Thursday, April 29, 2010

In Before the Lock

Back again. It’s Wednesday the 28th at the time of this writing, and outside the weather is perfect for staying inside. There is no truer statement on the AIU website then the claim that Akita’s weather is a mirror for Portland’s. Outside is so grey that it bleeds into all other aspects of life, masking the color from everything else and making it lose it’s vividness and luster. Like I said, a perfect day for staying inside.

Akita does have it’s fair share of nice days, or at least days that appear nice when you look out the window. I seek solice in my distrust of the weather, it is a gift bestowed upon me by the state of Oregon, where the state motto may someday be “Don’t judge the whether by it’s appearance”. When it looks sunny and warm out my window, and I step outside the door prepared for strong frigid wind and rain, and am met with a cold blast of air strong enough to rip the door from my hands, I’m filled with a sense of accomplishment. I am an Oregonian in Japan, the Gods here cannot shake me.

On these nicer days, I like to get out and about. In order to better absorb the culture of the people of Akita (called Tohoku Culture) I seek to immerse myself in it up to my eyeballs. With the campus being as isolated as it is, however, to pursue my interest, I’m forced to travel. To get to town, a ride on the Goshono bus line is in order, which will take me to Wada Station. Train stations in Japan seem to come in three distinct flavors: The Intense (Shibuya Station, Tokyo Station, Grand Central Station), the Moderate (Akita Station, Fujisawa Station, Disney’s monorail) and the Rural.
From Japan Pictures

Wada Station falls firmly into that final category with a resounding thud. Wada Station is so small I’m hard-pressed to understand how they fit everything they need into it.
From Japan Pictures

The sole reason for this stations existence seems to be that it houses the prefectures snow train, which I look foreword to seeing in action.
From Japan Pictures

From Japan Pictures

Boarding a train at Wada takes me to Akita Station, one of the Moderate stations that your more adventurist tourist is going to see a lot of. As a matter of fact I’ve run into tourists on a number of occasions waiting for trains at Akita Station. As the name implies, Akita Station is the central hub of domestic train activity for the area, as well as the only Shinkanzen stop in the city. So far, with only 1 month here under my belt, this, and the stops leading up to this, is as far as I’ve ventured. Being dropped right into the center of the city is very convenient for somebody looking for adventure though.

I have on a number of occasions walked around Akita City looking for the things I, or my companions, need. It is a relatively impressive city, much like downtown Portland, with malls, restaurants, and boutiques containing everything from the practical to the fashionable. Window shopping and people watching so far have been amusing pastimes. Only recently did I move foreword with my original plan of choosing a direction and walking till tired.

A few days ago, Ben Strickland and I found ourselves with nothing to do. I will from this point on never use the phrase "nothing to do" as lightly as I once did, because when you find yourself isolated from the world on a remote campus where, if you're in the habit of keeping up with your homework, you're left with only the option to sit in a chair and listen to the sounds of blood moving through your eardrums, you truly begin to respect the phrase. We decided, that in an attempt to retain what little sanity we have, we should go into town and do something crazy. Arriving at Akita Station an hour or so later, we chose a direction, and began to walk. Our motives were in perfect unison; the only limits we had were our endurance and our hunger. One does not have to walk to far before running into noteworthy spaces in time.

From Japan Pictures

This cute a Namahage. You wouldn't know by looking at the cute little statue that this is the Akita equivalent of the boogie man. The tale of the Namahage is believed by some to be a warped account of farmers seeing Russians for the first time, exploring the vast forests around Akita. Every new years eve, the Namahage visit the houses of the people in Akita and ask if there are any misbehaving children in the house. There seem to be a lot of parallels between the Namahage and our own Santa Clause with a few exceptions: If you are good, Santa will bring you presents, but the Namahage will just drink your parents booze and eat snacks in the entrance to your house. If you're naughty, you get no presents from Santa, and the Namahage will peel your skin off with that giant knife he's holding. Okay, so maybe the Santa/Namahage comparison is a little off.

From Japan Pictures

I honestly have no idea what this statue is a memorial to. I like to think its dedicated to the children lost in the deep snow, or perhaps it is like a ancient ninja wanted poster.

