My first few weeks in Japan have been a blur of errands and meetings and orientations for nearly anything and everything you could have imagined. I have managed to fully furnish my apartment entirely out of the Hyaku Yen shop (A store that sells $1 miscellaneous products), figure out Japan’s public transportation, and register for classes. Finally starting to establish a sense of normalcy, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on what’s been happening since I left America.
When I first arrived in Japan, I was met by a representative that took a batch of exchange students from the airport to their respective dorm. I was surprised to see that I was the only American amongst the students, and most came from different parts of Asia or Europe. Due to the language barrier, I was immediately put to the test of utilizing all my knowledge in Japanese to be able to communicate with my fellow dorm mates. Severely jetlagged and fueled on airport coffee and animal crackers, it was both exciting and completely terrifying.
I soon learned that most of the students that I originally met with were from China or Taiwan, and their Japanese was much more advanced than mine. While communication was a bit patchy, they were all very kind and seemed to be just as nervous and eager for an experience abroad as I was. I like to think that coming off the plane with my ukulele case in hand gave me the quirky edge of being from Hawaii- which also served as a good conversation piece when conversation got difficult. All in all, I think my introduction attempts went as smoothly as I could hope for.
My dormitory is located in Ikebukuro, a busy and bustling subsector of the giant metropolitan that is Tokyo. Ornate with a variety of restaurants and nightlife activity, and just a short walk to the station, the Ikebukuro dormitories quickly earned the title of “desirable location” in my book.
My first night in Tokyo, I found myself walking in the surrounding neighborhood of my dormitory. Out of all the lights and signs competing for my attention, what captivated me the most was seeing these traditional Japanese lanterns that hung humbly outside of the convenience shop around the corner from where I live. While Ikebukuro is one of the more urban areas in Tokyo, these street lanterns were a small but powerful reminder of the culturally rich country, which I had entered. They were subtle, warm, and beautiful. And to me they said, “Welcome to Japan.”