Opening doors by challenging myself


Rio Yamaguchi says, “I have an insatiable appetite for taking on challenges, learning, and interacting with others!” What kind of world opened up beyond her challenges? Let’s take a look at Ms. Yamaguchi’s student life.

Rio Yamaguchi Fourth-year student Department of Social Work, Faculty of Sociology and Social Work Born in Chiba Prefecture, Rio Yamaguchi has experience teaching hundreds of middle school students as a tutor in a group preparatory school. She enjoys traveling to various places and relaxing in nature. What she values most is the spirit of “just give it a try.” She prides herself on not putting barriers between herself and others, allowing her to open up to anyone.

I enjoyed learning

During my high school years, I worked hard to study what I wanted to learn in college. I ended up enrolling in Meiji Gakuin University’s Department of Social Work, Faculty of Sociology and Social Work, largely because I resonated with something a Meiji Gakuin representative said during a visit to my high school: “Our university is one where challenging yourself opens doors.” I also learned that they offered a welfare-related seminar in Scandinavia, a region at the forefront of welfare practices, and I wanted to participate in that seminar to gain an international perspective on social work.

After enrolling, studying was so enjoyable that I couldn’t get enough. In my Comparative Sociology course, I learned about differences in social structures and cultural backgrounds between Japan and South Korea through historical films. In my Social Welfare for the Female course, we used literature and animation as learning materials demonstrating changes in women’s lifestyles and ways of thinking. Learning with a sense of personal involvement—not just acquiring knowledge but also thinking about improvements and solutions through extensive discussions—allowed me to experience a feeling of cutting deeply into the subject.

Two doorways to learning

The first doorway leading me to the Department of Social Work opened around the fourth grade of elementary school, when a student who would later become my best friend transferred to my school in Chiba. Our relationship continued into middle school, and at some point, we started discussing questions like “Why do legislators sleep during Diet sessions?” and “Why are we learning things in school that won’t help us as adults?” Perhaps because I was influenced by these discussions, I came to view myself as a part of society and began to see the news on TV as being directly relevant to me. As our knowledge expanded, so did the scope of our discussions, becoming more multifaceted and enjoyable.

The next gateway opened during my high school years when I read Mikako Brady’s Yellow, White, and a Little Blue, the story of a boy born to an Irish father and a Japanese mother and attending junior high school in England. I was fascinated by how that boy perceived and reflected on the complexities of his and his classmates’ races, roots, family environments, and socioeconomic statuses as he navigated through them. It made me so interested in experiencing education in England that I found myself hoping that if I’m reincarnated, I’d like it to be in a place where I could experience a British education. In college, this inspired me to pursue studies related to international society.

Another door that opened because I took on a challenge

In February 2022, just before I became a third-year student, Russia launched its military invasion of Ukraine. As a result, I lost the opportunity for visiting to Scandinavia in the seminar, that I’d been determined to do since high school. While I felt a sense of loss, I sought an alternative and promptly challenged myself by enrolling in a short-term study abroad program at the University of Leicester in the UK. This decision was partly influenced by my reading Yellow, White, and a Little Blue and my discomfort about having only discussed social issues I was concerned about with my best friend. Even in junior high school, the boy in the book had a high level of social awareness and was in an educational environment where it was natural to express his thoughts. I wondered how my own experiences could be so different, despite living in the same era.

What I felt during my one-month stay in England was a realization of my status as an “outsider.” When I visited a London cafe for afternoon tea and was made to wait outside due to there being no available seating, a white family that arrived later was somehow allowed in before us. That was the moment I truly understood something I had been studying: that discrimination exists.

Later, in Professor Rumiko Akashi’s seminar, which I joined in my third year, we aided Japanese language education for non-Japanese children in Yokohama middle schools. These children were attending school, but they had no right to compulsory education. Therefore, if they become “truants” due to bullying or other reasons, the school may not be required to adequately address the issue. Some of the children I helped seemed happy during our weekly community gatherings, but some also said they don’t talk to anyone during their regular school life. Understandably, relatively few of them advanced to high school. School was hardly a place where non-Japanese children felt a sense of belonging. Rather, they felt like “outsiders.” I realized that beyond the right to compulsory education, these children, each with different backgrounds, language proficiency levels, cultural practices, lack of information, and parent–child communication issues, need tailored support.

Another door opens

Having learned so much in the Department of Social Work, challenged myself with study abroad in the UK, and now having interacted with non-Japanese children living in Japan, I believe I have formed my own perspective about Japan. I am Japanese and proud to be so. And that’s exactly why I want Japan’s society to be one where people can open doors by challenging themselves.

The challenge I’m currently undertaking is the AI & Data Science Educational Program. I enrolled in that course through an eagerness to learn. One project that emerged during that class was our “Name/Face Study Project,” where my group has gathered people with the same name to investigate whether names might be related to any characteristic facial structures. I believe that AI and society are inseparably linked when considering social issues. To be honest, I was unsure at first if I could handle it… Even so, I am engaging in this project with the belief that taking on challenges will open new doors.

I have been able to take on many challenges and experience opening new doors. Now, I aim to contribute towards creating a Japanese society where people living in Japan can challenge themselves, can find doors at the end of those challenges, know how to open those doors, and can actually open them. I myself hope to follow a path toward solutions to current issues in Japanese society. Above all, I want to be a person who never forgets my connections with and gratitude towards others, someone who can influence society by continuously taking on challenges.