The Culture Trap

You have spent most of your life in a country with people from your culture. You speak the same language, you love and eat the same food, celebrate the same happy moments, go to the same school, go to the same work, go to the same supermarkets. One day you decide to study in the land of the rising sun. Different culture, different customs, different language. What an exciting time! You meet people from all around the globe at APU. You will even meet people from countries you never heard before….., but you decided to hang out with the people from your country, speak the same language, and eat the same food. Nani?!

I remember well the first month I arrived in Japan, and my mom asked me if I had met some Moroccans or Dutchies. I replied to my mom: “Mom, if I wanted to meet Moroccans or Dutchies, I would have stayed home.” Of course, this is merely my opinion, but I do believe that the purpose of going abroad is to broaden your horizon. For this, you will meet people from other cultures from all over the globe. Only then one can say you have been abroad.

Unfortunately, I have observed an interesting behaviour at my university. It is not an uncommon behaviour per se, and I can understand why it happens, but it goes against my so-called ‘international beliefs.’ Why would one go abroad only to meet the same people one left in the first place? 

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The things I have observed at the university is, especially a common behaviour I see among undergraduates, students stick with people from their own culture. The most prominent cultural groups are Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Indonesian. There are many more cultures, but these are the largest ones. What I see is that they tend to stay together during breaks, walk together going from classroom to classroom, have lunch together. I can safely assume they are also staying together inside the classroom. And this kind of saddens me.

There is a big opportunity to learn from other cultures. I have spent much time with people from many cultures, and I learned much about their countries, their customs, their cuisine, and their history. I spent most of my time with people from Vietnam, Tajikistan, Indonesia, and Japan. They are all great people, and I will miss them all when I return to Holland.

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Because I was open to their culture, they taught me a lot. I tasted their food, learned about their customs, about their history, about their country. When I was still in Europe I would learn a lot about Western countries, but not so much about Asia. I am very grateful that I have been given an opportunity to study in Japan, and meet all these fascinating people.

Truth to be told, there are not many Westerners or North-Africans at APU. There are a few Dutchies, and there were some Moroccans. I did hang out with them once in a long time, but not on a regular basis. They are not bad people, but I prefer to hang out with other cultures. I did not travel 10000KM to meet my people again. It might sound pessimistic, but I see problems of hanging with people from the same culture for too long.

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Language

Dutch and Moroccan-Arabic are my mother tongue. I do not put this attest as these are the first languages I grew up with. If I keep speaking these two languages, which are burned in my mind, so to speak, I will be neglecting my other languages. I want to improve my Japanese and keep my English up-to-date. English because it is the most critical language in the world for intercultural communication, and Japanese because I want to be able to communicate with the locals. 

In my observation, I noticed that some students have barely improved their English because they kept hanging out with people from their culture. I sometimes have difficulties understanding some students even though they have been here for three to four years. Verbal communication is somewhat okay, but their writing skills are a mess. This caused a lot of miss-communication. It doesn’t need to be top-notch, but at least to a level to have ‘oke’ communications. 

Tolerance

Learning about other cultures increases your better understanding of their life. Humanity fears what we do not understand. If one is not open to different cultures, one will remain fearful of the other. I sincerely believe that xenophobia can be fought by education and tolerance. The challenge is to take the first step and open your arms for their culture. It all starts with you. You are not required to be an expert in intercultural communication, but with you will get a long way with tolerance. Accept to be accepted. 

Experience

In our contemporary world, everything will be globalised. Your fellow students from other cultures will be your colleagues one day. Learning about their culture now will make your life much more comfortable in the future. As you are still young and still a student you will make many mistakes with people from other cultures, and so will they with your cultural background. Learning from these mistakes will prepare you for your future job. Your supervisors will see you as an asset as you have the experience on how to work with people from many cultures.

In my opinion, there are only benefits from intercultural understanding. Of course, I am aware of my generalisation. You will be dealing with an individual from a specific culture, this does not mean they will act exactly like all the others from that particular culture. Even though the individual is unique, the person still carries some cultural aspects of his/her home country. And you can prepare yourself by hanging out with as many people from other cultures as you can. 

