Starting off Right

Hi again!
Life in Japan post number TWO. Here we go!

As I mentioned in my previous post, my first few days in Japan were wonderful. Let me go into further detail about that here!

I arrived in Japan on March 25th in the late afternoon. My flight was 13 hours long and I had to wait in Narita Airport for almost an hour because my paperwork was just slightly off, so I was frazzled, tired, and in need of a shower. So, needless to say, I was very comforted by the fact that I had a family to stay with for the next 5 nights.

Now, the family that I stayed with was not an official host family, because my program offers a dorm housing during the semester, but since I came to Japan a few days before the program started, I needed somewhere to stay, so one of my friends at Hope College graciously offered for me to stay with her family!

On top of my first-day frazzlement, I also experienced a few nerve-wracking things that would have left me a mess if I had not had my host family there with me to make things easier. (Ordering food is so hard, knowing what kind of shampoo to buy is hard…and I touched upon this a little in the last post, but traveling by yourself for the first time on the train can be scary if you don’t know what you’re doing.)

This is my host mom and I on my first night! I’m not a huge fan of taking selfies, but we had to make sure to send my mom a picture to assure her I was safe and sound 🙂

Even on my first night, I truly felt like I had been living there for a long time already. My room was very comfortable and felt like my own.

I loved these decorations because they both reminded me of home in different ways.
I loved these decorations because they both reminded me of home in different ways.

I was also treated to many kinds of vegetarian-friendly foods…

 

…took a stab at baking…

First Impressions

Yes, yes, yes, I am alive and in Japan!!!

Sorry if it seems like I’ve been M.I.A. lately! My first few days here were absolutely wonderful, and as much as I wanted to share my thoughts about the beginning of my journey, I  really wanted to just soak everything up by myself first. I didn’t have WiFi at first, either, so it was a true and complete immersion for a while.

Now that I have been in Japan for a while now and have gotten settled in, I thought it would finally be a good time to write about some first impressions and thoughts I had that you might find interesting or helpful (especially if you have never been to Japan before!). I’ll split it into categories.

Firstly, FOOOOD:

  • Not many restaurants give you napkins! You will usually get a damp towel if it’s a nice place, or more commonly, a packaged damp wipe. This is used for you to ‘clean’ your hands before eating. Sometimes restaurants will also have some paper-thin napkins available on the table, but if you are a messy eater, maybe request some extras from the waiter or just be wise with whatever towel you’ve been given.

    Underneath the towelette is an example of the paper-thin napkins you’re usually given. If you go shopping at a conbini, you’re given utensils at checkout as well!
    Underneath the towelette is an example of the paper-thin napkins you’re usually given. If you go shopping at a conbini, you’re given utensils at checkout as well!
  • Surprisingly, a lot of places offer green tea as the default drink option instead of water. And if they do have water, it’s usually in a really small glass, so you may have to ask for a few refills or just buy some water yourself later.
  • Fast food here is so different than what is considered fast food in America…A lot of it is healthier and has higher quality ingredients. Some people tend to lose weight here because of those reasons.
  • Going off of that, a disadvantage to having really good, healthy food is that it can get kind of pricey. But not to fear! If you plan your meals out right, you can eat a lot of stuff without breaking the bank!

BATHROOMS:

  • I had been warned in advance about the lack of hand-drying machines and/or paper towels, but man, they were not kidding! Always bring a handkerchief or small hand towel everywhere with you, otherwise this is your life:
  • Soap dispensers can sometimes be confusing. A lot of the ones I’ve seen have the pump on the bottom, so the soap goes directly on your hands as you push up. I felt really dumb the first time I encountered one.

    See that tiny little spout thing under the yellow bubble?! Yeah, that’s where the soap is.
    See that tiny little spout thing under the yellow bubble?! Yeah, that’s where the soap is.

TRAINS:

  • BAAAHHHH, OH MY GOODNESS, SO CONFUSING.
    If you ever need a humbling experience, try navigating a train map all by yourself for the first time.
    If you ever need a humbling experience, try navigating a train map all by yourself for the first time.

    -–At least, for me, because I have never encountered public transportation system of this magnitude before. In reality, the system is not meant to be confusing at all and is quite organized, but does take some time to figure out where you’re going (and how) after looking at a million maps and signs multiple times.

  • Once you learn the system, you realize how freaking efficient everything is. My first time traveling by myself by train, I somehow managed to get to my destination early ON ACCIDENT. Each train is planned out down to the minute, so you can know exactly when you’ll arrive. I must have taken an earlier departing train when I made a line transfer, because I arrived almost 10 minutes early!!

OTHER THINGS:

  • This was just something that I knew would happen but felt shocked anyway: the fact that everything is in Japanese. Looking out the window during my bus and taxi rides from the airport were definitely the times when I thought “Oh, wow. I really am in Japan.”

    This picture of Shibuya may not be the best example because there are some signs in English text, but it is still cool to see so much Japanese at once!
    This picture of Shibuya may not be the best example because there are some signs in English text, but it is still cool to see so much Japanese at once!
  • Sidewalks on the road are not really on the “side;” they are just wee little margins of the actual road. They’re SO NARROW!
    Yep, past the green line is the road. This margin is actually one of the wider ones I’ve seen!
    Yep, past the green line is the road. This margin is actually one of the wider ones I’ve seen!

    I kept getting yanked by the people I was walking with over to the side of the road because I kept going over the line.

  • Many appliances, doors, switches, and other small things you wouldn’t normally pay attention to are just slightly different enough that they can throw you off. Other than the obvious fact that instructions are in Japanese, some knobs and latches have to be turned the opposite way or sideways.

