Friday, September 21, 2012

Picking Up Where We Left Off...

Author's note: This is pure play-by-play of my first 100 hours in Japan, with little embellishment or art. I wrote this while the memory was still fresh, to give an accurate account of myself and to fill in the gaps. I suppose it might also be interesting for someone wondering what Tokyo orientation is really like. I'll omit no detail, but splinter my journal into several parts.

I remember stepping off the plane and obviously being shocked about how much Japanese there was. Not that I didn't expect there to be Japanese there; only that knowing something is entirely different from seeing it for the first time.

Most of my first few days are a blur; I was remarkably jet-lagged and entirely exhausted for the first week in the country. Still, I remember that in Tokyo I wondered at the fact that virtually EVERY car I saw was well maintained and in working order. Back in Lexington,  well maintained cars were in the minority. And I don't just mean that I only saw new cars-- I saw cars of all ages, but none of them even seemed to have a coat of road dust on them. Every car looked fresh out of the carwash and with a new coat of paint!

I remember being in awe of Tokyo on the road back from the airport to our hotel. The feeling of fear and shock that had been overtaking me periodically during that long plane ride was still present. It is both exciting and frightening, or at least intimidating, to be in a brand new country. I felt alternating waves of amazement and a sinking dread that I couldn't see any of my friends or my home in America right then, even if I wanted nothing else in the world. It was the feeling of being locked into a choice, and facing it for the first time and wondering if you have made a wonderful decision or an awful one.

We were put up in Keio Plaza hotel, which is in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. Shinkjuku is like the business district of Tokyo, as I understand, but I never went outside of it. Districts are big enough that you have to take a train from some parts to escape them. During my stay in Tokyo I barely had the confidence to ask anyone what time it was, not to mention get on a train and go off into the night by myself. I just don't have the stones.

Anyway, Keio plaza hotel is a wonderfully tall building with an excellent view out into downtown Tokyo. Our floor was the thirteenth, facing north, so the sun hits the buildings from the right, as you look out the window. And boy was that ever gorgeous. Looking out onto the city at night, with it's skyscrapers and multicolored signage, with buildings stretching all the way out to the bay. It was truly a sight to behold.

On the evening of the first day, my roommates and I set our things in our room and decided to venture out into the night, since our exhaustion was overshadowed by our desire to experience Japan. When we reached the lobby, there was a host of JETs forming groups and dissolving into other groups and trailing into the lobby and back out again. The hotel staff was busy exchanging money, and people fruitlessly introduced themselves to one another, only to have thier names disappear into the SEA of new names and faces that we were flooded with over the past several days.

I joined with my roommate from Nashville, Nobel, and a few other folks from our consulate, and we set out to find food.

We wandered about 10 minutes down the road and into a ramen shop tucked into a hole in a wall. I felt pretty intimidating because there was clearly some ritual through which you were able to obtain food, but I didn't know it, nor did I know how to ask about it. Luckily, a few members in our group had been to Japan before. The way to get food here is to buy a ticket at the front of the store for the dish you want, then take it up to the counter and give it to the person there. They will then give you the dish. I bought "curry ramen" because it was the only thing I could read. We all sat down in bar style seating, and made small talk while our food was prepared. The server set down my plate along with a pitcher of water and a cup. The food was pretty good, but the Japanese and American palattes are very different. Many of the things I ate during my first week here were very soupy, or at least that is what I noticed about them. A lot of curry type things with rice in a liquid, a lot of delicious fruits with lots of water in them, soup, pasta with lots of sauce, etc... liquid liquid liquid. I wasn't dissatisfied, really, I just felt the urge to eat a cheeseburger or something to get some "rib stickin" food down. But I had no adverse effects from the food or anything like that.

A panoramic shot of downtown Shinjuku at night

After we finished eating, I was DONE. I was exhausted and wanted to head back and crash and check in with folks back in America. So I said my adieus, since others were going to go out and do more stuff (insanity), and walked back with a few others.  Once I got back to the hotel I showered, checked in and laid down to sleep around 11...

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