Thursday, April 17, 2014

Finals are approaching

There are only two weeks left of instruction for this semester. Awesome! But that means finals are in 3 weeks. That also means a bunch of projects and due dates that all fall around the same dates. Scrambling to get everything together and ready in time is such a fun thing for a college student. But fear not! There are many facilities at HPU that can help you get through these tough times:

1. The library

The library is the ultimate place for quiet studying, but that's not all. The library at HPU's downtown campus consist of multiple floors; some noisier than others. That means you can hook up with a group for a study session on one floor or head to another floor for your own study time. The tutoring center is also located in the library building. The library extends its hours during finals week. Yay!

2. Food!!

There are so many places to eat at the downtown campus. You'll be able to fuel your brain and take a break from studying while satisfying any craving you may have at the same time!

3. Sea warrior center and survival packs

The SWC is a great place to kick back and relax during these stressful times. You can also find "survival packs" here during finals week to help you get your through the week.

Good luck everyone!

Monday, July 8, 2013

THE ONLY THING YOU NEED TO READ IN THIS BLOG: My final guide to living in Hakodate

Living space and bills

-Single apartment. 1 room, 1 full bath
-Furnished (some apartments more so than others depending on what previous students left there)
-Washing machine in the room
-5 minute walk from the school
                If you want to do a homestay have the study abroad coordinator ask the school! I really wanted to do one of those options. When casually talking about it with one of the teachers, I was told that the office was NOT informed of that and had they been informed, they would have at least tried to find a homestay. If possible, get the email of the Hakodate contact and contact him/her yourself.

-Rent: 12000 yen/month
-Gas: Did some number crunching. We get a flat charge for gas that's just about 2,000 yen. Each m^3 of gas is about 790 yen. A 10 minute shower cost about 160 yen in the sense of gas. Rough estimates but relatively close. These calculations were done around the coldest time of the year, so naturally it’ll be cheaper during the summer/spring. My highest bill was about 8,000 or so I believe. Lowest was like 3,500. I almost never used my gas heater during Winter.
-Water: About 5,000 yen/2 months. You will always pay the same price unless you go over your water budget, which is pretty much impossible.
-Electric: About 1,500-2,000 yen/month
-Health insurance: 1,900 yen/month.
-Phone bill: 1,200 yen/month. This is for the most basic plan. The phone was free.
-Internet : 4,400 yen/month for the best internet plan we could get.
*Final monthly bill estimate:  ~32,000 yen

**If you do get internet and a phone here, the shortest contract you can get for them is 1 year and 2 years respectively. Seeing as you will only be in Hakodate for about 10 months (assuming you do the 2 semesters) you will need to pay a cancellation fee of $100 for each when you leave, so keep that in mind.
There is no WIFI at the apartments, so 2 of us decided to get internet and split the bill 2,200 yen each. The school is signing us up with health insurance. Don (our contact) says it's easier this way. Electric and gas/water as you probably assumed depends from person to person. The gas company representative told us that in the winter time, students have had bills of about $300/month because they would constantly leave the room heater on. In the end it all depends on how careful you are. Also, BRING LOTS OF MONEY when you come here. It takes a while for the stipend to kick in so you'll be without money for a while. We got our first stipend on October 25th. I brought about $1700 and after 3 days I'm down to about $1500 (I bought pots and pans and groceries and stuff), so I think I'm pretty set. One of the other students on the other hand came with only about $100 and now has no money until who knows when. Also, try and find a way to get in contact with the students who are currently here before you come up. They can tell you what exactly is in the apartment, what they are willing to donate/sell to you and what you may need to bring yourself so you can decide if you wanna bring stuff from home or try and buy it out here.

Also, US plugs will fit in the outlets here if they are 2 prong. 3 prongs won’t fit and you will need to buy an adapter. Try to buy an adapter for your 3 prong plugs before you come here as I've found them a bit difficult to find up here.


