Hello, my name is Ethan Gossett and I am a History and Humanities International Studies Major here at UTC. I decided in May of 2018 that I was going to study abroad in a foreign country. Where exactly? I had a lot of options, but I ended up deciding to study in Japan. Therefore, I set my sights on studying abroad in Japan and from that moment on I continuously worked to accomplish that objective. Now, fast-forward almost a year later and suddenly I am on a plane to Narita Airport in Tokyo!
The study abroad program I was admitted to was KEI’s Japanese Academic Year program at Akita International University (AIU). I will be abroad until December 2019 and will study at AIU for two semesters. This travel log is to give my fellow history majors and UTC students insight into what studying abroad is like, in addition to what my experiences are while I am in Japan. I hope you enjoy this log and find it useful as well as entertaining!
I arrived in Tokyo on March 28, 2019, and I had exactly no sleep on the fourteen-hour plane ride from Atlanta to Tokyo. However, I remember being so excited that the lack of sleep did not phase me once I was in Narita Airport. When I made it out of the airport, my friend Austin Wilkerson shocked me by meeting me at the bus stop outside. He too is a UTC student studying abroad in Japan. He helped me find the right bus and aided me in carrying my ridiculous amount of luggage to my hotel room. Honestly, Austin was a lifesaver that day and I cannot thank him enough. After we reached the hotel and dropped off my luggage we set off to explore Narita, Japan and grab dinner. My first official meal in Japan was authentic Japanese pork ramen and it was delicious! Another exciting memory from my first day was seeing a traditional Japanese building up-close. Being a history major, I was truly amazed at viewing this beautiful architecture. We parted ways that night and Austin traveled back to Ikebukuro in the heart of Tokyo, while I went back to my hotel near the airport to get some much-needed sleep. That was my first night in Japan, and one that I won’t forget for a long time.
The next three days were organized by KEI, (the sponsor organization that linked me to AIU), where two other international students, my KEI advisor, and I traveled and explored Tokyo and Kyoto. I met this group back at the airport the next day and we took the train from Narita Airport to downtown Tokyo. When I first arrived in Tokyo I marveled at the massiveness of the city. I had never been to a city as big as Tokyo, so I was struck by all of the enormous buildings and people in suits. We explored Tokyo for a bit and then checked into our capsule hotel. What is a capsule hotel? It’s like a compact hotel where beds are placed in big cubby-holes and you get your own individual cubby and share a bathroom and living space. Capsule hotels are a cheap way to lodge while traveling in Japan, and if you don’t mind firm beds, I would highly recommend staying in one. After we put our luggage at the hotel, we then met back in the common area to discuss our plans for the day. My advisor told me it was okay to do my own traveling, so I met back up with Austin and we traveled to Akihabara in Tokyo.
Akihabara is known as the anime and electronics center of Japan, and it lived up to its reputation. Giant buildings with anime characters on them, arcades, and karaoke bars were all over the area. The city was packed with people and Austin and I were constantly fighting through the crowds. We explored the shops and went sightseeing throughout the city. All in all, it was a rather successful day.
The next day in Tokyo, the KEI group and I explored Shibuya and ate some more traditional Japanese cuisine. One of the cool things that we did in Shibuya was cross at the famous Shibuya crossing. The crossing was part of an iconic scene in one of my favorite movies Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift. To be able to walk across it in person was a fun experience for me.
Another interesting and enjoyable part of the trip was going to the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Given my interest in Japanese history, I enjoyed this experience very much. In the museum they had life sized models of buildings, ancient paintings, and statues of famous figures in Japanese history.
After exploring Tokyo some more, the group and I headed to Kyoto via shinkansen (bullet train). Given how fast a shinkansen travels, I was surprised by the smoothness of the ride. Additionally, I enjoyed gazing outside the train’s window and viewing the Japanese countryside and mountains. That in and of itself was one of my most memorable experiences.
Kyoto had an entirely different feel than Tokyo did. While Tokyo seemed like an enormous modern city, Kyoto felt as if it was preserved to look more traditional. In comparison, I enjoyed the atmosphere of Kyoto more than I did Tokyo.
In Kyoto, the group and I traveled to Kinkaku-ji temple, Kiyomizu-dera temple, the manga museum, and a couple of Shinto shrines. My favorite place in Kyoto from the trip was Kiyomizu-dera temple.
The one aspect I did not enjoy of Kyoto was the crowded bus. It was so crowded that I don’t think a dime could fit in between me and the people around me. But, besides the crowded bus in Kyoto, I enjoyed the city very much.
