Tag Archive: Ritsumeikan


Reflections

Today, it’s exactly one year since I got on a plane and traveled to the other side of the planet in order to study abroad for one semester. When I began this blog, I had no idea what I was doing; I’d never used WordPress or any other blogging software before. Though this is the final post of this blog, as it was never meant to be anything more than an account of my study abroad experience, I still am not sure if I’ve done right by it. I hope, in my own narcissistic way, that someone somewhere will get some useful information or advice about Japan, Beppu, APU, or anything else I covered over the last 40-odd posts.

After one year, what are my thoughts? I suppose that the most prevalent of all of them remains my disbelief at how quickly it went. I know that I lived each one of those days and that I really was in Japan, but looking back I honestly can say that it felt like far too short a time. Even though I managed to travel around the entirety of Kyushu and explore Honshu for a wonderful bonus month, there were still many things I had hoped to do.

In a way, it’s good, because it means that I have many reasons to return to Japan. And I will return. If anything, living in Japan for those months only reinforced my desire to someday live there permanently (with dual-citizenship; I’ll visit America and other countries too, of course). I learned much during my semester abroad, and I know that it changed me (hopefully for the better).

All I can say after one year is, if you ever get the chance to study abroad (anywhere, not just Japan), take it. You won’t regret it.

Also, to end this post and the blog, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who rated, commented, lurked, or shared on LostinBeppu. You all made blogging into my interactive diary, and gave me something to look forward to every time I opened my laptop. Thank you.

 

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Well, here it is, a comprehensive list of all of the lessons Japan and in particular APU has as of now taught me. Some (not many) are serious, most were fun to learn, and all are things that made me scratch my head, laugh out loud, or boggle over. Enjoy~

1. Sometimes, it’s better not to ask.

Seriously, what were they thinking when they made this an official sign? These are dug into the pavement all around Taito-ku.

2. English grammar has more of what we call ‘guidelines’ rather than actual rules.

I have to wonder if Koreans and Chinese people, too, have to put up with grammar like this in Japan…

3. Just because something calls itself “American” does not make it American.

This was… disgusting, by the way. Dry cake, banana filling that was so sweet it made my teeth ache, and some sort of pebbles masquerading as chocolate chips on top of said banana filling.

4. Japan’s college students are worse at world geography than America’s… which I hadn’t previously thought possible…

I want to know what kind of atlas they were using for reference and why, suddenly, Africa is an island. 😛 Not to mention the fact that many countries (like Iceland and several parts of Indonesia) simply Were Not Included on the World Festival map.

5. The entire nation of Japan is pulling the most massive prank ever on the world and its name is natto cake.

Natto is, for those unaware, fermented soybeans (yes that’s the same thing as rotten). I just wish I could find a picture of the way it actually retains its stringiness even AFTER baking… but that might cause sickness in the masses, ne. xD

6. Fastest way to freak out domestic Japanese students (besides pretending that the Health Check is actually unimaginable torture)? Eat grapes… WITH THE SKIN STILL ON!

“K-kore… NANDE?!!! Majide!” (That’s… WHY! No way!) And you thought that only spoiled brats wanted the skin peeled off of grapes. No, apparently, in Japan, eating grapes with the skin on is equivalent to nomming tomatoes on your front porch in the early nineteenth century (don’t know the reference? Shaaame). We literally got looks like we might drop dead at any second.

7. Explosives are cool and we sell them in dollar stores, but open flames are not allowed anywhere within the city. So you’re in no danger, because no one will be able to LIGHT the explosives. See, see? It’s only logical!

I do not own the awesomeness that is Spock.

8. Apparently. Every single time a cloud passes over the fair city that is Beppu, a warning must be issued, and it sounds like this: “Attention. A Thunderstorm Warning. Has been. Issued. Please come inside of buildings. Immediately. Classes will operate as. Scheduled. Bus services will operate as. Scheduled.”

Of course it’s not mine. But, sadly, this is never what the weather was like when one of these warnings came on (though you’d certainly think it by the urgency of the warning). Half the time it was hardly even raining. I kept wondering to myself how I was supposed to get to my regularly scheduled classes while staying inside of buildings…

9. And speaking of warnings:

Every. Single. Night. EVERY NIGHT. At 9:50 PM exactly. Yeah. We got to a point where we’d be running around the kitchen yelling along with both the English AND Japanese versions of the announcement. Oh, and of course, the guy sounded so cheerful when he said “Punished” that it was just so creepy.

10. Soda can be so green that it looks like the toxic sludge from some bad cartoon. This is melon soda, and it is very popular.

