Not having had internet for a month and a half, I wasn’t able to share my initial discoveries and numerous, numerous deer-in-the-headlights encounters with anyone beyond my sole companion. So, rather than recount them for you in retrospect, I’ll entreat you to some highlights from my journal…
August 3, 2010 – Tokyo
At long last, we are in Tokyo. After a very looooooong Saturday, we finally hit the pillow and woke up Monday morning, completely bypassing the day of rest. Our first meal in Tokyo was purchased – admittedly somewhat fearfully – from a vending machine / café. You press the button to select your meal, pay the machine, and receive a ticket which you bring inside to the staff and voilá, they produce said meal – soup, rice, cabbage salad and prawn katsu, in my case. Far superior to anything Air Canada managed to present to us within the last 12 hours.
Currently I sit in our hotel room on the 30th floor, looking west over Tokyo, spread nearly as far as my nearsighted eyes can see, though a hint of mountains guards the horizon. However, the romantic appeal Tokyo seems to hold for so many seems to have bypassed me, it’s neat and neon but not so novel, and I look forward – with a moderate degree of anxiety – to our (bullet!) train ride away from here, to our small suburban town of Sakura.
August 5, 2010 – Semi-welcoming party
After no small amount of distress, we have finally begun to settle into our new home in Sakura-dai (cherry blossom town). It is beautiful, no traffic outside our bedroom window, just trees and a chorus of “semi”s, which sound like crickets on steroids. They greeted us enthusiastically our first night. Couldn’t tell you what they look like, I have yet to see one, but in my head it’s something like the adjacent fine artistic rendering. Note the tiny, thin body and HUGE mouth.
August 6, 2010 – Love bath time
One thing Japan is known for, whether they like it or not, is their ability to produce English phrases with high comedic value to native speakers: a.k.a. Engrish. We’ve been graced with a plethora of it already, my favourite by far is the label & instructions that came with the towel I just bought: “Love bath time: the relaxation in the bath is the best. After a slowly relaxed bath, please wipe a body with a tender bath towel kindly!”
August 8, 2010 – Social, cultural, linguistic retard
Yesterday on the train, as we met up with other JETs on the way to a local beach, a fellow newbie candidly described how he was doing when asked: “I feel lost and frightened.” Sounds about right, I thought. This experience of being linguistically, culturally and socially illiterate, combined with being left (relatively) alone to fend for one’s self, leaves one with a perpetual deer-in-the-headlights sort of feeling. Or perhaps more accurately, a bunny: omigoshwhattodowhattodo… bolt randomly!
Alas, we have made some progress – yesterday we took the train mostly by ourselves and today we attempted the bus – both experiences leaving us with a small but comforting sense of accomplishment and hope for autonomy. After having been reduced to the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: “I need food, shelter, and a toilet,” any hope for moving up again is welcome.
August 12, 2010 – Gastronomically scarred
Today I had my first real encounter with the infamous natto. Natto is, from what I can determine, some form of fermented, slimy bean concoction, that is very popular amongst the locals – they even eat it for breakfast. For someone who’s braved balut, one-day-old chicken, and even bloody-bloody in the Philippines, beans should be no problem, right?
It ended… not horribly, not well, I didn’t manage to swallow much of it, and I managed not to throw up, so… I survived. The fellow teacher who took me out for lunch and proceeded to bestow this honour upon me was very apologetic, but I don’t doubt there was some small amount of mischief in his offer. I learned some very important Japanese as a result: Watashi wa natto o idimasen (I DON’T LIKE NATTO!).
August 17, 2010 – Healthy laptop, healthy me
Yesterday I had a health check… sort of. The person who took me is super nice, and his English probably far surpasses my Japanese, but it was somewhat disheartening when the best I could understand was “do you have laptop computer health checks in Canada?” No, but it would make a great Mac vs. PC commercial. I had an eye exam, too, which was a lesson in creativity. This was followed by attempting to answer a series of questions I didn’t understand by saying things they didn’t understand. But no worries, the outcome is: all clear.