    Here’s an example of some typical light switches.
    Here’s an example of some typical light switches.
  • Everything is quiet and clean. Even dirty places aren’t that dirty compared to America.
  • The dogs here are TINY. Oh my goodness. And a lot of them wear sweaters and/or have their own strollers that they can ride in. Dog lovers, does this make you excited or freaked out? I’m currently alternating between the two myself.
  • GOOGLE MAPS ARE YOUR BEST FRIEND. Japanese addresses (especially streets) are the hardest to understand, so no one uses them to give directions. There are also helpful train info apps you can download that help you get from one side of town to the other without too much trouble. Here’s an example:img_04791

TIME FOR THE “YES/NO” Q&A CORNER!
FOR THINGS YOU MAY BE WONDERING ABOUT!

YES

  • …There are a lot of people who speak English and some menus/signs are written in English, but if you completely depend on that, you will get very stuck. Even though most Japanese people’s second language is English, not a lot of people are actually fluent. Usually you will get a very thick-accented, broken English, so do your best to try and learn Japanese so that you can at least meet people halfway.
  • …There are squat toilets. And yes, they are weird to use, but for all you girls out there, they make it easier for you if you’re wearing a skirt that day!img_0532
  • But there are usually also Western toilet alternatives so that you can avoid using them if you want to.img_0533
  • …The high-tech toilets are as wonderful as they say! Even though the bidet weirds me out, I tried it anyway, because c’mon, I’m in Japan after all!! And it’s quite nice! Also, the heated seats are amazing, especially when you have to go in the wee hours of the chilly morning.

    I mean, lookit all those buttons!
    I mean, look at all those buttons!
  • …People do stare at you, because you look different. Usually in their peripherals so that you don’t notice. Unless they’re kids. You’ll get used to it.
  • …The trains are as crowded as people say. Ho boy. It can get pretty hot and stuffy in there. Ugh. But it’s only bad during rush hours!

NO

  • …Being a vegetarian in a country full of seafood is really not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. It’s not like the only thing people eat here is sushi!!
    Japanese salad, pickled veggies, ramen, kimchi, and onigiri for lunch! Nutritious and delicious, am I right?
    Japanese salad, pickled veggies, ramen, kimchi, and onigiri for lunch! Nutritious and delicious, am I right?

    The only sad things for me are that I haven’t seen a lot of fake meat products here (bean patties, imitation crab, veggie burgers, etc.) so far, and also that Japanese people have no idea what food vegetarians do/don’t eat, so you have to be patient when explaining to someone.

  • …conbinis are not cheap. Just because they’re convenient doesn’t mean the prices are! I learned that the hard way after getting some of the same products at a grocery store later for a much lower price.
  • …I haven’t gotten truly lost yet, surprisingly! Like, I said. GOOGLE MAPS. It is wonderful. But if your phone dies or something, it is relatively easy to just walk until you find a train station, and then you will be in the clear again. And most people are willing to give you directions as well!

And this concludes my First Impressions post of Japan! If you have a question that hasn’t already been answered or want to see more pictures of something I’ve mentioned, feel free to leave a comment!

See you in the next post!

The Waiting Game—Pre-Departure in All its Glory

Hello, everyone!

So…in case anyone hasn’t noticed already…I haven’t posted anything on this blog until now. This is because I am not abroad yet, actually! Some students studying abroad have semesters on a similar schedule to Hope College, but in Japan, the spring semester is from April to July. This means I’ve had about a three-month long Christmas break!

So, what have I been doing all this time, while everyone else is already off having their adventures and settling into their new temporary homes? A lot more than you might think.

First and foremost, there is a lot of paperwork to be done: applications to the off-campus program and to Meiji Gakuin University, health forms, housing agreement, certificate of eligibility, visa application, plane ticket, health information, bank information, etc. Of course, the amount and content of study abroad paperwork differs from program to program, but the point is, there’s a lot, no matter where you’re going. (A word of advice to other students planning on studying abroad: stay on top of things. Fill out as many forms as you can the moment they are handed to you. Some papers have to be mailed long-distance, so the earlier you take care of them, the less likely you are to run in to possible last-minute delays or mistakes.)

Secondly, I’ve been trying to keep my language skills fresh by continuing to study with my Japanese classmates and contacting my friends who will be welcoming me after I arrive.

Thirdly, I’ve continued working at one of my jobs to try and gather up as much money as I can before I leave so that I can enjoy my experience there more fully.

Fourthly, my family and I have been cleaning the house so that there will be enough space for when I return. I’ve gone through some email clutter in my school account, too. I’ll only have a few weeks of summer after coming back to unpack everything and get ready for my senior year at Hope, so a lot of the things we are doing now are preparations for things I won’t have to do later.

And lastly, I’ve been spending my free time reconnecting with as many friends as I can. This has been a great opportunity to catch up with some people that I don’t get to see very often anyway, so I’m kind of liking the excuse of leaving the country to encourage some reunions. 😉 Thanks to all of you! And sorry to the ones I can’t catch before I take off; we will work out something once I get back. 🙂

I hope this will serve as a helpful tool for those of you thinking about traveling to another country for the first time, especially students. Any of the activities previously mentioned are a good way for you to spend your free time before you take off!

As you can see from everything I’ve been doing, getting ready for the big trip hasn’t been a total breeze. I don’t mean to say this as a downer, but as a practical viewpoint. This time is super exciting, yes! But it’s also full of responsibility and meticulous planning. So, I hope whatever kind of traveling you plan on doing in the future, that you handle it with care. The more you take care of beforehand will save you time and stress down the road. There will always be surprises that you can never plan for, so take care of whatever you do have control of.

Sorry if this post is kind of dry!! We’ll see how my other posts compare once I arrive in Japan. Thanks for sticking with me to the end here, and you will probably hear from me again very soon!