The year abroad adventures of a Scottish otaku in the North of Japan

Monthly Archives: September 2013

As of yesterday, I’ve been here a whole month and I’ve begun to notice little things – nothing important, just odd at times! For example: in the UK you’ll often have birds hanging about, or flying in little flocks. Here? Here it’s swarms of dragonflies. I’m sure they’ll disappear as soon as the weather gets cooler, but for the moment, they’re everywhere!
Anoter thing I’ve noticed, which I was kind of expecting, is the gaijin stare. Every time I get on a train, it’s the look that says ‘it’s a foreigner, I’ve never seen one of those before’. Or it’s the look from another foreigner that’s as if to say ‘what the hell is another foreigner doing up here in the middle of nowhere’. They blantantly missed the signs that said Akita International University…
It’s also rice-harvesting season at the moment, so all the elderly farmers are out in their miniature tractors and their floppy hats. Akita is a very agricultural country but the average age of a farmer here is about 70. Saying that, though, they seem to keep Japan in it’s rice as the region is famous for Akita Komachi rice.
Even though it’s only been four weeks, I think I’m starting to fall in love with this place – I think it’s the same tenderness I hold for Scotland. Akita is a lot more laid back than places like Tokyo and, although you really need a car to enjoy it, it’s surrounded by beautiful scenery. A part of my heart will definately be left here when I leave….
On that poignant note, またね…


As promised (if a little late), here is my update on my trip to Lake Tazawa and Kakunodate 🙂

This was the first of our big ‘school trips’ – I was well excited, I haven’t gone on a school trip in years! I think there ended up being about 200 of us – crammed onto 4 buses (think not quite sardines). At first, things on the bus were a bit tense – one of the American girls was singing rather loudly, in my opinion, and was getting a bit annoying. I held my tongue and just enjoyed the scenery instead! We passed loads of farms, little villages and with mountains framing the picture. It was beautiful. Unfortunately, this drive was marred a bit by paranoia (and bad singing). The other day, I saw a Chinook helicopter land at Akita airport. That day we passed a couple of military convoys (full of guys in uniform and including a gun mount vehicle) that must have numbered at least 30 vehicles. There was some suggestion that the countryside around here would be the perfect place to practice, but it still felt like the beginning of a horror/apocalypse movie (think ‘The Mist’).

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We took a quick stop off at a place famous for producing Soy Sauce and Miso – home of the infamous soy sauce ice cream (don’t try this at home folks), before we were on our way again. Although this was not without hitches. One of the buses had broken down, so we had to squeeze the people onto the other buses – they had fold down seats for the aisle. At this point the singing had begun again and I would have snapped, had it not been for our Asia Pacific theme coming on – basically every time we had an Asia Pacific lecture in first year, me and my friend Eve (along with others) always ended up singing “I’ll make a man out of you”. When this song started, my British stiff upper lip broke and I joined in. This led to a bus-wide sing-along of “Call me maybe”, “Blue” (the song, not the band), “Don’t stop believing”, the “Sailor Moon Theme” and, the pies’de resistance (yeah, don’t judge my spelling) the “Pokemon Theme”. Yeah, now get that out of your head! It was my childhood (^^)

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Our next stop was Lake Tazawa (Tazawako), which is the deepest lake in Japan. It must have been the clearest as well since you could see all the fish swimming in it – it was absolutely beautiful! It was so beautiful, in fact, that three of our party (all guys) decided it would be a great idea to go swimming in their pants – and then get back on the bus…..There was also a little shrine where you could get a  fortune – the ones that gave bad luck could be tied to the ropes around the shrine to ditch said bad luck:

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After this, we had lost quite a lot of time (the term ‘be back at the bus by THIS TIME’ doesn’t seem to mean a lot to some people), so we had to miss out one of the stops on our trip – the wildflower garden. However, by this point it was bucketing it down, so we weren’t that disappointed! Instead, we headed straight to Kakunodate. I was presuming we were just going to look at the old Samurai houses (we had a ticket 2 of the old mansions), but when we got there, it turned out there was a big festival on! Most of the small town had turned out in traditional costumes and were moving giant floats which depicted legendary figures.

