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Nihon de: The adventures of Maggie » Settling In

“Sure you don’t want it?” “Positive.”

Posted by maggie on Jun 6, 2012 in In Japan

Today at the Tamachi station women’s restroom, I had a funny moment. I was waiting in line behind this woman, and one of the stall doors finally opened. She looked like she was going to go for it, but we both realized quickly that it was a squat pot. She looked back at me, smiled and gestured me to go ahead. I just shrugged, and we both started laughing as she turned back.

There were no words between us, but it was clear that neither of us wanted that stall. That is one thing I can be positively sure about.

In case my blogs haven’t been displaying it clearly, positivity is not really my strong point. I like to think of myself as a realist, but I suppose pessimist can also apply at times. As human beings, I think we like to focus on negative things because in the scope of time, even just a day, something bad that happened in an otherwise good day can stick out more clearly than a good thing during a good day. And a craptacular day overall is awful; sometimes it’s hard to find something good to take away from a day like that, right?

I mentioned before that I don’t see too much negativity in Japanese media. The news in America loves playing up big stories of negativity. “This could be potentially fatal.” “Local man shoots three teenagers.” “The hottest celebrity couple breaking up.”

That’s not to say everyone is this way. I can just see a basis for why the focus on negative things is encouraged. Even in movies, it’s satisfying to watch a character who has been stepped on during the whole film rise up and get revenge. Releasing negativity, getting over it is cathartic, useful and helpful in our daily lives. Whether your a pessimist, optimist, realist, whatever, you feel down sometimes and getting over it feels good.

It’s when there is too much of a negative focus that things can be bad, even unhealthy. This trip is providing so many opportunities for self reflection, but it can lead to stress and overload sometimes, and as a realist/occasional pessimist, this can get to me. Today was just one of those days.

I have always known I was bad at reading signals from others; not because I can’t read people at all, but because I have conditioned myself to read signals when there are none. I’m a very sensitive person who sometimes doesn’t take teasing well; it comes from some bad friendships I had when I was younger, which have put me on edge, even all this time later. I like to feel like I’ve made steps and gotten better, but sometimes when there is a down day….well, it’s like I’m back to square one all over again.

Sometimes I have trouble telling when people are joking, especially if the joke makes me feel stupid or otherwise down about myself. Sometimes that turns to resentment and anger, and I act on it at inopportune times. Then I feel stupid and upset, angry at myself and others at the same time, but I stumble trying to find the correct emotion and response, in a sea of endless possibilities.

By why do I say all this? Because this trip is a learning experience, applicable to so much in my life. By talking to others, both Japanese and not, I’m making discoveries, and trying to develop ways to adjust and get better. I want to be a better person by the time this trip concludes, and I want to hurry up and get with it, seeing as I only have about 3 weeks left.

I found some comfort in talking to people, particularly on this trip. There is so much support coming from my friends and family, but sometimes in this new place, I can and will feel very alone. It is nice to have people over here that understand and care, and I can go talk to if I have things to get off my chest.

I need to be a better communicator is what it comes down to. The reason I joined the major at JMU was not because I was an excellent example and could breeze through the classes; I’m not the greatest at giving speeches, and often times, when talking to people, I resort to gesturing (and making sound effects at the worst of times) when I can’t find a good way to express myself.

I chose it specifically because I like following how people communicate with each other, how they express feelings and wants and emotions in their own ways. Looking at my own experiences, sometimes I cannot understand why people act the way they do, but I want to learn. I want to better develop my skills, to be happy and healthy and be helpful to others, but at the same time know my limits.

I still have quite a ways to go, sad to say. But it’s not completely sad to say, because I’m still trying. I’ll still keep going for it because it’s a worthwhile goal that will be helpful as heck later on. That’s some positivity, right?

I can’t completely change the person that I am, but I can mold and shape that person into being closer to what I want to be. I’m going to practice thinking about things positively, because a conscious effort is the only way I can make a habit out of it. It’s the same with working out, eating right, sleeping well, studying, etc. Being conscious and diligent. Don’t beat myself up, but still hold myself accountable.

