When we landed in Oita Airport, I was too tired to even keep my eyes open, but I was still so fascinated by all the blossoming cherry trees and beautiful mountains. Everything was new and beautiful. I am glad that even after living there for a semester I still see the same beauty in the surrounding nature and cozy houses by the rice fields.
We settled down in a dormitory building near our campus, where other international students greeted us, showed the place and gave us free bikes to use for the whole semester! They helped us get started and we biked to some stores together, where we needed help with the language. I did not know any Japanese going there and studied mostly the language all semester.
During the studies we learned Japanese at an insane speed and went through the whole Genki 1 book. In addition to language studies, in one course we got insight on the problems and beauty of the culture, society and history of Japan. Maybe the most interesting part was to gain awareness of the reasons why Japan is the way it is, what causes the inequality and working culture problems. Oita University however was not interculturally very prepared and did not have clubs or weekly activities for English speaking people, which was a disappointment.
We made multiple road trips to Kunisaki, which a 1-hour travel from Oita. Kunisaki has very interesting spiritual and religious history as well as beautiful nature. In Kunisaki we joined a rice festival, connected with the locals, tried zazen meditation in a temple and heard a piece of history from the resident minister of the temple. We also saw multiple beautiful shrines and next to temples you could sometimes find “ojizosan”, little buddha statues.
After we were done with school, I travelled throughout Japan with my friend. First, we flew to Tokyo and started slowly traveling downwards from there by train, sleeping in Airbnb or hotels on the way. From Tokyo we went to Nagoya, where we visited some local tourist attractions and I finally bought a phone with a proper camera. From Nagoya we headed to Kyoto, which was stunning with its nature and old architecture. Kyoto was one of my favorite places I visited while in Japan. Next stop was Osaka, which was right next door and after staying there a few nights we went to Hiroshima for a little bit longer time. Hiroshima was another of my favorites, maybe because of how good accommodation we got! Then it was time to go back to Oita and pack our bags to head to Finland.
Overall the exchange was great. There were many happy moments and many disappointing moments, but it is all part of the experience. I have much better understanding of Japanese culture and people, and I have more perspective to life in general through this intercultural experience.