This is not edited. Yes, it even TASTES that green.

11. Anything can be made adorable through the magic of cartoons. Even horrible and deadly STDs.

This is from a booklet we got at the “Student Health Assessment” lecture entitled “Safe Sex Guide” by one of Japan’s leading condom producers. I… have no words to describe it, still… it is just too awesome not to post again, here.

12. The bad habit of native speakers, that of talk-ing slow-ly and LOUD-LY and expecting to be understood, is not merely an American universal.

Sadly, this has happened to me so often. Me: “Wakarimasen…” (I don’t understand you.) Them: “DAH… RE… GA… IH… KEH… RU…” Me: “*mutters* Yeah, still don’t understand the words.” I will never again do this to anyone who doesn’t speak English. It’s infuriating.

13. Fun must be scheduled, recorded, and organized. If you don’t have fifteen sheets of paperwork by the end, you’re not having fun.

This is the preliminary paperwork for renting the kitchen for a span of two hours… 😛 No, but in all honesty, I have had this happen to me on multiple occasions. “Fill out this form, we’ll stamp it, give you THIS form, and you keep it. Then on the day of the event, exchange it for two more forms, write down the names and ID numbers of everyone who attends, and hand in the forms at the end. Oh, and make a copy for yourself.” How no one in Japan drowns in paperwork is a real mystery…

14. Ketchup makes anything edible~

 

I could not have survived Japan without Heinz. Thaaank you, imports. Don’t get me wrong; I love Japanese food and find most of it delicious just the way it is. But… some things… especially my floormates’ cooking… 😛

15. People on scooters are either insane, suicidal, or both.

I honestly would not have been surprised to have seen an APU student riding this down the mountain. They randomly added entire extensions to their scooters for bookbags; they had friends without helmets clutching their backs and not attached to the seat in any other way; they swerved in and out of traffic and around cars… as my karate sensei said, If I had some money for every time I saw a student pull some stupid stunt on a scooter, I would be very, very rich.

16. There are awesome people from all over this planet, just as there are morons and bigots from all over this planet. Me, personally? I found the awesome ones!

Picture Credits: Kurozone Photography, 2012.

Thank you, APU. I know that I’ve had my share of quarrels with your nonsensical policies, frustratingly stubborn adherence to the guidebook, and your long and boring orientations, but without you, I’d never have met all of these people and done so many incredible things. I know that I will keep the memories of the last four months in my heart forever, no matter how much time passes.

Thank you, also, to the nation of Japan. For being so awesome. For always giving the lost American directions, even going out of your way to make sure I got to the right place. For your never-ending patience with my stumbling, stuttering, stilted Japanese (getting better now, but at first… I’m sure you wanted to slam your head into a brick wall repeatedly when I spoke ve-ry …………slow-ly………….. and in sim-ple… … … phrase-es). And finally, for being delighted that I am fascinated with your culture. And a final thank you to my parents and to everyone who has supported me, for providing me with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I’ll end with a quote. Mom, you’ll know this one: “Never in my life did I think I would end up in such a beautiful place, doing so many incredible things… And it’s truly been my pleasure to meet you all.”

Pictures to come later, as Huong took them all and she’s currently on the bus.
So because it’s the last night for a great many people, I decided to set off sparklers in honor of the end of a tough semester. So I invited everyone I could think of and we set up a candle behind AP House 2. There’s a giant patio for the smoking area out there that was perfect for fireworks.

Unfortunately, the wind wouldn’t cooperate. Those sparklers that did light, didn’t stay lit for very long. So we got through about eighty of them (they only last fifteen seconds even when they’re lit properly–dollar store fireworks, whaddaya expect? :P) and then Lee said “Hey, there’s less wind out in front of AP House, let’s go there.”

Now, get this. We’d been lighting sparklers for a full forty minutes out BEHIND AP House 2 and not one person said anything. Not even five minutes after we’d lit the sparklers in FRONT of AP House, though, a little woman in a suit came bustling out and said quite firmly, “DAME YO!” (THAT’S BAD!) “You can’t do that here!” So Lee asks, “Doko ga ii desu ka?” (Where is good?) and she turned to face him and just went with quite an attitude “Do you WANT to go to office?” In English. I think she may have thought he was being sarcastic, as he has a heavy accent when he uses Japanese. “You can’t use those here or anywhere around here.”

“I didn’t see a rule about that.” I mentioned casually, because I am a nerd and had perused the rules beforehand, “Only about fire indoors.”

“No! It is a rule. You cannot use them. Only fire is allowed in smoking areas, but even there you cannot use those.”

