Friday, September 16, 2016

Finding My Way (Ethan)

Finding and mapping my way around Hirakata, Japan has been a very interesting experience.  I consider myself to be someone with a pretty good sense of direction.  If I’ve been somewhere once I can usually find my way back there again and I can usually tell East from West wherever I am.  In Japan, however, I feel very lost.  Even after two and a half weeks I still have trouble figuring out where I am sometimes because the layout of Japan is so drastically different from the way American cities and towns are laid out.  I’m not one to just stay in one place and be content only knowing a few of my immediate surroundings, though, so I’ve been exploring as much as possible.

I started finding my way around on my second day here.  It was the only day I had before orientation started so I figured it was my best chance.  With the help of my phone gps I went walking everywhere and decided to find the nearest arcade (which is only about 1km away).  I also went for a few more walks after this one, including walking to get dinner with some other students.  The only landmarks for me were places I’d been inside of, and even some of those were lost to me.  The location of the restaurant I went to is still a mystery to me because I let someone else lead the way there.  Even so, after 2 or 3 days I was starting to become more comfortable.
My most used route: the path between my dorm and school.
A few more days in I bought a bicycle.  This was an excellent investment in my mapping process and has helped me explore way more than I could have without it.  Now, instead of going for walks I was going for rides for fun.  I was able to make my way to places that are a little farther, like a local mall and the edge of the town I’m staying in.  I was still using my gps to help me get to these places but I’m fairly confident I remember the routes without a map now.  This is partly because I stick to main streets, which are easy to navigate.  I’ve started to explore some residential streets and they are a maze to me.
My map after 6 days.
I’ve continued my exploration and found many new places in town but I still feel like the majority of Hirakata is still a mystery to me.  There are so many places I haven’t been and so many places still feel strange to me.  As I mentioned, I’ve been trying to take some side streets and have actually found a couple good routes in them (which shows a little bit on my last map in the area labelled “side streets”).  Still, the majority of them feel like elaborate labyrinths designed to trap anyone that isn’t from the area.   I’ve ended up having to turn back many times because I’ve reached randomly placed dead ends and streets that circle back on themselves.  Exploring these streets is an ongoing process and I don’t think I’ll ever fully get to know these areas.
My map after about 2 weeks.
I’m still finding my way around Hirakata and while I’ve mostly gotten to know main streets and shops that I regularly use, I plan to get to know more as I continue exploring the area.  I know I’ll never completely know my way around the city but I think that by December I can become fairly knowledgeable about local geography.  I continue to explore every day and will keep doing so every day I’m here.
The maze of a city I am learning to navigate.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

To Explore My Own Way in AIU (Millie Fan)

My story started from the 7th day when I arrived in Japan. It was the day that I left Osaka to go to Akita. It meant that I have to live in Japan by myself, without any parents, relatives and friends. Suddenly, everything seems untrue and there was a new world opening for me.

The views from the plane were… fantastic? Unlike awesome cities (Tokyo, Osaka, etc) full of skyscrapers, there was a wide stretch of land spread in front of my eyes. Oh, here we go. I was nearly in Akita!
View from the Plane, by Xiyi
It only took us 10 more minutes by bus to arrive AIU. Otherwise, it also showed that AIU is not close to the downtown city. Our neighborhood is quite small; only the university can be the central landmarks. Within my first 2 days’ mapping, I nearly draw nothing on it. I always lost the way even I was walking on the campus. Actually, the campus is not that big, it has the same size like Beloit. But the buildings here almost are built look similar. The most interesting part is that there are eight buildings connect with each other, I can’t ensure not to get lost in such similar environment.
In Front of the University, by Xiyi
Map of Campus
Finally, in the weekends, I have the opportunity to explore the local area. There are only two routes to get out of this place: one to the Akita city, another to the shopping mall. Due to the large areas in Akita city, the students prefer shopping mall to buying daily things. Of course, the shopping mall is very big so that it can satisfy almost everything you need. The mall becomes the area which I “mastered” in the weekends. By the way, the shopping mall only 10 minutes by taking bus.  ^6^
The Shopping Mall, by Xiyi
After 2 weeks (now), I am able to know all the ways on campus. I won’t get lost any more. In addition, occasionally I go into the “Akita Central Park”, the park which faces our school across the street. The park has lots of playgrounds, basketball courts and even a baseball field. If there are nobody walks with me, I won’t get into there. The park is too big for me which I afraid to lost myself again; it’s can be the “great unknown” place in Akita areas.
Akita Central Park, by Xiyi
Sadly, I haven’t been to Akita city yet. I hope it is the other wonderful place (except the mall) for all the international students here. However, as an inhabitant, I no longer be confused in this rural place. I am gradually familiar with my new school, my friends and even my professors. I think this is a new beginning for me in Akita, in Japan.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

