Tag Archives: Japan

Greeting from Oita (Tampere), Japan (Finland)

My student exchange in Oita University was an interesting one. Due the current epidemic, the borders to Japan were closed the entire time so I had to do exchange remotely. In fact, there were some hope to visit Japan at the end of the exchange, but the situation didn’t change so we stayed in our home countries instead.

Despite the fact, that I couldn’t visit the country itself, the classes were interesting ones and teachers were talented. The classes focused mainly on Japanese language or learning about Japanese history, culture or society. Some of the courses were quite exhausting, as we progressed fast and there were lot of homework. And it wasn’t helping that I worked full-time during the whole exchange (remotely too). So, I had to make some arrangements to work things out.

My student exchange setup

Compared to Finnish studies, things are a bit different in Japan. In Finnish classes some people will always be late, we tend to multitask something else at the same time (especially during Zoom sessions, I am looking at you :D) and we start the lecture after little ‘warming up’ after 5 minutes or so. In Oita University studies, on the contrary, almost nobody was late, and students had to focus on lectures because the pace was fast (and partly because we were required to have webcam on the whole time). Not to mention, teachers usually went straight to the topic, thus lectures started immediately.

When it comes to spare time activities, it’s unfortunate that we had none, even remotely. The only interactions we had with exchange or Japanese students were during the lectures. Not that I had time for spare time activities, but it would’ve been nice to get to know some people, nevertheless.

Overall, the exchange was nice despite the letdown of never visiting Japan. I learned a lot from the courses and improved my Japanese skills. Therefore, I can recommend their exchange student program. But maybe one day, after this epidemic is over, I will visit Oita for real and jump into the onsen I have so dreamt about:)

山梨 = Yamanashi = Mountain pear = ⛰🍐

Hello from Yamanashi, Japan!

It’s been a good 1,5 years here, I got so comfortable here I almost forgot how to leave. Yamanashi is such a chill city, only 2 hours from Tokyo but totally different world. Few people, surrounded by mountains and a lot of students going to their sports practice was it soccer, swimming or rugby. I would often hear some Japanese martial arts practice noises to my dormitory room.

                     

Due to corona almost everything has been online all the way, but I think that’s been the same everywhere. Actually compared to Finland, Japan’s restrictions weren’t all that strict. Even so I’ve made a lot of friends here, the international environment can make even an unsocial Finn surprisingly social. My days are filled with a bit of studying, hanging out with friends and going to supermarkets.

One of my favorite hobbies here is running by this huge river – the scenery and nature never fail to amaze me! The only tricky thing is the temperature and humidity here, you run out of breath way faster when you’re not used to crazy humidity and 30 degrees. But running at night is an option too!

– Petra

 

Greetings from Oita, Japan/my living room!

After years of planning, I finally embarked on a study exchange to Japan, at Oita University to be specific. The twist is that I didn’t set foot anywhere near Japan and completed the entirety of the exchange remotely, from the safety of my living room in Tampere. This was of course all due to the ongoing pandemic and the fact that no foreigner without residency was/is allowed into the country. As I completely missed out on the aspect of immersing myself in the local culture, this post will solely focus on the academic side of things.

The exchange program at Oita mainly focuses on Japanese language and culture. I personally enrolled on four Japanese language courses and four courses touching upon different aspects of Japanese culture. My days generally started at 7am and ended at 12, that being Finnish time. The scheduling was worked out rather well by Oita University, taking into account the fact that there are people attending the lessons across many different time zones.


Compared to what I’m used to at TAMK, the lessons at Oita had less interaction between students. That could of course simply boil down to the fact that the lessons were implemented remotely. Overall, the interactions with other students were relatively limited. I didn’t have any contact with others outside of classes and related coursework. I didn’t really mind this as I’m more of a lone wolf anyway, but I still suppose it would’ve been nice to connect with someone on a deeper level. That being said, the lessons were very efficient. I can’t really elaborate on this. I guess I could say that the structure and the flow of lessons was very efficient.

Overall, the most valuable thing I got out of this program was the Japanese language studies. The quality of the Japanese lessons was top notch with great teachers and the lessons went a long way in improving my Japanese. While I feel like I mostly missed out on the cultural and social aspects of an exchange, I can still say I’m happy I took the chance to do this exchange remotely. While far from ideal, it was still the best thing I could’ve done under these circumstances.

