Orientation Week

Posted in Japan, Life at 11:48 am by Acorns

The remaining part of the orientation week week was busy but not as completely filled as the first day. Having not been able to buy an umbrella on the first day (I went at 5:00 after all the meetings had ended and found the shop to be closed) I almost had to walk to the school in the rain again. Fortunately my Seminar House keeps a set of umbrellas (‘kasa’) on hand for such cases and I was able to borrow one; the first thing I did when I got to campus was to buy my own! Despite the umbrella I was still soaked; the rain always manages to fall at just the right angle to avoid the umbrella. Oh well.

Having done most of the required things on the first day the biggest event on the second was class registration. I took a long time deciding on which courses I wanted; in the end I decided partially based on schedule (I can’t take two classes at once, and didn’t want a class that lasted until 5:20). Since I don’t need any credits towards my major I focused on classes that looked personally interesting and would increase my understanding of the Japanese and their culture. The first and most obvious for me was “Popular Media and Culture in Japan” – a class about anime, manga and tv dramas! Unfortunately this class conflicted with two others that I wanted to take; oh well, I’d rather take it and find other classes. Next came “Inter cultural Communication: Social Experience”. I chose this because it sounded interesting, but also because I liked the professor’s introductory speech (given on the first day). Finally was “The Body and Communication in Japan” – this last class was the most interesting that fit my schedule but I still debate it; I love learning the meanings and different interpretations of body movements but have very little interesting in learning Japanese Sign Language (which the course focuses on more than I would like).

Registration itself involved lining up in the order of the numbers we had drawn the previous day. I was 98, a somewhat good number; all of the classes I wanted still had open spots when I arrived. They didn’t like the “proof of insurance” I had printed off before so I had to sign an agreement agreeing to give them a proper “proof of insurance” within the first week of classes. After signing this form it was simply a matter of handing them the sheet with the classes I wanted checked off; they entered them into the computer, handed me a student ID card and ushered me out. I wish class registration procedures at UNI were ever that simple for me!

The rest of the day was supposed to be spent in safety meetings, however we had a two hour break between registration and the first meeting. Never give students a 2 hour break; they tend to wander off. Alisha and I thought it would be a good idea to check out the ‘100 yen’ stores around the area and promptly left to find them. As you can probably guess, we didn’t make it to any of the safety meetings :/ I’m told we didn’t miss anything, though.

Alisha did make it back in time to take the banking session offered that day. I was planning on buying a bike and attending the bike registration session but as I hadn’t bought one by the time the meeting started I didn’t end up going. The rest of the day was spent grabbing dinner and then organizing my room. The first week I didn’t talk much with any of my housemates; I had tried to several times without much success. It wasn’t until later that I even learned all of their names.

I slept just as well as always; keeping the room at a nice 20c. Everything here is in Celsius; I usually love metric over English but in this case I think Fahrenheit is better. A system that went from 0 (either freezing or human-dies-if-they-stay-out-in-it/coldest it reasonably gets without going too far north/south) to 100 (around 120 Fahrenheit) would be perfect but Fahrenheit at least approximates that. Celsius is better mathematically but for room temperature it covers an arbitrary span without enough depth. Aka, I am constantly wishing I could increase/decrease the temp by .5c or perhaps less.

I was going to include the opening ceremony in this post, but I will do a short one on it instead later. It will have more pictures; there was a lot to take pictures of! Hopefully with the freetime I have tomorrow I can get at least one more post done.


First day at Kansai Gaidai

Posted in Japan, Life at 6:11 pm by Acorns

It has now been almost a week from the time I am writing about so unfortunately I will not be able to write near as much detail as I would have liked. It is hard to keep up with this blog when most of my time is taken elsewhere! I will be condensing most of the rest of the week into the post after this one so hopefully I will be able to blog in real time soon.