Sorry if this mostly seems like pep talking and what now, but I feel like this will help me, and make the conviction feel more solid.

Tomorrow is Studio Ghibli Museum, and after that, who knows. I’m excited to see exhibits for some of my favorite movies of all time. Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and the other directors and producers at Studio Ghibli really do feel like the “Disney” of Japan, but for an added bonus, they still use 2D animation. I wonder what we’ll see there…

On Friday, we’re doing Karaoke too! Actual Japanese “ka-ra-oh-keh!” :) That should be fun. I know the machines probably won’t do romaji lyrics, so I’ll really have to work on reading hiragana fast. If all else fails, shoot for anime themes and J-pop I know.

Last week of class feels weird. I can’t imagine what my internship will be like, but that’s still some time off.


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Posted by maggie on May 21, 2012 in In Japan

I understand that family and togetherness is very important. It’s important in my family back home. But every once in a while, for me, it’s nice to go off and do my own thing without a) always having to tell someone, and b) coming across as rude.

I’m not trying to be rude, honestly; that’s the last thing I want. But I’m used to being in college, in charge of my own time. Sometime I like just chilling by myself for a little while, I’m more of an introvert really. I need some time everyday to be by myself, or else I get overloaded and that makes me not fun to be around.

Every once in a while, I like making myself breakfast, and enjoy eating it in silence. It gives me some time to think about the day and just relax into my routine.

That doesn’t work here.

I know, because Sueko-san constantly talks to me at breakfast, and sometimes I don’t catch much because I’m only half inclined to listen. I’m grateful that she’s making me breakfast, so grateful that I spam “thank you’s” as much as I can. But every now and then, I’d like to just sit and enjoy breakfast and not have to talk around a full mouth. And I’s also love to be able to say, “I will let you know if I want something.” She literally does this every morning: empties out her refrigerator and offers me everything she can find. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s very hard to adjust to.

My friends would tell you that one of my biggest pet peeves is people constantly asking if I’m okay. They know, of course, because they do it all the time. You guys know who you are :) My philosophy is, I’ll tell you if I’m not okay. Just assume for the most part that I’m okay. Just because I go silent for a little while does not mean I’m angry or upset necessarily. Sometimes even I can shut my big mouth and just think about stuff :)

Here, in Sueko-san’s house, I am constantly being asked if I’m okay, if I need things, and all the while she’s trying to stuff me with as much food as she can. Even though I asked if she could let up, I said it nicely by saying I want to go on a diet because I feel too big, she insists on shoving more and more food at me. It’s off-putting after a while.

I also don’t like having to plan out my day from start to finish all the time. Sometimes I like to relax, or be spontaneous. Unless I’m going to school, which is fairly easy to explain, and the only added details may be that I’ll be back around 6 or so, Sueko-san asks what I’m going to do every day. And I’m not sure how to say “I have no plans,” as of yet.

Seriously, I love this woman to death. She’s so kind and helpful, and I want to make her happy and give her things too, but it wears on my nerves a little bit. I don’t retreat to the bath or my room to get away from the language barrier anymore, I can deal with that. Sometimes I retreat because I’m just not in the mood to be so talkative. As much as it would shock my parents, I actually like silence every now and again :) I like chilling when I don’t feel like talking. Sometimes when I truly have nothing to say, I don’t try to fill the void. I actually do shut up. :)

The social nuances in Japan are sometimes full of mental gymnastics. I want to be able to express that I don’t mean to be rude, it’s just the way I am and sometimes I need that peaceful time. Or I wish I could find a nice, polite way to say, “Is it alright if we just eat in silence?”

If I came here in middle school, like I had originally wanted to back then, I would have come here with a sugar-coated, anime-induced vision of what Japan should be like. Maybe I could have gotten used to the constant togetherness of family; I wasn’t yet living a few hours away in college, after all. But now, as I stay here, I’m finding that I love Japan for so much. I just wouldn’t live here.

