It’s been well over 6 months since I moved to Japan, and I’ve been meaning to start blogging about my experiences since I got here. But I mean to do a lot of things. So here we are in February of a new year on a random cloudy winter evening. I was going through some pictures and lamenting the lack of an appropriate (or at least desirable) medium to post them all. And I decided it was time to finally start my blog. I have a lot of catching up to do. And a lot of figuring out this whole blogging thing, so bear with me.
Who am I even talking to?
Well whoever you are, here we go.
I arrived at the very end of June 2016. It was summer, it was hot and humid, I didn’t have a car, and I had to walk around a lot. And it was hot.
I believe I took this photo the day I arrived in Japan after checking in to the Kanto Lodge on base. Yep, a Snapchat filtered selfie.
I remember feeling very proud of myself after successfully purchasing my Suica card, which is your ticket to the exciting world of Japanese public transportation. That feeling lasted about 5 minutes, after which I was duped into buying Japanese water from the vending machine which turned out to be not water (it was a sports drink).
The Friday of the week I arrived, my co-worker (and now friend) J, took me out to dinner (for the first and last time) and introduced me to his friend R. Unlike J, R enjoys being social and going out and exploring, so we decided to go out to Shinjuku the next day. My first adventure in to Tokyo!
Well…it started out a little rough. By rough, I mean we couldn’t even figure out how to get out of the damn station. Shinjuku station has over 200 exits, so you would think finding one wouldn’t be an issue. But somehow it was. We decided to make the best of the situation and found the basement floor of the shopping center connected to the station where there were restaurants and many, many counters displaying the most amazing looking desserts. We each bought a slice of cake and then proceeded to a restaurant to get some real food in our stomachs first…
…and ended up getting french toast with ice cream on top. Oops. It was amazing though.
We finally found our way out of the station and into the busy streets of Shinjuku. Even though Tokyo is a busy, crowded city, the streets are relatively quiet. No car horns honking, people aren’t talking too loudly, no music blaring out of the stores.
R took me to a couple touristy attractions she knew of like the Godzilla on top of Hotel Gracery. Once in awhile, it lights up, roars, and lets out puffs of smoke. Just exhilarating. But mostly we just wandered around taking in the sights and (relatively quiet) sounds of Tokyo and sweating profusely.
We didn’t have a plan or specific destination in mind until I finally decided to Google our location and found out that we were near something called Golden Gai, which turned out not to be a golden guy, but an area of about four or five little alleyways off the main street filled with the tiniest bars you’ve ever seen.
Seriously, some of these bars only fit five or six people. We were disappointed to find that many of the bars charged cover. Some just require a one drink minimum, but even a beer cost 700 yen. We were also there pretty early, around 5:30 or 6pm, so many places were not open yet. Luckily, we found a bar that happened to be open, did not charge cover until later, and had a bartender who spoke English! Yay us! The bartender served us our drinks and some little Japanese bar snacks (including okra…gross).
All the bars in Golden Gai seemed to use these fancy looking blocks of ice. The bartender would chip off some pieces to put in your drink. It was way too much manual labor. I really wouldn’t have minded pre-cut ice, but I appreciated the effort.
We ended up visiting several different bars in Golden Gai that night, and each one was unique, some with themes such as the Rock & Roll Bar. It was an interesting experience, but it would be pricey to bar hop here, even if you avoided the bars that charge cover.
Co-worker J invited me to a 4th of July BBQ with some work people. At this point, I had not started work yet so I knew no one except J and R. But I went. It was hot, and I ate a lot of food and met a lot of people whose names I promptly forgot as soon as they told me. And it was hot.
The main attraction of the BBQ was a gigantic pig that a couple folks had been preparing since around 3am. Ridiculous. I mean I didn’t know these people at the time so obviously I would not have gotten up that early to prepare a pig for them. But now I DO know these people…and I still would not get up at 3am for them.
There was so much food, and of course I had some of everything. Plus all the dessert.
The most significant part of this day: my first time trying a chuhai. And I’ve never looked back.
Let’s see, what else was I up to during this time? I was looking for a car, looking for an apartment, doing all that settling in stuff. Oh, and I had started Tinder-ing in Japan. Ha. Let’s just say, some people really cannot take being turned down gracefully. Anyway, I gave up on that real quick.
I expected moving to Japan to be quite easy. And I’m sure I had a much easier time of it than, say, someone who has never been outside of Kansas. But it wasn’t as easy as I had thought it would be. The language barrier is definitely an issue, but I look like one of them so they assume it’s not an issue which only adds to the confusion. So a store clerk or a waiter will start speaking to me in Japanese and I’ll say, “I don’t speak Japanese.”
And he’ll look at me genuinely confused thinking, “Why is this Japanese girl speaking to me in a foreign tongue?” and he’ll just repeat what he said to me.
So I smile and nod like I understand what he’s saying, but he didn’t even ask a question so now he’s confused about why I’m nodding. I’m confused and he’s confused. We’re all confused. This would never happen if I were white. But then I would probably be complaining about how everyone just assumes I don’t speak Japanese. There’s always something to complain about.
Anyway, I resolved to study and learn Japanese while I’m here in order to fully appreciate my time in Japan. I have yet to start.