Did you know that in Finnish Beppu really sounds like a soft way to say butt? Needless to say, my exchange has been full of bad jokes on that accord!!
Jokes aside, my study exchange in Beppu and in Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) has been an absolutely amazing experience. Initially, I had the choice between Beppu (APU) and Kōfu (Yamanashi Gakuin), both quite small cities but Beppu in the south and Kōfu a couple of hours outside of Tokyo, and I was wondering if I should have chosen to go to the Yamanashi prefecture after all. Now, after living in Beppu for half a year I’m glad I chose this way since I got to experience so much, both in and outside of the city.
Beppu in itself does not seem to offer much, given it is a small city in the Oita prefecture, but during these past months, I discovered loads of interesting things to see and do. Beppu is famous for having approximately 2,000 hot springs or onsens across the area. We were lucky enough to have our dorm right next to a large, a rather modern onsen with both inside and outside baths, and needless to say, it became a regular spot for us to visit.
In addition to bathing onsens, there was also a famous area called the Hells of Beppu, Beppu no jigoku, which held eight large natural hot springs of various colour that were too hot for people to bathe in. The jigoku area was covered in awfully sulfur-scented steam but offered some of the most beautiful views in the city.
Our massive campus was located on top of a nearby mountain and offered a breathtaking view down to the city – as long as it wasn’t foggy!
Studies in APU were very different from the ones I had gotten used to in TAMK and quite curiously the university did not offer us any actual media and art subjects, meaning we had to assemble our study plan from language studies and a variety of subjects that kind of supported our topics back in Finland. I didn’t personally agree on all the teaching methods of the professors in APU as for me it felt like they didn’t have a common guideline for the lesson structures or especially for the exams, but I also found some subjects I really enjoyed! One of them was the Japanese language course I took, and I am determined to keep studying the language in Finland as well! Compared to TAMK, the days in APU could get tiringly long (I had from 10:30 to 19:30 twice a week + commuting to campus 30min one way) and we often got tons of homework, resulting in less exploring during weeks than I would have liked to do. In that sense, I am really glad to be back in a practical university!
As it’s common for students in Japan to join in one or more extracurricular activity circles in the university, I was also looking forward to finding an interesting circle to join. APU had a reputation in that accord as it had tens of circles to choose from, including a traditional taiko drum group, large and loud dance group Yoshha-Koi and several other dance groups and others. In the end, I joined a Japanese archery (kyūdō) circle and was the only Western student to do so! I was really happy that I was allowed to join and practice with them, especially after hearing how some universities have banned Western students from joining their more traditional circles.
When I think back to all the adventures I had during this past half a year I am really happy I chose to come to Japan and to Beppu. As commuting to the nearest bigger city Oita was cheap and took only fifteen minutes by train, we could explore there during weekends and even after shorter days at uni. In addition to the Oita prefecture I had a chance to visit Fukuoka, Hiroshima (a tour arranged by APU), Osaka, Sapporo and Tokyo. I made countless of amazing memories and most importantly, met people from different backgrounds and made friends who I know I’ll be keeping in contact with.
I feel that even though I got to see so much, I have yet only scratched the surface of what all Japan has to offer and I know I will be coming back in the future.