As much as I love this country and its many wonderful sights, sounds, tastes, etc, I find more and more reason not to live here. It doesn’t mean I’ll never come back. I’d love to, for work or a vacation or something. But as of right now, I know that I could never live here for an over-extended period of time. Or not with a host family maybe.

It’s a wonderful experience and I’m thankful for it. I never would have found this out if I hadn’t tried. But I discover more and more that I enjoy being my own person, and I like some of the ways Americans do things. They aren’t perfect, of course, but now I’m growing to like things about America as well as Japan, more than just because those things are familiar in a strange land.

I’m discovering more about myself this way, mostly through small encounters like the one I mentioned having breakfast with Sueko-san. Most mornings I can chill and go with it, but this morning I just wanted to be in college again, hanging in my room with a box of cereal. But oh well. Life goes on.

Today we were going to go to Kamakura, but it’s pouring outside and apparently the trip won’t be so fun if it’s raining. So we’re just kind of chilling today. Maybe later I’ll go out for a walk or take the train somewhere, if I’m bored. There’s plenty to see. But for right now, I’m chilling, and quite happy doing so. I need some time to be by myself, and then I can spend the whole evening with Sueko-san and Hideki-san, watching goofy t.v. shows together. Actually, that walk sounds pretty good, if the rain lets up. Wouldn’t want to get any bigger, right? :)

I’m not trying to write chapters that are downers or anything, sometimes I just need to express my thoughts. Sometimes negative things stick out more in the mind, but the nice thing about being in a strange foreign country is that the positive things stick out a bit more because their bizarre and note-worthy. :) That’s another thing, though. Did you ever notice how American t.v. and news focus a lot on negative things? Like murders and celebrity break-ups and what not?

Here, the t.v. shows and news seem much lighter, at least as far as I’ve seen. Heck, people jumping in front of trains at the stations is a daily occurrence; I think I heard someone mention 80 something people jump every day, and yet it’s not really focused on at all. Is this the collectivist society at work? Is group cohesion more important than the straight up facts that might depress people? Or, knowing that so many people are unhappy, do they purposely try to make light-hearted television so that people will cheer up?

I don’t know. At first, I thought it was cold that “human incidents” are common and no body I’ve met seems to pay much mind to them, but really, what would American’s do? If people suddenly started jumping in front of cars and trains by the boatload, how would we handle it? Beef up security? Put in more railings?

Maybe the Japanese have an unstated agreement about the whole thing, and I just don’t know it. This is just a lot of speculation on a rainy Tuesday morning, slightly agitated from a not so relaxed breakfast. But I wonder…

Maybe it sounds dumb. I don’t know, personally. I have an overactive imagination. But why do Americans care so much about failures, break-ups, and unpleasant things? What does it say about our society that such things are everywhere, constantly being focused on? If media reflects society in any way, what does our media say about us? What does Japan’s say about Japan?

More food for thought. Anyways, thanks for listening. I’m off to find out how to spend the rest of my morning/afternoon. Jane (bye). :)

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Ups and Downs

Posted by maggie on May 15, 2012 in In Japan

Today on the Yamanote line, Katie pointed out an ad on the wall. It was for skin whitening cream, I think. Or some sort of process like that. I thought that was interesting because in the US, girls usually want the opposite. To get bright orange tans, like giant oompa-loompas.

If you think about it, it’s a culturally relative thing. In the US, it used to be only laborers would get tan, because they worked. It was like a status symbol to be pale for a while; indeed, you can see evidence in England, with that poisonous powder stuff they would put on their faces to look white. Laborers got tans, and wore jeans. Something like that. And then (sorry for the vague details here, I heard this in SCOM 242 before but forgot some of it) someone famous accidentally got a tan by, of course, being in the sun too long. Suddenly, people decided she looked good, and slowly began to seek tans themselves. Now, especially in the burg, there are a multitude of tanning salons, and on a warm enough day, the quad is covered in towels and bikinis, which I’m fairly certain pleases most of the guys.