I Think It Was A Left…. Ha-ha, Nope. Where Am I? (Hannah)

Park across the street from the seminar house.
Anyone who really knows me knows that my sense of direction is practically non-existent. The second day of my arrival I didn’t have anything to do, so I spent almost two hours (with no GPS, since I had no Wi-Fi router yet) roaming around the Seminar House dorms and surrounding area, searching for Kansai Gaidai Campus and the building in which we would have our first orientation meeting so I would know where to go the next morning (turns out the RAs walked us there, and it was all for naught). But I learned a lot about the area, and I learned just how valuable a bicycle could be.

From Seminar House 1, it takes anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes to walk to Kansai Gaidai East Gate, all the way up the back behind the athletic fields, and across campus to where most of our orientation meetings were held. That, coupled with lugging a backpack in 90+degree Fahrenheit weather makes for a very, very long trek

Hirakata map, Day 1/2
In front of the Seminar House 1 is a big park, and somewhere to the left was a straight shot road to campus, to the right was a mysterious street, but it had a restaurant or two that was very popular with the dorm residents. Second day in Japan and I’m still trying to keep a level head and figure out where I am, what I’m doing, and where I need to go.

Hirakata map, day 5/6
A week later and I have a much better grasp of the area. The rest of the week walking to and from the grocery store or East Gate, I marked my way with small things, like the park, a small shrine, a blue and white insurance sign, and the Top World Supermarket in the distance. I knew my way to the Top World food market, the KGU East Gate, and knew the 7/11 down the block from the campus main entrance (with free Wi-Fi). I astounded myself when I realized how quickly I adapted to the new area. There were still many places left unexplored.

And then, I had to move to Neyagawa Ward! Doing home stay, I had to get used to an entirely new set of streets, paths, and landmarks. My host family was very helpful, and after only two or three days I was able to have a decent mind map of the area.

Homestay residence to KGU campus, September 5
I have not explored much around the area outside the path to school, but I plan to take a Saturday or Sunday and do so. I’ve somewhat mastered the train system from Kayashima Station, a short 3 minute walk from my home stay, to Gotenyama Station, a 15-20 minute ride, and the subsequent 10-15 minute walk from Gotenyama to campus. I find new shops and restaurants every day (apparently there’s a bakery next to Gotenyama, and I’m definitely stopping by).
Walk to Kayashima Station from homestay residence

Monday, September 12, 2016

Adjusting to Tokyo (Emma)

Tokyo view
Personally, I have always been good at remembering places and directions, which has come in handy so far during my study abroad experience. Knowing where I am has not been a problem (so far) during my time in Japan. While I have purposefully tried to go off the beaten path and get around by going down windy residential roads, I haven’t really encountered the experience of being physically lost yet. Mentally and emotionally lost is another story, but I think that comes hand in hand with moving to a country that has an entirely different language and culture.
My Street
Because I was able to visit Tokyo earlier this summer, I feel like my adjustment period has been very different from the other exchange students at my dorm. Having a good grasp of the Rikkyo campus and the area around Shiki Station has led to me spending a lot more time exploring other areas of Tokyo. Even though I’ve been living at my RUID Shiki for a grand total of 5 days, most of those days have been spent exploring other districts. I’ve gotten very used to taking the  trains everywhere, and it’s given me a much better sense of Tokyo- just the everyday hustle and bustle of people on their commute. Being constantly surrounded by crowds has been exhausting, but I’ve found myself growing more accustomed to it every day. In some ways, following the crowds has lead me to some very interesting places. However, I do want to find more streets and neighborhoods that don’t have a constant stream of people.
Big A Supermarket
Part of my goal this weekend is to start getting to know the area around my dorm, and to spend less time exploring Tokyo as a whole. The weather has been incredibly humid lately, so the thought of just walking around my neighborhood with no real destination in mind hasn’t been that enticing. However, it’s starting to sink in that I’m actually here for a long time. While I’ve been a frequent visitor at the discount food store down the street, I want to find some other grocery shopping options. I want to know if the gyoza restaurant I see every morning on my walk to the station has any good food. Part of me doesn’t want to stop being a tourist, but the moment classes start I know I’ll have to begin focusing more on school and frequenting the cafes and restaurants that are close by.  My mental map around my dorm feels very empty at the moment and I want to be able to expand my knowledge of this city. While my residence card may label me as a Shiki resident, in many ways I still feel like a visitor.
My Map