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Cultural Week

APU has an excellent event which I believe is trying to bridge the cultural threshold. At APU we have something that is called ‘Culture Week.’ It is a week full events by a specific country which is prepared by the students (mostly undergraduates). In this week, there will be dances every day at the fountain, there will dishes from that culture at the cafeteria, there will be a stand where you can dress their cultural clothes and make pictures, and on Friday evening there is a grand show at the Millennium Hall (everything is held on campus). We have Indonesian Week, Korean Week, Thai Week, Chinese Week, Japanese Week, Vietnamese Week, Philippine Week, Taiwan Week, Sri Lankan Week, Nepali Week, African Week, and lastly Oceania Week. Unfortunately, Western countries are not represented this due to the lack of people from the West at APU.

All these weeks are mostly represented by the students from that culture, and their friends from other cultures also participate and help them. In that regard, APU did a great thing to introduce these events and let students become creative and share their culture with others. However, I noticed that its purpose has been lost throughout the years. These weeks have become a competition. Some healthy competition is always good, of course, one wants to do his best to show off about one’s culture. However, this has gone overdrive. The students have found ways to contact big companies in their home country to sponsor these events. 

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Indonesian Week is by far the biggest week at APU. Indonesian students practice every day, three months prior to this single week. In 2017, the students were sponsored by Indonesia Air (!), with the sponsored money they were able to make a grand show out of proportions. In all other weeks you are not required to get a ticket to get into the Millennium hall, but for Indonesia Week tickets are sold and the line to get in is long. Sharing the culture with people from other cultures is no longer the objective. It has become more than a competition; it leans towards nationalistic behaviour. 

And let’s not forget about their study performances. Many professors complain a lot about these weeks because they can see that the student’s performance drop as all their focus goes on the culture weeks. The students do not get any study points from the culture weeks. It is all voluntarily, but as it is one’s culture that is on the line, the APU students try their utmost best to try to outperform the others. I hope APU doesn’t kill off the Culture Weeks, but it needs to return back to its roots namely: Sharing and experiencing cultural differences and similarities with others. 

As I said at the start of this blog, I do understand the behaviour of hanging out with people from the same culture. It is comfortable, it is easy to communicate, you understand each other, you do not need to explain about the inside jokes and etc. But I believe this comfort zone does not have a place on an international level. When you learn more about other cultures, you are not only learning about their customs, but you are also increasing your knowledge and awareness about the world around you. Broaden your horizon, because one day you will Shape Your World.

cultural difference dogs
Source: https://www.pinterest.com/silvialily/

 

Masha’Allah

Belly Belly Bizzy

Dear fans/readers,

You probably have been waiting for some new content. I love to write my blogs and would love to spend more time on sharing with you my experiences.

For now, I have to take a break due to my thesis. I have been extremely busy with writing my thesis. For the interested: My thesis is about a young lady that committed suicide in 2015. Her name was Matsuri Takahashi. She was a 24 year old who just finished her study at Tokyo University and right after her graduation she joined Dentsu Inc. Here she worked 9 months with abnormal long hours everyday. On Christmas night, December 25th 2015, Matsuri Takahashi decided to no longer go to work and she leaped from her apartment. 

Her case has stirred something in the Japanese society that has intrigued mean made me want to know more and conduct research upon this case.

This might be a topic that I would love to discuss in my blog here. My submission date is 5th of December, I might write my blog after that. For now, please be patient. More Japanese life blogs are coming :). 

And please if you have any topics, ideas, comments, criticism, or whatever, feel free to comment down below or fill in the feedback form. 

As always I appreciate your interests and your comments. Much appreciated! Arigatou gozaimasu!

Masha’Allah

Mind On My Okane and Okane On My Mind

Living in Japan can become costly. Depending on where you are from, Japan might be very expensive compared to the country where you were paying pennies for a dish outside on the streets now you have to pay some solid money on perhaps the same dish. All the students coming to APU had a budget check, so coming to APU it means you are able to survive in Beppu, but earning some extra money will be helpful and it will always come in handy. This blog post will look into the popular part-time jobs in Beppu.