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We were also able to try one of the local foods, called Kiritanpo. This is basically rice that has been pounded into a paste, wrapped around a stick and then cooked over an open fire – these ones had pork wrapped around them and a bit of BBQ sauce. They were absolutely delicious, and we also managed to cement the image of  Akita people being really friendly. We had a lovely conversation with the stall owner (in broken Japanese) and she was the smiliest person I’ve met so far!

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After a lot of wandering about, waiting and then finding out we were in the wrong place, we eventually found out the floats were in another street. I think we ran as calmly as we could to go find them! Eventually we found one of the old streets that had a bunch of the floats being pulled down it. Two floats were being pushed against each other to see which one would win, traditional matsuri (festival) stalls lined the pavement selling yakitori and takoyaki (delicious). All the floats had now lit their lanterns, so they lit up the streets in a way that felt like we had stepped back in time. I guess we really had.

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These guys were hilariously drunk and just posed in front of us….

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Unfortunately, we had to get back to the bus by 7.30 (even the matsuri was just getting into full swing)  so we, like the good students we were,  headed back in the hope that we wouldn’t be the only ones. Luckily it turns out we weren’t, however one of the students (should I name and shame on here?) decided to make us wait an extra 40 minutes before coming back to the bus….we were ALL ready to high-five his face by the time he came back.

Well, hopefully that gives you an idea of what the trip was like – we’ve got another one to Oga at the beginning of October, so look forward to that one soon! However, next up will be a little weekend summary (including typhoons, church and a huge second-hand manga store). Until then, またね!


So today it’s really sunk in that I’m actually in Japan (and for a long time as well). I guess that’s what happens when you stay at a Campus University. The past week has been a bit hectic (when is it ever not?), so I’ll break this up into little sections 🙂

Classes
So classes begun this week and they got off to a flying start – especially Japanese. My teacher, Kamei-sensei (not Kame-sensei – turtle-sensei) and the lesson is solely in Japanese….we also have a very mixed group of students: several from Taiwan, a few Norwegians, a German, a couple of Americans, a couple of Singaporeans and me…..although the class is still a nice size.
Japanese Literature class is taught by a very monotonous Russian guy (Professor Dolin). He spent the first 10 minutes of the class telling us all the books he’d written/translated. He seems a little full of himself, but he knows what he’s talking about 🙂
Pronunciation class is taught by this tiny elderly Japanese lady called Ayusawa-sensei. She also teaches us mostly in Japanese, but she’s also teaching us the correct intonations and pronunciations.
Unfortunately I haven’t actually had my International Trade class yet since the teacher decided to be away (and not tell us….). Ach well, it meant I had a free afternoon on Thursday!

COS
COS is our community outreach opportunity at AIU. They offer the chance to go out into the community (sometimes paid) and do activities. I had my first experience of this when I signed up to help a group of middle school students practice their English. They were so cute!!

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Clubs
This semester I’ve joined two clubs and one committee (although one of the clubs has yet to materialise). I have Aikido – a Japanese martial art – twice a week. It’s quite strenuous on the wrists (because of the self-defence we’re learning) and the legs….
My other club is supposed to be a Bible Study group (because the nearest church is too far away), but we haven’t got a venue yet 😦
I’ve also joined the ‘Campus Art’ group which is supposed to be doing all the decoration for the school festival we’ve got coming up in October. The group is mostly Japanese students, so I’m gonna have to get my casual Japanese up to scratch!

Home Comforts
Ok, so even though I’ve only been here a few weeks, things that remind me of home are still a godsend.
First is this shop: Kaldi
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This store is basically a foreign import’s store, where you can find the likes of Digestives and Nutella (for a price).
Next is this guy:
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This is the postman, if you can believe it! He has a little red van like at home 🙂
Other homely comforts include BBC world news being on in the cafeteria, listening to BBC Radio 2 on my laptop (Last Night of the Proms tonight!) and being able to watch iPlayer. “How does she do this?” I hear you ask! Well, there’s a controversial programme called Expat Shield that enables you to create an artificial IP address. Now as I said, it’s controversial and the BBC have refused to comment on it (here’s the article about it, if anyone’s interested: http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2010/11/03/software-cheat-lets-people-watch-bbc-iplayer-abroad-an-update/). For someone who’s away from the UK for a while, it’s a godsend – I can watch the Great British Bake Off and Sherlock Series 3 (when it starts).