From Japan Pictures

One of the great things about going off the beaten path is you get to see nifty little things others don't see, like the strange facade of this bank, for example. It was around the time that we passed this bank that we began to talk about having the experience of true immersion. Of course, no foreigner is ever going to feel truly immersed, it's just not feasible, but we were hell bent on trying. We chose the best way to set about this would be to first find a place to eat lunch where no foreigner would ever go. Of course this didn't limit us to run-down old shacks or the kind of places that give you a fried squid in a newspaper; we were just trying to find a genre and a location that was completely Japanese. One look down this ally, and we were pretty sure we would find what we were looking for.

From Japan Pictures

Neither of us were able to figure out the name of the street, if you would be so inclined to call it that. I proposed the name "Awesome Ave." to little applause. There was something about this side street that radiated the Japan of decades past that I've read in so many Murakami books with such intensity that it drew me in immediately. No wider then a car length, both sides of the streets were lined with everything from full sized Japanese style bars with paper doors, to a run down jazz bar with it's shutters down revealing a shotty painting of a mermaid wearing an American flag bikini.

It was at the end of this avenue, tucked between a coke machine and a cigarette vendor that we found what we were looking for:

From Japan Pictures

A corner ramen shop in a neighborhood where we didn't belong, in part of the city foreigners had no reason to visit. It was the experience we were looking for. The lunch went off without a hitch, and while the ramen was not remarkable, the ramen itself was just an ingredient in our overall experience. We both finished our food, paid, and stepped back into the afternoon sunlight to bath in a sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately for us, we focused so much on what we had just experienced that niether of us payed any attention to where we were headed.

2 hours later, you can imagine how lost we were. After all, we had been walking and talking for quite some time, never stopping, and only turning when we came to a T-intersection and had no other choice. We found ourselves wandering around a residential neighborhood, the kind of place you dont take pictures, because thats what stalkers or peeping toms do. We walked for what seemed like miles before finally finding something other then grey apartment complexes, a kindergarden.

From Japan Pictures

And as if the fates had wanted this to not only be a landmark, but a punctuation of our trip, the playground held the only blooming Sakura trees we had seen in all of Akita.

From Japan Pictures

From Japan Pictures

In larger cities like Tokyo and Osaka, if you find yourself lost, you can look for a small building with a badge on it, called Koban, or Police Boxes. Due to the expansive nature of most big cities they are scattered about, about as small as a public restroom, and housing 2 or 3 police officers who will respond to emergencies, but also help any citizen or tourist in a pinch. Unfortunately for Ben and I, we were in little ol' Akita City, so we figured the chances were slim of finding our way out with the help of the local police. We turned out to be wrong however, as 2 blocks down from the kindergarten was the only police box I've seen in all of Akita. The building was in the same style as a convenience store, built squat and covered in sand colored tile, a bright golden badge above the door. The 3 officers inside all seemed quite friendly, probably assigned to this box especially for being good with kids (and child like people such as myself). The senior officer drew us a detailed map on how to get back to the station, even going so far as to draw in landmarks and write the number of lights we would pass, since he assumed we wouldn't be able to read the street signs.

From Japan Pictures

Dead center of this picture you will see a dark grey, almost black building rising above the others. That is the Alive Mall, a shopping center and hotel attached to Akita Station. I took this picture in hopes of relating the sense of exhaustion both Ben and I felt at this time, seeing our final destination, and knowing how long it was going to take to reach it. That hotel is 12 stories tall, and from where we were it looked the size of a matchbox. We both knew we had a long walk ahead of us, so with our landmark plainly in sight, we decided to tuck the map away, and just try our best to make a b-line for the station.

We were to have one more stroke of luck before making it back to the station, and it was all thanks to our decision to disregard the map we'd been given. While walking around aimlessly, I had spoken about wanting to buy some Akita Sake for Sakie's parents. The people of Akita boast about 3 things, having good rice, good water, and because of those, having the best Sake. Because of this, we had both kept our eyes peeled for liquor stores during our walk. Just blocks before reaching the station we stumbled upon a nameless shop on the corner of a T-intersection. Having only noticed the place by a few bottles of something or another sitting in the window, we decided it was worth a shot, slid the woodpane doors aside, and stepped in.

