Akita International University

Hokkaido Bound!

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Akita, Diana5Another holiday weekend meant another adventure for my friends and me.  With our hearts set on the supposed snow and the promise of fresh powder for snowboarding we headed off to Hokkaido for 4 days and 3 nights.  Though we ended up coming when there was no snowfall, we still made lemons out of lemonade and made the most of our trip.  Going to Sapporo, we did what most AIU students have done; sightseeing at the major tourist attractions.  Some of the places we ended up going to was:

 Sapporo Beer Factory: Obviously the namesake of Sapporo beer came from the city it originated from back in 1876.  With a unique chance to see the history of the beer and to do a beer tasting we jumped at the opportunity and it definitely did not disappoint.  A great place for omiyage (souvenirs), a restaurant that makes Genghis Khan-styled lamb, and a variety of beer to try, I was glad to experience a part of the Sapporo culture.

 Shiroi Koibito Chocolate: Coming here was vaguely reminiscent of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when I was watching the factory workers make the cookies they let visitors taste. The best part was trying out the other sweets they make and going in a group is extremely beneficial because you get to try a little bit of everything. 

 Susukino: We actually stayed at a inn in this area, and it was definitely a contrast to AIU life and even what Susukino looks like during the day.  Restaurants, bars, and billboards lit up the night and there was a surprising amount of people on the streets past 10pm.  If you want to experience the nightlife in a place other than Tokyo then this is what Susukino is known for.Akita, Diana6

 All in all Sapporo was amazing and it didn’t feel as rushed as my Tokyo trip, so it was the relaxing type of trip I needed so I could get to know my international friends a little bit more and practice my Japanese.  With less than a month left, I’m definitely feeling the pang of having to leave all of the friends I’ve made and go back to UW and finish up what’s left of my degree, but I certainly wouldn’t have given this up for a second. With that said, do what I did and try something different and study abroad at Akita International University and experience what I’ve experienced in Japan. Try the sushi, go to an onsen, and interact with the people.

Tokyo in 2 Days.

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Thankfully Tokyo is only a night bus away from Akita International University and with only 2 days I was wondering if I could get to all the places I wanted to go.  However, with a little bit of organizational help with the group of friends I went with, I was able to see most of the major tourist sites of the many districts in Tokyo. Some of the districts I went to included:

Akita, Diana1Shibuya
Famous for it’s scramble crossing, it’s definitely a site to see when all cars at the interesction stop and people are allowed to populate the interesction going whatever which way to get to their destionation.  One of the busiest Starbucks in the world also overlooks this scramble crossing, so you get a nice view during rush hour as people try to get home. Shibuya is also home of the Hachiko statue (cute story if you want to look it up) and Shibuya 109 a very large shopping mall popular for girls.

Definitely a great place for tourists because of Nakamise-Dori, the long strip of vendors that sells all different types of souvenirs at reasonable prices.  At the end of all these street vendors is the Senso-ji, a Buddhist temple kept in a traditional Japanese style, which is one of Asakusa crowning icons.

It is definitely not what you imagined if your opinion is based off of what Gwen Stefani portrayed, but there are a handful of people who dress in that style, and many other distinct Japanese styles that roam around this district.  Harajuku is definitely one of the fashion centers of Japan and you can find plenty of stores ranging from the luxurious brands to the street vendors who sell clothing at ridiculously low prices, like the 700 en shop.

Known for having the very wealthy Roppongi Hills area I could sadly only visit Mori Tower.  However, I felt like it was the best leg of the trip because of the amazing view of Tokyo you can see from the 52nd floor, the Mori Art Museum, and the fun Doodle 4 Google contest they had going on when I went.  I spent 3 hours just roaming around and trying to find locations in Tokyo from the view, but nonetheless the time was well spent.

Akita, Diana3There are some other sites I went to, but you should definitely see for yourself.  Being at AIU makes the trip to Tokyo so much more exciting and different.  It’s only been a day, but I definitely can’t wait to go back to Tokyo again.

Akita Adventures: From harvesting rice to teaching English!