Shopping
This was where being in Japan really sunk in….we were put on a meal plan (where we get meals from the cafeteria) for the first two weeks. After that it’s pay for meals, or cook for yourself – unsurprisingly I chose the latter of the two. However that meant I had to go food shopping, as well as getting starter items like oil and seasonings, which meant I actually had to navigate a Japanese supermarket. Being immersed in solely Japanese products while trying to decide what you need to survive for the next few weeks was definitely overwhelming. I did make it out of there alive, though (with my sanity vaguely intact – they had the same song on a loop the entire time I was there).

 

Well, I’m surviving here and got a bus trip tomorrow to Kakunodate (an old samurai village), so I’ll be reporting on that during the week. Until then, またね!


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So this is going to be a little round up of my first week in Japan and I have one word for it – hectic! Basically it was Orientation Week which means we had countless lectures on student life, courses, sex ed (yeah, we got a lecture on that one – by a 60 year old male gynaecologist), harassment prevention, cell phones…oh and a Proficiency Test! Yeah….that one was nasty – the questions were supposed to get progressively harder, but they just jumped from easy (Q1,2,3) to stupid (Q4 onwards) in a matter of seconds….not nice! My score worked out alright, though! I got into a class higher than what I was aiming for, so I’m going to have to do a bit of self-study to catch up, but you know what? I’m just happy that I don’t have to repeat 2nd year….

I’m sharing with a Japanese roommate, called Chino (she’s a little reserved – like me on a normal day). The layout is a little weird – there are two cabin beds (with desk/shelves and hanging rail underneath), a small kitchen (with hotplate, sink and tiny fridge), a toilet and a bathroom (shower/bath). It’s definitely bigger than my room back at University….

Some of my ‘up there’ moments from this week:

– A rather poignant speech by one of the lecturers (Darren Ashmore – a brit and not-so-closet Otaku) about how he got into Japanese. His uncle was a PoW in the war and lost a lot (including a leg and an eye) under torture; his mother never forgave the Japanese for what they did to her brother. However, the uncle could see past the propaganda and to the boys guarding him, who were of a similar age to him and seemed to have no idea what they were supposed to be doing, or why. He went back to Japan after the war and got to know the real Japan, not the one from the posters. It was very touching.

– My favourite meal so far at AIU – curry rice (カレーライス). I have to say, after a day of lectures and little sleep, eating a bowl of curry rice really hit the spot. Nothing better (although I may stand corrected as this adventure carries on).P1050391

– There is an advantage to your body deciding to wake up at 5am every morning – I go for a morning bug hunt. So far I have been chasing the Cicadas who disguise themselves into the tree bark. Also managed to surprise a janitor this morning when he found me lying in the middle of the path, trying to photograph a caterpillar….The bugs here are pretty cool – I also managed to get some photographs of a huge green cricket just chillin’ in the middle of the road!

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– The library. What can I say? It’s got a huge selection of English language research books and fiction books (I’m already on my second Stephen King in 3 days), Japanese DVDs (including Disney ones – so I can go on a Disney Binge). It’s a beautiful woodwork decorated library in a semi-circle shape, so you get a beautiful panoramic view of all the books. Plus – it’s SILENT (or at least until they let all the international students loose on it…) which is a plus, because the UCLan Library is….ridiculously loud. It’s not for studying so much as socialising!

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– Callum’s hilarious fail at reading Kanji (sorry, Callum, this had to go on here!). The words “what’s はん まえ ちゅう (han mae chuu)” were uttered while staring bewildered at a text containing the kanji: 午前中(ごぜんちゅう – to be read gozenchuu)….Oh, Callum….well it certainly gave us reason to have a proper laugh this morning!

Some icky moments:

– For some reason, my body has decided to wake me up at 5am EVERY MORNING! Breakfast isn’t open at the canteen until 7am, so I have to amuse myself with bug hunts and morning exercises until then 😦

– As much as I love thunder storms, having them wake me up at 4am twice in one week wasn’t exactly not I wanted…there was some fantastic rain, though – it was so loud!

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After the Matriculation Ceremony  today (in which we had lots of speeches and a beautiful performance of Saint-Saens by Keiko Watanabe – the violin teacher), I can now officially call myself a student of Akita International University. I hope that it will lay the path for a series of adventures and a genuinely wonderful experience here in Japan. Until then – またね!

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(This is our ‘how white do we feel?’ photo with “Wan-chan the University Mascot)



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