Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Valley of the Hobbit and the Journey to Hokkaido

After four months of studying Japanese at AIU, I have finally arrived at Sapporo, Hokkaido with my Japanese relatives. I rode a ferry from Akita to Hokkaido, and it was not as bad as I expected. The boat shifted occasionally while moving across the water, but I did not feel seasick. The ferry was called the Shin Nihonkai, and for a ticket that cost 3500 yen it was well worth the admission. Here are pictures and the link for the both the English and Japanese website of the Shin Nihonkai.
This was the boat I rode from Tomakokai to Sapporo

Crates that can be viewed outside while inside the ferry
This was my first time I had traveled somewhere in Japan without my parents so I was slightly nervous. Planning this trip was difficult because most of the information was in Japanese, and I had to ask a Japanese friend to help me. For my trip to Hokkaido, I was supposed to travel with a total of five other people, but I only traveled with two other students instead. Out of the three students that did not go, I only know the reasons for two of the three students. One of the students could not go with us because he was not sure if he was going to Hokkaido with a different group of people, and another student had reserved her plane ticket several months ago that she was unable to cancel her plane ticket in order to travel with us.

I finished my exams pretty early during exam week, but I was busy worrying about the details of my trip, and a lot of students were leaving in order to return to their home country, graduate, leave for winter break, or study abroad. The Japanese students at Akita International University (AIU) are required to study abroad for one year.

I went with a Japanese student from Sapporo, Hokkaido and another international student to Hokkaido, but I only met with them a few days before I left for my trip. In addition, I was wondering about what I needed to do to make reservations at the manga cafe that I was going to stay at Akita-City train station because I could not find any information online. I had to take a bus from Akita-City train station to the Shin Nihonkai Akita Port because the ferry leaves at 7am, and the bus we needed to take from Akita-City to the port leaves at 6am. Therefore we had to sleep at Akita-City train station for one night. I had finally talked to the Japanese student that I was going to Hokkaido with on the day that I had to leave AIU.

A few days before I left on my trip, I tried to do as much as I can in Akita. I had tried to study as much Japanese as possible so I would not disappoint my relatives because everyone at AIU including the Japanese students speaks English. I had gone karaoke with my Japanese class on Tuesday, ordered a new laptop battery, pretended to be Santa Claus on Wednesday and Thursday morning, bought ingredients to make tako poke on Thursday, and watched the Hobbit at Aeon Mall Akita. I had also said goodbye to my friends that were leaving.

Exam week was a pretty emotional week because so many people were leaving, and I was not sure if I was going to see them again. Both bloggers Will and Ria had to return to their home countries. Will had to return to the U.S. because he did not have enough money from his scholarship to stay longer than a semester. Ria had to return to the Philippines because her school does not allow her to stay longer than a semester for study abroad. I tried to say goodbye to everyone that I knew that was leaving, but there were so many people, and I did not get the opportunity to know some of the people that was leaving.

On Tuesday, in order to celebrate the end of the semester, my friends from my Japanese class had made plans to go karaoke at Akita City. My friends did not only invite people from my Japanese class, but also people from the other Japanese class that was the same level as mine, my Japanese teacher, and another Japanese teacher that taught a different class.

Everyone that was able to go karaoke
We all tried to sing songs from our home countries, but some of the students had tried to sing songs in Japanese even though it was not their first language. In addition, I was surprised because a lot of the International students had recognized English songs such as "A Whole New World" from Aladin or music from the Beetles. I tried to sing a song called "Somewhere Only We Know" from the band Keane, but my tone was really flat, and I was nervous. Thankfully the other people I was with sang with me, so I was able to sing the song despite my lack of singing talent. Both of the Japanese teachers that was with us were very energetic when they sang that they seemed like children.

After karaoke everyone said goodbye to each other, and we all tried to hug each other like a family. It was sad because not everyone from both of the Japanese classes could go the karaoke, but we all tried to sing our best for them.