Through a much more complicated process than I’m making it out to be, the tan became what we as a society chose to have as one of our ideals of desirability. Now, ironically, if you have time to spend lounging on a beach long enough to get a tan, or spend enough time and money at a tanning salon, I guess, you’ve got yourself a high status symbol. You are, at least partially, beautiful and wealthy, says America.

But if you think about it, being pale is probably healthier. The more you spend time in the sun, the more you risk things like skin cancer. True, some sun can be good for your skin, but the amount the average college girl gets is probably going to have serious repercussions later in life. But who cares, right? We’re young and pretty now, right? Who cares, because it’s so far off before we see those problems.

Then again, as we grow older, we might find ourselves feeling bitter and angry, as the world we live in focuses more on the younger, prettier people. Once you pass age 40, your age group appears less frequently in ads and T.V. all of the sudden. What will we do then, when we’re spoiled and raised ego-centric for now?

Food for thought. Feel free to start up a conversation in the comments if you want. I love to ponder things like this.

Anyway, sort of a down day. It was cool and rainy, which is usually fine with me. I think it’s the combined stress of constantly trying to speak/read/understand another language + jet lag + I didn’t sleep very well last night (your day) + the weather a little bit. A lot of stuff contributes to mood. It felt a little long today (no offense meant, Morgan XD). I hate my short attention span I have at times. I got on the train today and I was stressing about something I’d said earlier, and all of the sudden I felt myself tearing up. I felt like an idiot, and I didn’t want to feel like more of one by crying on the train.

This is where I talk about that overanalyzing curse again. I’m very self-critical. I worry about what others think, when they probably have forgotten about it already. I stress about looking or sounding like an idiot to someone else, waaaaaayyyy long after they’ve stopped caring. Not as long as I used to. I’ve gotten better about it in recent years, but it’s a habit rooted so deeply in my personality that it’s hard to break completely, or cleanly. I haven’t been stressing as much about saying or writing things wrong, which is good, and I find kind of surprising. But  honestly, I feel more stressed about hanging with my fellow Americans, and making a dummy of myself in front of them. I think it’s because I’ve accepted that I will screw up in Japanese; it’s not my natural language, and I’m willing to be more forgiving to myself, especially if my Japanese friends are. On a base level, to get all technical here, it’s all about a sense of control. I’ve accepted that those language screw-ups are sort of out of my control. They will happen regardless of anything I try to do to prevent them. At least for now. I just can’t accept when other’s perceptions of me aren’t within my control. I feel like I should be able to control it, by being nice and amiable, but life doesn’t work that way.

I need to relax more and learn to laugh and let go. It’s easier said than done, but I want to work for it. I know it will make me happier. It’ll annoy my friends less, worry them and my family less. It’ll give me more confidence. I know everyone’s got there issues. No body is perfect. But I think recognizing your strengths and weaknesses and working to improve the latter while playing to the former can separate the people who flop from those who go far in life.

So yeah. A bit of a bummer, but hey. It reminded me of the person I don’t want to be, and I had some time to reflect on it with a good, hot bath. Can you tell I like those? XD

Sueko-san’s son-in-law came from New York. Hideki’s English is very good, which was nice because at dinner tonight I got a bit of a break and could communicate things more naturally. I still used some Japanese, of course, for my own and Sueko-san’s benefit, but it was mostly speaking English. He helped me communicate some things to Sueko-san that I couldn’t before, and helped me when I didn’t understand her very much. But I don’t feel less motivated. I’m actually happy to have another partner to practice Japanese with, although he speaks faster and is closer to my age. I’m sensing a theme here. I’m most shy and awkward around people of my age group or close to it. I’ve never quite understood why. Part of mastering Japanese is overcoming the fear to speak it and potentially get laughed at. Or smiled at, as the case often is. Tis the polite thing to do. XD

It’s nice having the option of a sort of translator sometimes, but I can’t have that be an excuse. I have to put myself out there and try (and fail) until I get better. That’s why I’m here, and in particular why Morgan put me here.