After Kyoto, my group then traveled to Osaka airport to catch a flight to Akita where we would begin our studies at AIU. In my first semester, my course load focused on Asia, particularly Japan, with courses on Japanese Language, Modern Japanese History, Japanese Religion, and the Developmental Politics of South Korea. All of these classes were quite enjoyable, and I learned a great deal about Japan and South Korea from them.
Furthermore, at AIU I am a member of the Basketball and Kantō clubs. Basketball club was a fun way to escape the stress of college essays and exams, as well as a way for me to meet new friends. I have played basketball since I was in elementary school, so joining this club was a no brainer. However, since I was in Japan, I also wanted to experience a club that was related to Japanese culture and history.
Therefore, I joined Kantō club. Kantō originated in Akita during the Edo period, and is special to Akita Prefecture. It is a spectacle where performers hold one hundred-pound bamboo poles with lanterns attached to them on their hand, head, shoulder, or hip. By participating in the Kantō club, I was able to experience Japanese culture more deeply and participate in the Kantō Festival. This festival is a national Japanese festival held in Akita City and is one of the three great festivals of the Tohoku region. This club was extremely challenging, but in the end a very rewarding experience.
I also participated in English teaching activities here at AIU. I was a Foreign Language Conversation Partner (FLCP) English leader, an English Camp and English Village conversation partner, and an assistant language teacher for a seminar class for new English teachers in Akita. First, as a FLCP English leader, I aided other AIU students with their English by conducting normal conversations with them to get them accustomed to casual English. If a student did not know a word or understand what I was saying, I would do my best to explain or demonstrate the meanings so that the Japanese student could understand.
As for English Camp and Village, those activities were a bit more demanding. For English Camp I had to stay overnight at a camp with fellow AIU students and elementary school children. At this camp I was in charge of supervising kids in my group, aiding other advisors, and helping children practice their English. I also attended a camp called Green Thumb Camp where I performed similar tasks.
However, for English Village, middle school students came to AIU to practice their English. For two days the students would work on their English with me by asking questions regarding where I was from and what I liked. Then on the third day the students did a presentation about me in English to their fellow classmates who also came to English Village. Lastly, for the teaching seminar, my job was to aid English teachers in Akita with their pronunciation of English words in addition to creating a lesson plan. This was a three-day event with the last day consisting of a mock lesson with an elementary school class from Akita. During the lesson on the final day I worked alongside the teachers as an assistant language teacher, which had me speaking English to the students and providing them with native pronunciations of English words. Overall, these teaching experiences were a way for me to give back to the Japanese community here in Akita, and I not only enjoyed the time I spent doing so, but I also found the experiences to be very rewarding.
Lastly, I want to discuss my favorite aspect of my study abroad so far, and that was my Golden Week. What is Golden Week, you might ask? It is a week in Japan where many Japanese workers are off of work due to a cluster of holidays happening around the same time. My university was no exception. I had a week off from school and used this opportunity to travel around Japan with my friend Spenser, who is a UTC alumnus and was teaching English in the prefecture next to mine.
During this week, Spenser and I traveled from Ninohe, a small town in Iwate prefecture, down to Sendai, Tokyo, and the outskirts of Fuji. When traveling down from Iwate, we started on the east coast of Japan, but on the way back up to Akita we drove close to the west coast. By doing this, Spenser and I were able to marvel not only at north and central Japan, but also at the east and west coasts as well.
The car ride to the various cities was magical. Japan’s lush green forests, giant mountains, and beautiful rivers and seas were some of the most breathtaking and memorable sights of my life. If you are a geography nerd, like me, Japan should be on your list of vacation destinations. In the cities, we met a variety of new people, went sightseeing, and ate an abundance of Japanese cuisine. I would like to thank Spenser for driving us around during Golden Week to view all of Japan, as well as aiding me in speaking Japanese during the trip. Without his company, I would not have had the experience of a lifetime that I did.
In conclusion, I would call my first semester in Japan a success. Most of the time I have spent here has been in Akita due to my courses at AIU, but my best memories have come from both my travels and extracurricular activities. Furthermore, the classes here have been enlightening and the professors teach with passion, which make me more invested in the lessons. Lastly, due to AIU being an international school, I have been able to make friends with people from all over the world. Not only have I met people from various states in the United States, but also people from France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Malta, Uganda, Taiwan, China, South Korea, and so many others. By coming to AIU, I have gained not only more knowledge about Japan, but also the world around me.