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01/08/2007: "Busy busy busy"
Man oh man have I been busy. Yesterday was my first free day where I was able to catch my breathe. I had the time before having to go to school so I thought I'd update the world on what's happend so far.
The morning after the last post I hopped onto the bus at the hotel and went to the SFO international terminal. I was pretty early so I had to sit and wait for a couple hours for the ANA check-in to open up. Once they did at 8am I checked my baggage with no problems (thank god cause we were afraid of the weight distributions on the bags). I proceeded to go get my money changed out at the currency exchange station. They gave me a fantastically shitty rate of 106yen->$1 even though the current trading rate is 120 to the $1. My mood on that was quickly changed when I had my first ever good experience with the TSA. Not a single person in line first thing in the morning on a weekday so it took me all of 15 seconds to go through international security check; must be a new record. Once I got a chance to sit down in front of my gate and relax it started to feel a bit more real.
An hour or two passed by and I boarded the plane and found my seat near the front. I flew on ANA (All Nippon Airways) and found it to quite refreshing. The seats were roomy, power supply was available for the laptop, personal tv screen with a bazillion channels and movies i could start to watch whenever I wanted, and the food was tasty and well timed. It's probably the easiest trans-pacific flight i've ever had (this being the 5th). I would highly recommend them and intend to fly with them again.
Once I arrived at Narita in Japan things continued to go smoothly. I got off the plane and walked through a series of hallways with welcoming ads that eventually lead me to the immigration lines. Again, lucky me, no lines what so ever. I was the first in line for the foreign passport section. The officer reviewed my 2 year+ visa and stamped me away. I went downstairs and picked up my baggage at the carousel and continued on through customs (who didn't even bother looking at my ish, just waved me through). After customs, I walked down into the main terminal of Narita. TUJ gave me directions on a piece of paper on how to reach the meeting point (where I meet my family). I bought a bus ticket and sat down outside to wait.
Within a half hour the bus arrived and I ventured oboard to my seat. At this point, the same thought went through my mind ..."oh shit, I'm not in America, I'm in Japan". This emotion is really hard to describe if you've never felt it before and it's exceptionally strong if it's your first time feeling it. I spent the majority of the 2 hour bus ride into central Tokyo staring out the window with wonderment. Within minutes I spotted more hot cars I've wished to own then I could count in a day back home. Once we arrived at Miyako Hotel (the designated meeting place), I eagerly disembarked the bus and a Japanese girl holding a small Temple flag simply said to me, "Temple?". I answered, "yes" and she took me inside to a circle of easy chairs in the main hall of the hotel. Two other girls also from Temple were inside to greet me and take my name down. Yuka, one of the girls, checked me in and asked me to wait. Two other tired looking students who also arrived on the same bus were loaded into a taxi and sent to the dorms. She came back and said my family had yet not arrived so please wait. (by the way if I didn't mention before, I am staying with a host family for the first semester and not the dorms)
After the inital shock of finally reaching my destination wore off, I learned a bit more about the 3 girls. They all spoke english pretty much perfectly and were students of Temple themselves. They worked with the OIS (Office of Inernational Students) and were asked to meet all the incomming JA (Japanese Admit [me]) students. They mostly spoke to eachother in incredibly fast Japanese giving me little chance to understand much more then a few words here and there. Every once and a while they would stop, ask me a question in English, then continue back to their conversation. I listened as intently as I could but couldn't get a whole lot of it translated in my head.
Another hour passed by and Yuka told me she was worried why the family hadn't shown up yet and asked me to find their phone number for her. I gave it to her and she called the family. Turns out Temple made a small clerical error on the paperwork they sent the family on what date I was arriving. No big deal though, as the mother immediately left to come meet me from her house. Relieved that I knew what was happening, I left the hotel on my own to find a small convenience store. By the time I got back the mother had arrived and I stumbled horrendously to make a simple introduction in Japanese, "Haji-..Haji je....Hajimemish-". The girls tried to help me and as soon as they started I finally spat out what I had said a thousand times back in Japanese class, "Hajimemashite Mason desu, dozo yoroshiku."
Once I finished thoroughly destroying my confidence in speaking their language, I said a quick goodbye to the girls and then left with the mother for the train station. Now in the profile TUJ gave me, they noted that intermediate Japanese was required and that they spoke Japanese at home. This had mulled over in my mind prior to now but really didn't mean much until she started talking to me only in Japanese. I opened my mouth to reply only to stop and realize I couldn't communicate. I have had experience with conversation in the many other times I've been here but it had gotten rusty since I hadn't been back for 2 years. Like switching gears in a half-dead transmission, I jogged my memory and swapped languages. All was not lost and it came flooding back to me pretty quickly. I first made small talk then moved to more detailed questions about the house, her sons, etc.
Kiyomi-san (mother) was as friendly as a poor lost gaijin could possibly hope for. She seemed genuinely worried for my well being and interested to help me ease into my new life. Kiyomi-san's house is in Saitama which was a good hour and a half by train north of central Tokyo. Being in the trains flooded me with my memories of previous trips. If there is one thing I think foreigners remember about their stays in Japan, it's the look and feel of the train systems. Nothing is quite like it. Once we arrived at what seemed to me a boonies stop called Sengendai off of a local train line, she motioned me to get off. The station seemed much more remote then what I'd normally seen but wasn't without it's own charm. Clean as one would ever want and far from overwhelming in size, it seemed more homey then what I was expecting. I took a quick moment to soak it all in, then continued on our way out of the station and into the suburbs of Saitama.