Other than that, haven’t gotten too many stares so far. I think there might be an unspoken rule of no eating on the trains. I never see other people doing it. Katie and I did it once. We were careful not to spill, but I still think we weren’t supposed to. The Japanese are very forgiving of “gaijin,” but I try to follow the rules as best I can, so as to not be ignorant and obnoxious. That is where my self-analyzing and awareness come in handy, but I can’t remember everything not to do all the time. Oh well. I try. I still think it was funny; I think it was Josh who got onto one of the “pervert-free” all women trains and no one said anything. I think they should enforce that rule even with foreigners; they can be perverts too, you know. XD

XD is the silly sideways smiley face. I’m fond of that when typing for some reason. It’s like laughing and smiling wide at the same time. Ha. Coming from a low context culture, where everything needs to be laid out and specified, it sort of makes sense that I’m constantly clarifying my moods. It’s harder to tell with text, because some 97-ish% of communication, as a whole, is nonverbal. Body language, appearance, haptics, kinesics, etc. It gives context and emphasis, so without it, for all anyone knows, I could be typing this all intending to be completely sarcastic. I do that because I used to chat with a friend on gmail and practically every time we chatted, I thought at one point or another that she was mad at me. No, I don’t stress that much. Plus, it was just the way she was.

This morning on the train was a human soup. On the Seibu-Shinjuku, I didn’t even need to hold on to anything. The other passengers were my seatbelt. I’ve stopped listening to all the stops on the Yamanote, the second train I have to take, though I like to look at the map occasionally when it pops up. I memorize that my stop going to school is “Tamachi,” and listen for “Shinagawa” because it’s the stop right before mine. On the way home I listen for “Shin-Ookubo,” I think it is. My stop is the one after that, “Takadanobaba.” Say that five times fast.

I’m rambling now. I literally just write what’s on my mind, but I find it’s good for blogs. It’s like a diary, but everyone can read it. Gasp! I ate codfish eggs tonight, knowing full well what they were before hand. Surprisingly, they tasted okay, and I don’t feel weirded out like that time my uncle gave me a friend chicken heart. I swear I kept thinking about that thing beating in my stomach the whole rest of the night.


I’m still refusing to go near the squat pots, a.k.a hole-in-the-ground toilets. I’ve seen plenty of them, but I’m sorry. No. I don’t need to try EVERYTHING in Japan. XD

Was that TMI at all? I can never tell. I have a bad gauge for stuff I should keep to myself sometimes, but only really when it comes to my info. Again, just letting the brain flow out right now. It’s cathartic. Also, I just want to say thanks to Katie for making me feel better earlier.

Nothing much else to say. I miss home a little bit, but that’s natural. I miss driving around with my dad and brother, when we go hoping we’ll see some deer. I miss American T.V. and commercials, although Japanese ones are very entertaining. I miss just chilling with my mom watching T.V., or my boyfriend repeatedly thrashing me at Call of Duty. Simple things like that that just remind you of home and familiar things. Being in another country, especially one so far away, really does make you appreciate your life, and maybe understand it a little better. There are plenty of things I don’t like about America, or as my friends sometimes jokingly dub it “Amuurika,” (note: that’s note Japanese-ish, it’s more of an dumb, ignorant American slur, if you have any idea what I’m talking about) but I remember a lot of reasons why I love living there, even with all of the crap I might have to put up with. Japan or America. Neither one is better than the other, just different. They have different ways of seeing life and people and culture and go about it in their own ways. But I’d be less inclined to live here because I’m a woman, and culture dictates certain things women can and can’t do. I think they try to make up for the inequality with all the cutesy stuff, anime and all that. How else would you make sense of a highly masculine, collectivist culture with so much girly, cutesy stuff? XD

But yeah. A lot to think about. I think I’ll stop for now before I jump around anymore. Sleep time is now. Got to be up bright and early for the Tsukiji fish market tomorrow. Jane! (bye for now!)


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Exploring and Bananas

Posted by maggie on May 14, 2012 in In Japan

Okay, so… I was smacked by an old man holding a banana. Sounds pretty strange, right?