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Start of Something New (Ethan)

I’ve been in Japan for a few days now so from a geographical standpoint, my journey in Japan has already begun.  From a learning standpoint, though, my journey is just now starting.  Aside from a day trip to Niagara Falls, I’ve never left the United States before and the farthest places I’ve been from my home in the Chicago suburbs are Puerto Rico and San Francisco.  Being in such a new and different country, I have a flood of different feelings and emotions. 

As I set out on this journey I’m (sorry for sounding cliché here) both excited and nervous.  Currently my excitement outweighs my nerves and I can’t wait for all the experiences I’ll have here but there are still a few experiences that I’m nervous about.  I’m fairly self-conscious when I speak Japanese with fellow American students, so I’m very nervous about adapting to speaking with Japanese natives.  It also makes me nervous when I think about the fact that I’ll almost definitely have several experiences involving cultural misunderstandings.  Of course, these experiences will be the most valuable part of my journey and will be what truly helps me to explore and understand this new culture, so, while these coming experiences do make me nervous, I’m excited to learn from them.  I’d be lying if I said learning was all I’m excited about though.  I’m excited to meet people, to experience various aspects of Japanese culture and pop culture first hand, and to try tons of delicious food.

Coming from a background with very little foreign experience, I think that over the next semester I’ll learn some of the most valuable lessons in my life.  I’m nervous but I feel ready for what the next few months throw my way, and come December I hope I’ll have grown much more as a person.
View from Where I Will Be Staying the Next Four Months

Friday, September 2, 2016

Beginning My Year Abroad (Emma)

As I set out on this journey, I’ve found myself wide awake just a few hours before I leave for Japan. I’m all packed, and while most of me feels completely ready to make my way to Tokyo, a large part of me is second guessing myself. It’s not that I’m not excited for this experience (my friends can verify that it’s taken most of my self-control to stop talking about this upcoming year), but there are a lot of things that I need to consider.

One of the hardest things for me to wrap my brain around is the fact that I’m going to be ‘stuck’ in Japan for the next 11 months. While part of that sounds amazing, I feel like this will be one of the most challenging parts of my year abroad. My family and I are very close, and 11 months is the longest I’ve stayed apart by far. While I know I’ll have a great time, sitting down with some KFC is nowhere near to the Christmas celebration I’m used to. This has resulted in a lot of dog cuddling, hanging out with my brother, and small family outings. It’s going to be different, and to some extent I’m really ready for this push away from home, but in many ways it’s something that I’m unable to prepare myself for until I arrive in Japan. 
Last Day with my Dog
For this first time in my life, I’m also able to financially support myself (outside of school tuition). I’ve spent a lot of this past summer working over 40 hours a week which was a learning curve in itself, and after arriving in Japan it will be the first time I’m only relying on myself for food, essentials, and dorm fees. It’s nice to know that if I completely mess up I’m able to ask my family for help, but I think it’s going to be a good experience figuring out how to ‘be an adult’.

Other than that, there are many ways in which my language and cultural competency will improve, and I’m very excited to get to the point in which living in Japan feels mundane. I’ve got 11 months to find my favorite restaurants, cafes, tv shows and parks. So here I am, slightly anxious but mostly excited for my year at Rikkyo University, I just have to get on my plane and make it to Tokyo.

Plane Ride