Happy new year from the beautiful small (in Japan terms) city of Oita, Japan! I have been here for three months now, and there are only two left. I will definitely miss this place, my second home! As a TAMK business student, our choices are limited to Ritsumeikan in Beppu and Oita University. I chose Oita University due to wanting to experience a more rural and exclusively Japanese atmosphere – compared to Ritsumeikan where around half of the students are foreigners, in Oita University there are only a handful of us westerners.
Commuting to university every day
I arrived at the end of September and for the entire month of October the weather was around 30 degrees, which was way too hot for me! In addition to the temperature, the air humidity is very high, thanks to the subtropical atmosphere. Now in December it has finally reached around 7-12 degrees, and as soon as the sun is out it’s a bit chilly. The courses and studying here aren’t much different from TAMK, except maybe when it comes to the amount of homework. Teachers are respected much more than in Finland, and unfortunately this also means they do not take well to any kind of criticism. This is the same when it comes to any workplace, as the hierarchy rules are much stricter than in Finland. The first week was intense with everyone having to go through a lot of bureaucracy at the city hall, get our own hanko, and take part in a physical examination.
Places close to our university & Kokonoe rope bridge
The study programme in Oita University is mostly about Japanese language and culture. If you were interested in international business, and learning skills and getting international contacts, I suppose Ritsumeikan is the better alternative. But for me, Oita has been perfect so far. Out of my eight courses, five are Japanese language and the other courses are more about Japanese culture, like the “Ethnographic study of rural Japan”-course, where we have been doing overnight study trips to a few places. It’s a great course to experience rural Japan and eat many delicious foods!
One of the mysterious ghost buildings close to University…
Every new student’s Japanese language ability was tested on the first day in a written test and a subsequent interview. My own ability was intermediate as I thought, and I took the level 3 courses out of 6. The higher courses are for very advanced people though, so I didn’t mind. My language has improved and I’ve gotten encouraged, even though the first two or three weeks were incredibly intense and I felt I might not be able to keep up! Don’t worry if you don’t know any Japanese, you will start from the basics at level 1, but many students told me that it was a really fast and intense course, so you should definitely learn hiragana and katakana at least before coming here. It will make your exchange experience infinitely better!
Every week we write one essay for writing class by hand – improved handwriting…?!
There are three different accommodations in Oita University, and I was placed in Kishukusha, a dorm for international students located on campus. The rent is very cheap, approximately 18 000 yen a month including internet, water, electricity and gas. My room is quite small but includes a Japanese toilet (a washlet with all the regular functions like butt shower), an AC, fridge/freezer, and a very tiny kitchen. The showers are shared per floor but very private, so no worries there even if I was scared at the idea at first myself. The other options are the general student dorm Gakuseiryo (most expensive), and another international residence downtown called Kaikan (cheapest but far from school).
I have experienced so much on my exchange so far, and I can’t imagine it getting much better than this. During the first month we had a school trip to Kokonoe rope bridge, had a cultural festival where we made food to sell for others, and I visited and explored many many areas including a beautiful Buddhist temple and endless rural living areas. I even had time during Christmas holiday to make a short trip to Taiwan! Nowadays I spend most of my free time at the dorm’s common room, and try to study (but am often distracted…), but especially the first two months I spent a lot of time exploring the city, playing at arcades, going to the movies (expensive here) and eating at various restaurants. I enjoy life here and would prefer to stay!
A crossdressing competition at cultural festival at the university – this wasn’t the winning team
If there’s anything negative about Oita University, it’s that I haven’t been able to get any kind of contacts or help regarding a possible internship from here. For this reason, I believe Ritsumeikan might be better for many people, as I know many foreigners end up working at some place in Beppu, and they encourage people to even start their own business in Beppu/Oita area, and give support to this. Still, my own main goal of gaining Japanese experiences has been fulfilled, but I guess none of this is directly related to international business. When it comes to finding part-time work, knowing really good Japanese is a must except for English teaching jobs, but those require one to be a native speaker so I couldn’t do anything except help out as an English tutor for the Japanese students. I’m going to return to Finland in two months and this has been one of the greatest experiences in my life! Consider Japan for your exchange too!