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The Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership

YES in Japan

By Sonja van der Waldt

Posted on 03 April 2012

Cloete Jansen van Vuuren, a student in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at the University of Pretoria, left for Japan on 21 March 2012 to join the Youth Encounter on Sustainability (YES). YES is a pioneering concept in education for sustainable development and targets university students and young professionals.

Young leaders at this stage of their lives are motivated, concerned about the future and tend to make important decisions about their careers. The multidisciplinary YES course provides a platform to connect young leaders from all around the world.

The YES course brings together 40 participants from 30 different countries for a 17-day course. Participants are offered a variety of lectures, case studies, projects, field trips, simulation games, group tasks and interactive workshops about the various challenges of sustainable development. The basic courses focus on the themes of human and natural systems, food and water, energy and materials, as well as living space, and consider the cross-cutting roles of governance, the corporate sector and civil society.

Here is what Cloete has to say about his adventure:

“What a trip indeed! Tokyo is not the most user-friendly place I’ve ever been to. In fact, I think it’s probably more complicated than any other city in the world! The underground trains run on a massive spider web of lines with hundreds of stations. Some stations have up to five lines and different platforms, cars, etc. And if that’s not complicated enough, everything is written in Japanese, with an English word here and there.

So, I think it’s safe to say that I was hectically stressed about taking the correct lines and getting off at the correct stations. Fortunately, the people in Tokyo are very friendly and are more than willing to help with the little bit of English they know. I’ve also found that using hand-gestures helps a lot to get the message across.

After an almost two-hour train ride, I finally managed to find the Tokyo Central Youth Hostel. I stayed on the 18th floor of a very big building, which had the nicest little coffee shops, cafes and restaurants on the first and second floors.

I checked in and got to my room, and even though I was completely exhausted after my flights and so forth, I decided to go back down to the street level and walked around, taking some photos in the streets. Bright lights, bicycles and hundreds of people everywhere! I didn’t manage to get very far before I got too tired, so I headed back to the Hostel.

After a good night’s rest, I met up with the other seven YES participants and we decided to go and explore a bit of Tokyo. We walked one or two blocks, had a nice cup of coffee and something to eat (pointing at pictures was in the order of the day) and then we hit the subway to go to Akihabare, where there’s a massive eight-storey store, each floor with a different theme. One floor had cellphones, another had cosmetics, other had computers, restaurants and so forth.

After spending an hour or so in the store without buying anything (there’s just too much to take in), we decided to go and have ourselves a proper traditional Japanese lunch.

We went to a teeny tiny little restaurant which barely had enough space for all of us and there again, we had to try and decipher the supposedly English menus. Once you’ve decided what you want, you go to a vending machine to place your order. You put in your money, press the button with the picture of the food you want and take the ticket it spits out at you. Then you give your ticket to the waitress and your food is ordered. I had traditional Japanese noodles with grilled pork and it tasted… well… interesting. Not bad, but just very different and not what I’m used to at all.

After lunch, we headed back to the Hostel, got our stuff and made our way to the subway in order to get to Hosei University’s Tama Campus. Unfortunately we decided to do this at the busiest time at of the subway and got packed into a train car with what seemed to be half of the world’s population. To say that it was cramped would be a massive understatement. I finally understood why all the people wore anti-bacterial masks over their faces.

The journey took us another hour and a half or so and we had to walk all the way to the Centennial Hall on the Tama Campus. Thing is, nobody told us that it was something like an endurance challenge up a long steep hill with your suitcase in one hand and an umbrella in the other, up stairs and over a bridge before you FINALLY get to the Centennial Hall. I hadn’t had much time to chat to any of the other participants other than those who stayed in the Hostel with me, so there’s still the excitement of getting to know everyone.

And now, here I am, typing away on a Macbook with free internet and pretty much on my way to get some rest.”


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