Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Kagoshima International Exchange Center

The Kagoshima Public Access Center is located just past Central Park as you head east from the Kagoshima-chou station towards the bay. From the station it's about a 25 minute walk, so it may be better to take the street car along Tram Douri and continue on when it turns left at Izuro Douri. Then it's just two blocks west from the nearest stop. If you're at the Reimeikan, just go a block southeast from the southeastern corner.

(The old cultural center still sits in one corner of the plaza in front of the newer building. There's an upscale restaurant on the 2nd floor.)

(The newer building.)

The Exchange center has a passport office for Japanese nationals on the first floor, an information center on women's rights, and an international exchange office. The reading area has a number of books in Japanese, free access to the Japan Times and a Singaporean paper, and TVs playing Korean daytime dramas and news broadcasts from the BBC. The 5th and 6th floors, at the west end, have audio-visual rooms that show anime and family movies twice a day (except Mondays when the building is closed). The east end of the 6th floor has a life sciences exhibit for children that is pretty high tech and guaranteed to keep toddlers busy for hours. The building also offers cheap Japanese, and free English, conversation once a week or so, and classes on using computers. Additionally, there's a small kiosk that sells snacks and drinks at a 10%-20% discount on the 1st floor.

Also on the first floor is an exhibit space that can be used to promote local artists. One exhibit was for flower sculptures made entirely of seashells. The "flowers" all looked fantastic, and often were hard to tell apart from the real thing.

The main reason I visit the Exchange Center is that they have a jobs notice board near the BBC TV set. Most of the notices are for western university students looking for language partners, but occasionally a school might advertise a teaching position. I posted a notice as a business English teacher but haven't had any takers yet. I've also started dropping into the English conversation sessions on Fridays at noon to make myself a little more visible. The 6th floor theater only shows anime about 10 days a month, and currently they're just old Disney and Moomin movies. I'm waiting for the old Tezuka movies to come back in a few weeks.


Cultural differences can be amusing at times, if you don't take yourself too seriously. I know a number of westerners living in Japan that hate being stared at, or those from Canada that hate it when children suddenly yell out "look, an American!" on seeing someone with blond hair. But for me, it's no big deal.

One day I decided to check out the life sciences section on the 6th floor, and found myself walking into a crowd of young school kids on a field trip. Almost immediately, I was surrounded by 4-, 5- and 6-year olds that all wanted to ask me questions while the adults mostly looked embarrassed. I was having trouble following the local dialect, and kneeled down to be on eye-level with them. One kid asked something that sounded like "hitori", meaning "are you here alone?". Then suddenly he stuck his face in mine and stared at my eyes (took me a few seconds to realize he was saying "hitomi", meaning "pupils" - he'd never seen blue eyes before). The class cracked up, and I decided to play along and stared right back. When it was time for them to leave, the entire group shouted out "arigato! sayonara!" They just liked having the chance to meet someone other than stiff, rule-following adults.

A few minutes later, some of the other children in the area ran up to me to talk like the field trip had. One boy, who proudly said he was 4 years old, especially liked showing me all of the exhibits and just playing around with me. Later, his mother and a friend of hers came out to apologize for their children, then went back to the lounge to keep talking with each other, ignoring their children pretty completely. The boy at one point was looking at a human anatomy exhibit, and asked me point-blank "naze onaka ga deta?" (literally "why is your stomach sticking out?", meaning "why are you fat?") The only obvious answer is "not enough exercise". The boy immediately started doing stretching exercises he'd seen on NHK TV to encourage me. Again, when the parents decided to leave, the kids shouted out "arigato! sayonara!" They were just looking for someone to play with them, and let them show off the knowledge they had of the exhibits. They were all really friendly, and I had fun as well. It's just a matter of not letting what westerners consider "rude behavior" get to you.

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