Last month a blog post which I wrote got published on behalf of APU. Here I discussed what one can expect from APU regarding the academic life. If you haven’t read it: What can I expect from Graduate Courses as a Master’s Student? When I posted this on my Facebook I got a lot of interesting reactions. I am quite critical on the academic level of APU and I am quite vocal about it, but this post was quite mild and I wasn’t “bashing” APU for multiple reasons: 1) most obviously I cannot bash about APU when writing and post on APU’s website, 2) I do not think it is fair for those who willing to come to APU to not give them any information on the academic life, and 3) for many going from their home country to a Japanese university is an upgrade in life.

As this post came out I got called out in many funny ways by my peers and even two professors as a sell-out and they were wondering how much it would cost them if I would write a great blog post about them. They give me a good laugh as I can see why they would say it. However, I never did it for the money, as I get paid in peanuts (unlike those professors ;)). I wrote that blog on behalf of APU for the same reason I write my personal blogs namely to help prospective students. Heck, I get no pay on this one, but I still love to write about life here in the south of Japan. Even if I would write terrible things about APU every month, there will still new students be coming one way or another. And like I said in Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University Student Life APU has some negative points, but I do not hate the university. There is much the university should improve on.

It took me quite a while to think about a topic for this month’s blog. So far I covered quite a lot of interesting topics. But recently the topic money crossed my path again as a few friends have given me the feeling that they do not have the financial freedom to travel or do whatever they would love to do in Japan. As such, I thought it would be a great idea to cover a few part-time jobs that are popular among the students at APU, and some tips on how to find these jobs.Okane shinda.png

Suginoi Hotel
Right off the bat, Suginoi Hotel. If you have just arrived at AP House 4 and you have the city side view without a doubt you will see Suginoi Hotel. Or perhaps you have heard of Suginoi Hotel. Suginoi Hotel is THE biggest hotel in Beppu and it is located on the mountain at Kankaiji area. At night you will see the big Suginoi name as it emits light in the night.

Suginoi Hotel is extremely huge. This hotel has 4 buildings and there are a lot of people who visit the hotel. As such, there is ALWAYS work at Suginoi Hotel. I am not even exaggerating. The reason why I put this first on my blog post is that regardless whether you speak Japanese or not, they will hire you to work at Suginoi to clean the rooms, change the bed sheets, and etc. There is no real job interview, all you need to do is tell them when you can work. If you are not able to work that day, even though you said you would, no problem it is cancelled without to give a valid reason.

If you live far away from the hotel, don’t worry. Suginoi Hotel will send a bus driver to pick you up and drop you off, free of charge. There are several jobs you could do at Suginoi Hotel for example; 1) cleaning rooms, 2) handing out towels at the Aqua Garden, 3) working at Aqua Garden as a guard to keep an eye on the swimmers, 4) working at the kitchen, 5) working at the bowling hall, and more. You could Google Translate the page and it will give you a good idea of the jobs they have: Suginoi Hotel part-time jobs page. The wages range from around ¥780 to ¥1000 per hour. For cleaning rooms, the Japanese language is not required, some other jobs basic Japanese is required.

杉乃井ホテル 本館

At the APU campus
Oh boy, this one might bite me in the butt (again). But truth to be told APU has a lot of part-time jobs on campus and a lot of students do their ‘arubaito’ アルバイト (or simply baito バイト which comes from the Dutch and German word arbeid/Arbeit which literally means work). At the campus there are several jobs you could do:

Coop; Coop (pronounced as Co-op) is the only store that is located on the campus (hooray to monopolies). The jobs that are available at the shop are operating the cash register/filling the shelves, and help to translate from Japanese into English. The staff are Japanese and are not fluent in the English language. At Coop, you can rent a car, book a plane ticket or ferry ticket, and more and the staff requires someone who could help them with translating into English as not all students speak Japanese. Hourly wage: ¥755

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Coop shop
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Inside Coop

Cafeteria; at the cafeteria, both the big cafeteria and the Asia Pacific Cafe, you put the food on the plates and in bowls. The students will order some food and you give them the dish. Furthermore, some cleaning and operating the cash register is part of the job too. Mostly this part-time job is after the main staff has gone home. Hourly wage: ¥750.