From Japan Pictures

An honest to God liquor shop, specializing in Akita Sake. We couldn't have found a more suitible place if we had built it ourselves. On top of that, the owner spoke only the thick Akita dialect, but was gracious enough to slow down for us. We learned that every Sake he carried was made with the local ingredients that were so famous around Japan. To top it off, he himself made his own Sake, and was proud enough of it's quality to put his own hanko stamp on it. I decided on the small group size bottle of one of his sakes, as well as a smaller bottle of sparkling wine to present as gifts to Sakie's family, while Ben bought a bottle of another type of sake for himself. While the shop owner wrapped my sake (he understood me when I said it would be a gift, points for me) his wife came out of the back, apologized for her husbands difficult to understand Japanese, and offered us tea.

Sharing tea with the owners of a small sake shop in the middle of Akita City, Japan. Just being able to write that affirms my entire trip.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Life Well Wasted

Last week I claimed that I would post an update within 24 hours, but here we are close to a week later and I’m writing an update that may not wrap up the timeline I started in the last one. I have not been ignoring the time going by; far from it, as a matter of fact, I’ve been obsessed with the passing of time, in it’s many colors, over the last few days. I worry about time spent, and time wasted. I worry that I am running out of time, and in my battle to not waste a single minute, I miss important events, and thus find myself wasting it, regardless. You may think I’m taking time off to write this update, but in fact I don’t have the time to give, I’m writing on borrowed time.


As an International Studies Major focusing on East Asia, classes revolving around culture and politics are my bread and butter. How better to study one’s subject then to drop oneself right into the thick of it. It seems logical to me that if I wanted to study East Asia, then being in Japan would be conducive to that. If you agree with me on that point, then you are wrong, as far as Akita International University is concerned.

As the term began, the foreign students were tasked with choosing their classes. Since our application process is very in-depth and lengthy, it really is impractical for us to apply for classes when the Japanese students do. For this reason we are handed a course catalogue and an add/drop application when we first step foot on campus. We are given three days to decide our classes before the term starts up. There is one exception of course, and that’s our Japanese Language class, which we are assigned.

From Study Abroad: AIU

In addition to the difficulty of scheduling full time around one static class 4 days a week, I was surprised (or maybe shocked is the better word) to find ALL Japanese culture classes offered here are in the 200 level. To those of you not currently going to school for a Bachelors degree, this means that they are next to useless for a degree-seeking junior. I’ve already taken all the elective credits I need or my degree, and therefore the only classes I can take (that go towards my degree) are upper-division (300-400 level) culture and foreign politics classes. With this in mind you can imagine my panic at finding that there are zero of such classes available here. I ended up filling my schedule with a class on International Law (focusing on no state in particular) and Mass Media in East Asia (focusing on China). Portland State has more upper-division Japanese Culture classes then AIU. I guess the lesson to be learned here is, if you want to study a foreign country, said country would be the worst place to do it. Nonsense, I know.
Much like America, Japan loves paperwork. Before we ever got our hands on class registration forms we were sat down individually and set on signing what felt like every piece of paper in Japan. In the end, I found myself registered for a Foreign Registration Card, Japanese Healthcare, and a bank account. I certainly don’t recall which papers I signed to get what, so questions about the work it took to get one or the other are a waste of breath, it was all one avalanche of paperwork for me.

The Alien Registration Card is a neat little device. Calling a slip of paper a device may seem strange, but it just does so much, it seemed like the best word to use. I suppose the closest comparison would be our Social Security Cards. The exception is that I’ve had to pull the FRC out on multiple occasions. This is probably a phenomenon only experienced by foreign students, however.

From Japan Pictures

Japanese healthcare is a funny thing. Handled by the government, it is the best and worst healthcare I’ve come across. On one hand, before I had it, I paid 18000 Yen to see a doctor, which is still amazingly cheap by our standard; on the other hand, after I received it I paid 360 yen for the same kind of visit. That’s the good news, the bad news is that because of this government run healthcare, the need for large medical complexes is low. If I need to see a doctor for an earache, I go to Akita Red Cross in Akita City; if I need a check-up, I go to a small clinic over by the mall, and if either of those prescribes me medicine, I have to go to a pharmacy in the next town over.

I can’t say much on the subject of my Japanese bank account. They tell me I need it if I want a cell phone plan, or want to order something of Japanese, but I’ve done neither of these things, and so my bankbook just sits in my bag next to a bag of M&M’s and a Japanese-English Dictionary. The other aspect of this account however is much cooler, and that is the hanko. A hanko is a stamp that takes the place of your signature. Writing complicated name kanji again and again gets tiresome, and therefore these hanko, one issued to each person when they’ve reached an age of responsibility, are the solution. Mine is very simple, with just the “Abe” in Katakana, and I haven’t yet had the opportunity to use it, but it was a nice little souvenir that not your every day tourist encounters.