Fun-killers. You know what I think? I think it wasn’t so much the dangerous sparks or open flames that pissed them off: it was the fact that we didn’t have a sign-in sheet or sixteen seals from the Security Office. 😛

Anyway, we got a good ninety of ’em or so lit, so I’m happy. Here’s to the end of a wonderful semester!

Credit for this image goes to whoever originally took it; I just wandered through Google until I found one I liked. And there’s no link that isn’t sixteen million characters long, so…

So today has now more or less ended, and the semester is practically over. I just have final exams on Thursday, Friday, and Monday and then… I go to Tokyo. It’s hard to believe how fast it’s gone, really. I know everyone told me it would, and I know that trips always seem to speed by in retrospect, but I swear this trip went by faster than light. So, to commemorate it and to look back, here’s a review of my favorite pictures and places in Japan that I’ve been to, and the people I’ve met:

 

 

This is far from an exhaustive collection, but it’s got a bit of everything. Even GASP pictures of me. I know right?

 

I will never forget this place or these people. Thank you, APU.

I know, I know, le GASP. Today was the Kokura Field Trip run by AP House. As before, allow me to borrow a map for you to see:

The trip takes about two and a half hours by bus, counting a fifteen minute stop in the middle of the trip. AP House runs these trips twice or three times a semester, and offers extreme discounts to residents. For this one, the full price just for the bus fare and lunch would have been over 7000 yen–residents of AP House only pay 3000.

We were supposed to go visit a natural national landmark, an ancient cave, but because of typhoon season it flooded and we had to change plans. So, we went to one of the largest shopping centers in Kokura, also the home of the popular broadcast station for NHK Kyushu (Japan’s leading news and entertainment channels). Have a look:

We also stopped by Kokura Castle and its various surrounding monuments, temples, and to’rii (red gates).

After that, we went and had lunch at a hotel buffet, which was delicious. They had foods from all over the world. America’s? Fries and chicken tenders, of course. 😛 They also had a chocolate fountain, pizza (which was NOT pizza, though it almost could fool someone who wasn’t, well, raised in the pizza capital of the world), and roast pork. And many other types of food from Europe and South America; surprisingly, very little in the way of Japanese food (though of course rice was present and miso soup).

This is only one of two counters. The other one was too crowded for me to get a picture, though that was the one with all of the hot foods.

Finally, the best part of the trip had come. Travel to Mojiko Historic District in Kokura. There are many historic buildings in Kokura, but the Moji district is the largest collection of various Meiji-era structures. For those who don’t know, the Meiji era of Japan took place in the early 20th century and was marked by Japan’s sudden obsession with Westernization. Here are some of the many, many pictures I took of this district:

To end our little tale, how about a bit of a funny story? When the bus pulled over to drop us all off, everyone started heading towards the ferry. Even though it was pouring rain and I could tell just looking at this thing that the rough waves and rain would make it impossible to see anything at all. So, I decided to screw ‘mandatory’ boat rides and go wandering around Moji. I got some amazing photographs, went to the top of the observation tower (31 stories up!), and got so completely soaked that I squelched when I walked.

Anyway, that was great buuut *dun dun DUUUUN* I was found in one of the gift stores (dripping wet and grinning my head off at ‘fugu (blowfish) cookies’) and lectured soundly for not going on the mandatory ferry trip. So I shrugged and apologized and then launched into everything I did during the ferry trip… and instead of getting angrier or lecturing me more, she just went, “Man. We couldn’t see anything from the ferry! You probably made a good choice.” Then looked horrified that she’d *GASP* advocated rule breaking!

This was a good day.

America’s Birthday!

So I meant to update this on the actual fourth of July and it ended up slipping my mind. Oh well. The party was awesome! Everyone brought such good food and we had about fifteen people or so (we rented the AP House 2 Kitchen; it’s stocked with all sorts of expensive equipment). I also found sparklers (at The Daiso, of all places–I KNOW you can’t buy fireworks at most American dollar stores).

We had a true “American” meal–cheeseburgers, popcorn, nachos, chicken soup, candy bars, freedom fries, grilled cheese, and chocolate-dipped Oreos–and we all got /so sick/ but it was worth it. Word to the wise: if you’ve been eating wholesome healthy Japanese food for two months, don’t all of a sudden eat nothing but junk for three hours. Your body doesn’t appreciate it. xD

Photo taken by Sanna Zhao: http://kurozone.wordpress.com/

 

 

When I woke up this morning the only thing I was concerned about was getting to my two midterms on time. The first one went off without a hitch, even though it was eight in the morning and everyone was kind of blearily wandering around the corridors mumbling “Who in the nine hells planned an exam at this hour??” (this is college–any hour before eleven is ungodly)

But I should have known better. Of course the entire nation of Japan would conspire to laugh hilariously at whatever plans I’d made to celebrate a non-national holiday. For you see, today was the group shopping trip to Hirose for the Fourth of July Party.

