Konichiwa! Greetings from Beppu, Japan!
So we are officially on week five of my Japanese exchange; gosh it has flown. On the one hand, I can’t believe it’s already the beginning of May (where did April go?!) and yet it also feels like I have been here for months. Apologies for the delay in updating, the month really has been a mad introduction to APU life and time between school, socialising and exploring (as well as a fair amount of recovery!) has been scarce. Where did I leave this last? Ah yes, right on the travelling precipice; would I make it to Japan? Would my bag follow me? Well I am very glad to say that after a merry 36 hour stint adventuring around Tokyo and catching some minimal Zzzs in my capsule hotel, my wayward backpack and I were finally reunited at Narita Airport in time for my flight to Oita. Tokyo is the very definition of madness; a fantastic, mind blowing madness that must be seen to be believed. I had heard numerous differing reviews but on arrival I gave it my heart and it rewarded me accordingly with the most beautiful sights, sounds, food and people. The crew and I are heading back up there in two weeks and I am very much looking forward to getting back.
I arrived in Oita late on the Tuesday night and was promptly met by an APU representative who shuffled us all onto a bus and sent us on our way us to our new home; AP4 House in the town of Beppu. Beppu is a fun yet surreal place, often referred to by us exchange kids as ‘Japan-lite’; it’s very Japanese in some ways, and totally not in others. The locals are very used to us crazy foreigners being constantly perplexed by how things work and are more than happy to help out when we look lost or confused. Saying that, the town has adapted to the influx of international students and tourists and therefore many things have been updated to suit our needs. You also spend a lot of time speaking English, to the point that it is entirely easy to forget you’re in Japan altogether, that is until you suddenly you find yourself trying to decipher the names of mysterious ingredients in the supermarket whilst singing along to the amazingly Japanese jingles. Whatever level your Japanese is at, the two magic phrases to know is ‘arigatou gozaimasu’ (thanks – present tense) and sumimasen (Excuse me/I’m sorry). The latter can get you out of all sorts of trouble I assure you; bumping into someone accidentally (sumimasen!), getting someone’s attention (sumimasen!), holding up the shopping queue while you count your tiny yen coins (sumimasen!). I must use this word at least ten times a day.
The rectangular building on the left of the road with the green roof is home!
School term started late and so we were left with three weeks of free time and new friends to make. You find your clique pretty quickly and everyone tends to refer to those outside of their group by their country name which makes things a little easier when you cram 83 internationals into one high rise. The group as a whole is a lot of fun and you gradually get to know those you live through the numerous night outs, day trips or simply by crossing paths in the kitchen. We spent the first few weeks eating out most nights at many of Beppu’s hundreds of delicious restaurants which was fab, until our stomachs and wallets gave us a little reminder that we were here for a full semester and should probably break it up a little with some good ol’ fashioned home cooking. Now, we usually get together in the kitchen a few nights a week, do homework and cook with whoever is around (we call it Pot Luck dinner), and share whatever we have as a way to try new cuisines and make our student budgets travel further.
The town of Beppu is fairly small but there is plenty to see and do, plus it is relatively close to many towns in the Oita Prefecture as well as easily connectable to wider Japan via the JR system. Beppu itself is also famous for hot springs (or Onsens) and have a Fire Festival to celebrate them in April. They are located all over town and you can choose a mixed (in which you can wear your togs) or the more traditional gender specific that usually requires no swim suits. Obviously your choice will depend on how comfortable you are in such situations but I will say that if you ever want to break down barriers with new friends, some awkward cultural nudity will definitely make you family… well that and partaking in bad karaoke anyway.
Some of the crew post Onsen soak plus a pic from the Fire Festival honouring the Onsen Gods!
School started two and a half weeks ago and it is definitely an experience unlike any other. The university itself is a small but beautiful campus, set high on the mountain. The journey to school, whilst providing some stellar views, does admittedly have a bit of a ‘final destination’ feel about it with tight turns and perilous drops but it does create an amusing atmosphere in the usually crammed buses. Once you hit the top of the hill, you are rewarded with stellar views of the valley, a fun community of students and proper coffee (always a winning find in places like this). I will write again regarding my first couple of weeks at school shortly, there is lots to tell so I shall leave you in suspense for now hehehe.
Views from the APU Campus
So I will leave you here but will write again later this week about my introduction to APU life, the legendary Click Wars, some wayward Pirates, bad karaoke and an unexpected introduction to the Japanese medical system. It will either be kawaii or kawai, stay tuned to find out which!