I wanted to write this as a bit of a way to summarize what I did during my study abroad, my favorite and least favorite things about the stay, as well as my future plans for Japan. But this is going to be pretty informal, as I am mostly writing this for myself to look back on in a year or so, and see if I still feel the same way. A sort of time capsule. Oh, and it’ll also be a way of me dumping a lot of my travel pictures online, since a friend insists I post pictures, but I don’t want to make an Instagram account. So this is the next best thing. I’ll also be shamelessly plugging YouTube videos from my girlfriend’s channel CuppOfTea that have me in them and relate to the topics I am writing about.
As I have mentioned before, I was in Japan doing a study abroad at Nanzan University, in Nagoya. I didn’t know what to expect from the journey to Japan itself, as this was my first time flying as well as being outside of North America. (Not my first time out of the country, but I am from the US. So to say going to Canada is “leaving the country” is a bit of a stretch.) Here is a video of the flight to Japan, as well as our first day there. For reference, we flew into Osaka, at KIX airport.
One of my most memorable times in Japan was definitely the first week I spent there, which was at a one room mansion (not the traditional use of the word, but rather in Japanese mansion refers to a small apartment, usually one room with a few tatami mats. Think “The Devil’s Castle” from The Devil is a Part-Timer) that I found on Airbnb. I really enjoyed the accommodations, not because they were anything fancy, but rather because of how much I truly felt like a local by staying in them. I felt like I got the real Osaka experience by living next to fresh-out-of-college salarymen, produce sellers, and retired obaa-chans. In fact, I got the “local experience” nearly right away, when I struggled to find the mansion room I had rented. While I was looking for the room, a nice older woman stopped and asked me what I was looking for. Now of course this was all in Japanese, and basically my first exposure to talking to strangers in Japanese. So I was nervous. After about half an hour and one flash rain shower later, we found the room. Much to my embarrassment, it turned out the room was actually right behind me. Anyways, despite my foolishness, that course of events ranks as one of my favorites, and is a go to story of mine when talking about my time in Osaka.
I spent most of my Japan time in Nagoya, since that was where I was studying. At first I despised Nagoya, probably because after a week of getting used to Osaka, I go and move to a new city that felt like the complete opposite. Of course it wasn’t the opposite, but at least that was what it felt like. Osaka had my favorite vending machine drink (some non-carbonated lemon-lime drink). Nagoya did not. That was the greatest drink ever, and Nagoya not selling it crushed me. Osaka has a ton of above-ground trains in addition to the subways. Nagoya has like, 3 above ground stations that were super inconvenient for me. And while this may not sound like a huge deal, riding the normal train was just so much more fun to me. I was able to see where I was going, and maybe even discover new locations along the way. Whereas in a subway, you only see the starting and end points. You don’t see, at the risk of sounding cheesy, “the journey.”
But as time went on I grew to love Nagoya, especially the area around Kanayama station. Most of my best stories come from there. One of my favorites is when I, for the second time mind you, accidentally walked right into an idol group performance. They were performing a hit single that was particularly popular in Nagoya. Which, and I am not joking when I say this, is basically a Japanese rehash of the Village People song YMCA. I was so blown away, and still am. My biggest regret to this day is not buying their CD with the song on it. The group was called BOYS AND MEN and the song was called “B.M.C.A.” Here is a video of their staff dancing to the song, and here is a trailer of their album that the song is off of, just to prove it. The whole thing was an enlightening experience.
Other fun things in Nagoya were my first Japanese baseball game (where me and my friends got to be on the Jumbotron!), the beach, the most dope science museum ever, a sweet Ferris Wheel, Sakae and SKE48, and first festival I went to, Nagoya Matsuri. I won’t talk much about it, since I already wrote a post about it right after, but if you’d rather see a video of it, my girlfriend and I filmed one together! So check it out if you’d like.
Aside from fun things, a lot of my time was spent in school. If you are interested in studying abroad in Japan, and have the option of going to Nanzan, please do research first. I thought I did a lot. But I was clearly wrong. I didn’t know that I would be going to a Catholic school, so imagine my surprise when I see nuns and priests walking around during orientation. Now while the school is a Catholic school, it didn’t really make it any different from a non-Catholic Japanese university, so don’t let that influence your decision.
But I will say this: Nanzan was pretty rigorous. I thought I was decent at Japanese before going to study there, but I was severely outmatched. I placed into the second lowest level, which was all review of what I had done at my home institution, yet still struggled at the beginning. The Japanese classes are no joke, being 5 days a week, as opposed to my usual 3 days a week, and (surprise surprise) conducted entirely in Japanese. I suppose that should’ve been expected, but I was in an intermediate level back in the US, and we still learned things primarily in English. However at Nanzan, no English was used, even when learning new grammar. And I was scolded numerous times for speaking in English, even if it was just to crack a joke. Though because of this, I have become very good at making jokes in Japanese! It may sound like I am complaining about this, but I am actually super grateful, since my Japanese improved more in the four months I spent at Nanzan than it did the two years I had spent studying at my university. So I highly recommend it. Just be prepared. If you are curious as to what Nanzan looks like, I recorded a brief tour of Nanzan with my girlfriend, and also look it up on Google Maps. Also check out my previous post about Nanzan’s culture festival. It will prepare you for your stay, as well as what to expect. If people are interested, or if I feel like it, I may make a separate, more detailed post all about Nanzan in the future.
The last thing about my stay I’d like to talk about, was my trip to Tokyo. This was probably my second favorite trip, with my trip to Nishinomiya (the town where The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya takes place) being in first place (also check out the video of me in Nishinomiya). I went to Tokyo at the beginning of December, so I was just in time to see some Christmas illumination near Shibuya. Aside from that, I went to your typical weeaboo/otaku places: Akihabara, Ikebukuro (Durarara!! anyone?), Shinjuku, and Harajuku. Ikebukuro surprised me by being my favorite. I can’t really explain why, but I felt the happiest when I was there. Akihabara probably would’ve been my favorite, if it wasn’t so crowded the two times I went. Ikebukuro was also super dope, because I saw the cafe that Kaneki eats out with Rize in Tokyo Ghoul, and a cool Durarara!! themed vending machine. Aside from all that, I went shopping, ate conveyor belt sushi, and had the best 500 yen pizza ever. So Tokyo was pretty cool.
If there is anything I wish had done more of, it would be travel locally. I wish I had visited more small towns near Nagoya. But also looking back, I was on a super tight budget, so I’d say I did about as much as I could have in that regard. I also wish I had tried more food, but once a picky eater, always a picky eater.
As for my future plans with Japan, I’d like to teach English in Japan after I graduate next year. After being a TA for the first time last year, I knew teaching was the right thing for me. And now after living in Japan for four months, I know that that is where I want to be living. So what better than to teach in Japan?
Anyways, thanks for reading this super duper long post! If you have any questions about anything Japan related, like study abroad or travel tips, please let me know! I will try my best to answer questions as best as I can.