‘In Leiden you feel history is very close’
Leiden alumnus Makoto Yoshida from Japan studied Dutch history and politics from 1996 to 1997. Now he is back in Leiden with his wife who is currently a student at the Faculty of Humanities. Some things still surprise him. 'Everyone at university uses first names, which was - and still is - unacceptable in my country.'
What was your impression of studying in Leiden at the time?
'I was bit surprised to see that the department buildings are spread over the town, although I enjoyed the walks through the historic city centre. I found a nameplate showing a house where Descartes used to live, and Von Siebold’s house, too, whose name is so popular among the Japanese. In Leiden you feel history is very close. History is not only about reading books of old facts, rather you can feel or touch it if you look at the buildings, monuments, or even the cobblestones in the pavements. Another thing that surprised me was students’ attitude towards their teachers. Everyone uses first names, which was - and still is - unacceptable in my country.'
Has your impression changed now you are here again?
'There has been a significant change in the number of Asian students, especially from China. There were a few Chinese students in 1996 but today you see many more foreign students in Leiden. But some things still remain the same: my name plate at the entrance to the dormitory where I used to live is still there after 16 years!’
What did you do after you graduated?
'I went back home to study for a doctorate, then I became a university teacher. I was lucky.’
Did your time in Leiden help you, for example, to find your next position?
'My experience in Leiden helped me a lot with my research. I have been working on Dutch colonial policy and colonial legal history in the 19th century, although these subjects are not at all popular in Japan. It’s hard to find a post at university while majoring in Dutch studies except for the research on Dutch-Japanese relations during the VOC period, which is still popular. I teach international relations, European politics and political theory at my university.’
Anything else you would like to mention?
‘Changes in Dutch society seems to me very drastic over the past ten years. The tolerant atmosphere that used to be so typical of Dutch society seems to be shrinking. I think it’s a pity, although I understand there are several reasons to tighten immigration policy. Also, I am concerned about the effects of the budget cuts on education and culture. The strength of a nation is not only measured by economic indices but also how far the society tolerates non-profitable things such as education or arts. We Japanese also face the same problems, but I still find that the Dutch have a better attitude to such things as their work-life balance.’