Well, I’ve gone on quite long, haven’t I? There is more to tell, but I’ll close up now and write the rest to be posted at a later date. Allow me one more anecdote before I close. I heard from quite a few people before I left that Japanese University students don’t work very hard. This included exchange students in Japan. With my only real understanding of the Japanese school system being an article I read about “Exam Hell” in Japan, focusing on the madness high school students go through in their desperate attempt to pass the entrance exams of prestigious universities, securing themselves a good job out of college, I found this hard to believe. After almost 4 weeks of classes here at AIU, I have produced nothing but these blog entries, have completed all of my homework in less then an hour collectively, and have been so un-engaged in the lecture that I wrote a short story about the history of my ballpoint pen and I.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Baby, it's cold outside

Another Akita snowfall forces me inside, but graces me with the time to update.

It's been a while, hasn't it? Or perhaps my perception of time here has shifted, leaving me flip-flopping between weeks turning into days, or days into weeks. It feels like my mind is constantly working here. My brain rests only when I sleep; when I'm awake I am either doing homework, studying, or trying to get by, and just getting by in this setting taxes my mind. I'm trying to move as slowly and cautiously as possible, but I'm still worried about burning myself out.

First things first, something I've been meaning to write about for some time now: The area around AIU. During our orientation, it seemed like every instructor presenting us with some sort of extra-curricular activity said the same thing: "There is nothing to do around AIU", and they are 100% correct. On both sides of AIU there is just forest and freeway. Behind we have nothing but trees and underbrush, and in front we have our sports center and a public park. Few, if any, of these things appeal to your average AIU student. At times it feels like we are all the crew of some vast space station, dying to meet somebody from outside our tiny, isolated world. This is truly ideal for me, because it gives is a perfect reason to do the kind of exploring I like, the "Jump on a bus and ride it to the end" kind of exploring, or the "sling my pack and walk off in a direction" kind of adventure.

The closest, and most convenient, form of entertainment here is the mall. Aeon Mall (pronounced ee-on) is a 15 minute, 150 yen bus ride from AIU. One of the larger malls I have seen in Japan, it covers 3 floors, and is filled with smaller shops having to do with fashion and home wares, as well as 2 large "Barnes and Noble" style bookstores, and 1 large Department store, with a grocery store in it's basement. With it's shops, movie theater, restaurants, 100 yen store, and drug store, it essentially has everything a student at AIU wants and needs. I'm sorry to say I have few pictures from inside the mall, as taking pictures inside the mall is prohibited. Luckily, some of my friends here aren't so worried about that, so here is a few that just happen to have the mall in them.
From Japan Pictures

From Japan Pictures

I felt it necessary to tell you, the reader, about this mall, not only so you have a better understanding of the life of a student here, but also to introduce the setting for some of the wilder things to happen to me since I began living here. This mall is where the greater Akita community comes to shop and mingle, and in doing so they are also given an opportunity to observe and mingle with the AIU International Students that their tax dollars are supporting.

One thing I love best about this mall is it's accessibility. I can reach it easily by bus, and Sakie can reach it easily by car. Although it's only 15 minutes by bus for me, and 40 minutes by car for her, it still stands as the most logical and convenient place for us to meet. For this reason, Aeon mall was the first place where Sakie and I went on a date. It may seem silly to you that I mention a date with Sakie here when we've been engaged for some time now, but this date was significant in that it was our first REAL date, so far as I can remember. Every other time we've gone somewhere, it was not really what could be classified as a date. When we were together at OSU, there was nowhere to go, so we just sat around in a dining hall or lobby, hardly what I would call a date. When I started coming to Japan, we didn't go to dinner together because we thought of it as a date, but simply because we were both under the same roof and needed to get some food, and the same holds true for her trips to the U.S. For the first time, we both took a break from the lives we were living separately to spend some time together. Walking through the mall hand in hand filled me with a feeling of buoyancy that I've rarely felt, and I can't wait to do it again tomorrow!

