APU Life

Few months in the culture, I have had time to adapt to the Japanese up-in-the-mountain way of life. Here are some characteristics I have gotten more or less familiar with.

Some of the Happy R3 residents
There can never be too many pictures. Some of the Happy R3 residents

When you are tired, you sleep. No matter if you’re in a train, in the cafeteria, or in class. The library is open until midnight, and people often stay up until the wee hours of morning. In APU, the classes can last until 7.30 pm. No wonder students doze off – usually sleeping is very obvious and not even tried to hide.

Modest nap in class
Modest nap in class

Birthdays are celebrated at midnight, when the birthday is beginning, rather than bringing breakfast in bed like sometimes in Finland.

Tatsuro got his piece of the cake
Tatsuro got his piece of the cake

The word “party” usually making dinner with more than 2 people, rather than going drinking and/or dancing. Parties may also include games, activities etc. This came as a surprise to some of the exchange students in the beginning of the semester.

Floor party: Japanese winter food Nabe.
Floor party: Japanese winter food Nabe.

Other things I’ve noticed in APU:

Unlike in Europe, where perm is equivalent to the hottest of hot 80’s style, in Japan getting a perm is popular. At least in APU, that is.

The Japanese never say no. When they mean no, they can say maybe, a little… or even yes – in a special tone that is supposed to give the hint. Sometimes this can be a bit challenging/frustrating or even annoying. Or maybe I should learn to not say no?

The myth of the healthy Japanese diet has nothing to do with the substances people consume here. And by substances I mean the more or less processes products people fill themselves with throughout the day. Besides the polished rice, pasta is a big hit!

Guess who is about to be eaten?
Look who is about to be eaten!

For most people, there is rarely such leisure as free time. If not in lectures, students go to their circles activities, do homework or prepare presentations etc. Also, the AP house residents are not that keen on leaving the house.

Stairway to campus
Stairway to campus from Ap House
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Yama, shiro, faamu and gift shoppu!

Field trip Japanese style! 3 destinations, 12 hours and closer to dozen gift shops – despite being behind schedule for a while, we made it back to Ap House in time, happy and tired.

The first stop (after the 10 minute bus pit stop) on our trip was Aso volcano, about 2 hours away from Beppu.

Crater, not an onsen, though both look pretty similar

The terrain on Asosan was rather rocky and rough. Since the volcano is located over 1500m above sea level, it was rather chilly, too. There was several warning signs for people with asthma, heart disease etc., since the fumes contained something not too healthy to breathe.

Pray to gods the volcano won’t erupt

After looking at the craters, we were supposed to walk down the mountain to the bus. Me and my friend too initiative and rode the cable car back down: we had plenty of time at the gift shop, and avoided freezing outside.

Cable car ride to Asosan, Mountain Aso volcano crater

Next stop was next to Asosan, a bowl shaped meadow Kusasenri, which actually was just a visit to a gift shop to hawk on all the free samples of the regional omiyage. (No pictures of the pond.) Next stop, my definitely most favorite part of the trip: lunch in Aso farmland.

Shrooms! And many different kinds…I would have needed a tour guide

The mushrooms pictured above were just a small part of the most likely best buffet I have ever had on an organized trip. The restaurant was called “Viking” for some reason, but the food was mainly Asian, luckily with many different salad and mushroom options. Unfortunately we did not have nearly enough time in Aso Farmland, so I did not even get to understand what the place was all about. There were some exercise domes, farm animals and funky activities for kids, spa, shops selling beauty and health products as well as loads of omiyage and other food, milk factory, mushroom cultivation and I can’t even imagine what else. I would have definitely liked to spend the whole day (or weekend) there! After rushing to the bus, we were off to the tourist highlight: The Kumamoto castle.

Part of the Kumamoto castle, and not even the best part

After few hours bus ride, we had an hour to explore the Kumamoto castle. After rushing through the main castle, me and my friend got to the best part: shopping area. Unfortunately, once again time was against us.

Time is money, so I saved my money here by not having time to shop!

3 hours on the bus with a sugar rush, I learned few new Japanese words. The trip was an overall success, and the price was ridiculous as well: 3000yen (30e) wouldn’t normally have even covered the entrance fees, let alone transportation and the magnificent lunch! I wish I had 2 or 3 days trip, but this was definitely worth going as it was. Now I just need to find out, if there are any similar places to Aso farm land!