You will have 5 classes a week with each class being 90 minutes long. The school runs on a class period schedule and there are 6 periods in a day. All your classes will be Japanese language/culture classes. You have quite a bit of free time to study as it seems the teachers here understand that learning a language takes a LOT more time than learning another school subject. Your classes will be ENTIRELY in Japanese with the exception of a few English words here and there and depending on your teacher, a few English explanations on grammar points here and there as well. Polish up your Japanese before coming! Also, it’s sad to say but you will have no Japanese students in your class. Your class will be comprised of only study abroad students.

As far as homework goes you get worksheets for grammar and kanji practice. Some classes give weekly quizzes so be prepared for that. We also get a lot of listening homework. For those you listen to a cd and do stuff like fill in the blanks within the dialogue or answer questions about the dialogue. We also have presentation projects and speeches that we do every so often so be prepared for that as well. You will get varying amounts of homework depending on your teacher.

After 2nd period, there is a 1 hour lunch break before 3rd period starts. The cafeteria opens a few minutes before lunch starts and closes when 3rd period starts. There is also a café in the school that opens around 2nd period I think and last order is around the start of 3rd period I believe. The café meals are pretty good and have nice proportions and cost 550 yen. The cafeteria has varying meals of different proportions and prices ranging from 200 yen to 570 yen.

Making friends in Hakodate

This is a rather delicate thing here. Japanese people are shy and rather introverted. That being said, most of the time you will have to be the one to make the first move and approach people yourself. Again, I’m just speaking in general. I’ve met quite a few people that have approached me first, but I’ve noticed the vast majority will be seemingly eager to speak to you, but are too shy to do it. So with that being said, don’t be afraid to go out there and talk to people! However I know that’s easier said than done seeing as randomly approaching people you don’t know can be kind of awkward. It would definitely help if we had classes with Japanese people but we don’t and there isn’t much you can do about that.
You can try to join some clubs to make friends as well. I ended up joining the light music club which in my opinion is the best one you can join because everyone is nice and you’ll have people to hang out with almost every day. Having musical talent is nice for joining the club, but it’s not needed. Just being able to speak English is enough to land you a vocalist spot. And don’t worry about not being skilled. Everyone is just in the club to have fun so while there are people who are VERY skilled at their instruments, there are also those who are just starting to learn. However joining clubs can be difficult because while we run on a Fall-Spring school schedule, Japan does the opposite. Therefore you’d be coming here in the middle of their school year. But I’m sure you’ll be fine!
Also, believe it or not, the best friends I’ve made here are 40 years old+. When you get here, you’ll be introduced to an English conversation teaching job. It’s a pretty easy and fun job in my opinion. Your class(es) will generally be adults who are middle aged or older. Apparently our group is the first group in a long time that has gotten close to the students according to my students. Anyway we go out every so often to dinner or izakaya and such. And because you’re a student and they’re all adults, you get treated every time you go out because it’s commonly thought in Japan that students should not have to spend money in the presence of adults… so yay for that. Through one of the students, I actually met Uluwhei Guererro, a world famous Hawaiian singer and got to have (a $200) dinner with him and his hula class that he has here in Hakodate. If you can’t make friends at school in the end, there’re always your students!
I almost forgot to mention that Kyoikudai (that's the short name for the school. I don't remember the full name of the school. Hakodate University's short name is kandai fyi), one of the other colleges in Hakodate has many exchange students who are generally VERY nice and probably more advanced in Japanese than you will be. If you get the chance, make friends with them too! Kyoikudai also has a "Human Mix" club where people of varying ethnicity gather and have fun. Even though you aren't part of the school, I believe you can still join the club if you're interested. Your teachers at your school also teach at Kyoikudai so you'll be able to ask them about that when you get here.

