Hi everyone! I’m sorry that it’s been so long since I’ve posted. To be honest, I’ve been really busy and tired since I arrived in Japan, though it’s been a fun and rewarding experience so far, and so I really haven’t had the time to sit down and write a decent post yet.
Anyway, I finally wrote an article a couple of weeks ago for the Gilman Global Experience Blog (which is only getting posted now) about my recent arrival and early experiences in Japan. Please feel free to read and share: Sunrise in the Land of the Rising Sun
That sums up a lot of my initial impressions about Japan, and describes some of the process of my arrival, but it also leaves a lot left unsaid. I am guilty of writing about individual bits and pieces of my experience to friends and family, and sharing a few longer stories here and there without actually sitting down and documenting much of anything, and so this post is an attempt to change that. I don’t know that I’m going to have the time to try to transcribe all of my thoughts in Japanese, but I’ll try to gauge that as I go. I’ll do it if I think I can manage it, for the sake of my Japanese friends who may be curious, but I’ll have to play it by ear. Even if I can only manage a truncated version, I suppose that’s better than nothing! And I’m sure it would make my sakubun professor happy.
So I’m going to start with the heady part of what I’ve already missed in my first month in the country: my first five days. Though I imagine with this post, I’ll only be able to cover the first two.
成田空港 Narita Airport
To begin with, after saying goodbye to my dog, who I have come to dearly miss given the general dearth of larger dogs in Japan, I road with my girlfriend Ashley from Oroville to the Oakland International Airport early the morning of September 12th. It was a bit of a difficult ride, emotionally, knowing that I was going to have to leave she and Mitzi for a year. The airport proved as difficult as imagined, and it was a slow, tearful goodbye before I went through security and made my way to the plane. After a short hop to LAX, where I had a layover of a couple hours, I found myself on a much larger Japan Airlines plane sitting next to a young Japanese mother of two. Her own mother apparently wanted to sit with them, however, and so we traded seats, netting me an upgrade to “premium economy” class. It was as advertised: not first-class, but the seats were larger and more comfortable, I had access to a screen with movies, music, and news, and got some comps as far as certain drinks and such were concerned. I hadn’t been able to order a vegetarian meal due to the website I bought my ticket from, so I had to cobble together what I could eat from a variety of different sources, but all in all it was quiet and reasonably relaxing. I watched a few movies in Japanese including about 3/4 of Ready Player One and slept for most of the rest of the roughly 11-hour flight.
After arriving in Narita, the first thing I noticed was advertisements for toilets. Yes, they stick a picture of a pretty girl on an ad and throw it all along the entry in the airport. This should immediately tell you something about how Japanese toilets compare to their North American counterparts.
Beyond that, the airport wasn’t especially impressive. It paled in comparison to LAX as far as feelings of being clean and modern, which surprised me. It had more in common with the Oakland Airport, though I think OAK might win out in the aesthetics department as well. I went through immigration, got my resident card, went through customs, got my bag, and was then left alone to figure out how the hell to get from Narita to Kamakura in one piece. (See my previously linked article for more details on my arrival and ticket-buying experience.)
By the time I dragged myself into my first hostel, the Kamakura Guesthouse, I was utterly spent, and ready to sleep for 10 hours or so. I missed out on the common room festivities the first night, but by the end of my stay would meet some great people, both staff and other guests, native Japanese and visiting foreigners, and feel as though I’d enjoyed something rare and wonderful.
The intervening day I spent seeing some of the sights I came to Kamakura to see. After wandering around in some heavy rain for a while, I ended up at the 大仏 Daibutsu, a giant figure of Amida Buddha that is one of the most famous Buddhist icons in Japan due to its size and age. It’s worth seeing, and a few yen will let you inside the metal giant’s structure to see some of how it was constructed.
Post-Daibutsu I wound up at a fantastic little vegan-friendly, hemp-oriented restaurant called Magokoro (that review shares my own thoughts) along the Kamakura waterfront, and I’d never been happier to eat a meal. It was a tad pricey, and the portions weren’t huge, but everything was handcrafted with care, there were abundant vegan options, and nothing I ate was less than incredibly delicious. I had a nice conversation with the waitress there, complimented the chefs in Japanese to enthusiastic responses, and walked out feeling like a million bucks (or a very, very large number of yen that I’m not going to attempt to calculate).
On the way back, I stumbled into 長谷寺 Hasedera, which a waitress at the Guesthouse’s downstairs bagel cafe had told me about that morning over breakfast. I gave that a thorough exploration, though at this point the rain and humidity were starting to make walking difficult. By the time I came back from the peak pathway above the temple grounds that overlooks Kamakura’s seaside, I had to grab a Pocari Sweat and sit down for a good twenty minutes before I felt like I could continue (if you ever decide to explore any part of Asia, be ready to get good at taking buses and walking a whole lot—renting bikes would probably be handy too).
I got a nap in after I returned to the Guesthouse, and later that night ended up making friends with people in the common area and kitchen as they cooked and conversed. There was a personable young man from America (Utah, maybe?) who had been traveling with his mother until she left, and was there for another two weeks on his own. He was studying Japanese too, though merely on vacation. There was a Kiwi who lived and worked in Japan at another hostel, and one of his coworkers, a Chinese girl with excellent Japanese, also joined us later in the evening. There were two young German lads touring around seeing the sights, and several Japanese girls whose names I can’t remember. Three Japanese guys were also there, including one with excellent English, another with a penchant for tobacco and talking about alcohol that I was particularly fond of, and another with a wild laugh and slightly unhinged demeanor who kept the proceedings lively. By the end of the night, we all felt like the best of friends. We started at the Guesthouse, went to the 24-hour grocery for beer and a liter of umeshu that we finished off in short order, and then the Kiwi took us all to an izakaya nearby that his friends had told him about. There we ate and drank and talked in mixed Japanese and English for a good hour or so before retiring to the warm common room of the Guesthouse again until bedtime. It was exactly what makes travel at hostels so special, and I couldn’t have asked for a more heartening start to my trip.
The following morning, after another bagel breakfast at the downstairs cafe, I bid farewell to all of my new comrades, gave out a couple of souvenirs from Chico to the Japanese guys, and headed back to Ofuna Station to catch a train to Nagoya. Train travel in Japan is a confusing process, and though I seemed to manage, it would give me more trouble in the days to come. I was tired and slightly hungover, but not really any worse for the wear, and thus my third day in Japan began with a train to another new city.
But that will have to wait for another day, as this post has gotten long enough, I think. Hopefully I’ll get around to writing another in the days to come, and hopefully get slowly caught up with everything that I’ve been up to since I got here. Until then, I’m afraid this is all I can muster, as in less than two hours I’ll be headed to my third festival of the month in Matsumoto!
So until then, everyone, take good care of each other, especially in America where the trend seems to be to oppose and dismiss each other. Fight corruption and corporate control, and young people, get out and vote. Be kind to one another, look out for one another, and keep my country safe for me until I return. お願いします。