Monday, 31 March 2014

Sakura 2014: Hakozaki Campus

It's Sakura season! My favourite time of the year: the temperature is good and Japan turns into a magical land of flowering trees. Yesterday, Yuka and I went Sakura viewing, and one of the places we went to was the Hakozaki Campus.

Yup, we went to school on a Saturday. To take photos of flowers. Two economics students. Somehow that's an odd picture to me, since I normally associate school with studying. To be honest, we'd only heard rumors that there were Sakura flowers there, but since we had the one-day subway pass, we decided to take a chance. 

Luckily, our information source was right.

We did not walk all this way for nothing!
 The school isn't exactly flowering with Sakura trees, but there are a few streets lined with them.

Plus short trees so short people like me can take close up shots. 
 While the Hakozaki campus is old and run-down (the sakura trees were in the more-run down section), it does mean that these trees have had plenty of time to grow.

So in certain places, sakura petals carpeted the floor. 

Outside a random building
And woe be to the cars that were parked underneath.


Although they looked very pretty from a distance, you can tell that the sakura petals are going to be a problem. 

The poor windshield. 
Still, I'd like to imagine that when the driver uses his windshield wipers, the sakura petals fly up like confetti. 

I'm not sure if the Ito campus has sakura trees, but since it's going to be the main campus from now on, I really hope that they do. 

P.s. We also visited another spot, but before I blog about it, I have a related project that I want to finish. This project is also driving me insane. Hint: I'm using a piece of software called Hugin. 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

My Sisters in Japan (AKA One Week in Fukuoka)

My sisters came to visit me last week, so of course I brought them round my favourite spots (which is to say, Huis Ten Bosch). The difference in this trip is that I had my tripod with me! Well, cause my sisters brought it over.

My adorable sisters and I
It's definitely much easier taking panorama photos/GIFS with a tripod, although carrying it around is much heavier. And since I can't really talk about the trip without either rahashing the same old praise about Huis Ten Bosch or revealing too much personal information, here are some photos!

We bought these macaron pops, but they left before we
could eat it D:
Which are mostly Google+ Auto-Awesome shots

Do you know how long and how hard I've been trying to get this? 
Panorama of Thriller City, where the light show was.


And of course, the Tulip Festival


And Palace Huis Ten Bosch at Night


I must say though, it was really fun having my sisters over. I didn't realise how much I missed my family until they came and then left. The leaving part is always the hardest for me, because living alone (and I mean alone, without any neighbours like in TUFS) isn't always fun. It's mostly lonely.

Since they couldn't stay very long (my youngest sister only had a week's break), their trip was really rushed. Hopefully the next time they come for a free and easy, they can stay longer (like my mom and little bro) and we can spend some time taking it easy (which is actually what my mom and bro did most of the time, while I was at school).

By the way, if any of you are planning a trip to Fukuoka, here's the one-week itinerary, perhaps you'll find it helpful.

DAY 1
Arrive: 2.30pm
Drop luggage off
Marinoa City Outlet Mall for Shopping and Dinner.

DAY 2
Huis Ten Bosch (One 2-way Ticket costs 4900 yen, hotel fees depend on the season)

Day 3
Huis Ten Bosch
(Note: We spent 3 days 2 nights here because Huis Ten Bosch was having it's "Country of Light" event going on and I didn't want to rush through the illumination shows in one night and tire everyone out. If there's nothing going on, you may just want to keep this to a 2 day 1 night stay)

Day 4
Return to Hakata in the morning (we took the earliest train)
Lunch at Hakata Station (Leave your luggage in the locker if your hotel is far)
Shopping at Hakata, Tenjin Underground Shopping Centre (and BookOff Super Bazaar) and Canal City. Dinner at Ramen Stadium in Canal City

Day 5
Spaceworld (Amusement Park. JR sells the tickets there and back + entrance tickets as a set)

Day 6
Bye bye Fukuoka D':

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Quiet Days

If you've been wondering why I haven't been blogging lately, I have a very simple explanation: my life has been boring lately and I really don't want to make inane posts for the sake of making posts. Although if I was an entertaining writer, this wouldn't be a problem.

*Inane post section: Time for lists!*

All I've been doing lately would be:

a. Baito (I'm still considering whether to even blog about this because I want to respect my students' privacy and I don't know how to do that for now). Thanks to +Micha Fire for pointing this out. 'Baito' is short for 'Arubaito' (which is supposed to be a German word) and means part-time work. Basically, I teach English (being unqualified for almost everything else).
b. Sleeping (sleep is good)
c. Sewing (occasionally). And as a PSA, from now all, all posts related to sewing, food and so on will be posted at my new blog This is my Girly Side, making this blog more focused on Japan :D
d. Preparing for my sisters' arrival. Yes, my sisters are coming on Sunday! I'm so excited!

*Slightly more interesting part: Photos!*

And to make this post a not-so-inane one, here are some photos that I took lately:


I think these are plum blossoms. I took this shot while walking home from the supermarket, and after the filters were applied, I thought it looked an awfully lot like a Chinese painting.


Pretty sunset at Tenjin. That reminds me, it's Fukuoka Fashion Week now, and there's a fashion market on Saturday, I should go check it out. 

Isn't the "Thank You" sign adorable? Ok, that's beside the actual point. Yes, I have a point. The point is that today was rather warm (it went above 15 degrees apparently!) so I went to Starbucks in between baito to refuel. I got this Sakura Chocolate Strawberry Frappuccino and it was really really good! If you're in Japan, head over there! I wanted to have it with a chocolate and marshmallow cookie, but it seems like they didn't have it. 

