A year has passed. My god, time flies and I wish I could slow it a bit down. I think it is nice to do a small review of my year in Beppu, Japan as a graduate student at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University and look back on this amazing year. Lots of things happened! Many great things, some bad things, and some ugly things.
Note: Last month’s blog was written on behalf of APU! I cannot post that blog here, but I can link you to it :): GETTING STARTED IN THE LAND OF THE RISING SUN
I arrived around mid-March 2017 and from there on it was an interesting ride. A new country, a new home, new people, new city, new school, new food, and so on. My eyes were wide open all the time. Actually, I arrived in Tokyo and on that day that I had my eyes wide open all the time. I was jet-lagged and tired of the long trip, but Tokyo was just amazing. There was much to see and to experience. The tall buildings, the streets, the stores, the sounds, the food, and the people. But this is not a post about Tokyo. That is something for you to experience ;).
After coming to Beppu I could easily tell that things were very different from Tokyo. Life in Tokyo is crowded and hectic. Tokyo is very gigantic and the people look stressed and busy. Here down south people are way more relaxed. You can see that on their expression on their face, the pace they walk, and are more easy going. Beppu is a big city, it almost has 123.000 people residing, and the streets do not feel crowded or chaotic. Overall, Beppu is a great city to live in.
The cost of living in Beppu is much cheaper than Tokyo. Food is cheap too. To give you an example; Ramen in Beppu is around ¥600 and in Tokyo, the price could go up to ¥1200. The rent in the city is more than decent. My pal and I are sharing an apartment with 3 bedrooms, a kitchen, and a dinner (also known as 3DK) for ¥36000 (ex-utility costs). With the utility costs included shared by 2 people, it never exceeded ¥25000 per person. I highly suggest you to find a friend and move into the city!
When I came to Beppu it all felt like I discovered new land and had to explore everything. Even though my Japanese was not optimal back then (still isn’t but much better though) I managed to hike through the city and discover the places that are important to know such as the train station, the mall, the stores for all your daily needs (Daiso, Hirose Homecenter, Yamada Denki etc.). The streets are just like in the anime, the electricity wires go above the poles, the streets are narrow, there are tiny restaurants in the middle of nowhere, the smell of delicious food can be smelled almost everywhere (more can be read about my favourite food here), the cars are like cardboard boxes on wheels, the cicadas are loud as F during summer days, vending machines everywhere, convenient stores everywhere, summarized: Japan as Japan could be. Actually, the anime Steins;Gate (by far one of my favourite anime) gave me a good idea how summer would look like in Japan.
Beppu city is a very clean and relaxing city. The healthcare system in Japan overall is very good and the doctors are well educated. As an APU student, you will get 70% discount on all the healthcare treatments. Not just at the hospital but also at the dentist. Make sure to make use of the 70% discount and let your teeth checked. At APU you have to do a health check-up every year. APU will provide a shuttle bus to the hospital and the hospital will guide you step-by-step for the check-up. This helps you to identify any health issues or advise you what to do. At the APU campus, we have a small clinic where you can go to if you have any health issues or just need to rest. There are rest places where you can sleep at the clinic. From time to time I have a headache I will just go to the clinic and ask for a painkiller. Overall, if you have any health issues you do not have to worry about Beppu or Japan they will take care of you.
I have met many kind Japanese people that would love to help you. At AP House 4 there is a person who has a calligraphy and Japanese course on Wednesdays and Sundays. These courses are for free and the volunteers that teach Japanese are very kind too. The person who started these courses his name is Kajiwara-sensei. He is the kindest person of Beppu. Every semester there are new people joining APU and he helps these students. Kajiwara-sensei also makes events for Japanese and international students to meet. The recent one was a hanami event at the Beppu park. Many Japanese and internationals joined. There was plenty of food, music, and whatnot. The people overall in Beppu are kind to foreign students. APU was established 18 years ago and the citizens of Beppu are used to foreign faces. They will always ask if you if you are an APU student and they are always curious from which country you are from :).