After about a 1.5 mile walk her son Tsuyoshi met us and greeted me. He helped me with my bags into the house and formally greeted me surprisingly in English. He then helped me upstairs to my room where they then explained to me what time to wake up for breakfast then said good night to me. note: the below pic was taken the next morning, not that night
My room wasn't small at all from what I was prepared to deal with. I slumped my stuff down and in quick order went to bed.
If you've even been abroad, you know what I'm about to talk about. When I go to sleep here, I dream like I'm still at home, and while dreaming, I forget where I am in real life completly. So, the next morning, I woke up confused as all hell. After about 30 seconds of a mix of disorientation and fear, I realized I was in Japan, and was left with lingering feeling of apprehension. I dressed myself and walked downstairs into my new living room.
I was directed to sit down and a barage of Japanese came flying at me. Picking the words or phrases I understood, I answered to the best of my ability and had breakfast presented to me. At that time I got to meet the two younger sons Arashi(15) and Ryuta(10). I talked with them (sort of) for about an hour and was taught proper ettiquette for beginning and ending meals (Itatakimasu- say when starting / Ochiso sama deshita - say when finishing). I was then shown the shower and operation of it and left to my own devices.
I don't really wanna talk about it that much; let's just say it was a really cold and slow experience. I finished getting ready and Kiyomi-san handed me directions left from the previous homestay student on how to get to Temple in Azabu, Tokyo. She lead me back to the Sengendai train station and with a worried look said goodbye to me. I confidently told her "daijobu desuyo, wakata."(it's ok, I understand) and left on the trains to Temple. I hopped 4 different train lines to get to Azabu and over 2 hours later I walked onto the streets of central Tokyo once again. I looked down on the directions to find he failed to tell how to get from the station exit to the actual school but DID mention it took approximately 8 minutes to get there by walking. poop. The next half hour was filled with walking half a block, then asking someone for directions, not understanding their repsonse beyond the direction they were pointing, then doing it again. Alas, I finally made it to Temple and with a relieved sigh, walked up the stairs and into the main Azabu hall.
From then on started the next several days of orientations and introductions of students and faculty. The days were filled with nonstop activity. Wake up, go to school by train, listen to orientations, go home, eat dinner with family, practice conversation with family, go to bed. Ending on saturday night I started to feel more ease on my current situation and more comftorable with talking with my family. I reasserted my efforts in learning the language and ardorously challenged new nouns, verbs, and adjectives at every opportunity. My previous nervousness resided and excitement took its place.
Sunday (yesterday) was my first free day where I didn't have to go to school. I took this opportunity to relax at home till much later and practice more conversation. Luckily for me, Steve, a previous homestay student from 2 semesters ago came by to visit the family and help translate some things for me (such as rules of the family). Steve is in town for a week or so for some interviews for jobs here in Japan. Later in the day I left for Shinjuku to meet my good friend Ikuta. I had met Ikuta 2 years ago and on my last trip, hung out with him practically everyday. We kept in touch over the internet and my other friend Nick, who had accompanied me on the last trip, came to Japan last year for 3 months and spent alot of time with him. We did some shopping for TVs (I need on to play my new wii DUH), and cell phones..or as they call them here keitai. He helped me collect a bunch of packets from the different cell phone companies with explanations of phones and service plans in english for me to later study (which I'm currently doing while I write this). We went to a restaurant he frequents and got some food and had a good time.
Now that finally brings us to today. Today I woke up late and went to my verrrry last orientation and came home to eat dinner. Tomorrow is the first day of classes for me and I'm very excited. I'm also in the morning going with Kiyomi-san to the city ward in koshigaya to apply for my Alien Registration Card (that'll allow me to stop carrying my passport and be able to get a keitai) and National Health Insurance card.
I also took some time today to put together a chronologically ordered gallery in the gallery section which starts in my room and walks through my house and neighborhood. It'll give you a good idea what my new living arrangements and area are like. You can view that gallery HERE or you can just click on the Gallery button on the left and find it there.
Anyway, thanks for reading the lenghtly beginning! Ganbatte! (hope I spelled that right...)
Replies: 4 Comments
Steven Vandyk [e-mail]
Friday, January 26th
wow so crazy man i like reading all your storys in japan ... i was thinking about going to japan also.. i am from canada but the culture shock would drive me off the roof... i would not know what to do@@ your alot braver then me my man!
Supra Amir [e-mail] [homepage]
Saturday, January 20th
Man I had a blast reading this blog. Send me some info on what you are studying in Japan and which school.
JDMnick [e-mail] [homepage]
Monday, January 8th
How is Ikuta Doing!?
^ ^ I'm glad that you guys are hitting it off so well.
KEEP IN TOUCH!!
Monday, January 8th
Awesome! You got soo lucky with your family! Then again. . . would crazy families really volunteer to be a host family?
Enjoy your stay and don't do anything stupid!