Places to have fun

So now that you have friends, it’s time to go have some fun! Where can you go to have fun in Hakodate? Sadly there aren’t many choices. That’s not to say this isn’t a fun place though.
You can go to various restaurants to eat as Hakodate has some really good food. There is a Lucky Pierro just down the hill from the apartment I’m living in now. The prices are really good depending on what you get and there is a pretty wide variety of dishes to get there. There are also really good ramen shops like Ajisai which you will probably hear about while you are here. Also, if you like Curry House, try the Curry House here. It’s quite different and I think you’ll enjoy it. Sushi Maru is pretty close to where I live as well. It's a lower end sushi joint quality wise according to my friends here. However, the quality is definitely better than that of Genki Sushi and to top it all off, ALL of the plates are only 100 yen. Crazy right?
Goryokaku is probably where you will be going most of the time to have fun as that’s the “fun”side of Hakodate. In Goryokaku there are a ton of bars and izakaya as well as restaurants. There is also a game center called Texas (formally called Pabots) where you can play Pachinko, play arcade games, go bowling, or even karaoke.
If you’re more of a nature kind of person, right behind our school is Miharashi Park (otherwise known as Kosetsuen) that’s really nice; ESPECIALLY in autumn when the leaves are changing colors as well as during the cherry blossom season. There’s also Goryokaku Park (yep… back to Goryokaku) that’s also really nice, especially during cherry blossom season. Mt. Hakodate is a pretty easy climb (you can also drive to the top via roads or take a ropeway car to the top) and is famous for the night view at the top.
Finally, there’s Round 1. It’s not in Hakodate, but there is a free bus that you can take to and from there that you can catch in (once again) Goryokaku. It's a multi-floor "fun center". There's an arcade and a bowling alley. There's also "spo-cha". Spo-cha consist of 3 floors. You pay about 1,800 yen (I think it's about 2,100 or so if you don't have a student ID) and can stay there the entire day. There are various sports related activities that you can do there from darts, to pool (Billiards), to archery, to fishing (yeah fishing), to batting cages and more. There's also an arcade in the spo-cha where all the games can be played for free. Oh and there's karaoke and massage chairs and a bull and a spa.... there's tons of things you can do there so it's really really fun even if you don't like sports.  If you have a free day, Round 1 is definitely a good place to spend it.
In my experience, the only things people like to do when they go out here (in order of popularity) are: Karaoke-izakaya-bowling. However, keep in mind that my group of friends consisted of the music club members.

Finally, if you want to leave Hakodate, there are lots of places you can go to. Sapporo is definitely somewhere you should go, especially in February when they have the Snow Festival. You can take a bus from Hakodate to get there which cost 6,700 yen round trip and takes about 5 hours one way. If you want to travel to another island, I suggest using this site to book your tickets:
You can get really cheap domestic flights through this site. A flight from here to Osaka which would cost me $400+ according to sites like Expedia and such, I got for $100 from this site. The flights leave from Chitose, which is also about a 5 hour bus ride from here and cost $35 one way, but I think that’s worth saving around $300!