The diversity of students at APU is big. Many international students study at APU. The vast majority of foreign students are from Asia, more specifically China, Korea, Indonesia, and Vietnam. This makes things quite interesting at APU. You will meet many people from different cultures. This makes things very interesting and it will let you see things from different perspectives. Try all the food they offer as it is all a great experience to try food from other cultures. But more importantly, making friends! I thought I would make many Japanese friends at APU but instead made many friends from other cultures. In the end, we all share something in common, we are all graduate students who want to graduate and to enjoy our time in Japan!
To go a bit more into APU: APU has a lot of great utilities for the students. APU provides a great library system. For instance, if a certain book is not available at APU but it is available at another university they will send the book over to APU and you then can pick it up, for free.
Furthermore, the gym is a great place to do your exercises or join an indoor sports club. At APU there is also a big outdoors field where you could join a baseball team, rugby team, or even join a football group (soccer if you will). At APU we have a huge cafeteria where the cafeteria people cook food every day for the students. We also have something that is called the Asia Pacific Cafeteria. This is a more lounge-ish cafeteria where you can order a hamburger, ice-cream and whatnot and relax and enjoy your meal. I come here often to buy an espresso. The espresso here is of very good quality and extremely strong. And APU has, in my honest opinion, the best view ever: The view of the city. You can sit on the stairs and enjoy the beautiful view as shown below :). And lastly, the graduate students have a graduate room where undergraduates are not allowed to enter. I avoid the library because there are just tooooooooo many people in there. The graduate room allows us to study quietly and in peace (my God, I am getting old).
I will start off with my greatest frustration in the Japanese society. This frustration is so big that it might have changed my direction where I want to go. The frustrations come from the inability of Japan to adapt to the world. The Japanese society is very conservative. The world is changing and many countries in the world adapt and follow the money. In order to follow the money, one requires to communicate in a language that makes doing business more fluent which is mostly in English. I do believe that my grandchildren will speak English and Mandarin as the next world economic hegemony is shifting towards China, but for the time being it is English. In order to do business with other cultures, the English language is a bridge. Japanese companies come to APU to recruit international students, but they are required to write the application letter and the CV in Japanese, do the interview in Japanese, and they will tell you that you will need to speak Japanese in their company. What?! Why even bother hiring international students? Why not just hire a Japanese? And finding a job in Japan is a hell. But you can read more about it here.
To go further down the issues regarding the language barrier; At APU we have a lot of scholarships available for students that have been admitted to the university. With a lot, I mean a lot. The scholarships are always updated and every student can apply. I thought: “Great! I could use some financial aid.” So, I went to the website that can only be accessed with an APU student credential. I click scholarships, and then I click the link that literally says: “Scholarships for international students”. Grand! I am an international student! …..*sigh* why did I even….. Yup, everything is in Japanese.
The application form is in Japanese, all the provided information is in Japanese. There a few rare cases where you can apply in English but there is a section that you will need to thank the institution that gives you the grant in Japanese….. and you have to do it handwritten….. “What about the interview?” Don’t even ask…… This adds up to the frustration, believe me.
Rules, rules, rules, rules, and more rules. Don’t think that I am a riot and hate all the rules. Some rules are there for a good reason and I cheer for them. But the problem that comes with the excessive rules in Japan is the lack of flexibility that comes with it. In Europe, we have rules too but we can examine if the rules apply to a certain situation or not. If a force majeure happens to a person we might not apply the rules to the person as the person could not have done anything to prevent the unfortunate event. But in Japan, rules are rules and everyone needs to abide them as if it is the decree of God. I give you an example, one day I hopped on the bus and sat. After a while, the bus stopped at a bus stop and I could clearly see an old man trying his best to catch the bus. He was walking towards the bus from the front. I could see him, and everyone else too. The old man was more or less waggling trying to catch the bus and even waved meaning that he wanted to hop on too. But as rules are rules the old man was “too” late and the bus driver had to leave on time. This kind of broke my heart. The old man was trying his best to catch the bus and the sight of the old man was very sad. I cannot generalise all of Japan in the “abide-to-the-strict-rules” box, but this was one the things that was typical. I can understand the dura lex, sed lex mentality, but this is a private company and nothing is written in stone.
