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.


  1. Interesting about the hanko! I've also heard that Japan and some other countries that seem to have long work days are actually less than 40 hours, but there are bigger blocks of time for eating and running errands that make it seem longer.

  2. Well, the most experience I really have is following Sakie's schedule.
    The one in front of me now has Sakie working 10 hours shifts, 5 days a week, plus a weekend meeting once a month that she doesn't get paid for.
    I have, since this entry, signed up for a part time job, but the work permit I have restricts me to 14 hours per week.