Goodbye Japan

After more than 16 weeks, 8 courses, 9 cities and tons of memories, my time in Japan has ended. I could not be happier with the time I have spent in this beautiful country and all the amazing people I have met along the way. I am incredibly grateful for the amazing opportunity to live and study in such an interesting place and I hope to return one day to visit my new friends and all the cities I didn’t get to.

Even though I was a foreigner in Japan, I’ve never felt safer or more welcome than I have in the last four months. Before I arrived in August, I was sure that I was going to be faced with extreme culture shock, however, due to the extreme hospitality and the nature of this seemingly western Asian country, I was able to adapt quite nicely and be as comfortable as can be before I left. While there were of course obstacles along the way, with the help of my friends and NUCB, I was able to overcome them and have a beyond incredible time.

What is amazing about Japan is the amount I learned outside of the classroom. Japanese culture is so extremely high-context and complex that I was constantly learning every day. Not only did I learn a lot about Japan but also about myself. This was my first experience living alone and in a country where I don’t speak the language. I also met many other exchange students from different countries with varying viewpoints. These experiences have truly taught me how to adapt and not only understand the differences between my culture and others, but appreciate them. With this, I now have a greater grasp on my identity as a Canadian; whereas if you had asked me before I left what it meant to be Canadian, I don’t think I could explain it. This change has allowed me to appreciate the finer details about my life in Canada and in Edmonton.

For those of you considering studying in Japan or even just traveling there in the future, my advice to you is DO IT. You truly won’t regret it. I will never forget my time in this amazing place and I look forward to returning. Thank you U of A, thank you NUCB and thank you Japan. じゃまた!

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Big Cities, Bright Lights…and Earthquakes

December in Japan has been quite busy with exams, traveling, and trying to cram everything in before I leave. As my last few travel destinations in Japan I decided to check out the big cities, starting with Osaka. Osaka is a beautiful city and to say it is large is an understatement (especially considering I was lost most of the time). Needless to say, the skylines were beautiful and the lights were amazing, it was especially stunning at night. I also enjoyed some delicious and famous Takoyaki.

View of Osaka

View of Osaka

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My last and final stop during my travels was Tokyo. Calling Tokyo a big city is like calling Edmonton a little chilly in the winter time. I’ve always considered myself a “city person”; that was until I went to Tokyo and realized how broadly the term city is used. Tokyo is by far the largest metropolis I’ve ever been to. I was fortunate enough to stay with a very nice Japanese girl I had met on my last trip to Tokyo who was kind enough to invite me into her home and show me around.  I had an amazing week visiting all the typical sites and some not so typical sites; everything from Tokyo Tower and the Rainbow Bridge to a couple of animal cafés. It was an amazing trip and after being pushed into a few subway trains and experiencing my first ever earthquake at the top of the World Trade Center building, the week was eventful to say the least. I even had the privilege of attending a University of Alberta Alumni event while I was there. It is incredible what a “small” world we live in and how even 10,000 km away, in a giant place like Tokyo, we can experience a little bit of home.

Rainbow Bridge

Rainbow Bridge

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LOVE, Shinjuku

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Cat Café

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Tokyo Tower, view from World Trade Center building

After these amazing trips it was time to come home and study for finals. The semester is coming to an end and I can’t believe my time in Japan is too. It has been incredible and the time has flown by. Just a little while left then I’m Edmonton bound. I’m just trying to absorb as much as I can before then!

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Traveling and Surfing

I had the privilege in the last couple of weeks to do a lot of traveling and meet many new people. I have to say, of all the beautiful and amazing cities I’ve visited this semester, Hiroshima has been my favourite (with many close seconds!). This may be in large part due to my extreme interest in World War II history, but there really was something magical about this city. The city acts as a representation of hopefulness with a mission for world peace. No matter where I went in the city I felt a sense of calm.

First, I visited Peace Memorial Park to see the A-bomb Dome and the Peace Museum. Both are very good at doing the best they can to help you visualize what that day would have been like in 1945. None of the museums ever seemed to place blame or hold resentment towards those responsible for the attack that day, instead the city focuses on bringing peace globally. This was quite a refreshing thought.

