Coming from overseas to study Japanese art history in Tokyo Institute of Technology, renowned more for its engineering and technology courses, may strike some people as a curious choice. But Chen Liu, a Master student in history from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, has a ready reply. "If you want to be a top university offering a rounded program, then you cannot focus only on teaching science and technology, you have to include the humanities like history and art." And he quickly adds that he's lucky enough to be studying under an outstanding young professor here, "who has already won a rare prestigious award for his research in the history of art."
Under the guidance of Associate Professor Akira Takagishi, Liu has completed one year of the Tokyo Tech-Tsinghua Joint Graduate Program that sees him specializing in 16th Century art-history of Japan's Momoyama period. Studying the art of a country is an instructive way to understand its history, he points out. "This period is particularly interesting because it saw a flourishing of the decorative style and the lavish use of gold in the arts. Byoubu, or folding screens, depicting scenes from every-day life, are a good example of this style."
Before coming to Japan, Liu had studied Japanese for 18 months; nevertheless, the language still presented a challenge for him, particularly at the beginning of his studies. "Reading text books wasn't difficult. But when it came to writing out a plan of what I wanted to study, that was hard. Even now, writing papers are something of a challenge."
Liu lives in a university dormitory and has made friends with the students in his study group, as well as the other Chinese students on compass. Some differences he noted about life in Tokyo Tech compared to his own university is that the students here find time to take part in extracurricular activities such as student circles and sports, along with their studies; whereas in the highly competitive environment of Chinese campus life, the students stay focused almost entirely on their studies. "But now I've been here a year, I've noticed that the students here too, in their final year or so, are not so different to Chinese students after all," he says.
Tokyo Institute of Technology Bulletin No. 24 (November, 2011)