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.

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