Peace Memorial Park

Peace Memorial Park

My favourite moment was visiting the Fukuro-machi Elementary School Museum. This is a very small museum located in an old school building that was used as somewhat of a hospital and recovery zone for a-bomb victims. Years after its use for this purpose, various writings on the walls and behind blackboards were found from people looking for their family members or leaving messages for loved ones, hoping that they were still alive. This experience was particularly powerful for me because I was the only one in the museum so I could really take the time to examine every character and let it set in. There was one other person in the building, an elderly employee who seemed very happy that I was there. He told me I was the first Canadian he had seen come into this museum and he gave me a small paper crane that a student from a neighbouring school had made in remembrance of the event. I was incredibly moved by the whole experience and felt very grateful for the opportunities I have in my life today.

Drawings made my neighbouring elementary school students at Fuka-Machi Elementary School

Drawings made my neighbouring elementary school students at Fukuro-Machi Elementary School Museum

Next, I visited Miyajima Island just outside of Hiroshima to see the famous Itsukushima Shrine and the various temples throughout the small island. I also hiked to the top of the mountain to see an amazing view of the surrounding cities. While I am not a frequent hiker, unlike many retired Japanese people (who were much faster than myself), I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Itsukushima Shrine

Mount Misen

Mount Misen

However, what made this trip so amazing was the lovely people I met along the way. Instead of staying in a hostel, I decided to try Couchsurfing for the first time. Couchsurfing is an online community that connects travelers with hosts of a particular city. With this, I got to stay with a Japanese local and meet other surfers from the UK and Czech Republic. This was really great because I was traveling alone and I got to spend most of the weekend with new friends. I learned more about the city than I would have otherwise learned exploring it by myself. I got to try different local foods and see the city from a local’s perspective. I also got to swap travel stories with the other surfers, two of which whom just started a year and a half backpacking trip around the world. The Couchsurfing community has also connected me with a local Japanese girl from Nagoya looking to practice her English. We had a great time hanging out around the city and comparing her time in the United States and my time here in Japan. For me, this is what exchange is all about, experiencing new cultures and making connections all around the world. In my opinion, you learn far more from living in different countries and meeting new people with different perspectives than you might remaining stationary your whole life.

My new Couchsurfing friends and I at Itsukushima Shrine.

My new Couchsurfing friends and I at Itsukushima Shrine.

I am Couchsurfing again this weekend in Osaka and then I’m off to Tokyo. This will be my last trip of the semester since final exams are coming up, then in three weeks, I fly home. With so little time left, I am trying to enjoy my time and soak up as much as I can before I leave!

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And so the adventure continues…

It looks like this term is going to be much busier than last with lots of excursions and traveling. I am also really enjoying a couple of my classes and since our Term 3 grades were sent out this past week, I am in an excellent mood!

In the last two weeks, NUCB organized 3 excursions for us. First one being an educational trip to the Asahi Beer Factory! (which involved three free glasses of beer at the end). But in all seriousness it was very interesting, and like the Toyota trip earlier in the semester, we got to see the efficiencies and high automation levels of the Asahi factory. Asahi is the top-selling beer company in Japan with approximately 35% of the market share. We literally see Asahi’s beer and soft drinks everywhere; in stores, vending machines, advertisements, EVERYWHERE. It was definitely cool to see where all the magic happens and learn how their beer is made. (I was also surprised at how clean and beautiful it was!)

Treats on Halloween!

The Beautiful Asahi Beer Factory

Next stop on the NUCB agenda was a trip to a local high school. I have to say this was probably one of my favourite NUCB excursions thus far. A few of us students had the opportunity to go to a commercial business high school and speak with the Director, some teachers, and a classroom full of students. It was quite interesting to see the contrast between a Canadian and Japanese high school. First of all, I never learned accounting when I was in high school, unlike these students. Also, we all had to wear slippers from the moment we entered the school. All students wore similar slippers and were wearing navy blue uniforms. The students attended class for 5.5 hours each day then cleaned the classrooms and garden for one hour. After cleaning, each student trained with the extra-curricular group of their choosing, only one group all year, for two hours each day. We visited many different clubs including Japanese archery, ping-pong, calligraphy, kendo, etc. Make no wonder I see so many students sleeping on the train everyday, I would be exhausted too if I were them. In all, it was a great visit and the staff and students seemed very appreciative of our presence.

