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Harris Hatsworth's blog

3:40 AM on 06.29.2011

The Fireworks Festival!

It has been months since I last did a blog. I was planning on doing them weekly or something but then didn't. I suddenly have the urge to talk about it again and realized that I stopped at a whopping two blogs (that explained very little about actually being in Japan) before I trailed off. So now that my memories are exceptionally shitty and I'm drunk I've decided to write these once again.

So where I left off on my last one I had explained my school and the process of actually applying for school in Japan. To summarize that: it's confusing, full of paperwork, and university in Japan is hilarious because Japan has reversed high school and university; people work all high school and then get into university to fuck around as 20-somethings so there's less idiocy.

This blog basically pick up from where I left off last since arriving in Japan was not particularly interesting. There was a heat wave, I hung out with other new people I didn't sync up with seriously, looked at prospective clubs, etc. The first major event was the fireworks festival in Omagari. To spoil the conclusion: it was fucking AMAZING! It was Chad Concelmo AMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAZING!

There is some stuff to include about moving into res and meeting my roommate and whatever but it's not amazingly interesting. The size of my room basically outlines the interesting parts.

This is my basic set-up. Imagine a standard bathroom sized area to the left and that's about how big my actual room was.

So on to the fireworks festival. My first off-hand memory of the festival was at the train station where my friend Jae saw literally a plastic bag and one empty can thrown over the rails at the station. The Japanese girl leading the tour (Mieko, and she was awesome) said: "I'm sorry this place is so dirty. It's shameful." Japan is that clean.

Mieko. She was awesome.

See all the garbage and terribleness/

This was the bus out to the station. About the same amount of people were left behind to be picked up later.

The fireworks festival was a very big deal. I can't remember the exact anniversary it was but we lucked out and it was the 100th or 200th anniversary or some such important date so the effort put in was immense. We arrived in Omagari in the afternoon (about 3-4) so we spent a lot of time just visiting shops and goggling at Japanese stuff. A little tip, kakigori (かき氷) is awesome. It's just a snowcone but you cannot get slushies anywhere else and it's awesome.

The most major event during daylight was this:

Keep in mind that this is bumblefuck Japan. And in every other direction was people just as thick. The hills were full of tents and picknick blankets with multiple Japanese people on/in them. Everybody and their family was out to see this fireworks festival.

So I could go on and on leading up to this but it's not particularly interesting so I'll post about 10 pictures in a row.

I just wanted to post a picture of a hilarious Japanese truck. They're so tiny.

This was the prelude before the fireworks started. It was actually a competition as well as a showcase so someone kind of shot prematurely here :(

This is literally just the first picture I have in my abum.

It would be even more awesome if I knew what to expect at the time and had even a half-decent camera to use. Those were just the pictures that were decent enough to show without being laughed at.

And that's pretty much another Japan experience. Eventually it devolved into drunken debauchery but this is what I did before then. Let me know what you think in the comments and faps.   read

7:14 AM on 02.28.2011

Adjusting to School/Japan

My last entry was a bit more of a bunch of bulleted paragraphs than a recount of events or thoughts so Iím going to try and give this one a more flowing structure. That doesnít mean it will be totally cohesive though; particularly these early memories that have slipped a bit in detail.

The lead up to moving to Japan to go to university is unsurprisingly pretty complicated. I had to go through getting my passport renewed, getting my GPA up and maintaining it, getting my visa, and there was also a whole lot of random paperwork leading up different stages of my visa and whatnot. But along with that I had to go through several meetings to make sure I understood what going abroad was about and culture-shock and a whole lot of stuff like that.

Kinda like that but also involving lots of wandering around Toronto. Finding the Japanese Embassy was surprisingly difficult. My visa photo also looked like hell because I walked into a camera store during a heat wave and had the guy take my picture. Not the best idea.

Basically these kinds of seminars are totally pointless. When I got to Japan everything Iíd learned from anime and anecdote was mostly correct. Japanese people stare at the gaijin; vending machines are everywhere; unsurprisingly, they speak a different language. In reality the only significant adjustments I had to make were in going back to square one socially. In my third year of university I had moved to a city I donít know and is out of reach of my friends and family.

Not really but it was freaky to not know a single person in the country. Eventually I found the alcoholics (as in, everyone) and it was all good.