Learning Japanese

I’m sure almost everyone’s motive for wanting to go to Hakodate is to learn Japanese. As such, I have some stuff to say about that.
First off, you should STUDY before you come here. I, as well as the other students from HPU who came with me didn’t study much before coming here. We would have definitely been much better off when we first came here had we actually studied before coming here, especially me. My thinking on it was because I would be in Japan for a year, I will naturally become awesome at Japanese via emersion. WRONG. Emersion will get your Japanese skills up very quickly, but ONLY if you’re already at a decent level. Emersion works well because you get a lot of practice speaking the language. Therefore you need to be able to speak and have conversations with people in order for that to work. After realizing I suck at Japanese and that I couldn't hold a decent conversation with anyone, I pretty much locked myself in the library for 6 hours+ a day studying Japanese for a couple weeks and THEN I started to make massive improvements in my language abilities. Make sure you study your vocab and grammar! And kanji I guess if you’re into that stuff.
Grammar should be easy to learn as you can just open up any book and learn a ton of them. This site is really helpful as they have tons of grammar rules as well as sample sentences:
Vocab on the other hand can be rather difficult. There are tons of words you can look up, but those words may or may not be words you would normally use in conversation. I’ve learned there are a lot of “written” words which are only used when writing essays or giving formal speeches and as such, are really weird to use in conversation. I know a lot of people like to learn words from anime/movies. I think this is a really good idea if you like watching those. However beware that anime is notorious for using very dramatic and weird speaking styles and as such, you may learn a very weird speaking style and weird words if you learn from anime. Therefore if you decide to learn from anime, my suggestion is to learn from anime that are kind of a slice-of-life sort of genre and take place in a school setting or something of the sort. That way you get to learn practical conversation points rather than really weird ones. The last way to learn vocab on your own that worked well for me was learning kanji. Through learning kanji I learned quite a few words that I probably wouldn’t have learned otherwise.  Learning vocab from your textbooks is also a really good method of course. The best Japanese-English online dictionary that I’ve found is this one:
I myself was never really someone who was interested in learning kanji. I was only interested in learning the spoken language as the chances for me to use kanji are pretty low. However I have studied them a bit and can read around 5 or 600. I’ve found the best way to study kanji is the old fashioned write-it-34362356-times-until-you-remember-it method. Sorry, that’s all I’ve got. However!... there’s something else you can do to help with that. If you can create a story in your head with the pictures that the kanji make, you can remember them a lot easier. For example, if you look at the kanji for old (furui ) you can see that the kanji kind of looks like a gravestone, or that the upper half looks like a man with his arms out for a hug and the bottom half is a wheelchair; like your old grandfather coming in his wheelchair to give you a hug. If you couple little stories like that while you write your kanji, you’ll have a much easier time remembering them.

JLPT (日本語能力試験)

JLPT is the English name for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and is an optional side-quest (haha) that you can do. The Japanese name for the test is listed above (nihongo noryoku shiken) and should be addressed as such when speaking about it to Japanese people as they most likely will not know what a JLPT is. The JLPT consist of 5 different levels with level 5 being the easiest and level 1 being the most difficult. The test is offered in Sapporo twice a year: Once in December and once in July. It cost $50 to register and take the test. I actually just got back from taking the test a few days ago and so lucky for you, I have the inside scoop!
I, as well as the other 2 HPU exchange students took the level 3 test which was surprisingly easy. We spent the last few months doing practice test for level 3 and I thought I was going to fail the test as I was getting scores like 7/20 on those practice test. Thankfully, the real test wasn’t nearly as difficult as the practice ones. Here’s how the test works:
There are 3 sections to the test. The first section is kanji and vocab. The second section is grammar and reading comprehension. The final part of the test is a listening section. The entire test time was 4 hours, but we had 30 minute breaks between each section of the test. The higher levels have shorter break times so I’m assuming the easier levels have longer break times. There are tons of study guides that you can buy, but I’ve found some free study stuff online so if you would like the links to those, send me an email and I can send them to you.

If you’re anywhere near my level in Japanese (which you really should be as I’m not that good) and you want a challenge, I suggest signing up for level 2. Level 3 was surprisingly easy; especially the listening part. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m almost positive I didn’t ace the test or anything (I zoned out a lot on the listening part because it was so easy I forgot I was taking a test) but here’s the best news you could ever hear: You only need a 50% to pass the test. 50%! How easy is that? With that being said, don’t be afraid like I was to shoot for level 2. I’m sure you’ll be able to pass it at the very least.
Now, while kanji is only the first section, in my opinion kanji is BY FAR the most important thing that you need to study in preparation for this test. If you don’t know your kanji there is a VERY good chance you will do horrible on the first and second parts, as the second part has reading comprehension that has kanji and is also worth a lot of points. With that being said, make sure you study your kanji if you’re planning on taking this test! Another point that I want to mention is that during the listening part, there are no repeats at all. So, if you’re an idiot like me and zone out and miss the question/answer choices you’re out of luck. Make sure you pay attention!
Once again, taking this test is not mandatory in any way. I see it as a fun way to see how far you’ve come in your Japanese proficiency. HOWEVER, if you do take the test and do not do well on it do not be disappointed and think that you’re bad at Japanese. The best speaker out of the 3 of us at HPU says he thinks he might have failed the level 3 test because he can’t read kanji. On the other hand, some of my friends who passed the level 1 test can’t speak as well as I can. One of the people who passed level 1 actually asked me how to ask for the bill at a restaurant the day before the test; something which I think is very basic. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t do well! Take it with a grain of salt.