She won.

The last stop we made was to the Taketoyo Thermal Power Plant. We got to listen to the director of the plant give a presentation about the various units of the plant and their outputs, as well as the problems the plant was currently facing, particularly following the earthquake last year. We then received a tour of the plant and finished off at the massive solar panel unit. This trip was particularly interesting because we received insight on the problems Japan is currently facing in terms of energy and what this plant in particular is doing to support and provide the Aichi prefecture with power.  It is not often you participate on a company tour and get to hear about the obstacles they are dealing with, so it was particularly fascinating. The plant was very old and rusty and these solar panels demonstrated the plant’s hope for the future.

Solar panels at Taketoyo Thermal Power Plant.

Finally, a fellow student and I took a weekend trip to the lovely city of Nara (the ancient capital of Japan). We visited a number of different Buddhist temples include the Todaiji Temple which is the largest wooden structure in the world. I took time to just sit and stare at this temple and try to take the best mental picture I could. It truly was breathtaking. However, what was most interesting about the city of Nara was the sheer number of deer. Yes, that’s right, deer. FACT: There are more deer in Nara than people. It was actually very astonishing to see the amount of deer walking around and how friendly they were. Deer represent ancient heavenly symbols in Nara and therefore are allowed to roam freely. My favourite part of the trip was the hike up Wakakusa Hill which delivered an unbelievable view of Nara during sunset. With narrow streets, ancient temples, and deer walking around, Nara definitely gave me the feeling of old Japan.

Todaiji Temple

The great Buddha statue inside Todaiji Temple

View from Wakakusa Hill overlooking Nara.

Oh, hello there.

After all of these amazing activities, there is still more to come! This weekend I’m going back to Kyoto to discover more of the city. I can’t believe I am only in Japan for one more month; there is still so much to see and do.

And so the adventure continues…

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Halfway and Happy

NUCB Campus

After a busy few weeks full of presentations, papers, and final exams; it is the end of my first term here at NUCB.

The class structure is very different then what I am used to at the U of A but it seems to be the norm here for the Japanese students. The classes here are quite intensive since each class is taught in 3 hour periods and the term only lasts 7 weeks.  The great thing about having two terms in one semester is the variety that comes along with it. It allows me to learn about 8-10 different subjects in 4 months which keeps things interesting.

I would not say that the language barrier is lessening but it is definitely becoming a little less frightening than when I arrived two months ago. Now that I know Hiragana and how to count it does make conversing with a sales clerk more comfortable. In studying Hiragana, I appreciate the complexity of the Japanese language more and I am beginning to understand why the English language can be very difficult for Japanese people to grasp (and vise versa). When I arrived, all I saw when I looked at Japanese writing were lines, shapes, and pictures; now, I can identify particular words or sounds rather than looking at a seemingly foreign code.

The weather finally changed from a humid heat wave to a very comfortable fall which I am sure myself and many of the other international students can agree is relieving. Besides the temperature, I think I am adapting well to life in Japan and while I expected this exchange to be somewhat uncomfortable for me and full of difficult challenges, I am becoming very comfortable here. Nagoya, and Japan in general, feels very safe and welcoming.

The hospitality demonstrated by Japanese people never ceases to amaze me. For example, the other day I ordered food from a fast food place on my way to school. I ordered a drink with no ice. I left the restaurant and realized there was ice in my drink, but it really wasn’t that important so I continued to walk to my bus stop and wait in line. Around 30 seconds later, while talking with my friends and eating my meal, one of the restaurant staff tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a new drink with no ice and apologized for the mistake. The fact that this employee went out of her way to make me a new drink and leave the restaurant to come find me and give it to me was so above and beyond the service I expected that all I could do was laugh and say thank you. The hospitality of this woman truly made my day to say the least.