Newness is what kept everyone going at the start. People who would later either learn to hate Japan (or Akita specifically) or would be totally anti-social started off running in between friend groups and eagerly signing up for events and joining clubs. Again, it was like going back to first year when all this shit was new. The only difference here is that itís Japan and if nothing else, Japan is a very distracting country. Everyone wanted to test their language skills on the Japanese (and try and impress the other gaijin), anime mascots and Engrish nonsense make even the most mundane shopping experiences amusing, and the change in scenery was just cool on its own.

It's a duck wearing a hat with cat ears. I still don't know why.

The orientations at the school were definitely more useful than anything they tell you at your home school. My school gave very overarching comments about how to not get ripped off abroad, not being an idiot with your money/luggage, and just things that if youíve ever gone anywhere you know already. My school even put me in touch with someone who went to Akita and the only stuff of real value I got out of it was that in Japan they use the same voltage as here so I could bring my PS3 if I wanted (for some reason I did).

Once I landed in Akita things were totally different. As I was going through baggage at Akita Airport I saw exactly one other person with blonde hair and white skin and immediately knew ďWell, she goes to my schoolĒ. We wound up chatting and stuck together for the first little while just because kanji, Japanese, and airport security are a very intimidating combo for people who canít read/speak it very well.
Me and Katrine (who came from Germany, making Japanese her third language) arrived a day early and checked into the hotel together. It helped me get used to some things Iíd be doing a lot of during my time here: pantomime, starting and finishing sentences in different languages, and looking at my gaijin friends with confused looks. People expect that in Japan everyone knows enough English to do their job but thatís untrue. Akita is in the middle of nowhere and if their accent is thick enough even other Japanese people canít understand them. English is still a novelty. Even in big cities though, unless youíre shopping at The Apple Store right next to the airport youíre going to run into a language barrier at some point.

Japanese hotel room. Standard but it somehow still felt smaller than normal. I remember watching Kimba the White Lion on TV, then playing Persona 3 PSP and being like "Oh shit! I'm in the same country they are!"

But like I said, newness kept it fun. Pantomime and confusion became games in and of themselves. And in all honesty, this country has done a lot to improve my communication skills. Trying to explain ďvinegarĒ without just saying ďvinegarĒ helps you think in different ways. However, the one thing I absolutely will not miss in any way is not being able to be properly subtle, ironic, or sarcastic. Japanese people donít understand any of those. As a Canadian with a strong English heritage, going 6 months without marijuana, beer, and word-play is painful in so many ways (read as: being the edgy bad-boy and being the funny guy don't work particularly well on girls here until you actually get to know each other).

So the salient points so far of my initial landing in Japan are these:
1. Stereotypes of the country are reasonably true.
2. Being told anything by anyone doesnít really prepare you mentally for Japan. You can make sure to know that youíre going to be stared at, not being able to communicate clearly, etc but it doesnít really prepare you exactly.
3. However, being unprepared is what makes it tolerable. The idea of going into a city youíve never been to with people you barely know needing to use a language you can barely speak and getting so wasted you can barely walk could and does scare many people away (and for some people probably should) but it shouldnít.

I have photos where I look even less coherent than this. Although in retrospect, this was the night me and four friends passed out in a bus station and the school sent an email to everyone about us scaring the Japanese locals with how drunk we were.

Just as a quick roundup of school I will say this: itís easy. I go to a school that teaches in English so for Japanese people itís quite prestigious but they accept people based on TOEFL proficiency and that means people who speak basic Engrish can get in if theyíre hard-working. This translates to an essay question being 5-8 sentences instead of 5-8 pages; which again translates to most of the gaijin being borderline destructively irresponsible (at least the ones I became friends with) and the Japanese people being very studious. This school is an exception to the rule in that Japanese universities are hard to get into and easy to coast in. For a Japanese person itís hard to get into and hard to do well in. I think thatís all I need to say about school directly.

Since I promised 1000 words an entry Iíll cut off here. There's like, two conclusion paragraphs in a row already so I dunno what to put here.   read

7:22 AM on 02.22.2011

AIU ni Yokosou

*dusts off Destructoid account*

Hey guys, Harris Hatsworth/The Mad March Harris/Undetermined new username here. I havenít been around for a while and this blog series is going to be a summary of what Iíve been doing the past few months. ďBut why would we care about some guy who doesnít write blogs and didnít even really notice he was gone?Ē First, ouch. Second, because Iíve been living in Japan! As part of my university I decided to spend a year abroad and I chose Japan. Therefore Iíve been living here since late August and Iím moving back to Canada in early March (not technically a year, I know. Semester system; credit transfer blah blah blah).