Have fun!

That’s about all I have to say about living in Hakodate. If you actually took the time to read all of this and still have some questions, feel free to email me and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Otherwise enjoy your stay in Hakodate! Remember to have fun and make lots of friends! Best of luck to you~


Monday, July 1, 2013

Uluwehi Guerrero

This past week I was fortunate enough to eat dinner with world renown Hawaiian singer Uluwehi Guerrero. One of the students in the English conversation class I teach takes hula lessons and it turns out that the school is owned by Uluwehi Guerrero. He's in the middle of doing a Japan concert tour and he stopped in Hakodate so my student invited me to go to dinner with her and the class. The food was really high class. We had a 5 course meal and it was really good. The students danced and sang and Uluwehi Guerrero also put on a performance. I got to talk with him for a bit after dinner was done so that was pretty cool. I was very fortunate to be able to meet him as I never would have thought something like meeting a Hawaii celebrity in Japan.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Akagawa Dam

The other day my students and I went to have a bbq at the Akagawa dam. The dam is apparently the oldest dam in Japan. Well, according to one of my students at least. The dam itself wasn't all that exciting to look at or anything, but the place itself was pretty cool. There's a park right next to the dam and in the park there is a flowing river. We set up our bbq stuff near the river and had our lunch there. Eating next to a flowing river and being surrounded by grass and trees was a really nice feeling. Then to get up to the dam, we had to take a little hike through a forest and ended up passing a small shrine on the way up there. The experience was a really nice one.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Batman the Cat

A few days ago somebody left an abandoned kitten on the stairs of our apartment. No one talked about it, but everyone just kind of got together to help take care of the cat. One guy put out a sofa for it, another guy gave it his shirt to keep him warm and a bunch of people kind of take turns buying him food and milk. However, I felt really bad having him sleep outside for multiple reasons. The biggest reason is that it's dangerous. The crows here are very big and we've seen them attack and kill full grown stray cats in a 1v1 fight. If a crow attacked the kitten, it would die for sure. Another reason is that on a cold day, some of the guys put the kitten in the hood of their car next to the battery to keep him warm. I thought that was fine, until I notice they would put him in there on really hot days as well and the kitten would just cry in there because it's so hot. That's why I bought a litter box yesterday and I'm keeping him in my room; at least at night. That was the crows won't get to him and hopefully the guys who like to put him in the hood of the car will already be at school by the time I let him out of the house in the morning.

We named him Batman cuz he has black ears that resemble the Batman mask.

Friday, June 7, 2013

JLPT n3 prep

The other two exchange students and I decided that we will take the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) in July. The test is offered twice a year, having 1 in July and the other in December. There are 5 levels with 1 being the most difficult and 5 being the easiest. We decided that with our level of Japanese skill it would be best for us to take the n3. All of us are pretty bad with kanji and that is a huge part of the test. Because of that we've been struggling lately. As I'm sure anyone who has studied Japanese or Chinese would understand, you frequently forget new kanji that you have learned. Anyway, we're studying and plan to do our best on the test!

Exchange student BBQ

Last week we had a bbq with the English speaking exchange student from the other university. It was really fun! Some of the guys took a trip to Misawa a bit prior to this and bought lots of American food in advanced and so we had burgers and hotdogs and steaks. There were also a couple of Japanese friends who came and so it was nice sharing American food with them. We ended up eating a lot and taking a lot of pictures so it was a really fun day with a nice balance of both English and Japanese speaking.