The First Few Days, An OverviewTokyo, Spring 2013

Well, I’m finally here: after years of dreaming and preparation, I finally find myself in Japan–which is kind of surreal to think about. I don’t know if it’s hit me yet; I feel more like I’m in a Katamari Damacy game than in an actual place (well minus the obvious lack of destruction and general terror at the hands of a pint-sized alien prince)

Japan is an exciting place–the entire place teems with life, from the neatly combed salarymen to the impeccably dressed schoolgirls to the rushing trains and rowdy arcades.

That said, it can also be confusing. Even simply visiting the convenience store can be stressful (the man behind the counter is bowing to me! why? what do?? do I bow back??). I’ve found thus far that sometimes the most difficult things are the little ones no one explains right away. You should ask people about convenience store protocol, but from what I’ve heard you’re not supposed to react to the shouts of “irasshaimase!” or the bowing. It’s not something Americans are used to, so it’s hard for me to ignore them. I end up nodding or bowing back.

My first day in Japan was fun despite the challenges. I met my e-pal and toured around Makuhari, then went to a soba restaurant with some IES friends and their e-pals. I had never been to a restaurant that sold so many kinds of soba, and none of the menu items had descriptions, so our Japanese friends had to explain them to us. I had the curry nambam soba, which was delicious–but the bowl was enormous, far bigger than I’d expected, and it also contained pork, which I don’t eat. Even eating just the noodles and onions I wasn’t able to finish, and I felt a little bad because it really was delicious. I’ve heard that in Japan getting a to-go box is an uncommon (and sometimes rude) practice, so I had to leave the rest…. from now on I’ll ask about bowl size if different sizes aren’t available, and I’ll also ask about pork.

Afterwards we went to the convenience store for ice cream. It was a bit stressful, but as I ate an ice-cream filled yukimi daifuku, the evening’s worries disappeared.

The past few days have been a blur, with disfavorable weather, but good experiences all the same…

We purchased Suica cards and rode the train several stations over. The train is a convenient way to get around, and you’re never waiting for one long. I saw a really cute couple holding hands on the train. When we got off the train we went for lunch at a restaurant where you gave your order at a vending machine that prints a ticket containing your order. You give this ticket to the waitress behind the counter, and she gets your food for you. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, but the food came quickly.

Makuhari Station has an arcade (called “game centers”) and a theater, so some friends and I decided to investigate. I concluded that I should not be allowed into arcades by myself or else I will blow all my yen on gashapon machines and the taiko game. There was also a room full of UFO catchers with Anime merchandise as the prizes… also a bad room for me to be in, if only because I could be be stuck looking at the figures for hours. I generally don’t trust UFO catchers and crane games, so I feel fairly confident I won’t be spending a lot of money on them… but looking doesn’t cost anything, right?

I’ve since gotten over my convenience store anxiety and decided that Family Mart is the least stressful chain. Sometimes it seems like there’s a different conbini on every corner; there are at least three Family Marts between my host house and school. I somehow feel relaxed when I go in one. The convenience store near the IES building is also a good one (they sell cheesecake daifuku, which is something everyone should try at some point in their lives).

I also finally moved in with my host mother, Shinobu. She’s very energetic and lives fairly close to school (it’s about 30 minutes to walk there). Her home is small, but my room is about the same size as my room in the Puget Sound dorms was for the last few semesters, so I feel right at home. Both of us are slowly getting used to saying “ittekimasu” and “itterasshai” when either of us leave, since it’s just the two of us here. We live in a neighborhood where many people have small dogs, and it’s common to see dogs wearing tiny shirts. Somehow I’m not surprised.

Also can we talk about how Shinobu’s house has a floor warmer? If the floor is cold she can press a button and the floor will not be cold anymore. You’d think it wouldn’t make that much of a difference but walking across a warm floor in your socks is one of the greatest feelings I can think of. The toilet also has a seat warmer but I feel like Japanese toilets deserve their own post so I’ll discuss those another time. Other miraculous buttons include buttons to change the temperature of the shower, a button to dry any towels hanging in the shower room, a button on the microwave specifically for heating drinks, and a remote control to adjust the lights in my room. I’m telling you, with this kind of technology Japan is going places.

I still have much to learn about Japan, but I’m going to do my best! I’m also going to try hard not to go broke (but I’m probably going to go broke let’s be honest here) (the minute I step into Akihabara/the Pokémon Center I can probably kiss my savings goodbye) (but I’ve been saving up for this for years so whatever I’ll do what I want)

 

The weather’s been crummy lately so I haven’t done much figure photography, but I have been taking a lot of other pictures. Makuhari is a really neat area, so I hope these pictures can give you some sense of how cool it is here.

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