So I’ve been in Japan for I guess 11 days now, and so much has happened that I doubt I can go into enough detail to do each and every story justice, but I’ll give it my best shot.
So the start to my summer adventure perhaps could have gone a bit better (it appears I lost my debit card in airport security at LAX, no doubt as a result of my panicked realization that I was about to go to a foreign country for 2 months where they spoke a language that for me had existed simply as a class), (long parenthetical ftw). However, after arriving at Narita airport in Tokyo and locating my group through a few strained conversations with airport employees, I was all set to get myself immersed in some quality foreign culture!
On a side note, I stopped writing mid entry to hit up the Onsen with the host fam. As a young American male, I’m not used to stripping down to, as the guide to Hakodate provided by the program puts it, my “birthday suit” in front of a bunch of Japanese men, and my host father’s story about his high school experience with 痴漢 (most closely translate as child molester/pervert) didn’t do much to help. However, I quickly became comfortable letting it hang out, taking confidence in my average sized (I assume) Caucasian endowment. I’m sure for many of them that was the first hakujin chinchin they’d seen, I certainly hope I didn’t disappoint!
Moving on! After arriving to the hotel in Tokyo, I met up with my boy Seki Chanyu in the hotel lobby and headed out for the night. I’d always thought of Tokyo as an international city, I mean in almost every action film the main character ends up flying to Tokyo to confront some underground syndicate, but I found myself let down in my expectations of diversity. On a station platform of about 300 people, I found myself to be the only Westerner, and I must say it was really the first time I’d ever experienced being in the vast minority. However, it wasn’t a very large issue, and Chanyu and I soon got off the train at the Shibuya district of Tokyo.
It was very bright, and the streets were filled with people. Given my lack of sleep and the fact that I’d really not prepared at all for departing to Japan, all of this was still perceived in something of a dream-like state, as the Japanese I’d endeavored to listen for in every foreign conversation so that I might interject with a comment, was suddenly all around me. I can only describe the experience as 不思議 (fushigi), and there’s unfortunately no english word that quite captures that meaning. I guess the closest meaning would be, so wondrous to the point that you find something difficult to believe.
We hit up an automated sushi restaurant, I had my first big boy beer, we walked around a bit more and ended up going to a government building which supposedly had a famed view of the city. I’d forgotten my passport in the room, and the program coordinators had made it expressly clear that were we to be approached by a police officer and found without our passport, this would be potential grounds for immediate deportation. Given this warning, I wasn’t terribly amused when my friend started joking about the fact that I had drunken underage and didn’t have my passport with me in front of the security guards at the government building. Luckily I wasn’t arrested, and after enjoy a cloud obstructed view of the city, I returned to my hotel and promptly crashed on the unoccupied bed.
The next day we departed for Hokkaido, where we took the first part of the placement test for the program. Afterwards I wandered the streets with some others, and I was interested to learn that there were simply no trash cans on the streets of Hakodate, the first of a series of many culture shocks. After taking the next part of the placement exam on Friday, we prepped to meet our host families Saturday morning, which while initially a source of great stress, turned out to be in fact the one thing that reinforced my belief that 2 months in Japan would be well spent.
My host family is a lot like my one at home, being comprised of a mother and father in their early 40’s and two daughters (21 and 15). I doubt I would have made it through the first week without their epic encouragement; it’s really something I couldn’t have ever expected.