Quiet life in a quiet city

I did my exchange studies in International College of Liberal Arts (iCLA), which is a part of Yamanashi Gakuin University in Kofu, Japan. Kofu is a small city in the Japanese scale with a population of almost 200,000 people. It’s around the same size as Tampere, so it didn’t feel tiny for someone from Finland. The city center has everything you need and there’s also a big shopping mall one short train ride away. The area is surrounded by beautiful mountains and Mt. Fuji is visible from the campus on a clear day. The area is known for it’s grapes, peaches and it’s famous warlord from the Sengoku period, Takeda Shingen.

Due to the situation with the ongoing pandemic, all the courses were held online. I study media and arts and could find courses and workshops relevant to my studies, like graphic design, interactive art and the basics of game development. The credits (as of now) are worth double in the Finnish system. The online teaching works okay, but for some courses it’s been quite a challenge (like acting class). I also heard that the online teaching will continue on the autumn semester as well, so if by any chance someone is going there, keep that in mind. The courses itself have been okay and I have learned some new things. There’s also quite interesting workshops available which you can experience in Japan only, like shugendo and Mt. Fuji excursion.

It’s hard to say what normal studies at iCLA would be like. I’ve heard stories of the normal student life with all the festivals, galas and trips. For us, everything got cancelled (understandable). We didn’t have the entrance ceremony or any of the offline orientation programme. The student lounge closed after a few weeks into the semester and we were told not to hang out together or travel. There were no places to exercise in, the hobby clubs were closed and the Wi-Fi outside of the locked student lounge didn’t support gaming either. Even the meal plan we all had to enroll in served the meals in plastic boxes so we wouldn’t eat in the same space. It was a struggle to adjust to this new lifestyle at first because suddenly all the things you were used to were taken away, but after some time you learned to live with the situation.  I am not blaming the school for taking all these precautions, but I feel like something else could’ve been given to us in return. From what I’ve heard the situation is really different from the previous semester. Everybody seems to truly love iCLA and were sorry that it had to work out like this for me.

Something to keep in mind when moving to iCLA: everybody has to be a part of the meal plan (unless you have a doctor write you an confirmation that you can be excused due to allergies or health issues) and the food is served three times a day, usually in the cafeteria, the dorms are separated by sex and connected to the school building itself and the staff is very helpful and willing to answer questions. There’s an art room for artists to work and sew in and a student lounge connected to it where people could meet and play together. The average age of a student is around 20 years old, so keep that in mind if you’re an older student wishing for company around your own age.

To spend time people usually talk with each other or visit the restaurants nearby. Sometimes we would go to the mountains or karaoke, but as the situation was what it was, there wasn’t much to do. However in a normal situation I am sure people would be able to experience many wonderful things in this city, join hobby clubs and meet lots of new people. And any nerd would be happy to hear that Yamanashi’s mountain area is the inspiration for Pokémon’s Viridian Forest! It truly felt like that as well. You will know if you visit the forest during summertime. If you’re into anime pilgrimages, Yuru Camp is based in Yamanashi and can be seen advertised all around Kofu.

Based on other’s stories and the nice personnel in iCLA, I would recommend the school to anyone planning on going to Japan for an exchange. However I would not recommend going anywhere during a pandemic. Stay safe!

 

Greetings from Sapporo

This year I had an internship in the city of Sapporo, Japan in Hokkaido University’s department of engineering. There I mainly did laboratory works with my pair and reported on the findings we did. I didn’t participate in any lectures, but I did participate on weekly meetings with our professor to update our situation and seminars in which each week somebody announced their progress to the members of the laboratory.

The main thing what I actually did was studying the materials related to the next laboratory work and then making a lot of experiments. Then after that was handling the data in excel and reporting it to the professor.

Arrival to Japan happened in late spring just in time for the late cherry blossoms of northern Japan. It was an historical time to be in the country since I was there just when the emperor retired, and a new era, Reiwa, began. To celebrate there was a festival in the local park, where I went. It was timed to group of national holidays called golden week, which was extended this year.

In my spare time I visited neighbouring and went to eat local food towns with some new friends from my laboratory. One such trip was to the town of Otaru with a bicycle. It was an interesting trip and, on our way back I definitely noticed I need more exercise. The place is famous for its seafood, historically remarkable city centre and beautiful landscapes.

 

We also visited the town of Furano in central Hokkaido to see the lavender fields they have there, also there was a place where everyone could try their hands at pottery. I went also to couple of mountains around Sapporo. Mount Moiwa is said to have one of top five, night landscapes in Japan.