My Japanese class's last picture together. My sensei is wearing a bear  jacket
On Wednesday and Thursday morning I got to pretend to be Santa Claus for a school event. It was a volunteer event, but it was worth it because I got gifts from participating in this event, and I got to make little kids happy. The school wanted me to speak in English because Santa Claus does not speak Japanese, and I had to have a translator with me to make it seem to more authentic for the children. Before I arrived as Santa Claus, I had received Christmas letters from the children about what gifts they want for Christmas.

Letters from the children

I was nervous at first because I did not want to disappoint the children, but people said that I did a really good job, and the kids were really happy. As Santa, I got to dance with the little kids and I got to watch the kids perform a dance for Santa Claus.

I am pretending to be Santa Claus

After being Santa Claus on Thursday morning, I had to go to the mall because I was not sure if I was going to try to make chicken adobo, and I had to withdraw money money for my trip. One of my friends that was leaving gave me his pots, cooking utensils, and food for 3000 yen because he had to get rid of everything before leaving during that week. In addition, my roommate used 75% of the cooking oil I just bought two weeks ago. Thankfully we share all of our bills with each other. In addition, I managed to burn another pot when I was cooking, so I guess we are even.

Before going to the mall my fellow blogger Petr from the Czech Republic had contacted me about seeing the new movie the Hobbit from director Peter Jackon because he really wanted to watch it, and he is a big fan of the Lord of the Rings series. Petr had notified me that fellow blogger Daniela from Germany had also wanted to see the Hobbit even though she had already seen the movie. Normally, I would refuse to go because I heard of how expensive Japanese movie tickets are, but I thought that this may be a great opportunity to watch a movie in Japan, and it might be worth experiencing at least once while I am here.

We were not sure about what time to go, so I had bought fresh octopus to make tako poke from the mall, but Petr called me when I was on the bus, and suggested we meet a few hours from now at the mall. Therefore I had to return home immediately to refrigerate the octopus and ride the bus back to the mall.

After returning to the mall, I met up with Petr and Daniela, and ate a short dinner before watching the Hobbit. Below is a video of someone purchasing a movie ticket from a vending machine. Compared to the U.S. where people buy movie tickets from a sales clerk, people buy their movie tickets from a vending machine inside of the movie theatre. People in Japan choose where they want to sit when they purchase a movie ticket. The movie ticket cost around 1400 yen for a 3D showing.

I am not going to do an in-dept review of the movie, but overall I thought it was pretty good, and well worth the money compared to the reviews I read about online. Before watching the movie we had an option of watching the original English version with Japanese subtitles or a Japanese dub. The three of us choose the English version with Japanese subtitles.

Vending machine for movie tickets

Ticket for the hobbit

Compared to me, both Petr and Daniela really loved the movie, and the two of them talked about their nerdiness for the Lord of the Rings series during desert. Both Daniella and Petr have the Lord of the Rings series, and the Hobbit book on their Kindles. In addition, they both memorized every single line from that series. Petr had even admitted that he plays the Lord of the Rings MMORPG video game in order to experience the movies.

Pizza and pastry I ate for dinner

Posing with Daniela and Petr after the Hobbit
When the three of us finished eating desert, I ran into my other Fillipino friend who was also sad to leave Japan. He was from the same school from Ria, so he was also here at AIU for one semester only. My Fillipino friend had gone karaoke with some Japanese and international students at Akita City that night. He was also sad because he usually studies a lot in the Fillipines, and he got to make friends with not just Fillipino people, but people from all over the world. Before the bus came, he took a picture with Petr, me, Daniella, and some of the other students from AIU at the bus stop.