I say was. This is because there has been a LANDSLIDE over the ONLY road leading off this godforsaken mountain! This is because it’s typhoon season and it’s been raining nonstop for days. Because of this, classes were canceled from third period onwards (Many APU students live in Beppu and so wouldn’t be able to come up to the school).

So okay, there’s more than one road leading off the mountain–the other one is just much more wandering and kinda loops around Beppu rather than going straight into the city. Here’s the strange, kind of unbelievable thing: Oita Kotsu has apologized, easily SIX TIMES, for the inconvenience and is offering free bus passes to anyone needing to get back to Beppu today (though, only to limited stops, and of course the trip takes a LOT longer than it usually would). I mean, hullo? Act of God, anyone?

If you don’t live in Beppu you’re not supposed to use the bus. So I guess unless they get this landslide cleared up soon, I’m going to just have to go to Hirose tomorrow and hope I get back in time.

Laugh away, Japan. Laugh away. PATRIOTISM SHALL NOT BE THWARTED! xD

In any case, after hearing that news, I then proceeded to learn that my air conditioning is broken and that I still have to present on Thursday even though my class was canceled. -Sigh-

Love and respect to Dr. Suess. I own nothing.

In any case, the reason for today’s post’s title is, simply, Vietnamese Week.

“But Ven,” you’ll say, “What does a children’s story have to do with Vietnamese Week?” And I’ll pat you on the head and show you this photo and you will understand:

This isn’t actually at APU and credit goes to whoever took the picture, but these are the same shirts sold at the Co-Op for 500 yen each. The campus was swamped in red for the last week, and the shirts sold out just about every day. I did not buy one, as I am a joyless miser who doesn’t support nationalistic things (I don’t even have a flag T-shirt for AMERICA, why would I buy one for Vietnam?). Anyway. So that’s Vietnamese week. As with Chinese week, there was an odd invasion of school spirit, random dances in front of the fountain, a flash mob of free hugs (which they ANNOUNCED to the WHOLE SCHOOL days before it happened, which kind of… misses the point of a flash mob), and lots of Vietnamese food.

Like Bánh rán.


This picture belongs to Gastronomy; we made these in AP House 2, but I forgot my camera. Looks good, right? Haha… well… the outside is a rice-flour paste, you know, that really sticky stuff that kind of resembles Silly Putty (only stickier) before it’s cooked. The inside is a combination of sugar, mung bean paste, and jasmine extract (you can add other things as well; we did, though I have no idea what). You pinch a bit of the filling in your hand, drop it on top of a flattened ball of the rice paste, and roll it into a ball shape. Then you cover the uncooked balls in sesame seeds and fry. Om nom nom. Don’t let the smell of the raw filling deter you.

The Vietnamese Grand Show wasn’t quite as flashy as the Chinese Week one, but it was interesting and well worth a watch nonetheless. You can find it on Ustream here: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/23480748

The actual start of the show is at 13:40. Someone had Dreamweaver and wasn’t afraid to use it–before that, it’s just the introduction and a recap of the week’s events. Again, this show is well worth a watch, if you have the time for it. Our students and staff work very hard on these performances, and the quality of them cannot be denied. You have the added bonus of this show mostly being in English!

That’s all for today. I’ll see you all in July~

So APU is well-known for its international events and community… you know, our student base comes from 89 countries! Amazing. Anyway. To honor this love of international culture and exchange, APU hosts a full month of International Weeks every semester. During these weeks, special foods, shows, and events all take place based around whatever culture is being showcased for that week.

The first was Chinese Week. People wandered around in special shirts, made from imitation silk, that look just like traditional Chinese shirts. There were shows in front of the fountain and special foods sold in the cafeteria. And, best of all, at the end of the week there was the Chinese Grand Show in Millennium Hall.

You can watch the show here:

http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/23324880

Yes, this was a big deal. Skip ahead to 4:30 for the actual start of the show.

