Tag Archives: Kansai Gaidai

Student Life at Kansai Gaidai

Studying at Kansai Gaidai University was flat-out awesome. The coursework was challenging, but the teachers gave you enough slack to take some time off and enjoy the wonders of foreign exchange. They hooked me up with a great, loving homestay family and a good conversation partner to meet with a few times a week. The non-Japanese language courses were also varied and insightful — I especially remember the classes on Gender Roles in Modern Japan (Hester), Death in East Asian Society (Kenney), and the film class where we blasted through tons of Kurosawa movies in the university theatre.

Kansai Gaidai Library, circa 1999

The library was also a majestic building full of great research materials. The only weird thing was that you had to run your university ID through a special reader and then wiggle your way through a turnstile. Maybe it was to keep out the homeless people. Of which there were none.

Sakedojo, the dojo of death and drinking

There was great food, too! Foreigner-friendly delicacies like hamburg steak and curry rice were plentiful and cheap at the cafeteria, and the popular hangout was a place called Sakedojo, where you could get plastered for cheap with other foreign students in an eating environment that hadn’t passed health inspections since 1923. While everything was covered in a horrifying layer of dirt and grime, the chicken katsu with the top secret “dojo sauce” always tasted awesome, and the girl waitresses were lovely beyond belief.

Gaidai’s crack ballroom dancing team. Yes!!!

One thing you might want to be careful about is clubs and activities. Some Japanese university clubs have lunatic schedules, meeting once or twice every day, including weekends. While this is great if you want to become some kind of kenpo monster, you might want to do what I did and take a club that only meets twice a week. My friend Evil Colin took shodo (Japanese calligraphy) and I went for Judo at first but then switched to Ballroom Dancing for obvious reasons.

Den-Den Town, the happiest place on earth
Den-Den Town, the happiest place on earth

After class we’d hop on the train and head to Osaka to places like Den-Den Town, which was a veritable smorgasbord of used games, CDs, and various geek stuff that kept us shopping until the shops closed down at 7pm. (I still believe that Den-Den is ten times better than Akihabara.)

One side effect of being in Japan and living with a host family: I was no longer fat. I entered Japan at roughly 230 pounds, and after a few months I realized that none of my clothes fit. The combination of eating healthy home-cooked food, walking to school every day, and not putting crap like Taco Bell in my body had turned me skinny. I could actually run kind of fast. And I could do a pull-up!!! Wonder of wonders.

The infamous Professor Yamashita. Known for “borrowing” food from students during lunch hour.

After a few months of this pure concentrated awesome experience, I started thinking “HMM, I really should think about spending another semester here.” All of my friends shared my sentiment, and we all applied for a second semester so we could spend a full year abroad. The paperwork was easy-peasy and we all headed back home for Christmas, or stuck around Osaka for the holiday season (my friend Jason has some amazing stories about this one-month vacation). I was in full Japanophile mode, I was missing my Japanese girlfriend, and if I remember correctly was pretty unpleasant and down on America. I thank my parents for being so patient with me that holiday season.

So I headed back for another round of Kansai Gaidai fun. The second semester was even better than the first, since we knew the ropes really well and had established incredibly strong friendships. As the semester came to a close, we realized that this amazing part of our lives was going to wrap and we’d all be going back to the United States.

Graduation for Osaka Kansai Gaidai Crew 2000. Sayuri Matsuura, Emily Jensen, Colin Williamson, Jason Fetters, Colin Wahlert, Trevor Lalish-Menagh

…or would we!?

To be continued…

Studying Abroad & Kansai Gaidai

I’m not exactly sure why I decided to go to Japan. The fact that I was a huge game nerd probably had more than a little to do with it. I was going to Indiana University of Pennsylvania for a Communications major and no real direction. At the same time I was managing to write full-time for PC Gamer magazine; Communications classes are embarrassingly lax, after all.

Anyhoo, the main reason I went to IUP was its outstanding study-abroad program — they had links to tons of overseas schools, so I was deadset on going to Kansai Gaidai in Osaka, Japan. I took about 4 semesters’ worth of Japanese in advance to prepare, and for the first semester in my senior year, I headed off to Japan.

Preparing for this was pretty easy, though there was a good amount of paperwork involved. I had to get a physical and an AIDS test (!) in advance, write an essay justifying why I wanted to study at Kansai Gaidai, and for the actual student visa, it was a ton of paperwork culminating in having to physically visit the Japanese Embassy in Washington DC. Fortunately I was interning at Bethesda Softworks the summer beforehand in Rockville MD, so it was a quick train trip away. (If you’re living in Wisconsin or something, I’m not entirely sure what your options are.)

Detroit Departure

With two pieces of luggage and a carry-on, I embarked from Harrisburg International Airport to Detroit, and then began the longest plane trip–14 hours!–of my existence. (I have since mastered the art of trans-Pacific travel, and the Seattle –> Tokyo trip is pretty much effortless now.)

The first picture of me in Japan.

My first week of life in Japan passed by in a drowsy blur–an endless bus ride to the university on a highway that soared far above the single-story houses of Osaka; staying my first night with 3 other students in a tatami dorm room, fighting off an angry digestive system and battling the worst jetlag I’d ever experienced, my discombobulated brain screaming oh god I want to go home right now!. Eventually my body clock caught up with reality and things picked up — I met my wonderful homestay family, and started checking out the local sights (and trawling Osaka/Kyoto for used game and CD stores).

Kansai Gaidai was an awesome school. The faculty was fantastic, most of the students were really interested in being there, and I met some of the best friends I’d ever have. There were also tons of clubs; after a brief stint in Judo I wound up joining the Ballroom Dancing club. (That was a good idea — it’s much better to sweep a partner off their feet with a solid waltz step than a kou ouchi gari.)

Kansai Gaidai circa 1999

I’m not sure how the school is now. They moved the campus and expanded, so the foreign student population has ballooned in size. I’ve heard a lot of complaints that it’s turned into a party school because they’re not as strict on admissions as before, but I guess that’s how things go. If you want to go abroad these days, I guess it’s a toss-up between Kansai Gaidai and Sofia University; I’d still recommend going to Kansai, as Osaka is a lot more laid back, and jumping headfirst into anything related to Tokyo can make your head explode.

I’d also highly recommend getting a host family; mine were wonderful, wonderful people who were always helpful and full of encouragement. And boy oh boy, Mom could cook. We’re talking about a woman who’d make me tacos and make the tortillas from scratch. Yowza!

Next update, I’ll talk about campus life and transitioning to school in Tokyo.