NUCB Campus

One thing I must mention is how motivating the NUCB campus is. Yuichi Kurimoto, the founder of NUCB, was the first international student to graduate from the U of A with a bachelor’s degree in the 1920’s and when he returned to Japan he built Nagoya University of Commerce and Business. Kurimoto had very large dreams and this is apparent throughout the campus. As you walk between classes there are signs everywhere telling the students to “aim higher” or “become world leaders“. The campus really seems to encourage its students to focus on the global aspects of business. I personally feel a sense of pride while walking around the campus, particularly when seeing the NUCB flag in the morning. It is a reminder that I am participating in a program that is worthwhile and I am very grateful to have the opportunity to attend this school with the support of the University of Alberta. With this, I feel incredibly privileged to be studying abroad, especially at a University with such a connection to my own.

Tomorrow, I have been given the incredible opportunity to dine with the son of Yuichi Kurimoto and current President of NUCB, Hiroshi Kurimoto. I am truly looking forward to speaking with him and hearing all about NUCB and not only its relationship and history with the U of A but its plans for the future.

When sitting down to reflect on my experience in Nagoya thus far, all I can think is how lucky I am to be here and to explore this incredibly interesting country. It is hard to believe that my time in Japan is half over, but the plus side is that I still have another 8 weeks of adventures!

Check out more information on Yuichi Kurimoto and the University of Alberta here.

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Karate and Cars

I figured my Japan experience would never be complete if I didn’t try some martial arts. NUCB has many student clubs and a few of them allow exchange students to join; the Karate Club is one of them. I showed up to one of their practices with some friends of mine and we stood out for obvious reasons (wearing regular gym clothes and having no technique whatsoever).  I quickly realized my lack of flexibility was going to be a problem and I was sore for days to follow. The practice lasted 2.5 hours and it was a great work out, I even got to fight with a black belt at the end! She was about 2/3 my height and 10 times as scary.  Luckily she went easy on me and I got a few hits in. Everyone was very nice and encouraging to all of us newbies. Even the Sensei was really patient while helping us with our technique. I’ve decided to go back every Monday night and maybe by the end of the semester I won’t be such a beginner.

Later in the week, NUCB organized a trip for us to go to the Toyota factory in Toyota (city). As a Toyota Yaris owner, I found the tour really interesting! Unfortunately they did not allow any cameras inside the plant, but it was very impressive to see. Approximately 90% of the plant is automated and watching multiple robots build these cars was really incredible. The plant is also as environmentally friendly as possible and draws a large portion of its power from solar panels. The workers are also very efficient; anytime there was a problem and the assembly line stopped, the issue was fixed within seconds and the line continued.

The I-Unit. One day we will use these to get everywhere! (or at least that is the plan I guess)

After the tour of the plant, we were taken to the Toyota Museum where we got to see varying models from different decades in history. We also got to see some of the new research and development the company is working on. As mentioned before, the company’s use of robotics is very impressive. The museum even featured a robot fully equipped with artificial lips and lungs who played the trumpet (very well I might add).

Robotic Musician!

After all this fun, it was back to the books. With three presentations next week and final exams coming up I have to balance my time accordingly. I wish all of you U of A students good luck on your midterms!

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Birthday and Baseball

I had the pleasure of celebrating my birthday here in Nagoya. I’m really fortunate to have met some really great people here in Japan who made the day extra special. We had a night out on the town including a sushi dinner and a lot of karaoke! I couldn’t have asked for a better Japanese birthday!

Sushi, sushi, sushi!

The next day, NUCB planned another excursion for us to visit Nagoya Stadium to watch a Chunichi Dragons baseball game. We got the VIP experience with a tour of the stadium, a viewing of the Dragon’s practice, a Q&A session with the Dragon’s Marketing and Management staff, a ton of swag and great seats for the game. Since baseball is Japan’s national sport, it is a very interesting market to look at. Hearing from those responsible for managing the Chunichi Dragons was really insightful and interesting to compare  the industry in North America to the industry here in Japan. There were large groups of fans with flags, signs and instruments cheering for each team which really created an amazing atmosphere for the game. We even had a chance to meet the mascot, DOALA!

Nagoya Stadium

DOALA!

GO Dragons GO!

All in all it was a great week! School is starting to pick up quite a bit since the term is ending in 3 weeks. However,  a typhoon hit Nagoya this weekend so I had plenty of time  to get a lot of homework and preparation done for my upcoming presentations. It wouldn’t be Japan without some crazy weather!

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