The first day here was amazing. After a sound nights sleep in my futon I woke up at around 6:00 AM for the most part refreshed. I expected to have a lot more trouble sleeping (due both to futon and new place and jet lag). I think because I can’t sleep on planes I was just exhausted by the time I got here. After waking up I stayed up wrote a little in this blog, and prepared my bags. They had given us an orientation manual the previous night and I hadn’t had time to read much of it so I read it through. It is pretty comprehensive, although there are a few additions I will suggest to Kansai Gaidai.

After being given a small breakfast by my to-be-homestay roommate (thanks much!!!) I followed a group of people to Kansai Gaidai. A few things on the walk there; it is not 10 mins as said in the emails, not 20 mins as said on the site but more like 30 mins. If you jog you can get there in 20 mins. Also, as my first “Rule of Japan”, is the rain and when it rains: “It will always rain when one heads out for classes. If it is raining before one starts out and they choose to wait for the rain to stop it will rain all day. If, however, one forges ahead and goes to class in the rain it will stop raining right after one gets there”. You know how in all the animes it will thunder once, a few drops will fall, and then it pours while everyone runs for cover? I thought it was unrealistic; just a method of showing that it started to rain. I no longer think this. It is exactly how it happens. Just that quick; we even got the little single bit of thunder. No one had brought an umbrella, it had been sunny outside before we left. Silly gaijin! We all got soaked through and through, and all swore we would buy umbrellas as soon as we found a shop that sold them!

Arriving soaking but not unhappy I sat down for the first general meeting. As expected this was mostly an introduction to Kansai Gaidai with the main focus being on what we were supposed to get done that day. The orientation manual was discussed briefly, but for the most part they said we needed to: Pay fees, go to the registration lottery and attend the introduction meetings. There was also a banking session later that night.

Unfortunately, Japan is very humid. I spent the rest of the day quite wet because one simply doesn’t dry out, even in an air conditioned building. We spent the first part of the day in the “media center”, and it was only later that I realized this building wasn’t the international one (if I had looked a my map a little closer I would have noticed it quicker).

After the first meeting we were sent off to pay fees and then go to the registration lottery. Fortunately someone knew where they were going and we could simply follow the huge crowd of students. I’ve never really realized how large an amount of people 450 are! The international students alone can provide quite a bit of life to the campus, although it is supposed to become downright busy once the Japanese term starts. There were two lines leading into the building when we got there; those of us at the back of the line (incorrectly) assumed that both lines were for the same thing. Fortunately for me I guessed the correct one; they had us pay one bill, then go to the other line to pay the other bills. One of the very few completely illogical things I’ve seen in Japan so far; they could have run us through a single line and it would have gone much quicker. The same people were servicing both lines, at the same endpoints.

My fees were lower than most peoples because I am a “full exchange” student; I pay more things through my home University. Because of this I was able to get in and out somewhat quickly without filling out the additional forms necessary for most everyone else in the line. The registration lottery was another story; the line was HUGE by the time I got there. Everyone in it was frantically trying to decide which classes they wanted; there was a “class registration” listed for tomorrow but no one has explained what in the world a “registration lottery” might be. As it turned out it was just drawing a number, the number determining your place in the line the following day for registration. Low numbers could get in the classes they wanted, high ones had to take whatever scraps were left. I was 98 out of 500, low enough to get me into every class I wanted to be in.

When I was finally finished waiting in the lottery line (it took almost an hour!) I went off to find something to eat. Although there are cafeteria on campus that serve Japanese food they are quite intimidating to use for the first time; I looked at one and then chose the only restaurant on campus. Which is a McDonnalds! My first real meal in Japan, and I get to go to McDonnalds! Oh well; it was familiar, and I was hungry enough I didn’t care what I ate. The layout of the McDonnalds is not at all similar to what we expect; normally we expect to order and then sit down/wait for the meal. In this McDonnalds you grab a tray, go down the line picking up whatever food they have premade that you want, then order whatever food you want that they didn’t have premade and finally get to the pay spot and pay for what you have/have ordered. They then hand you a number and call it when your food is ready. Since they call the numbers in Japanese I still have to take 10 seconds to recognize which number it is; hopefully I can start using Japanese numbers without translating them soon! The food on the other hand is identical to that from an American McDonnalds with one exception; a teriyaki burger. It is good, but I don’t think they soy based sauce and mayonnaise go well together! The Japanese use mayo on everything though.

