Hirakata city was my home away from home for 4 months in 2011. I attended an exchange program at the Kansai Gaidai University in the city. The university’s Asian Studies Program receives a large and diverse batch of international students every semester. Exchange students are housed in seminar houses (or hostels) near the school and there was a lot of effort on the part of the school in integrating us into the community. At each seminar house, we had a middle-aged couple (whom we warmly call okaasan and otousan) as well as student assistants to take care of our needs. In school, each foreign student was paired with a speaking buddy and a home visit buddy to give the full experience of immersing in the Japanese culture.
It was in Hirakata that I discovered my love for walking as a way to explore the city. I walked to everywhere in Hirakata for various reasons – expensive transport (1 short bus ride costs about $3), the cool weather which doesn’t make me sweat, slow pace of life hence there was no rush to get anywhere.
It was an ordinary town and there was nothing spectacular about it, but being a foreigner seeing everything with a fresh pair of eyes, I saw beauty in my surroundings. We would get pretty excited about trips to the kombinis (convenience stores) or supermarkets as they are well-stocked with a wide array of novelty food products unique to Japan! As I write about this, I hope I never lose that sense of wonder and exploration in that 21 year old me.