Following our domestic flight from Haneda to Akita Airport, we were greeted with open arms by Masako sensei and Mizuho, a graduate student, and driven to Akita University. At first, we were overwhelmed by the mountains of snow when arriving in Akita, coming from the hot climate of summer in Queensland. We were delighted, however, by the natural beauty of the area. Two third-year students, Yumiko and Misato, met with us at the university and took us to our rooms. They showed us how to use the heating and familiarized us with Japanese customs, such as always removing shoes in the doorway of a room. They gave us a gift and were very keen and eager to help us with any inquiries we had for them. They were always enthusiastic about practicing language learning together.
Whilst visiting Miura sensei's home, we made our way into another part of their house, designated for tea ceremonies and gatherings. We were instantly uplifted by the pleasant aromas created by incense in the beautifully decorated room. The tea ceremony was a stunning exhibition of traditional Japanese culture at play. We followed carefully the master's instructions and enjoyed a relaxing cup of green tea and unusual, but appetizing Japanese sweets. This was a very unforgettable experience for us.
On Saturday we were fortunate enough to be taken to the beautiful snow-covered village of Kakunodate, just a short trip away from the university. It was so interesting to see all of the old buildings and history museums on display in the village. We were interested in Japanese history, having studied it at university and were lucky to experience this historical place. This was one of our favourite days spent in Japan. We tried Shoyu (soy sauce) ice cream on the way, and it was surprisingly good! After visiting Kakunodate, the students took us to a bar in town, where we ate small plates of many different Japanese foods, drank cocktails, listened to music and had a great time getting to know the Japanese girls.
Tuesday was Australia Day and also the day of our party, so we got up early and walked to the supermarket for supplies to make 'Australian food', but it was very difficult to find ingredients! At 6pm we were greeted by Yumiko who came early to cook Japanese food for us and did a great job of it. Then Terri sensei came bearing delicious chocolate brownies! We decorated our room with flags and even put Australian flag tattoos on the guests' faces! Misato came later and we taught the students the Chicken Dance, the Macarena and the Nut Bush, which had everyone laughing. The party was fun and a great chance to socialize on a more personal level with everyone.
We were lucky enough to be taken to the primary school associated with Akita University. We met the principal and had tea and were soon taken to meet the students, who were about eleven years old. We made a brief self-introduction in Japanese and then talked about Australia and showed the students photographs depicting Australian 'culture'. The students are very polite and well behaved. They especially loved the photographs of Australian animals. We then spoke to them in smaller groups and afterward taught them to play 'heads down, thumbs up' which went well and they seemed to have fun. We had a great time meeting these lovely kids and hope to experience similar teaching experiences again in the future.
We had such a wonderful time in Akita, the people treated us so kindly and we felt, even in the short time we were visitors, our Japanese language skills were, to some extent improved. I am very grateful for all the wonderful experiences I encountered during my stay and am determined to return for a longer period in the future. To anyone wanting to do an exchange in Japan, I would definitely recommend Akita as a fantastic place to learn not only the Japanese language, but the culture and lifestyle of both traditional and modern Japan.
I would thoroughly recommend anyone considering an exchange to Japan to look into coming to Akita University. The smaller city and friendly people that are at the University would surely make for a memorable and beneficial exchange. Everyone is willing to help and wants to make your time there as full and interesting as possible. There was not one moment that I didn’t enjoy myself or feel unwelcome. I felt a part of the community straight away and look forward to being able to return there in the near future to visit the lifelong friends that I made in such a short time.
The teachers at the university are very interactive in the classes and all classes are conducted in Japanese which is very beneficial. I went to all levels of Japanese language class while in Akita and, although I was there for only 2 short weeks, began to improve and understand the content in the more complex and higher level classes due to the constant exposure and speaking practice utilised. The Japanese language classes have a strong emphasis on the practical speaking aspect which I found to be a great benefit and help to students. This is something exchange students would find extremely beneficial. Many exchange students currently in Japan also have similar opinions and find the support available at Akita University an integral and beneficial part of their exchange and think this is what sets Akita University apart from other exchange Universities.
We had many opportunities to communicate with Sonya and Roz. We talked about many things in both Japanese and English. When we had difficulties in communicating in Japanese, we could solve those problems by using English, and vice versa. We felt that it was so useful to be able to speak and communicate in our target language. Being able to use other foreign languages is useful because we can understand their cultures or thoughts and get a wider view of the world. We hope many Griffith students will visit and study at Akita University.