The later part of the “school” day consisted of going to various meetings. First another general meeting which had almost no information, then a meeting for people living in the Seminar Houses which focused entirely on what we should and shouldn’t do. The final meeting was one to open a local banking account. Most people say this is the worst meeting you will have to go to, and they are probably right! It is frustrating for both the students and the people hosting it. Because the bank people can not read English and we had to fill out our names exactly as shown on our passports we had to be extremely careful when writing. The difference between ‘Y’ and ‘y’ wouldn’t be recognized, for example. Misplacing a comma or inserting a comma where one didn’t exist before would result in rejection. Your signatures had to match exactly. Not fun, but it only took me two tries to get it right! Some more unfortunate people took as many as 15 tries.

The banking session ran over its expected time by almost an hour, so I was late getting back. I hadn’t eaten, and had no clue where I might go to buy food. The convenience store above McDonnalds closes at 5, apparently, so I wasn’t able to buy an umbrella and some ramen as I had planned! I wasn’t extremely hungry so I thought I would just go back, sleep, and get breakfast in the morning. After finding a few students to walk back with (I wasn’t the only clueless one; there were several hanging around the gate waiting for someone to guide them!) I made the long walk back to Seminar House 3.

I should mention that it is quite humid and hot here; every time I walk into the dorm I feel that I need to shower/rinse off. Fortunately we have plenty of showers! After showering and writing a little on my blog my housemates decided to go out to get food. Initially I wasn’t going to go, but my to-be-homestay roommate encouraged me to tag along so I could get to know the rest of the people living here better.

Even though I was tired I am glad I went! We waited at the front gate of Seminar House III for almost 30 minutes, and while we waited we collected more and more people. Gaijin Army! It is no wonder Japanese people think of us as loud; the gathering was certainly not quiet. As we walked I tried to start conversations with several people, unfortunatly, and as usual, that didn’t go so well. As we reached the far side of the park though someone started a conversation with me! We talked the entire way, hanging slightly behind the rest of the group. By the time we finally reached a restaurant that could handle the entire group (and the owner was soooo happy! It was honestly funny to watch how happy he became as 20-30 people walked in) we had discussed quite a bit. Since we were at the back we would have been the last two to be seated; and there was no more tablespace! Alicia isn’t one for large crowds of unknown people any more than me, so we decided to head back and eat at the okonomiyaki restaurant right beside our dorms. Of course, it was full. It is always full! But we didn’t have to wander to far to come across a different restaurant.

The restaurant we came across was a “do it yourself” grill; you ordered a tray full of different meats and then cooked them on the grill in the center of the table! It was quite an experience; not something you would find in America, our food almost caught on fire several times. Alicia is great fun and speaks Japanese extremely well; we had no problem ordering! I think this was much more Japanese then McDonnalds, it made an excellent second meal. When we were ready to leave we paid (quite expensive, 2000 yen each or almost $18 each; but well worth it) and I discovered something that all of the “how to eat in Japan” guides had missed: you never tip!

All in all it was a busy and exciting first day. I returned to my apartment to sleep on the futon and slept extremely well.

Pictures will be uploaded soon! Then more articles; the rest of the orientation week, the first few days of classes and some thoughts on various things I have discovered about the Japanese. I don’t have time to read over this again before leaving, so I may correct a few errors here and there later today.


Promised Pics

Posted in Japan, Life at 9:26 pm by Acorns

After arriving and being told where my room was I had no trouble finding it. The first thing I noticed about the apartment is that the outer door doesn’t lock; instead it opens freely into the lounge/kitchen/baths area of the apartment. The next thing I noticed was that it was HUGE. The pictures don’t do it justice; we could hold a major DDR party here and not be short on room. We can fit everyone in the apartment + 3-4 guests on the seats in front of the TV. If this is Japan’s “modestly sized but cozy” living areas then they don’t fit my idea of cozy! Of course because I am in Semester House III – for which you pay a little extra – my apartment area is probably larger than the other Semester Houses. I haven’t seen more of them than the lobby yet.