Last picture with my friend returning to the Philippines and other students that  may be leaving
On Friday, I studied for Japanese most of the day, but I decided to purchase my return ticket from Tomakomai, Hokkaido to Akita City by ferry. I was waiting for one of my Japanese friends to help me get my return ticket for the past several days, but he did not respond yet, so I had to ask a different friend to help me get my return ticket. My friend ordered the ticket through phone, and I picked up the ticket from a convenience store.
A picture with me posing with my Taiwanese roommate from my birthday in September
Finally I left AIU on Saturday at 4:30pm because that was the most convenient time for me, and I did not hear anything from the Japanese student that I was supposed to be traveling with. I knew the other international student I was supposed to be traveling with was at Akita City somewhere, but she was at a party. Before leaving I made octopus poke for my trip, and all of the other students liked it. I said goodbye  to some of the other students that were leaving, and my friend from the Phillipines that I saw on Thursday night also called me before departing for his plane. My roommate left slightly earlier than me because he had to leave for Aomori with the other Taiwanese people, but we both wished each other a good break before leaving for our trips.
The taco poke I made
In addition, I took pictures of the snow at AIU to show how high the snow gets at Akita. The snow gets really high, and it gets windy occasionally. I bought a bicycle cover to cover my bicycle on Thursday, but because of the wind I had to tape the bicycle cover to my bicycle to prevent the cover from blowing away.

Before it started snowing
After it started snowing

It was scary traveling by myself, but it was quite exciting to leave AIU to visit relatives at Hokkaido. When I was younger I disliked going to my relatives house because I just wanted to play video games, but now I am looking forward to it because I get to know my family that I am not to close with and I get to practice Japanese.

I got to Akita City by train at around 7:30pm because I got off one stop too earlier, but after arriving at Akita City I walked around and stored my stuff in the lockers. I met with the international student at the lobby inside the train station at around 10pm, and met with the Japanese student at the Manga Cafe inside of the train station at around 11:30pm.

The other international student and me had to sign up for membership when we arrived at the Manga Cafe, but compared to a hostel which cost around 2000 yen per night the Manga Cafe cost around 1300 yen per night. For 1300 yen I could drink as much drinks as I wanted, and I was able to use a computer for free. I felt slightly cramped while sleeping the cubicle, but it was still quite warm compared to outside. Here is the website of the Internet Cafe I stayed at. It seems like their is no English version for the website.

The manga cafe I stayed at

Unlimited drinks

My cubicle for that night
The three of us woke up at around 5:30am the next morning and checked-out quickly. The bus stop was five minutes away so we tried to stay inside as long as possible before walking to the bus stop. The bus to the ferry was the first bus that arrived at the west entrance at the bus stop, and said "Ferry to Akita Port" in Japanese. It was an hour bus ride, but quite convenient, and it cost around 1000 yen, so it was cheaper than riding a taxi.

The boat left at 7am and we arrived at Tomakomai at 5:30pm that day. There was a convenience store on the ferry, an onsen, and a movie theatre. During the boat ride, I tried the onsen and ate lunch, but the three of us mostly slept during the journey. Before leaving the ferry the three of us had to get bus tickets from the Tomakomai port to Sapporo train station. We got the tickets on the ferry, but we paid around 2000 yen after we got to the Sapporo train station. The bus ride from Tomakomai to Sapporo city was about an hour.

Inside of the ferry

The movie theatre inside of the ferry

The ferry lobby

Finally at Tomakomai port

We arrived at Sapporo train station at around 7am. The other international student planned to stay with the Japanese student until December 29 before going to Tokyo by ferry and another part of Japan. The other international student was lucky enough to stay at people's houses for free during her trip. I had to meet with my relatives at the west entrance, but before leaving I asked the Japanese student to help me figure out my return plan from getting back from Sapporo City to AIU. I knew I planned to leave on January 7, but I was so busy worrying about getting to Hokkaido that I did not spend enough time thinking about my return trip.

I told my relatives I would meet with them at the west entrance of the train station in Japanese at around 7:30pm, but although I was in the right direction, I was not at the right gate because the entrance I was at was not labeled west entrance in Japanese or English so it took my relatives a while to find me. My two relatives found me at around 8pm, and they brought me to their house. For a Japanese house I thought it was quite big, but I was grateful to arrive at their house finally. Anyways I will probably talk about my adventures at my relatives house in another post later.