An international student should not go to Aeon mall unless they are 100% mentally prepared to be the center of attention. The people of Akita never really know what to expect from us, so I've taken to the adoption of the same attitude. I decided that nothing in Japan is going to leave me shocked or surprised, but I was put back in my place in short order by Shuko Wagoya.
From Japan Pictures

Shuko Wagoya approached me one day in Aeon while I saw waiting for Tomas and Ben to get back from the restroom. I was sitting alone at table near the restroom, watching the bags, when her and her 2 younger companions sat two tables down. After a short conversation with those at her table, she stood up and made a line strait for me. Frowardness was not something I though I would run into outside of the campus, but Shuko Wagoya was determined to figure me out one way or the other. We shared short introductions and conversation before Tomas and Ben showed up. After a few minutes of pleasant conversation between us 3 foreign students and the 3 Akita natives, we said as politely as possible that it was time for us to go. Apparently Shuko Wagoya had not had enough of us, however, and invited us to have lunch with her and her friend the following Sunday, and gave me her card. Lucky for us, I remembered that there was an etiquette surrounding these cards, and instead of putting it in my pocket after accepting it, I placed it inside my notebook after we parted ways, but still within sight of her, dodging a potential cultural misstep.

We did in fact meet Shuko Wagoya again, but this time the sides had changed slightly. She had brought a friend from her work who spoke a bit of English, and we brought Sakie and Charlotte.
From Study Abroad: AIU

Meeting for lunch in the food court, we shared small talk in both Japanese and English, with Sakie's help. Shuko Wagoya's friend Kenichi Ishi helped as well, and after sharing a pleasant meal and conversation, we decided to call it a wrap and head back to AIU. Of course, get togethers like this don't end just like that, as Shuko Wagoya produced a bag out of nowhere with gifts for all of us.
From Study Abroad: AIU

A slice of cake for each of us, homemade and delicious. The cake was bitter sweet however, as Tomas, Ben, Sakie and I realized we hadn't even thought to bring gifts. Lucky for us, Charlotte saved the day, reaching deep into her bag which I can only assume is bursting at the seams with all sorts of strange girly things, produced two tiny Eiffel Towers, and presented them to Shuko Wagoya as gifts for her two young daughters. I think this will not be the last that we see of Shoku Wagoya, as she mentioned in passing a festival in March that she would like to take us to.

This is not the only case of people we have met at the mall. On the same day that we met Shuko Wagoya we were approached by yet another person. This time, Tomas and myself were waiting outside the drug store for Ben to buy something when we noticed the girl sitting on the other end of the bench had progressively been scooting closer and closer. I don't recall who took the initiative and started talking to her, but we struck up another conversation, learning that she was a student at the Medical college nearby, and had come to the mall to people watch.

I foresee Aeon mall being a central setting for alot of my social life here in Japan, but there are other places to go outside the AIU campus. I have gone on far to long to fit them into this entry, so I will talk tomorrow about some of my academics, becomming a Japanese resident, and seeing the sights of downtown Akita City. Thank's for reading.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Strangers in a Strange Land

Someone once told me that I would have experiences in my life that would leave me speechless, whether that be in shock or awe. Being in Japan, even for a short a time as I have been, has given me opportunity to have more of these experiences then ever before, almost back to back, in fact.

Against my original intentions, I've fallen in with a group of other exchange students. When I was preparing for Japan, I told myself the only way I'm going to improve my Japanese is to spend every waking minute with Japanese students, but now that I am here I see that it just is plausible. The sense of isolation one can experience in a crowd of other-language speakers is crippling, so I decided I would continue to be as open to others as possible. With that in mind, allow me to introduce my friends at AIU in no particular order:

Benjamin Strickland. A fellow Oregonian, attending AIU for one semester to improve his Japanese. He is already a high level Japanese student, but one of those that needs someone to push him to speak what he knows.

Tomas Larsen Høisæter
. No, that's not a typo or your computer going screwy. Tomas is a student from Norway, here for one year. He is at the same level of Japanese language as me as well. He is a lot like me where he doesn't give a damn if his Japanese or correct or not, he says what he knows, and hopes for a positive response. His catch phrase at AIU is "Well, in Norway..."