The day (Sunday) started out with breakfast and a nice ride to the University. Sueko-san was nice enough to ride with me and show me the way, but for the life of me I couldn’t make out more than 4 words per any given sentence. Then I met up with the others and did a short tour around the campus. It’s not as big as JMU, thankfully, but there are plenty of stairs anyway. Not bad enough to put the ones by Godwin to shame, but still decently tiring. I like to think I’m building more muscle though.

After we split up near noon, the girls formed a group and went to Tokyo tower, pausing for many tourist moments here and there. I got to try melon bread for the first time, and it’s good. Also, Orangina seems like a bigger deal in this country, which makes me happy. You can only really find it at Trader Joe’s and Potbelly’s at home. We took pictures of the park we came across and a small shrine near it. Then we hit the tower.

We didn’t go all the way up to the top, that would cost us. But of course shopping was a priority. XD We did go up high enough to get some good shots, and to see the kiddie amusement park on the roof. I might go back at some point to go up further if I have time, but for now, we shopped around on the lower floors. It was packed with shops. I got a cute key chain and a magnet. Hats cost the equivalent of 15 bucks or so in US dollars; I wanted one, but I would never pay that much for a hat. And it kind of sucks because Japanese clothes are no where near my size, so I couldn’t buy a t-shirt. But hey, I saved a little money then, didn’t I?

Back to the banana. One area had a bunch of little shops all crammed into one area. We discovered this because Katie picked up something and the shop keeper stalked her around until finally explaining that the shops were separate. I was off looking at something else at the time, but it was kind of funny. Funny in that “you messed up and laugh it off but feel a little bad about it” sort of way. It didn’t happen to me, but I can sympathize. I’m having plenty of those moments just living with my host mom.

I noticed one little shop had these weird banana things. They were clearly fake and really squishy, like those stress balls people squeeze to feel better. I point it out to one of the others and suddenly this little old guy comes up. He’s speaking some English, obviously trying to sell us the thing, and then he just up and whacks me on the arm with it! He’s talking about how yielding and squishy it is and it can help with stress and all the while he’s hitting Cindy and me both on our heads and arms with a fake banana.

…..Not the most exciting, is it? Oh well. It made for a good hook. XD

On the way home, I got lost and ended up at the station one stop away from where I was supposed to be. I walked in circles for 30 something minutes before I finally called Morgan and found out how to get home. Sueko-san was waiting for me at the station, patient as ever. This morning (Monday) she even laughed at me and asked if I could find the station alright this morning.

Our communication is improving, I can tell. Just at dinner a few minutes ago, we were talking almost like there wasn’t a communication gap. She asked what was okay for dinner, I answered. I asked if it was alright to turn on the T.V., and she said, “yes, go ahead.” I put on this campy show I didn’t even know what was happening on it; sometimes it was like it was paralleling star wars and random american stuff, and other times it was silly people smacking each other with mallets and talking about super heroes in sexy outfits….Don’t ask.

I told her bits and pieces about my friends and family, and she asked what sort of things my mom makes for dinner and so on. We ate and watched T.V. and laughed and I felt understood for the most part. I hope she did too. She’s opened her home to me and been so nice and helpful; I can only hope she understands what I’m trying to say most of the time. I spam thank you’s a lot, but try to branch out and find other ways to express it. XD

I offered, very badly, to help with cleaning up, and I think it went alright. If I messed up once or twice, she laughed or smiled when she helped me out. It’s kind of fun, actually, though constantly trying to think and speak in another language is very tiring at times. I used to think it was the jet lag that made me tired at 7 p.m. the past few nights, but I think a part of it is psychological. It’s partially trying to bridge that gap in understanding.

This was the best night so far. I’m feeling a little homesick, but it’s been nice to still see and hear my family on skype from time to time. Sometimes the country makes me feel lonely and confused, and sometimes, ironically, it’s the other Americans with me on my trip that make me miss home and comfort the most. They’re all pretty nice, but I miss my friends who understand the sort of weird person I am. I feel like I’m trying to both adjust to a new country and make new friends at the same time (not meaning friends I may make in Japan through interacting with new  people) and it’s very hard. But I want to have fun and learn and I think the less I worry about it, the more naturally it will begin to flow.