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Source: The Japan Times

Proctor; as a master student you can proctor the exams of the undergraduates. This means when they have their midterms or final exams you will be coordinating a room filled with students. You will show them how to sit in the exam room, write the info about the exam on the blackboard, and most importantly you are roaming that same room during the exam. You try to prevent students from cheating. There are a lot of cheaters, so your task is to not catch them cheating but preventing them from doing it. If you see someone is trying to cheat just make them sit somewhere else, mostly the cheaters are sitting in the back, make them sit all the way in the front. Hourly wage: ¥1000.

TA; TA stands for Teaching Assistant. As a Teaching Assistant, as the name suggests, you assist the professor in his/her class. Assisting the teacher, the most common things are to take the attendance from students, manage Manaba (a website where the study materials are), keeping the students quiet in class, hand the microphone to the students if they want to answer a question or ask something to the professor. But mostly you are the one where the undergraduates go to ask their questions. “When is the exam?”, “what do we need to study?”, “will there be a midterm exam?” these types of questions. Basically, you are the forefront for questions. If the professor is teaching an interesting course you get to learn more about the topic without the risks (getting a bad grade or not obtaining the credits).

TIP: When applying for a TA job the best way is to get acquainted with a professor and ask them if they would like to have you as their TA. This way the professor will apply to have a TA and will give your name to the Academic Office. This way you will definitely be their TA. If you do it the regular way, you apply for a TA job and you will never receive an e-mail if you did not get the TA job. Meaning you are kept hanging without a TA job. A TA job would mostly be one quarter (two months). You could be a TA for two professors in one quarter. This is what I did this quarter. This is only possible if you have the time. As I finished all my courses I was able to be TA for two professors. The hourly wage: ¥1000. If you are TA for two professors, and you do some extra stuff outside the class (such as checking the attendance sheets) your salary for that month could be up to ¥50.000 max.

There are some sporadic jobs now and again at APU, and they can all be found here (you can only access it with an APU student account): On-Campus Part-Time Jobs

Konbini
Konbini comes from the English word convenience, but as it is difficult to pronounce the Japanese made it shorter and made it into the word konbini as in convenience store. To work here, you are required to have at least N3/N2 level of Japanese as you are in direct contact with Japanese customers. Working at the konbini can be stressful and it is hard work. However, there is always work available for students. The work contains operating the cash register, filling the shelves, cleaning, and more. This sounds okay at first glance, but let me tell you that a konbini ALWAYS has customers on the floor. In Japan, konbinis are to Japanese as are supermarkets to us. Where we would go to the store for orange juice the Japanese would quickly buy it at the konbini.

Certainly, there are plenty of supermarkets in Japan and they are much cheaper than the konbini, but the supermarkets overall close around 8 to 9 pm. Konbini is 24/7, it never closes. And as the Japanese work late hours, a konbini is a good place to buy the required stuff to survive the day. As such, working at the konbini will never bore you. There is always a konbini close to your house and you could work any time of the day. Hourly wage ~¥780.

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The most busiest konibini in Beppu: FamilyMart at the station

Finding a baito
To find a part-time job the best way is as always networking. Nothing beats networking. Make plenty of friends and at least one of them knows a guy who knows a guy where there is a job available (for all Breaking Bad fans out there, please do not cook meth, you will get deported). Other than that, there is a decent way of finding a baito in Beppu by using Facebook groups. Maybe a good way to start this part is to let you know that Facebook is, unfortunately, very important in Asia. Everything is being communicated through either FB or Messenger. If you are one of the people that does not have FB, I respect you and look up to you, however, it will make your life quite difficult.

That said, there are several Facebook groups where jobs are posted which you should keep an eye on. You can enter these groups only if you are an APU student. By far the #1 Facebook group in Beppu is called Minishare. Minishare is, in a nutshell, Craig’s list. This is THE place where students sell and buy all their second-hand shit. Everyone is selling or buying something here. It is very big and very popular. But Minishare is not only used for buying and selling stuff, but it is also used to look for people to do a certain job. Though it is not its main component to find people for a job, but occasionally I would see some jobs posted there.

