I don’t know where to begin.
Japan … oh Japan.
I’m not going to lie, I was so scared coming to Japan by myself. I mean, I wasn’t (and still am not, unfortunately) conversational in Japanese, I’m probably going to offend people, I’m going to get lost, I’m going to be lonely… I had so many of these thoughts on my mind. The first culture shock I had wasn’t even in Japan – it was right before boarding my Hawaiian Airlines flight and realizing that everyone else was Japanese except for me.
More culture shock was in store for me when I actually arrived on Japanese soil, of course.
In sum, these were my initial reactions:
- Oh my god, everything is so clean and modern and efficient
- There are so many people!!
- I stick out SO much
- The food. Yes.
- Public transportation system = another big yes
Somehow, though, I got used to all of these things fairly quickly within the first month of being here. My social anxiety of being the only white person in a crowd of Japanese people disappeared and I figured out how to use the train and metro. I don’t really cook here though… 7-11 bentos, my school’s cafeteria, and the gyudon place in my neighborhood are my primary sources of food.
And although I’m living in Tokyo (Tokyo, actually, is both a prefecture AND a city), I’m living in a really quaint residential section called Nerima. It’s filled with a few vintage clothes shops, a Showa-era themed izakaya that I hold dear to my heart, Western-style dessert shops, cafes, restaurants, a farmer’s market…everything I need is in walking distance. And the atmosphere is so unique... it’s so peaceful somehow and everything feels safe. I just love how it feels like a small town, yet if I want to be in a more city environment, I can get there in 20 minutes or less by train or metro.
Soon after my arrival, I met the other international students who would attend my school, Musashi University. There were people from England, Iceland, Russia, and France, as well as the other students from America. My loneliness faded in no time. The program for international students at Musashi was very very welcoming. I was pleasantly surprised. They arranged activities (such as going to the Edo Tokyo Museum, a calligraphy workshop, etc.) for all of us to do together before school started. (I secretly wish HPU would have something like that for the international students… do we?)
The Japanese students at Musashi are also really lovely – there are actually quite a few who speak very good English! (And I envy them!) I just really wish I could reach out to more Japanese people, so from this point on I’ll study Japanese more diligently instead of indulging in nomihoudai 飲み放題 (all you can drink specials).
Again, though, I have to stress that the language barrier is sometimes really difficult for me to handle. I really want to improve my Japanese, I really want to reach out to the Japanese population more, I want to be able to read the signs!
The main point I want to make here is – although I’m having a good time here and sometimes it feels like I’m on vacation, being an international student is not easy. And because of this experience, I look back on the international friends I’ve made at HPU and start to understand them a little more. What is easy/normal for a citizen of one country might be completely strange for a person from another country. I think that once I return to HPU, I want to be more involved with the international community and help them adjust to life in Hawaii, if that’s possible.