Even though I arrived in Japan just over a mere three days ago, there are lots of aspects about Japan and myself that I’ve been made aware of. Some of it is about Japan, some of it is about me, but most of it is my place in Japanese society as a foreigner.
I arrived in an international airport and drove right into Osaka, a heavily populated city. Needless to say, there wasn’t much nature around. But, past all the houses and business buildings, the horizon was filled with beautiful mountains and clouds. The mountains strike me more than those in Vermont and the clouds are always billowing unlike back at home where clear skies are much more common.
There are a few bits and places on the map where there should be nature, like the parks and rivers, but the parks seem to be just open fields without many trees or benches and the rivers are almost completely dried up. I guess it makes sense that a lone tree or a river might not survive the suffocation of a large city, but I was hoping to see a bit more.
The plants I have seen have all been houseplants sitting outside the front door of people’s homes. The plants are quite beautiful to see, but I can’t imagine taking care of all those plants in city conditions, especially when the places to raise your plants are limited to the tiny space in front of your doorway, since no one has a real front or backyard here due to the high population.
In one word: crowded. I don’t know what I quite expected of a city in the Osaka prefecture, but the roads are tiny and lots of people commute by bike or a small motorized vehicle. Even the “bigger” cars are still quite smaller than those of America, but, with living in an area with such tiny roads, I understand the need.
There are lots of street signs and most of them contain the word 注意 (chuui), which means “caution,” or 禁止 (kinshi), which means “not allowed.” Watch for pedestrians. Be careful crossing the street. Lower your speed. Do not park here. Do not enter. Do not trespass. Employees only. It’s not that America doesn’t have these signs, it’s just that these are everywhere in Japan, especially 飛び出し (tobidashi). I didn’t quite know what it meant at first as it holds the general meaning of “fly out suddenly/quickly.” But, after seeing this sign with a cute cartoon child walking out towards the direction of the street, I realized it’s because of all the small streets and blind corners, that people accidentally walking out and getting hit by traffic would be quite common. (But why do they use 飛び [fly] instead of 跳び [jump, hop]? They both have the same readings but 飛び is exclusively used for fly and I didn’t quite imagine people flying out into the street.)
The people I’ve met so far have all been extremely kind and helpful to me. I made friends with a Japanese college student on the plane next to me, and, although he doesn’t go to the university I’ll be going to, he has friends that are going there and they seem excited to meet me. (He tweeted about me in Japanese and when I laughed he seemed shocked that I could read it, and then he started messaging his friends from Japan like “yo, there’s this foreigner girl next to me on the plane that’s like fluent in Japanese!” [I’m not fluent btw])
The Japanese students the school had greet us and lead us through our orientation programs have also been extremely nice and really good at English. They’re friendly and know how to make us not feel any more overwhelmed than we already are after moving to a new country. They tell us stories about how they studied abroad and how they’re excited for us to start our journey abroad as well and give us tips on where to go and what to buy.
Jet lag is kicking my butt something fierce. After traveling 26 hours and being awake for a little over 30, I fell asleep the first night at around 10 and woke up at 4:30 soon before the sunrise and thought I would be fine and jet lag wouldn’t be that bad, but the next day I took a nap at 2pm after wandering the city for a little bit and woke up at 10pm and was up all night. I probably should’ve set an alarm.
But currently, as I’m writing this, it is 6:50AM. The sun rose about an hour ago and, after sleeping for 7 hours, I couldn’t sleep once the sun blinded me with its light, so I decided to get a head start on writing this blog post (that I’ve been putting off because of jet lag)
I’ve been rocking between waves of really missing home and being really excited to be here. I don’t think I ever really don’t miss home, I just know that I have a lot of good opportunities here and I know that I’ll be back home in four months so, even if I miss home, this is only temporary.
Japan so far for me has been quite lonely, as I have a hard time making friends and I’m extremely overwhelmed with all that has been thrown at me. But, I feel that after the first week of classes I should feel more comfortable, especially since I’ll be living in my permanent accommodations and have a set schedule and set people that I’ll be seeing in classes and a speaking partner.
I won’t let the homesickness stop me though. I do miss talking to my friends and family, and, with the 13 hour time difference, it is quite difficult to be able to talk to them. But, I know that I will see them again and the opportunities I will receive in Japan will be very much worth the discomfort I’m feeling now. I’ll be able to speak Japanese better, make friends with Japanese people, explore the country, go to concerts for my favorite singers, and experience a different way of life than that of back home.
My place in Japan
Being a Foreigner
As a foreigner, it is expected that I stand out a lot and that I might not know all the customs. Before coming here, I knew that I would be standing out a lot and I knew I would be uncomfortable with it as I am a person who doesn’t like to stick out too much. The first day here was the hardest on me, as I went for a walk by myself around the city for the first time. I was nervous that I was walking on the wrong side of the road or that what I was wearing would cause too much attention or that simply the fact of me being a foreigner would cause people to stare. But, to my surprise, not many people did stare or look at me and I’m feeling more comfortable walking around each day.
I know a fair amount of the culture and its customs as I’ve been studying it for the past couple years, but the little things like “how do I pay for stuff at the cashier” confuse me. Like, do I hand the money directly to the cashier or put them on the counter? Probably put it in the little tray they have, but maybe that’s for something else? I guess I’ll just figure out the little things as I go.
I’ve been studying Japanese for the past two and a half years and spent the last year seriously studying kanji so that I’d be able to get around Japan and communicate with the Japanese people. Walking around I’m recognizing and am able to read almost all of the kanji and I can understand announcements and bits of conversations of those around me. However, the one thing I haven’t been able to practice very well over the past few years is holding a conversation. I can talk to myself and make weird sounds to myself to figure out why you can get shi instead of si out of an s and i sound put together, but no matter how much I talk to myself, I am not responding to what I am hearing.
The first day my Japanese consisted of Japanese good mornings and hellos, and, since all the people helping everyone moved in spoke in English, I found it difficult to butt in saying something in Japanese, especially since I was unsure of the vocabulary I needed to use for that situation. Even for the things I know how to say any other time, I froze when a question was asked and answered in English, having forgotten all my Japanese.
The second day I had to take a Japanese placement exam to see what level Japanese class I would be taking the upcoming semester. I took the test and thought it went pretty well. After I had finished the grammar section, a notice showed up on my screen that I had to schedule an interview with a Japanese professor to verify my level of Japanese. I scheduled my interview and the professor gave me a sheet verifying the time we would meet. After he left, I read the paper and it said I had passed an advanced level of Japanese and I almost cried. Both happy that I’ve come this far after studying on my own this summer (my last Japanese class left off at early-intermediate level) and also terrified that I would be having an interview in Japanese at an advanced level because my speaking is terrible.
But I did great at the interview, I understood what he said and I was able to reply quickly and accurately and he said as well that I was responding fluently and again, I almost cried, but I quickly denied it and said I was still learning. He said my level is good enough to go into the 7th class, the second most advanced class, where we would be participating in debates and actively watching dramas in class. It’s a bit scary to think I’ll be doing debates in Japanese, especially since I’m not very good at debates in English, but I think it’ll definitely be good for my level.
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Overall, everything has been a bit overwhelming and I’ve been quite homesick unable to talk to my friends and family. But at the same time, I need to remember that this is not for forever and that this is the best learning experience I can get to understanding the Japanese culture and language. I’m nervous for what the semester brings, but I’m also excited to experience it and broaden my world horizons.