Ps. The Kumamon bear started off as being cute and nice, but seriously: how many products can you make with it? It is everywhere! If you don’t know which bear I am talking about, google it and see if it looks familiar. If not, you should definitely visit Kumamoto – the castle is nice, too! And the city, even brom inside the bus, seemed so alive after Beppu.

More Japanese sweets: zanzen and green tea crepes

Life in Japan is sweet: most breads in the stores are sugar coated and/or filled with jam or cream. The pastries, cookies and other treats are aplenty. In addition to the mochi-making last weekend, today I was introduced to another anko (red bean paste) and rice-based dessert: zanzen, which is red bean soup with dango (rice flour) balls.

Simple ingredients and simple instructions: flour and water, form balls and boil

Anko soup is fairly easy to make: just put equal amount of red bean paste and water into a pot, and bring to boil. The dango balls are just as simple, but require a bit more work – they need to be rolled into small (roughly nail-size) balls and boiled until they rise from the bottom of the kettle. Dango is similar to mochi, and can be filled with anko paste, too. Without the filling, the dango does not taste like much.

Dango balls in the making

 

 

Green tea flavored whipped cream and bananas for crepe filling

 

The crepes are simple to make, too: flour, milk, eggs and sugar are mixed, then fried. The Japanese twist comes from the green tea in the whipped cream.

Happy crepe chefs

These delicacies were offered to the lucky students living in AP house. I was lucky to be able to join the House Activity Organization in making this event happen. I was also promised to be able to join next time – maybe this will be my activity, in stead of Aikido (which I skipped to be able to cook). More treats coming my (and your) way!

AP House ceremony

Exactly a week ago I finally got in to the AP house, tired of travelling and sleep deprived, too. What a week it has been, every day filled with new things, events, people and information!

Today we had AP House welcoming ceremony for all the new residents (I think there is over 1000 of us). First in the Millenium Hall, there was few speeches and an entertaining video about the AP House rules. After that, we went to the cafeteria to enjoy a buffet and performances by Yossha-Koi dance circle and the Japanese drum circle.

Impressive drumming

The RA (Resident assistants, two students on each floor who are responsible for, well, almost everything) had prepared many dance performances for us, all of which were surprisingly well practiced! In Finland, there is no way you’d see guys dance (6 dance routines in a row) – specially if the dance includes feminine or otherwise sexually charged moves. Vive les cultural differences!

Gagnam style, once again!

Today was the first time I ate pizza with chopsticks! The menu was international, like the residents in AP houses. We were truly welcomed to the house, and even though I’ve been here a week learning all the manners and everyday life, this event made the house seem even warmer and friendly, if possible.

Health check

Today was my first encounter with the ultimate Japanese efficiency – even though everything has gone rather smoothly so far, the health check up of today was the proof of Japanese capability of organizing and dealing with large number of people.

All new students were taken on shuttle buses to the health center. We had previously filled out a questionnaire about our medical history, and another document about our current health. With these documents we went from one check point to another, and always someone confirmed that we were still carrying our own documents.
After receiving a cup to pee in, I went to the changing room to put on a robe. X-ray was a matter of an inhale, followed swiftly by blood pressure, then blood sample, and the usual height, weight and eyesight examinations. All of this was over in 20 minutes! I was not the only one who felt like being on a factory production line, since there was several hundred of us! If only things were this fast in Finland… Back home, the health check up is only a matter of stepping on a scale, being measured and asked about feelings. Now the only thing left to do is to wait for the results and hope that I do not have any serious illnesses. Most of my friends, me included, were wondering why they were measured to be shorter than before. Most people have apparently also lost weight since coming here, although with all the noodles and snacks, it seems unlikely. Maybe that is a Japanese paradox, and I am two cm shorter in here!

This way to health (center)?

Another example of Japanese efficiency today: My toilet was broken – it was leaking and keeping the flushing sound. I went to the office to explain the problem to the lady who does not understand a single word of English. After explaining her about my toire problem, I signed a form saying that it is ok with me if someone comes to my room to fix the problem. After few hours, nothing had happened. My Japanese friend came with me to the office to explain that there is quite a waste of water with the leaking (they are very sensitive about wasting water here). As it turns out, the lady had thought that my toilet lamp is dying, and that’s why they did not come sooner. The security officer came to my room (after asking permission), and within 3 minutes the toilet was fixed. It is easy, if you know how!