I think this first entry will just be a bunch of points about my experience at large rather than any stories or events. This is just so that thereís an easy reference for future entries and because I will be abusing the shit out of brackets to clarify things otherwise. I will probably still make esoteric points and abuse brackets but this should hopefully lessen that. This will also be very stream of consciousness since it has simply been the events of my life and on top of having a rather spotty memory I drink heavily. This particularly made my two Sendai trips, Tokyo, and the two times groups of friends went back home blurry memories.

And without further ado, hereís the first in my series of blogs begging with a series of random bullet points that may or may not have a solid logical progression within them.

1. A/S/L/Etc
a. 20/M/Akita City, Japan.
b. Iím finishing my third year of university in 6 days.
c. Iím Canadian and from Toronto.
d. I have been taking Japanese lessons here. Dunno if that makes my title sound less weeaboo.

2. Akita City
b. In reality itís pretty bumblefuck. Thereís a sports complex/arcade/karaoke place across town from the train station and a few shopping malls, bars, and one club within 15 minutes of it as well and thatís about it.
c. Getting here from school is a kind of a pain and the last bus back from Wada station (the train station about an hour walk from campus) is 10:30pm so staying out all night means staying out until 8:30am or paying about $30 a person for a packed cab ride home.

The suicide, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, depression, poverty capital of Japan. It's actually really nice aside from being boring.

3. Akita International University
b. Basically, a small liberal arts/business school in the middle of nowhere Japan that teaches in English first (and only for many classes) which makes it really difficult by Japanese standards. By North American standards the work load is hilariously light. ďEssayĒ questions are like 8 sentences long.
c. As mentioned above, public transit sucks and taxis are expensive as hell so the university is its own universe. This has the advantage of making social groups incredibly tight. Conversely, it breeds problems with alcoholism (one of the nicknames for the school is Alcoholics International University), gossip, and stir-craziness. Sounds like those donít balance out but unless you are utterly broken as a human being and are incapable of being around others you will make some of the best friends of your entire life at this school.

This is the centre of campus. I didn't take the picture but that's basically how it looks right now minus a few inches of snow.

4. Student Population
a. The total student population here is maybe 1000 at most. During the Fall semester (Sept Ė December) the population is around half internationals because lots of the senior students live off campus or are doing their required year abroad.
b. During the Spring and Fall most of the internationals are American. From all over America, but generally in clusters (there was the Minnesota group, a few Southerners, Oregon/Washington is popular too).
c. People do come from everywhere though. At a 15-20 person party (usual attendance for my group right now) there are usually at least 5-6 different languages that could be spoken fluently.
d. There are lots of girls and there are lots of gay/bi men (and a few women) at the school. Hence the nickname GayIU. Itís not really in your face, there was only one queen at the school (with the second gayest person being the ďIím a vegan and all my friends are girls and I love school related community building tripsĒ stereotype), but itís something that sort of seeps in. Actually, at this point making gay jokes (such as grinding on a dude for a second during a party) is so commonplace that the hilarity just comes from how commonplace it is.

Just finished playing a drinking game to The Room. Even the people cheating on their drinks and drinking coolers were drunk by the time this photo was taken.

5. Japanese Culture
a. Living in Japan is different from a regular Western country. It sounds obvious but it takes a month or two to really notice that thereís a significant difference between how Japanese and North American people interact
b. At first you notice the differences by the fact that people stare and point at you. Little kids point the most but high school girls are the worst since they are unafraid to stare, giggle, point, and assume you donít understand anything theyíre saying.
c. Once you start living a normal sort of life though you can see that there is an unwelcome borderline (or maybe fully) racist manifestation of this in that gaijin are ďsotoĒ. Meaning that weíre outside and if we donít get their customs then itís alright to basically treat us like those people in high school that hung around with groups but didnít realize they werenít really wanted or included in anything. A Japanese person can hate you and will treat you like a good friend until the point where they canít take it and will go Ned Flanders crazy on you out of nowhere.
d. Generally the coolest Japanese people are the ones who have gone abroad. If nothing else, once they go abroad they learn that it wonít cause themselves or the person theyíre talking to to burst into flames by expressing emotions and speaking directly.

This is already starting off kind of directionless and long-winded but itís put a few memories into my mind so it should at least help my find my feet. Iíll try to keep regular entries less than 1000 words to avoid tl;dr nonsense. Iíll try and set up context by making the first two or three chronologically first. Then Iíll do the most recent stuff since itís both fresh in my mind and important. Iíll put out my next one within the next few days and then decide on an actual schedule from there.   read

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