Speaking of the public transport, the public transport in Beppu is too damn expensive. It is ridiculous! Storytime: according to many professors, APU received the land for free from Beppu city. Initially, they wanted to build APU at Beppu park. The citizens of Beppu did not like this idea as they wanted to preserve their beautiful park (rightfully so, the park is indeed beautiful). Beppu then allocated APU to the top of the mountain for free, BUT there were some strings attached.
One of the strings was that Oita Kotsu (I hope the darn company burns down) was allowed to build the road from Beppu to APU and they are the only bus company that is allowed to use that road, and now we have a monopoly. There are tickets only for students which make the price more “digestible” but the tickets are sold in a bundle of 3. The 3-ticket’s price is ¥1000 ($9.31 or €7,53) to go to school, back home, and then back to school. Selling 3 tickets makes no sense. Sell them by 4 or 2, not 3…. Let’s assume you go to school 5 times a week, you will need to buy 4 bundles (12 tickets) which will cost you ¥4000 a week. Students are getting extorted because Beppu has no competition when it comes to public transport. There is another bus which is the Kamenoi bus (we call it the ‘blue’ bus), but this bus has a different area it covers but this bus is slightly cheaper than Oita Kotsu (we call it the ‘red’ bus). Oita Kotsu has never changed their price.
Note: these are not bad things per se but just things that could have been better.
Japan is quite an advanced country when it comes to technology. When people think of Japan they immediately think of robots and things that make loud noises and things that can talk to you. As such, the idea suggests that Japan is far ahead with things. This is very true, but do not be fooled there are definitely some ugly things in Japan.
Let’s start with plastic bags. I was stunned by the number of bags that I started to accumulate in Japan. Wherever I went, whether it was for grocery shopping or buying some household stuff, I always received bags from the cashiers. They would give
me two big plastic bags. At some point, I was not sure what I needed to do with all these plastic bags. I would go to the supermarket and I would just buy e.g. tea in a bottle which I could just carry and walk to my dorm, but the cashier would give me a plastic bag anyway. I do understand it from a Japanese point of view. It is customer service. As a cashier, you do not want to see you customer walk off in an inconvenient way. You would like to make your customer’s life as easy as possible. I love this mentally of Japan, but I felt that I was not helping the environment by accepting all these bags. Therefore, I bought a durable shopping bag from Daiso which I would carry with me when I do my errands. And if you do not tell the cashier you already brought your own bag, they will give you one by default. If you tell them you brought yours, they will thank you for bringing your own bag.
You go down the streets and you see that there are construction workers working on the road. There are about 10 construction workers. 6 that are actually doing something and 4 that are just standing to overlook the street. Believe me when I say that you will need only 1 guy overlooking the street as it is a small street and not even an important street. Japanese are overall very afraid of uncertainties and responsibilities. As such you will have people that are overlooking the street and when a pedestrian is walking by they would spread their arms and legs as if they are protecting you from something but there is literally nothing. These things can also be linked back to the excessive number of rules. Japanese are afraid of taking risks so much so that they will go far beyond in order to avoid issues in such a manner it is just plain exaggeration and unnecessary.
Next, which was first: the chicken or the egg? You do not have to answer this question, but it is very annoying in Japan as an international student when you would like to buy a sim card. In order to buy a sim card, you will need a credit card. Most of the students do not have a credit card prior to their arrival in Japan so therefore they go to whatever institution that provides a credit card. They apply for a credit card but the credit card provider asks them for their phone number. Without a phone number, you cannot apply for a credit card but in order to have a phone number……*facepalm*
I hope the negative points of Japan have not demotivated you. I enjoy my life here but nothing is perfect. There are some stupid things in Japan that needed to be addressed. But the nice things outweigh the bad things!
As per usual thank you for reading my blog! I appreciate you guys taking the time to read my stories. If you have any suggestions on a certain topic or you have a question feel free to contact me or leave a comment below!