:      Evaluation of documents, essay and interview, which includes a presentation and question-answer session about candidate’s research plan. Interview may be conducted in person or via Skype. You will need to ensure good voice and video quality for Skype interviews.

Entrance Exam:         Applicants must take the Showa Women’s University Graduate School of International Students Entrance Exam on Friday, July 3, 2015. (Attention Date Correction)

Exam Schedule:         For Literature/Linguistics Majors: Arrive by 9:30 am; Essay 10:00-11:00 am; Oral Examination from 1:00 pm.

                                      For Life Sciences Majors: Arrive by 10:30 am; no essay; Oral Examination from 11:00 am.

                                     JET Special Scholarship applications will conduct an additional separate interview following the Oral Examination.

Exam Location:          Showa Women’s University, Taishido 1-7-57, Setagaya-ku

Announcement:         July 11, 2015 at 10 am at the announcement site, and acceptance letters will be mailed to successful candidates.

Enrollment:                Late enrollment to begin October 2015.

Questions/Contact:   Showa Women’s University Student Services Center Student Office; Tel: 03-3411-5118; Email: shougakukin@swu.ac.jp

For more information, please see:        



Graduate School Scholarship Opportunity for JET Program Alumni

Graduate School:     Showa Women’s University; located in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo.

Eligibility:                  JET Program alumni (as of March 2015); men/women may apply.

Japanese Ability:     Must have passed Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) N1.

Scholarship:              Qualified applicants can receive financial support for graduate school in exchange for work as an office and Teaching Assistant up to 28 hours per week. Scholarship covers enrollment fee, facilities and equipment fee, tuition, housing and training materials costs.

Awards Available:    (2) scholarships for JET Alumni are available for 2015.

Award Duration:      2 years for Master’s Programs; 3 years for PhD (Doctoral Programs)

How to Apply:           Applicants must submit all documents January 6-January 27, 2015; and take Graduate School of International Students Entrance Exam.

Required Documents:              

Completed JET Scholarship Application form <Word>  or <PDF>

Certificate of Eligibility application <PDF>

Copy of Passport Photo Page <PDF>

Curriculum Vitae Page 1 <PDF>

Curriculum Vitae Page 2 <PDF>

Graduation thesis summary <Word> or <PDF>

Research Plan <Word> or <PDF>

Graduate Studies Major <PDF>

Financial Statement <PDF>

University transcripts

Proof of graduation

Certificate of JET participation from local contracting organization

Letter of Recommendation from office participant worked at during JET Program

Copy of JLPT N1 certificate

Selection Criteria:      Evaluation of documents, essay and oral examination, which includes an oral presentation and question-answer session about research plan.

Entrance Exam:         Applicants must take the Showa Women’s University Graduate School of International Students Entrance Exam on February 14, 2015.

Selection:                    Announcement of test results and selection February 21, 2015.

Enrollment:                February 27-March 5, 2015.

Semester Starts:       April 2, 2015.

Questions/Contact:   Showa Women’s University Student Services Center Student Office;   Tel: 03-3411-5118; Email: shougakukin@swu.ac.jp

For more information please see:        




Important Information for the 2015 Japan Studies Award Application

 Desired Candidate Qualities Include

  • Interest in Japan
  • Open to learning and trying new things
  • Positive attitude
  • Organized
  • Motivated
  • Self-starter and independent
  • Able to work with minimal supervision
  • Research skills a plus
  • Able to work in a professional environment
  • Willing to participate in speaking engagements about the award
  • Flexible

Please click here to download the application and submit by the deadline: 

CEPEX 2015 Japan Studies Award Application Packet

 Application Timeline

APPLICATION DEADLINE: Friday, March 20, 2015, 5:00 pm (EST)

Application Review: March 21-31, 2015

Applications will be reviewed by CEPEX staff March 21-31, 2015.


Candidates will be selected for in-person interviews and announced via email on April 1, 2015.


Applicants who passed the initial screening will be interviewed by the CEPEX staff in Washington, DC. Interview dates and other details will be sent to interviewees by email.  All transportation costs and other expenses to and from the interview site are to be borne by the applicant.
Note about interviews: If you make it to the interview stage and are unable to come to the DC office, alternative arrangements may be made on a case-by-case basis.

RESULTS ANNOUNCED: Monday, April 13, 2015

Interview results will be announced to successful and alternate candidates by April 13, 2015. Alternate candidate will be upgraded when deemed necessary.

In-Person Pre-Internship Meeting: April 20-May 1, 2015 (Meeting date TBD)

Award winner will be required to have one meeting with CEPEX staff at the Washington, DC office to discuss the interest areas, goals and objectives of the internship, and any mentorship-related requests.

2-Week DC Internship: May 18-29, 2015

Award winner will intern for two weeks in the Washington, DC office of a Japanese trading company.

10-Day Japan Trip: June 2-11, 2015 (tentative dates)

Award winner will have an opportunity to travel to Tokyo for ten days. Activities will include research projects and first-hand look at the Japanese business world in the headquarters of a Japanese trading company.