Charlotte Faber. You probably can't pronounce this last name correctly either, friends, because Charlotte is from France. A young woman with an incredibly charming accent, she doesn't appear to need any Japanese language, everything she has said in English so far has been understood, so far as I know, perhaps she has some sort of special power of being understood. She will be here for one semester as well.
From Japan Pictures

Spending a large chunk of my time with these students has not stopped me from meeting the Japanese students of AIU. As a matter of fact, I'm in a particularly favorable position here in the Komachi Dormitory.
From AIU

Every incoming freshman from Japan is required to stay in Komachi Dormitory for their first year. This means that I am sharing this experience of social awkwardness with them. We are all thrust into this new and unfamiliar setting together. There are a ton of opportunities to observe, and join, the activities of normal Japanese college students.

I have made friends with both my roommate and my suite-mate as well. I am lucky enough that they are both eager to speak with me, and help me with my Japanese:
From Japan Pictures

Yusuke Kodama. Seen on the left in the picture, is my roommate. He is not only the Captain of the local baseball team, but a member of the Kento team, which is the act of lifting incredibly heavy poles, covered in lanterns, and balancing them on one's shoulders. All this, coupled with his girlfriend, leaves him little time to mingle, but he has found time to help me in every way he can, including calling the hospital on my behalf, showing me where things are on campus, and moving furniture around.

Yusuke Onuma. Seen on the right, is my suite-mate. He lives in the room next door, and we all share a bathroom. Unlike Kodama, he is a new incoming student, so he is not yet a member of any clubs. He also suffers from a lack of "free time" because of the constant barrage of English tests the new students must take. Also unlike Kodama, he speaks primarily Japanese to me, falling back on English for only the critical details. He has also been incredibly helpful with just about everything, including picking things up for me at the mall when I was to busy with International Student orientations.

I have met a huge variety of people since arriving at AIU, every one of them incredibly interesting in one way or another. The campus itself seems to be alive and in constant movement, the likes of which I have never seen before. Perhaps it is due to it's isolation, but it seems there are always people moving in and out like breath in the body of our school. Here are a few pictures I have taken of places around the campus, in no particular order:
From Study Abroad: AIU

The view from the library. On the left is the student hall, and on the right is the administration building.
From Study Abroad: AIU

This is one of the connecting passages from the library to the student hall. When the snow passes 4 feet, the students take these to get from class to their dormitories.
From Study Abroad: AIU

The giant Pepsi you can buy at the vending machine in our cafeteria. It's something like 36 oz. of Pepsi.
From Study Abroad: AIU

Walking out the front door of my dorm building, you cross the campus's main road, which is a very pleasant scene at dusk.
From Study Abroad: AIU

Here we see a view of the library on the right, the inside of which can be seen in my previous entry Within my Means. On the left is D building, where a majority of my classes are held.

Having gone on too long already, I will end this entry here and begin collecting my thoughts for the next. Over the past week truly wild things have happened to me, but the story must be told correctly, so it may take some time to compose, so stay tuned for that in my next entry, and thank you for reading.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Within my Means

For a man looking to live his life without making an impression, or attract unwanted attention, Japan is a paradise. They have a saying here that they seem to live by strictly: "The nail that sticks up, gets hammered down". For this reason, people who talk with their hands and have voices that carry become the center of attention, for better or for worse. Whether I like it or not, I don't eat any meals alone here.

In a very embarrassing move, I've managed to leave the most important of cables (the USB Cable for my camera) in a drawer in my room back in Oregon. I will add place holders to this entry to make way for the incoming pictures. If, by the time you read this, the pictures are present, disregard the previous, and welcome to the party, better late then never.


For the first time, packing up and leaving Sakie's apartment didn't feel like defeat. Our history together has been punctuated by the comings and goings from Japan and the U.S. This would be the first time that we would be split without the trauma of a long separation. There is something about that; knowing that you will see someone you love again soon dampens the bitterness of the action, and gives a small sense of what I might think was hope. With bags packed and boots on Sakie and I shared a cheerful goodbye at the train station before she sped off to work, and I began the first solo leg of this grand adventure. Tsuchizaki Station to Akita Station, that was the goal. There I would catch my shuttle to the AIU campus.
From AIU

Tsuchizaki station is a small hub in Akita, where domestic trains pick up and drop off commuters within the city. Far from the giant, complicated stations of Tokyo, the largest train to pass through here is 3 or 4 cars long.