The main place to find a job is called APU Baito. Here jobs are posted on the page by other APU students. I do have to say that the traffic on this page is not as much as Minishare, I would recommend you to subscribe to both pages. There is another FB group which is basically the same as Minishare, to be honest, I do not see the real point of its existence, but nonetheless, jobs are posted in here as well. This page is called AP-Share.

Like I said, these are just the popular ones that I could think of. There are many restaurants, izakayas, clothing stores, and whatnot that are looking for APU students. This is something you need to seek for yourself. But I do need to warn you about a couple of things:

  1. You will need a student working visa. This visa can easily be acquired when you have arrived in Japan. APU’s student office will fix that for you within 2 weeks.
  2. When you have your student working visa, you are only allowed to work 28 hours a week. This sounds sketchy when I say this, but if you still feel the need to work more than 28 hours, make sure that those extra hours are off the grid. If the authorities get a whiff of you working more than 28 hours on paper, you’re going to have a bad time.
  3. All the baitos that I mentioned above are all legal baitos. The ones we are not allowed to do are working in a Panchiko or Mahjong parlours (gambling halls), Hosts/Hostess which is a place where sad people go to have someone to talk to in a mildly sexual setting (no sex involved, basically blue balls bar), working at a bar, not as a cabaret, or washing dishes. The latter two….. uhmm…right……

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I hope you find this guide helpful. If you have any questions or comments please share. Furthermore, if you have any topics that I should cover, please let me know. I am starting to run out of ideas :p.

And as always, thank you for reading my blog! I love the reactions :).

 

Masha’Allah

Calamity Survival Guide

When you live safe all the time you tend to forget you are alive. Not in Japan! The thrill of life is always present in Japan. Typhoons, earthquakes, and the mountain on fire….

Lava mountain

When we (my classmates and I) came to Japan we were living on AP House 4. The building has two sides; the ocean view side and the mountain view side. I had the mountain view side. The view looked really nice. You could see the entire city and the mountains behind it.

But one night the mountain was on fire….. I freaked out…. because the fire flowed down from the left side of the mountain and the right side. “The mountain is a volcano!!!! It erupted and the lava is flowing down.” I immediately warned my friends. We were all stunned looking at the mountain that was on fire. We had no idea what to do. One of our friends was even thinking of evacuating.

The fire kept going down and down. We barely spoke Japanese at that time so we were not sure what to do. Then one of our friends Googled and found out that we should not worry. The mountain is intentionally set on fire to celebrate something…
Apparently, it is a matsuri aka a festival. It is called the Hatto Onsen Matsuri. On the first day of the festival, the Beppujin (Beppu townspeople) would set Mt. Ogi on fire to celebrate the start of the onsen festival.

Beppu is known for its onsen (hot springs). Beppu has so many onsens that it gushes out 130,000 tons of water every day! As the Beppujin are grateful for the onsen in Beppu they thank the onsen god by setting the mountain on fire. The fire is very controlled and every year the Beppujin do a different pattern for the fire to follow but on that day the fire looked like lava as flowed from both sides of the mountain. There is no risk of forest fire. In fact, this particular part of the mountain has no forestation at all due to this festival.

I was a bit disappointed though, lava mountain sounded so cool.

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source: https://taiken.co/single/beppu-hatto-onsen-matsuri

Earthquakes
According to livescience.com, there are approximately 1500 earthquakes a year in Japan. Of course, the vast majority of the quakes are minor ones that you probably never notice. Nonetheless, they are counted as an earthquake. The last major earthquake of 9.0 on the Richter’s scale was in 2011 with the nuclear reactor disaster in Fukushima.
On April 16, 2016, there was an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 in the Oita prefecture. I came to Beppu in 2017 so I did not experience an earthquake of this magnitude. Though so far I have experienced quite some earthquakes in my life, some in Morocco and one in Italy, but I already have experienced more quakes in Japan than anywhere else.

