We are now officially students of Akita International University 国際教養大学 , temporary and otherwise. There was a ceremony this morning–quick, efficient, and with stirring speeches. All the Japanese students were dressed smartly in jackets, ties, and dress pants, or jackets and skirts. The international group had wider variety of color and styles, but most of us turned out nicely. (I think only one person was late, and only one fell down.) There were several speakers, from the University President to the Vice-Governor of the Prefecture to student representatives. It was a good school ceremony in that almost all the remarks reminded me why I had chosen to study here and made me think ahead to new opportunities. My favourite line came from the President’s speech: “This campus, lined with metasequoia and cherry blossoms, and surrounded by forests of Akita cedar, has no entrance or exit and no fence or gate.” It’s true–we’re surrounded by trees and fields, and there’s nothing cutting us off from them. The school itself makes opportunities for us to visit the community, helping plant rice and teach English in schools. (The President also recommends reading Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Nitobe Inazo to further understanding of Japanese culture and people.)
After the ceremony and a reception, everyone wandered in their separate ways. Most of my friends ended up at a pool, but I wanted to save some money and take a walk before dinner. As it happened, I finally caught up with my roommate when we both had free time. We had a few awkward starts of conversation, but eventually we ended up talking. I spent last night trying to think of ways to start a (useful, and non-practical) conversation. So today, I started with a, “Sumimasen (Excuse me),” and showed her a Google map on my computer. I’ve gotten fairly tired the past few days of having to explain to people that I’m from the northern part of the U.S. when they ask to know where I live in the US. So I thought that maybe by showing her which part of the country I lived in, we might be able to have a longer conversation. It worked really well. I showed her my hometown and then my school, and then explained the countryside a little bit (though I should have done a better job with the Mississippi–that river deserves credit). Then she showed me her home on a map and told me about the landscape. (She lives in the northern part of the prefecture to the south of Akita.) And then we sat on her rug and looked through pictures and asked some questions. She even tried to identify an animal I had seen in the forest(?) a few days ago.
Long story short, we got to know each other a little bit and agreed to go to the mall in evening and take purikura together. I took a bit of walk before it was time to go and discovered a dead end sidewalk. Then we hitched the 7:20 bus to the mall admist a crowd of twenty or so people going to get sushi.
Purikura is really popular in Japan. It’s a sort of hands-on photo booth that produces overwhelming, eye-watering results. In the US, we’re used to pretty sedate photo booths that make us sit in a cramped space and hope we’re staying in the frame while we make funny faces. The photo booths of the US are daguerreotypes next to the digital camera of purikura. There’s almost no comparison.
This is first time I’ve been to one, but the process is too much to just ignore. First, you walk into a photo booth about 3 and half people wide with plastic drapes hanging on either entrance. Inside, there’s a shelf for your bags, round, soft lights that diffuse the lighting like a professional shoot, and of course a slot for your money. (The one we went to was about ¥400, aprox. $4.) Then you choose pastel or bold backgrounds, and from whichever list you choose, you then pick 6 backgrounds (picture lots of colors, stripes, plaids, and frames). Then you pose in front of the camera while the digital screen lets you see how your picture will turn out, just like a personal camera. Once you finish all six, you go to another set of hanging curtains and on a digital screen you add hearts, stars, smileys, writing, and whatever else the booth offers. Once you’ve doodled and stamped to your heart’s content, the photo booth will send all the pictures to your email (which Japanese people check on their phones) and print 2 sets of your choosing.
It was a lot of fun, even if I haven’t got the decorating part down to the science that Japanese people have. And I could never have done it without my roommate–there was far too much Japanese on those screens for me to understand them alone. Moreover, we spent almost two hours together, talking and getting to know each other. It’s still kind of difficult–neither of us have fantastic language skills. We need to ask a lot of questions just to have a conversation about a concrete object. She speaks very softly, and I’m probably too direct, and there’s a lot of “kore(this)?” and “nan desu ka (what)?”. But we can mostly understand each other. And we’re both practicing a language that we’re uncomfortable with because we know the other person is more familiar with it.
So today has been very promising. It’s challenging in a fun way, and that’s what I was hoping for. It’s too soon to say if Asako and I have a lot in common, but at least she’s a roommate I can be friends with.
Japanese word of the day: tanoshii ／たのしい (ta-no-sheee) adj. fun