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.

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