You could do three things during an earthquake in Japan. The first one is obviously mankind’s first reaction: panic. This will not help yourself or others.
When the 7.0 earthquake occurred one of my professors told us that many international students were so afraid of the earthquake they went back to their home country for a short period…. *facepalm*. There is no point going back as they have actually survived the earthquake, there will be only a few aftershocks but they are never stronger than the former earthquake. It is just a waste of time and money…

Two: Remain calm and hide your head under a table. Or three and be an idiot like me and laugh at the earthquake. There are so many earthquakes it doesn’t scare me at all. I actually slept through a couple of the quakes lol. It is so common in Japan I just shrug it off, and you should too.
Earthquake detection kit.

Typhoons
The summers in Japan can get extremely hot. The weather is very tropical. As it is a tropical climate, typhoons are a common thing in the summers. So far I have experienced four typhoons. The typhoons did not go through Beppu and did not cause a destruction on their path, but they were quite close. So close that you could see it changing the weather. The sky is dark grey and the wind is stronger. The wind is always strong in Beppu, but when the typhoon is close it feels as if someone is banging on my window for days.

Again, you could do three things. one: panic, two: just remain calm, or number three open all your windows and welcome the typhoon with open arms! Before I explain to you why let me tell you that the typhoons are not as dangerous as the earthquakes. When an earthquake happens, it is everywhere around you and you cannot escape it. However, a typhoon goes a certain path and you can anticipate it days prior to its arrival. Now let’s go to the next section: the summer….

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This is me during a Typhoon. At least I am cooling off.

The summer
In Europe or more specifically in the Netherlands I would always prepare myself mentally for the winter. I hate the winter with a passion. Though the winters are less cold than in the past decades (thank you global warming), but still it can get very cold. I start to get worried about the winter somewhere in September/October. The nights start earlier and remain longer, people become sad/depressed, and the cold winds getting tougher. When spring starts it feels like an achievement.

But when the summer starts in Beppu it feels like I’m literally melting. I have experienced the hottest summer in Marrakech, Morocco, where the weather would go up as high as 45°C but at least the air is dry. In Beppu, as we are quite far south, the climate is extremely tropical and the humidity gets up to between 90% and 100%. When the humidity is low sweat will evaporate faster on your body but when the humidity is this high it does not evaporate at all and as a result, the weather feels way warmer than it actually is. August was by far the hottest month.

I could barely leave the house. I would go to a store that is a little bit downhill. It takes less than 5 minutes to get there. When I did arrive at the store the sweat would be running down my back. I would stay in the store to cool off as they have an AC. Now imagine me going back home up-hill in the extreme heat and high humidity.
When a typhoon passes our island, I embrace it and welcome it any day. During this time, we cool a bit off. I never turn off my fan as it is my best friend. Heck, get yourself two fans and never turn them off. Without a fan, you will literally melt. The warm summer days are unbelievable… What comes with the extreme heat is the bloody insects that I still do not know how to pronounce; cicadas. Is it pronounced sisadas or kikadas or sikadas or kisadas. Doesn’t matter, they make the sounds of 5 million rattlesnakes starting from 7 AM. I hate dem bugs and I hate the summers in Beppu.
Summer of 2018 is coming…… I’m afraid…. Tell my mom I love her…..
Winter is Coming - Brace Yourselves Summer in Japan is coming

I am being ludicrous about the weather and nature in Japan because there is nothing to worry about. My family would warn me to be careful because of the earthquakes, but the quakes are not that scary at all. It is the same nonsense when I am telling them that the Netherlands is 1 meters below sea level and they would be having a pool in their garden very soon. The earthquakes happen randomly over all of Japan and most of the time you would not even notice them. I laugh at those who panic and get scared of them. For me, it is a time that I realize that I am still mortal and I remember that I am still alive and kicking ;).

Image result for alive and kicking meme

Masha’Allah
References
Livescience. (2011, April 8). Japan’s Biggest Earthquakes. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com

Note: By no means is this an actual survival guide. Just a fool’s guide :p

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: One year in Beppu, Japan

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 ;).