One great thing about Hokkaido University is that the University has clubs that arrange meetings and different events where locals and international students can meet. There were barbeques, cooking sessions, one museum tour and many other things. There are also all kinds of event for the whole school. There was a sports day, and a festival, where the main street of the campus was filled with different stands and all kinds of events like mini concerts and dance competitions. This and my other activities made it so that it doesn’t get boring!

Studying there was different at least for me. I wasn’t a normal student so I can’t compare the lectures given there to the Finnish ones. But for the working culture around the laboratory and maybe little in general is something I can compare.

It was very common to work late. The seminars where I did attend started generally at 5 pm. Sometimes there were still people in the student room of our laboratory working at 9 or 10 pm. It was not a rarity to go out eating after the day. I discussed about the working culture in Japan and apparently it is common in the working world that you go out to drink most days with your boss and co-workers after work. This way you can bond with them, but you miss a lot of time in home compared to Finland.

People are also much more company loyal and don’t really change their workplace that often. But companies also take good care of their employees. This is what I heard at least. However, my work in the laboratory was very independent. I needed decide by myself when and how to do the tasks that were given. In Finland we have some courses that are relatively independent but nowhere close to that level.

A City in the Countryside – Oita, Japan

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.

Melting in the heat of Kyushu

I am writing from the faraway land of Japan, more specifically from the southern main island of Kyushu. The summer here has been brutal for a northern boi like me, but somehow I have survived thus far. The nature, culture and food over here is pretty much reasons alone for anyone to travel to this place. I have been able to go on field trips to remote areas deep in the mountains of Kunisaki peninsula, where one could find an old samurai castle town of Kitsuki, which still has many old buildings, original or rebuilt. Going there was instantly a trip back in time, much like any old temple one might bump into when exploring the countryside. I have found so many Shinto shrines by just jumping on the bicycle and going somewhere. Many of then are luckily marked on Google maps, but I have been doing more of the rogue exploration with nothing to guide me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The studying here is a lot more intensive than back home, and the campus library is full of people studying till the closing time and even on weekends. People seem to take their studies a lot more seriously, but also they are given a lot of homework, which I’m not used to at all. Of course we international students have different courses for the most part and the teachers are pretty chill, so I don’t think we are doing nearly as much work as the Japanese students are. Also, here a course only has a single 1,5h lesson a week, so in my case I have 8 courses and 8 classes every week.

As a film and TV student I pretty much had nothing here that would strictly connect to my studies, but I don’t regret coming here for a second as the cultural experience has totally been worth the effort. As I said before, international students have a pool of courses to choose from, and I think most of them are catered towards people who study economics, with minor overlap with other majors. Still I would recommend Oita for anyone who wants to experience Japan, especially if you are into the countryside and exploring remote places like I am. Any city dwelling folk could maybe benefit more from going up north into a bigger university.

We got to participate in a local rice planting festival, where people would assemble in a row to fill a section of the field with rice, then everyone would step back and fill another row. This way a rather large field was filled pretty quickly and the end result looked something like this. Pretty cool huh.

In between a mountain valley was a ton of rice fields and these lonely houses, humbly sitting beneath the towering mountains all around.

I would say this university is best for people who want to learn Japanese or perfect the skills they already have. There are other courses that one could find interesting, like popular culture (manga, anime etc.) and history. If you want to advance your studies or career plan maybe this place is not the best place for you, but for me it was just fine as a cultural experience and a cool new view into a bigger world than Small Town Finland where I’ve spent most of my life.

日本はすてきですね!With kindest greetings, from Sapporo, Hokkaido

Just a month ago, I arrived at Japan for an internship exchange in Hokkaido University in Sapporo. Time flies so quickly when you’re having fun, and the last month was a wonderful time for me and probably the Golden time of my academic journey.

I came here as an intern student for Water Reclamation Laboratory in Department of Environmental Engineering. The aim of the researches in the lab was to improve performance of pre-existing treatment methods, or further develop it. At first, I thought my task was to conduct measurements, lab works and do errands in the lab. However, as soon as I spoke to the Head Professor of our lab, the situation was totally different from what I was expecting. Each student here has their own research project, and since I join as an intern student, I should choose a project that I am most interested in and work with it. Thus, the first week of my internship was basically just talking to everyone, getting familiar with the working environment, and getting ready. Therefore, my recommendation, if you decided to conduct an internship here, is to be clear of what you want to do before coming.