Successfully catching the shuttle from Akita station was no great task, and certainly not worth going into detail over. My arrival at the school was not ideal, still feeling somewhat sick when I arrived, coupled with not being able to sleep much the night before due to being nervous. Still, even with those hurdles, Akita's campus overwhelmed me. AIU is not overwhelming in the traditional sense, but rather in that it fit the bill, that is to say what I was wanting in my study-abroad college, like a glove. A small, intimate, and isolated campus brimming with student life, where they have let the natural and the man made come together to create an environment with comfort and atmosphere at the forefront. AIU is surrounded by the forest, like someone built the University elsewhere and dropped it down into it's resting place from the sky. Many of the buildings are made from the materials found on the campus, stones from it's bedrock, and the famous Akita Pine adds life the buildings the likes of which you rarely see.
From AIU

From AIU

The University Library at AIU. Made entirely out of the famous Akita Pine, the roof is fashioned to look like the underside of the iconic Japanese umbrella. The library itself hosts a large collection of books in both English and Japanese, as well as music, movies, newspapers and magazines from around the world.

A majority of my first morning was spent signing my name. For all the paperwork I filled out back in the U.S. there was an equivalent here in Japan to be signed. Paperwork for opening a bank account, registering as an alien resident, becoming a student at AIU, and moving into the dorms. The room assignment was what I was waiting for the most, but that of course was the last thing on the agenda for day 1. With everything wrapped up by lunch, I made my way to my newly assigned home for the next year: Komachi Dormitory, room 139.
From AIU

While not much to look at, the desk, bureau, and bed are all comfortable and serve their purpose. Most everything was provided by the dorm, including the futon, sheets, and blankets. It didn't take long to empty my mere two bags into my new living space. In the back you will see my roommate's side.

At the time of my arrival, it seemed like my roommate was nowhere to be found. I didn't know his name or what he looked like. I wasn't even sure if he was Japanese or another exchange student like myself. Little did I know that he was actually one of the student leaders who was helping us through the orientation project the entire time. His name is Yosuke "Koji" Kodama, and he very well may be the most nice and considerate man on the planet. Knowing full well that there is no way that I have not said something or done something to offend him, I am just short of shocked when he continues to help me far beyond anything I could ask for. Just today in fact he called the hospital to reschedule my doctor's appointment, confirm that I will get a doctor's note in English, and looked up the bus route and schedule to get me to my next appointment. Not only that, he asked that when it rolls around, to come get him, so he can come along.

Kodama and I are not alone at our end of the hall. Much like the West Dormitory at Oregon State, we share a bathroom with the room next door.
From AIU

The first room you see when you open the door is what I am calling the "lobby" of the bathroom. It acts like a small hub, connecting the two rooms, the toilet closet, and the shower and bath. To the right is the small toilet closet.
From AIU

and to the right, we have the shower and bath stall.
From AIU

The pictures do the space no justice, as there is enough room in all 3 of these smaller rooms to do a marry jig or square dance with roommates while somebody relaxes in the next stall; that is to say, there is alot of room to move around.
This space also acts as a hallway for a suite mate, if he is so inclined, to come over, which our is. Living alone in our next-door suite is Yosuke Onuma, who may very well be runner up for the nice-guy of the year award. Originally reluctant to enter the room when I was around, after our introduction he spent the rest of the night sitting on our floor, talking about anything that came to his mind while giving me every last bit of un-opened food he could find in his own snack stash. I have never been great at giving or receiving gifts, but I think that is going to have to change if I hope to harbor healthy relationships here. Receiving all this kindness, and returning nothing leaves me feeling like a dry, loveless husk of a human being.

With the help and support of these new friends, settling into my small space has been smooth. The process of purchasing the things that I couldn't pack with me has led to some interesting and unforeseen frustrations, however. One example of this is the hunt for laundry detergent. 2 days lead me to the purchase of what I would later find out is only softener, and at 4 days I finally managed to find some liquid detergent with Sakie's help and Yusuke's guidance. Also, a bit of advice to those thinking of traveling here: Something you may have not thought about is deodorant, but you should most certainly pack it, as the only kind I have been able to find after almost a week of hard searching is frilly roll on or frilly spray. Frilly is the name of the game for any kind of hygiene product, so if you fancy yourself a rugged individual, a rough-and-tumble lumberjack kind of man, fill that toiletry back with that which makes you smell like Nascar and the wilderness, because you wont find it here.