The Good
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.

Source: https://mangaguy12.deviantart.com/art/Steins-Gate-Future-Gadget-Lab-Exterior-389148685

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).

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The Bad
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.

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Source: accidentally posted university memes

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The Ugly
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

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Yo dawg, I heard you like bags, so we put a bag in a bag so you can carry while you carry (these are actually my plastic bags)

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!

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Source: https://chillyfranco.deviantart.com/art/The-Good-The-Bad-and-The-Ugly-320626352

 

Masha’Allah

Ingerisu, Konoyaro, Du Yu Supiku Itto?

Oh boy, here we go again. Another post about how bad Japanese people are at speaking English. Yes, we know already…” No, this post will go a bit deeper than just a shallow observation of their English proficiency. That is already obvious the moment you land in Japan. The Japanese are not that good in English, but it is not because of their lack of interest. The problem lies elsewhere.

In Japan, kids learn to speak English for six years, starting from junior high. One might think six years is a lot, and they should be quite fluent, but this is unfortunately not the case. The focus in the school class is not on speaking English but more on grammar and sentence structure. You see, in Japan, one remains silent in class until spoken to by the teacher. In the West, the student is encouraged to speak out and interact with the teacher and share his opinion. In Japan, speaking out is considered rude and egoistic. So the children will only repeat what the teacher says or given their turn to read a sentence.

 A couple weeks ago, I was given a great opportunity by Edina, a cram school that teaches English to children, to participate in an ‘All Day English’ camp. Here children who want to practice their English more would join this camp and speak English all day. Together with eight other APU students from different countries, we were there to assist the teachers and guide the children through the camp and speak English to them. This was to increase the children’s international experience and hear English from other than just Japanese people. The children’s age ranged from nine to fifteen. In my team, I had four boys, ages thirteen to fifteen. This experience gave me a different perspective on the English speaking ability issue of the Japanese people.

Interests in the English language

 These four boys were at first very shy to talk to me. This has nothing to do with them being Japanese. I am a stranger from a different country and much older than them. As an icebreaker, we had lunch together. Here we were able to talk a bit to each other, and as you know, food connects people. Regardless of where you, from food makes people happy. After lunch, we had a search trip to the mountains, searching for answers to our questions we had been given. This was very fun, and it helped my team to bond. Bit by bit, the boys started to become more confident to talk to me. I noticed that they were afraid of making mistakes. Japanese culture tends to be a perfectionist culture, and making mistakes will make them lose face. Losing face is something they rather not. 

This camp’s objective was to speak English all day, and we, the teaching assistants, were given instructions to avoid Japanese as much as possible. This is not a big problem for me as my Japanese is still on a beginner’s level. However, I revealed to my team that I am still learning Japanese, making mistakes in the Japanese language. This is, obviously, easily noticeable to them. My Japanese is worse than their English. This gave them more confidence to talk in English.

EDINA: ALL DAY ENGLISH

What surprised me was their English was not as bad as they thought it was. Yes, they need to work more on their pronunciation. Still, they were understandable, and their vocabulary was strong enough to have a conversation. They were underestimating their capabilities. During the camp, the kids had to keep a diary and write their experiences in English and what they had learned. We had to assist the children with any questions they had when writing their experiences and correct their English if they made mistakes. I was stunned by how well they could write in English.

In total, 44 children that participated in this camp. The camp started right after the children finished school and entered their big summer break for your information. The reason I am pointing this out is that these kids are interested in improving their English in their free time. I can imagine their parents would motivate them and/or push them to participate in the camp. Still, nonetheless, it is their free time. I thought that the Japanese had no interest in learning English, but that is not really true. There is a genuine interest in learning English. 

Problems in learning English

In Japan, there are three writings (alphabets if you will) that allow you to write Japanese. Hiragana is a writing that has 46 phonetic characters. These characters are used solely for Japanese words. The second writing is Katakana. This writing also contains 46 phonetic characters that are used exclusively for foreign words. The third one is called Kanji. Kanji are Chinese characters that describe the meaning of a word. One needs to know approximately 2000 characters in order to be able to read the newspaper. Japanese words are written in Hiragana, but using only Hiragana will make the sentence look childish and make it too long. Therefore some words turn into Kanji as this uses fewer characters and looks more mature. One of my friends pointed out a good problem in learning English which has to do with the Katakana writing.