The storage areas for each tenant (right inside the door) I don’t expect to be much use. They could be stolen from easily, and are segmented wrong for storing almost anything. Oh well. My next view was of the bathroom area. There are doors to close off the entire bathroom area. Inside the bathroom area are sinks, two toilet rooms, and three shower rooms. I was surprised at the large number of shower rooms, but honestly it is needed! Every time I walk into the dorm rooms I need to take a shower. Unlike the other semester houses the showers are true showers; you turn them on, shower, then turn them off. The toilets are very, very interesting! Instead of being flat on top there is a sink of sorts. When you flush the water must be refilled; so it pours through the sink! Back in the main bathroom area there are 4 sinks and a huge mirror. You aren’t supposed to leave anything in this area, but so far I’m the only one with few enough bathroom items that I haven’t needed to (in my apartment).

The dining room/kitchen area are again huge. The table can seat everyone in the apartment plus guests (although we would be short on chairs). There are two fridges, two large sinks, and a cooking area (which we arn’t allowed to use yet). I honestly don’t spend much time in this main apartment area; I try, but I’m not good at mass socializing! There is one other computer-savy person in my apartment (named Andrew as well!) who I hope to get to know better, but the rest enjoy things I consider a bit too “rowdy” or movies like ‘300’. Unfortunately I am different from them in such a way that it is hard to just hang out!

The final part to my apartment is my own room. This can be locked, and we have a key to it. The key is temporary, we will be given a different one once orientation week is over (also, we will be given a gate key; currently the gates are locked at 11 so we must be back before then. This really hasn’t been a problem). Inside the room you step up onto the tatami matted area. Here are futons, and access to the closets. I put my suitcases inside the closet as you aren’t supposed to sit them on the floor. They said we would be extremely crowded with three people, but it doesn’t feel crowded. The room is large, about the right size for two people; for three there would need to be another desk. You can open a sliding door and step out onto a small balcony; the view over the city from here is nice.

I think my favorite part of my room is the futon. I had been equating it to sleeping in a sleeping bag, or maybe on a couple sleeping bags piled up but it isn’t! It is extremely comfortable; although I didn’t put the covers on in the intended order! I like using the heavy padded… thingy as my main blanket. It is meant to be put on the base and then the sheet used as a cover. My only current roommate (my third roommate is Japanese, he is still living off campus despite his stuff being here) loves it as cold as me and is doing the same. The air conditioner is nice! It took a while (even with the handy Japanese-English how-to-work-the-remote) to figure out how to control it. The hardest part was (embarrassingly) realizing that the remote was IR and not RF/similar. You have to take it off its stand and point it at the right place before any button will work. The Japanese used on the remote is impossible to read, as the small LCD doesn’t have enough pixels to fully create the characters. Everything ends up looking like a black square with one or two blank pixels. It does cool nicely though! It seems that while most Japanese houses provide little or no insulation our Semester Houses are insulated quite well.

My roommate, who will be moving out after orientation to go to a homestay, is from Canada. He speaks French as his first language, then English quite well as a second. He is very, very kind; he has encouraged me to socialize and attend student gatherings (which helped me make a friend!). He allowed me to use his Cat5 cable to connect my wireless router up; this way we could both connect even though my Cat5 cable was in my lost luggage! I am going to try to keep in contact with him even after he leaves for homestay.

I am so far behind in my blog writing! I will soon we writing about my first day, second day, trip to Kyoto, etc. Hopefully this weekend will be as free as it appears and I can catch up! Pictures coming to this post soon.
I promised I would post these pictures. I will incorporate them into a post as soon as I catch up to this point.

Note: To save the pictures first click on the thumbnail then right click on the image and click save as or save image as… you will get the full quality image, here
not just the scaled down one.

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