The basic plot is a Chinese myth, where two people meet and fall in love. But their marriage is forbidden, so they elope. They are then killed for their ‘treachery’ and their son barely escapes, unable to find anyone to take him in. He sees many interesting and strange things in the city he finds, and eventually takes up swordsmanship with a prestigious teacher. He grows up to be a great fighter and vows to take vengeance on the one who killed his parents. He finds out that his mother is waiting for him on the other side of the Underworld and then vows to free her as well. Sound familiar? Well, China did this plot first. This myth goes back even farther than their writing system does, and that’s at least eight hundred years old…

It’s a very interesting show, because this myth is interspersed with all sorts of fun little extras. Namely the dances and the fashion show. Altogether it was a very interesting show and I greatly recommend watching it. (if you absolutely need a translation, I can make one, just comment and ask)

 

…-sigh- Well, I guess all good things must come to an end. That’s right… Quarter Break’s over. My lovely, lovely trip to Kyoto and Osaka has ended. And now, I’m back among the mountain people.

Don’t get me wrong; Beppu’s a lovely town and the people are wonderful here. It’s just that once you’ve gotten a taste of the big cities of Japan, those places with 1200 years of history and 36-story department stores, you begin to realize what the average Japanese means when they say “Oh, Beppu’s just a small rural town.”

We took the ferry, the only ferry, that leaves every few days out of Beppu and takes a leisurely thirteen hours to get to Osaka. Fare is pretty cheap on the lowest class, and if you have a Co-Op card, you can get one round-trip ticket and one one-day pass to Universal Studios Japan for 16900 JPY. Of course, be prepared for the Japanese lower class, which is known as the “Tourist” class. Your life vest IS your pillow. You share your room with up to 35 strangers, and you have a two foot by six foot rectangle of floor to call your own. If you’re lucky, you can stow your luggage on the overhead shelf. Now, luckily, most of the time, your room will not be full. You can steal any unoccupied beds’ mattress pads (they make APU’s mattresses look like fluffy soft things). On this ferry, there is a restaurant, but it’s expensive and the food is not good. So, stop by the Family Mart before you board and grab a bento box to eat later. Do not buy anything from the hot vending machine. Don’t do it. Seriously. Don’t.

Once you get off the ferry, you will be in one of the main stations of Osaka. From here, you can catch either the subway or the train and find your hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Mikado near Shin-Imamiya station. This is a popular place for college students, as it’s 2100 JPY a night and air conditioned, with deadbolts and without bedbugs. I was happy.

Here is a ‘Western-Style Room’ at the Mikado.

Hey, for 2100 JPY a night? This is niiiiice. Trust me. Hotel Mikado’s even got a non-smoking floor, so my room didn’t stink. The only things you can’t see in this picture are the small TV and refrigerator that are on that black shelf to the left of the doorway. All in all, when you’re on a budget, it’s perfect.

The first day, we just went shopping in Osaka and wandered around the more famous districts, those being DenDen Town (an electronics wonderland) and Doutonburi (shopping and nightlife district–dress to impress) and American Town (Not very American. But, an honorable attempt):

The second day, we hopped on the JR express line for Kyoto. It’s 590 JPY one-way; make sure to buy all your tickets in Osaka, or you won’t get the discount. Kyoto is by far my favorite city in Japan that I’ve visited so far. Everywhere you go, there are shrines and sacred gardens and beautiful scenery. This coexists with some of the most modern architecture in the world. Truly, a beautiful sight:

After a whole day in Kyoto, we had the lamest nomikai (drinking party) ever (yet, somehow, it was still a lot of fun) back at the hotel and collapsed in our rooms. And then Monday, we went to USJ.

Now, I love theme parks. So I may be biased. But USJ was awesome. It’s a pretty small park, but that’s okay since the hours are weird (10 AM – 6 PM) and you only get one day pass with your ferry fare. And hell, they had L’Arc~en~Ciel synced to a roller coaster. Oh yeah, that was possibly the most awesome coaster I’ve ever been on. Here’s a few pictures (Gee, I took a lot this time, huh?):

Why, yes, that IS a Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Company. …in Japan… Yeah we were (o_O) too. But, we DID eat there, and it was amazingly delicious. Amazingly. Especially the gigantic cookie sundaes. Nom. Those were apparently designed to each serve four people or so. Our party was five people. We ordered four of them. Somehow, nothing was left over… we freaked our waitress out with that stunt, poor thing…

In any case, the trip was so amazingly lovely. I definitely want to return to Kansai at some point.

INSIDER TIP: When in Kyoto, find a bike station and rent a bike for the day. It’s much faster than the trains and you can literally park them ANYWHERE where it makes sense to, since the locks are built into the tires. Plus, it’s 1000 JPY for 24 hours. Not bad at all.

…And about the title to this blog. Blame Ashley. Um… she started calling us all “yamajin” (mountain people) because APU is on top of a mountain and well… the name stuck. ^_^;