Besides the work here, everyone was super friendly and kind. I have really fun lab-mates who held a welcome party for me, which I didn’t have to pay anything. We also had a barbecue party to enjoy the cherry blossom, since in Hokkaido they bloom later than the rest of Japan. My lab-mates English skills are not so good since Japanese people overall do not excel in listening and speaking. However, they are always eager to learn and very patience when they try to communicate with me. A guy even told me he wanted to practice his English with me, and I was thrilled that I could also help them like they have helped me here.

My lab-mates enjoying Sapporo cuisine, soup curry
e3 welcome party

In Hokkaido University, there are many student clubs and organizations. One of them are e3, which are the students studying their master and doctoral in English Engineering Education program. This student organization held many events for members, including a welcome party and barbecue in a park. Even non-e3 students can join, if you contribute to the club by paying for the event you participated in. I joined both of the party and made friends with plenty of international students of Hokudai. It really helped me with my time here, since I don’t have many friends besides my lab-mates. It was great to be able to socialize with other international students and share with them your experience in Japan. I highly recommend that you join events like this one.

Last week was the Golden week in Japan, when they have a 10 days holiday to travel or rest. During that time, people often travel all over Japan for sightseeing, hobby, and to relax after months of hard work. However, the ticket price was very high during this period, so I decided not to go too far and just travel around Sapporo. I went to hot spring in a small town near Sapporo and visited some sight-seeing location there. This was also a good time to enjoy Japanese food, as I got the chance to try real authentic sushi!

Cherry blossom season
Seafood rice bowl, my favorite Japanese dish

Japan has always been the country on the top of my bucket list, and I finally made it. All the experiences, good or bad, will be something that I cherish. Japan is such a lovable country, that I look forward to returning here again, either for business or vacation. So, are you ready for it?

 

Konnichiwa from Beppu the onsen city!

The view from our dormitory lounge.

My exchange studies began well in Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University. The city of Beppu and region itself have been delightful and the life is so different here. It has been quite a learning process to get hang of everything (and a money sink) but nonetheless, it has been a nice experience.

The pictoresque twin towers of APU

In TAMK, I’m a media student but here in APU I’ve been studying more common topics: Japanese language, history and multicultural studies. The university offers some media courses but they are more analytical than practical ones that we have in TAMK (well, APU has media lab courses but they are in Japanese). My media studies here have been about analysing media theories and its history. Basically we have been watching movies and reading texts and then analysed them by discussing or writing essays about them. It has been interesting change of study style. And even though I ended up studying more non-media courses, it is nice and interesting to acquire common knowledge about this part of the world – I also think that the knowledge is very valuable if I try to get into Japanese media market in the future!

The lunches are very nice and tasty in APU cafeteria.

The study style is very different in APU when compared with TAMK. APU is an academic university so the studies are more about listening to lectures and writing essays. It took some time to get used to it. The class schedule can also be quite daunting: earliest classes start around 9 a.m. and last ones end at 8 p.m.! The school days can be quite long, depending on what courses you pick (I’m still wondering how the actual degree students here cope with it because they have even more courses than I!). APU does not have separate lunch hour for students and therefore, we have to schedule our lunches or snack breaks by ourselves – which might be hard if you have multiple subsequent lectures on a day. It is not a surprise that multiple third-party food stalls dot the university yard, providing grab-and-go sustenance for the busy students.

Beppu offers multiple nice activities to do during my spare time. The region is especially famous for its big number of onsen (hot springs), e.g. “Hells of Beppu”, but there are of course many other tourist attractions like the monkey mountain, aquarium, shopping centers etc.

The monkey park in Beppu
Otherwordly hot spring at Hells of Beppu attraction.

The area is also very beautiful: it is nice to stroll around the city and check out the Japanese architecture and nature because it is so different in comparison with Finland. There are always interesting new side alleys, little shrines and nooks to explore. I’m not a big foodie person but it is still very delightful to try out the local restaurants because the price level is a lot cheaper here! Obviously, the food tastes crazy good too – even though I have to evade seaweed and raw fish almost all the time (not a big friend of those).

Lots of sweet and snack stalls were present at the Christmas fair of Beppu

See you!

 

別府からこんにちは!Warm Greetings from Beppu!

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!!

Welcome to Beppu!

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.

Photoshooting kimonos at the neighbouring beach

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.

View to the next door onsen (on the left) after Typhoon Trami

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.

Path to Umi Jigoku

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!

View from campus on a sunny day…
…and on a foggy day.

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!

Studies starting in 3 2 1!

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.

Training on a makiwara target

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.

It wouldn’t be an exchange without all the group selfies!

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.

またね、日本!