Friday, 7 March 2014

Frequently Asked Questions II

SPRING :D 
Hey everyone! It's been a really long time since my previous FAQ (I think it was almost a year!) and since there are still lots of questions to be answered, I've decided to make a Part 2. So, I sent an email asking for questions to people who recently emailed me and dredged through my inbox.

Before I start, Inas, Sara and Valerie, thank you so much for replying!

Ok, on to the questions! They're all mostly about studies and MEXT, but to be honest, if you have questions about living (and to a smaller extent travelling) in Japan, feel free to ask me. I'll probably turn the questions into Part 3.... next year (looking at how I procrastinate :p)

MEXT Scholarship Questions
What are the chances of furthering my studies after MEXT?
From what Sara and another senior told me, it is possible to further your studies under MEXT. For example, if you're in the undergraduate program, you can study to a Masters degree. For a graduate, you can go to a PhD. I'm not too sure about the details though, so please check with the embassy/university.

What happens if you fail the December exam?
Oh no! Ok, this is a matter of how badly you've failed. If there's a university that will take you in, you will go there. If no university wants you (which means you must have skipped all your lessons or something), then I think you'll have to go home. The school will do its best to help you get in.

Related Question: What happens if my first choice university rejects me? 
The school will help you find another university. I'm not sure how this is done though.

How do you pick your university?
There are a few stages (this is TUFS specific. If any Osaka people could chime in, that would be awesome):
Stage 1: You get back your results (and then you celebrate or mope around - no prizes to the correct guess for my experience)
Stage 2: You go for a consultation with the teacher (In TUFS' case, Tani Sensei) as to which universities you can probably get in.
Stage 3: You apply and wait for MEXT to give it's approval.
Stage 4: If MEXT gives the green light, you either go for the exam/interview (if there's any) and then continue waiting for the official university letter.

How are the students divided? Can you choose your language school?
I'm not too sure, although we're divided pretty evenly between Osaka and Tokyo. And no, we can't pick our language school.

How many people get in overall?
There were about 60 people in my year, so I'm guessing about 120 people worldwide. This is for my batch (those that came in April 2012), so I'm not too sure about the latest numbers.

What kind of language test do you get when you first arrive?
For TUFS, it was a general Japanese language test. Gosh, I just realised I forgot :O
I'm pretty sure reading, writing, speaking (like conversations with the teacher) and listening are all tested though.

Life in Japan (Language and other stuff)
How good should my Japanese be?
Erh, erh, you're asking me? My Japanese friends still have to help me check every single one of my papers for grammar mistakes *blushes*. Just rest assured that by the end of the one year, you should be good enough for university. And the language schools will teach you from zero, so there's absolutely no need to worry.

Osaka people: is Kansai-ben very different from Standard Japanese?
I'm not sure why I was asked this, but let's just say it's different. It's not like Chinese, where knowing Mandarin doesn't help with Cantonese or Hokkien, but you will have a few problems understanding. At least, that's my experience with Hakata-ben and Kita-kyushu-ben.

Are there any student mentors when you first arrive?
Yes! There's an advisor on each floor of the dorm, and he/she will help you settle in, bring you to get your yuuchou bank account set up and all that. In fact, my advisor was the person who helped me find a doctor when I was sick and checked up on me.

Should I bring my laptop over? and Is a laptop necessary for the first year?I
It's up to you. It's not that necessary for your first year, although I'm using it for school assignments a lot more since I entered university. If your laptop is new, it may be worth using an adaptor for at least the first year. If your laptop is old and you were thinking of getting a new one anyway, wait till you come before you buy a laptop (and there are normally lots of student discounts in April, when the new school year starts).

Is it expensive to live in Japan? Do I need baito?
Living expenses vary from region to region. Kyushu is actually pretty ok, I managed just fine without baito for my first year. I just started teaching English, but that's because I made a few extravagant purchases this year. It's pretty normal to have baito though.

What can you buy at the 100yen stores?
EVERYTHING. Notebooks, snacks, drainage nets (get those, they are insanely useful if you hate scrubbing the plastic draining thing in your sink), little boxes, house slippers/house socks, etc. The only thing I would caution you against buying there would be cooking utensils, because I heard a horror story (from my senpai) about them melting under heat.

How do I pay my rent/set up my bank account?
When you first arrive in Japan, TUFS will help you set up a bank account. From there, they'll deduct the rent (automatically). You can set it up so that your water bills, electricity bills, phone bills, etc are all deducted automatically, but you'll have to fill in a separate form for each.

Personal Questions
How do you cope with homesickness?
It probably varies from person to person, but I find that going outside and doing something helps immensely. The whole point of this is to leave your house/room and get some fresh air. So at the very least, walk to a nearby store/conbini (you don't have to buy anything). Better yet, go do something, like kendo practice. Be warned, you will not feel like going out, but you should force yourself to do so. I normally feel this sense of inertia before kendo, but I never regret going.

I hope this was useful! Let me know if there are any other questions that isn't covered in this FAQ or the previous one.

Also, I'd love to do an FAQ for Kyushu University, to try and convince more of you to come here. So ask away in the comments or email me with your questions!

Monday, 3 March 2014

Happiness is ... (#7)

Seeing a crow whisperer.


I was actually thinking of talking about how grateful I am for nice sunsets (which I am), but then while I was waiting for my student to arrive, I took a little walk and saw this guy. He was just sitting (and then he stood, as seen in the picture) among the crows. Or rather, the crows gathered around him because I didn't see them anyway else.

Crow whisperer.

Or a guy with a bag or bread. I'm not too sure since I didn't go close enough to check.

On an unrelated note, happy hina matsuri (doll's festival)!