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Akita, Diana2Konban wa! My name is Diana Nguyen and I’m studying over at Akita International University (AIU) in Akita, Japan.  Here is my little tidbit about my adventures thus far.  Part of the benefits of studying at AIU is being able to participate in their Community Outreach Services program.  The school establishes partnerships with the Akita community and plans small events and activities that range from being conversation partners with highschool students to harvesting persimmons to watching an Akita traditional dance performance.  It takes no effort on your part other than signing and showing up.  To get a taste of what they have been offering, here are some of the events that I have participated in:

Harvesting Rice
It was such a rewarding experience to actually see where the rice I eat everyday comes from and the process in order to get it to our bowls.  It was also extra special because Akita is known for their delicious rice.  Plus, it was really motivating to see that the elementary students that we were harvesting with were just as eager to help do some manual labor.  My favorite part was seeing the yellow fields of rice, and the end result of our couple hours of harvesting.

Teaching English at Elementary Schools
I hadn’t taught English in this type of setting before so I didn’t really know what to expect.  However, the English teachers were really helpful and walked me through the whole process.  The students were also great because they were so intrigued with the idea of having an international student assist in teaching their English lesson.  I loved answering their questions just because they were so excited to take turns and ask questions from an international student.
Akita, Diana4
Just from those descriptions I hope you can tell that if you come to AIU you’ll have plenty of chances to get in touch with the community and do a lot of meaningful events during your stay abroad.

Visiting a Japanese Onsen

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

A trip to Japan is not complete without a visit to a Japanese Onsen (hotspring). I had wanted to go to one, and I knew that I would kick myself if I didn’t have a chance to go. When I heard that a group of students were planning on going to Tazawako (Lake Tazawa), the deepest lake in Japan, I jumped on the opportunity. Due to Japan’s extensive rail system, it was even possible to get there by train. If you are planning on visiting anywhere in Japan, I suggest getting familiar with the train system, and buying a JR Rail-Pass for Golden or Silver Week.

It took 2 and a half hours to get to the lake. We took a bus for the last lag of the journey, and accidentally missed the stop for Tezawako. We decided to just head straight to the Onsen, as it was getting late anyways. No one was sure where the Onsens were, and we didn’t have any Japanese students with us. Someone asked the bus driver where to find the hot springs, and he pointed at a non-descript bus. We hesitantly got onto the bus, and joked about them taking us into the woods and abandoning us.

After a short drive on some of the narrowest roads I have seen, we came to an old looking Japanese building. It was an Onsen, and it only cost 700yen to use. The bus was complimentary. We all relaxed for about an hour, and the water was a nice milky color and smelled like sulfur…it was the real thing. This was a very traditional Onsen, as we got out we saw a woman getting in (she was wearing a towel). We didn’t realize that we were in the non-gender segregated Onsen, so if you think that would be a problem for you, make sure you are going in the right one!

We were going to stop by the lake afterwards, but it had started to rain and it was almost 4pm, so it was getting dark outside. We were all hungry, and Akita is famous for a dish called Kiritanpo, and we had 2 hours to kill before the train would take us back. We figured we could find a good restaurant in the city, and prepared to hike around looking for a restaurant. The search didn’t last long as there was a restaurant 40 yards from the bus stop. The food was delicious, and I got to try horse sashimi (raw horse meat) for the first time, knocking another “things-to-do” item off of my mental list. If only I could stay longer and make it to Hokaido for the snow festival.

While returning, we saw some other exchange students at the train station. We told them about our trip, and they said that they had traveled to a similar Onsen a couple weeks of before. After giving them more details, they were more certain that we had been to the same place. Apparently it was one of Japan’s most traditional, highly rated, and historical Onsens. I did a little research, and confirmed through pictures that the Onsen was called Tsurunoyu Onsen.  It has been around since the 17th century. Considering we didn’t know where we were going, I think we did pretty well.

The trip on a whole was very surreal. I never could have imagined going on such a crazy trip with people from all over the world, who I had just met a couple of months before. It’s one of the great things about studying abroad: getting a chance to meet and spend time with people from all over the world.