As mentioned above, Katakana is used for foreign words. So, for example, the word ‘coffee’ is not an original Japanese word. Therefore, it will be written in Katakana like コーヒー ‘kohi.’ The word ‘sushi’ is an original Japanese word and thus is written in either Hiragana (すし) or in Kanji (寿司). In our alphabet, we have consonants such as K, G, B, et cetera. In Japanese, you do not have loose consonants except for the letter N. In other words, if you would like to write the letter K in Japanese, for it must be with a vowel-like KA, KI, KU, KE, KO. The letter K does not exist in their ‘alphabet’ only in combination with a vowel. The same goes for S, T, N, H, M, Y, R, and W. This leads us to something we could call ”Katakana English.”

For the children to make sense of our alphabet, they write the words in Katakana, but then the word loses its pronunciation. In order to write the word ‘bus,’ the children learn to write バス which is pronounced as basu. There is no ‘S’ in their alphabet without a vowel. So they needed to choose between SA, SHI, SU, SE, or SO. And therefore it became basu. Another good example is the word ‘cup.’ This is written in Katakana as カップ, which is pronounced as kappu. Yes, how did they get the letter ‘A’ in there? And that is how most of the Japanese speak English in Japan, namely: Katakana English.

One day I was telling my Japanese teacher that I went to a convenience store named ”Family Mart.” This is the actual name that is shown everywhere in the store. Because it is written in English, I pronounced it in English as Family Mart. The teacher had no clue what I was talking about. I looked weird at him as Family Mart can be found in every corner of Japan’s streets, so how come this Japanese teacher does not know about Family Mart? Classic misunderstanding in this regard. In Japan Family Mart is pronounced as (ファミリーマート) ‘Famiri Mato.’ When pronounced the Japanese way only, then the teacher understood what I was talking about. 

In Katakana: Reinbo-ro-do

Basu, Famiri Mato, and Kappu can still be understood when you understand the context. But Katakana English can go really weird with ‘digital camera,’ ‘air conditioning,’ or ‘personal computer.’ To be honest, these words are long and difficult to pronounce for people who do not use English much daily. So, the Japanese made it easier to pronounce these words into デジカメ (dejikame), エアコン (eakon), and パソコン (pasokon). As a result, these words are confused as English words when they speak in English. If you have learned to say eakon for air conditioning your whole life, you would actually believe this is an English word.

Pasonaru konpyu-ta- turned into Pasokon

Expensive

As mentioned above, children learn English for about six years, but they barely spend much time on English in class. I read somewhere that they would spend less than an hour in English a week. I cannot be sure if this is true, but it would not be that far off. In Japan, in order to succeed in the English language, one needs to join a cram school. Here you will learn more English than at school, but these cram schools are quite expensive. This increases the threshold for Japanese people to learn English. Not every family can afford their children to a cram school. Japan is a very competitive country that just does not want only the best for their children, but they want more than that. Therefore, the best is not enough, so parents spend a lot on their children to have them receive the best education. Cram schools are big business in Japan. According to The New York Times, Japanese parents spent $10.9 billion on cram schooling their children. But as mentioned above, not everyone can afford it, and not all cram schools provide English.

As a result, English is not accessible for many Japanese other than that short English class or wealthy enough to afford it.

The Japanese do want to learn proper English, but their environment does not allow them. It is sad to see motivated Japanese people who want to learn English but cannot as the threshold is too high. The Japanese educational system should focus more on proper English rather than Katakana English and spend more time on the language. It is 2017, and for me, it is unthinkable to not being able to speak English. How does one make a trade with other countries? How does one improve their diplomatic connections with other governments? How does one understand what is going on in the world? English is the key that opens the door to the world. Without it, you be looking at a closed-door, and you can merely look through the keyhole.

 

Masha’Allah