Reflections Abroad: Aug. 25-Aug. 29

UNIQLO in Kichijoji, photo taken by me.  The mannequins on each of the floors rotated on their stands, displaying the latest fashion in 360 degrees.
UNIQLO in Kichijoji, photo taken by me.  The mannequins on each of the floors rotated on their stands, displaying the latest fashion in 360 degrees.

I wrote on my blog earlier that I was studying abroad in Japan for three months—the last three months that I will be a student, if all planning goes well.

Yet hardly a week has passed, and I have seen and learned so much not only about Japan, but about myself.  I am starting to believe that I will be a student forever.

I can only imagine what I will learn by the time I return.

August 25, 2015: The Flight

This was not my first time flying to Japan, nor flying at all.  I flew with my family to Washington D.C. when I was younger, Fir Acres when I was a freshman in high school, and Japan when I was a sophomore in high school.

However, this would be the first time I would ever fly by myself on a plane.  I am a college-aged adult, and can surely handle transporting myself to the hotel recommended by the exchange program.

Oddly, I didn’t feel alone.  My family’s spirits seemed to guide me along the way.  A little girl in the front seat watched The Sound of Music, my mother’s favorite movie.  Another passenger in the seat next to mine across the aisle watched Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” music video, and my father happens to be a huge Michael Jackson fan.  Another passenger seemed to be watching an Asian drama, reminding me of my sister, who is very much into Asian culture, Korean specifically.

I found little things like that to keep me positive and keep me well rested for the journey ahead.

Five thousand, four hundred and seventy-four miles of Pacific Ocean separate Los Angeles from Tokyo.  The flight took ten hours and forty minutes to complete.  When I landed in Narita International Airport, it was not 9 PM, August 25, Los Angeles time.

Rather, it was 2:02 in the afternoon, Wednesday, August 26, Japan time.

August 26, 2015: The Journey

I knew this midnight sunlight well.  I had crossed into Japan before, only this time, my eyes were not fried with fatigue.  Despite chilling airplane temperatures and white engine noise, I rested fairly and was eager to arrive at my hotel in Musashisakai.

However, I still faced quite a few challenges.

I first went to the wrong line at the immigration officials, one that designated short-term stays instead of long-term stays.  I went to the wrong area of the baggage claim for my flight, but managed to find my luggage after walking down the opposite side of the large hall.  Exiting customs was a breeze—a simple show of paper to the inspector.  Changing currency was equally so; the form was in English.

But the airport itself was a behemoth, a location I was not familiar with and full of people moving about, just as I advanced and backtracked and advanced.  My Japanese was noticeably rusty.  After two exchanges with certain employees, my brain halted.  My face blanked.

Oh, Japanese at natural speed, how I missed you.

Yet with all of these obstacles, I persevered.  When my Japanese fell flat, people were more than willing to help me.  Instead of mulling over my flaws, I kept following the directions given to me by the program, and hopped on two trains: the first to Tokyo.

Green and gray swathed the windows.  The end of summer approached, and with it came light, long rain sprinkling across rice fields, forest, and cityscape alike.  There was no such emerald beauty in the United States that I had seen and could compare, other than Portland, Oregon, perhaps.  Riding trains in Japan and viewing the scenery is, as of this moment, one of my favorite things to do.  I could get lost in it.

After departing at Tokyo station, a sea of organized chaos on my way to the Chuo Line.

I was truly in Japan this moment, watching all of the people pass me and avoid each other, briskly walking to catch their trains.  I was a tadpole, and they were the fish, directed and experienced.  And suddenly, I didn’t know what floor the Chuo Line was.

At the sight of all of them, I grew confused, which I’ve learned, happens to me quite often.  I consider myself to be a very introverted person—someone who needs alone time to recharge.  I am also the kind of person that prefers to figure things out myself before asking for help, so being around people and strangers for extended periods of time not only drains me.  It halts me.  Couple that with travelling by myself, and my self-confidence was bound to leave me at any moment.

But this didn’t happen.  I asked someone for help, and they sent me on my way.

I kept breaking my old habits, and moved on.  I was learning what it meant to be in my own way, and trust myself.

Coming upstairs, there were two Chuo Line rapid trains, both mentioned in my directions.  Yet the correct one didn’t seem to be listed.  Yet when I noticed one bound for Tokyo, where I came from, and one bound for Tachikawa, I knew the Tachikawa was my ride by deduction.

I arrived in Musashisakai successfully, and stayed in Citytel Musashisakai.

Where I met a fellow student, fiction writer, Japanese learner, and personal friend of mine, who I shall call “M.”

August 27, 2015: The Friend

M and I have know each other for two years.  We met in an Intermediate Fiction Writing class, and took advanced Japanese with the same teacher, but at different times.  While I often tell her she’s very good at speaking Japanese, she has often told me not to be hard on myself, and that there are things that I know that she does not about the Japanese language.  I believe we can say the same about our fiction writing skills.

It is also a lesson I am encountering frequently here, and it’s encouraging me to do my best in the best way possible.  I am very glad she will be taking classes with me.

August 28, 2015: The University

M and I checked out of Citytel and took the bus to International Christian University, where there was even more trees and green and gray.  The typhoons had settled all over Japan, it seemed.

Yet the air was still warm, and made walking in jeans the equivalent of sloshing in an invisible swamp.

It has grown colder now, but it is still quite wet.

August 29, 2015: The Ambassador to Kichijoji

The next day, a fellow dormmate showed us around Kichijoji, where I took the photo of this post.  We walked for hours across shopping stalls and streets, trying to find a cat cafe, but deciding not to go, because it was too crowded.

Soon, it was ramen for lunch, crepes with parfait as a snack, and walking through Uniqlo.  I had ramen, though… I did not have a crepe.

I had something more traditionally Japanese: a waffle-pancake in the shape of a fish, stuffed with sweet red been paste called taiyaki.  It is seen in anime all the time, and being a frequent watcher of anime, I had to try one.

It was exactly as one would expect: a light but delightful snack.

I hope that there are even more delights to come, such as the ones that I have been finding asking people for help, instead of keeping to myself.  I hope to find more delights in Japan, more places to see, more people to meet, and more Japanese language and culture to learn.

Though… I don’t think that will be hard.

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