Speaking of flow…water…bath…it’s a stretch, but okay! I can’t avoid talking about it. The bathtub here is AWESOME. I tried it tonight, and it is heaven! I love being able to fill it up to my chin. I love being able to fit some comfortably and be fully immersed; it could only be better if the tub was long enough to fit a 5 foot 8 inch person comfortably lying down, because then you could really just lie back and relax and it would be wonderful. It is awesome to just lounge for a while in that huge thing. I don’t care if I’m ever rich or anything, but I want that tub no matter what. Even if I have to have one imported, it is sooooooo worth it. :)

Other than that, not much else to say. Sometime I miss being able to read the signs and commercials; strangely, that’s one of the big things I miss about home. The stupid jingles and commercials; Japan has them too, but even if they were subbed in English, the cultural gap is wide enough that the jokes and nuances would probably be lost on me. Even with all the anime I watched. Speaking of which, I think I want to study a little and see if I can load a subless anime on my computer. The internet is slow where I am but I can get a video completely up in maybe 25 minutes and I can practice by picking an episode I haven’t seen and watching with the subs off to see how much I can pick up on my own. I’m sort of rambling now, but as anyone who knows me can probably tell you, my mind just works that way. It’s random, and sometimes there’s no traceable train of thought from one thing to another. But hey. Short attention span for you. Oh look, a house fly!

Nah, just kidding. :) But now I’m going to study, maybe watch some anime stuff, skype if anyone’s on, then go to bed. I’ll see what happens tomorrow. Thanks for reading :)



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Stumble to the Starting Line

Posted by maggie on May 12, 2012 in In Japan

I’ve decided that 13 hour flights stink. Pretty much anytime you have to fly for longer than maybe 2 hours stinks. The novelty of flying wears off quickly, and it’s hard for someone like me, who is so used to multitasking and getting stuff done (listen to music + play a game or read with a movie on or some combo like that) to only do things one at a time. For 13 hours. I could have killed 3/4 of the flight by watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy but I got bored after the first hour or so and had to switch to something else. The only thing I could watch all the way through were T.V. shows. The nice thing, though, is there was a wide selection of things to choose from. I never had to break out my laptop and rarely my iPod. The seat I was in was very nice and had lots of leg room, and the man next to me was very pleasant. He wasn’t Japanese like a good number of the other passengers, but he was social and informative when we were both good for it, but it didn’t feel awkward to turn away and start reading or something at some point. It was a nice balance for me, and he told me about how he lived in Japan and worked for the government, which was cool. To summarize, the flight itself was a drain on my energy and patience, but it wasn’t all bad. It was the price I paid for this trip, and it was well worth it. Thanks to my mom for procuring the nice seat :)

Now I’m here. The hotel had no Wifi, so I couldn’t update earlier to talk about the flight. I thought I’d get that out of the way right now. A good portion of the day was spent riding around on trains, getting a feel for them as well as getting where we needed to go. I’d been told that there would be no English, but there was some. Plenty of romaji, which is the romanization of Japanese words, which is easily readable for any English speaker who can read.

We had a nice big partially Japanese breakfast at the hotel, then went from Narita airport to Shinagawa, which I think is part of the Roppongi district, if the subway map I’m using is right. We broke into groups and went looking around the station for an hour or so before dinner with our host families. There was a lot of shopping and food places there. Katie, Cindy, and I had chocolate croquettes I think? Whatever they were, they were delicious; really melty on the inside and flaky on the outside. We also wandered in and out of convenience stores. I found Orangina, which made me very happy. :)

Around 3 I met Sueko Oyaizu, my host mom. She speaks little to no English, and I speak basic sentences of Japanese. I thought at first this was a disaster waiting to happen, but we communicate alright. It’s stilted and slow and very simplistic, at least on my end, but she’s very patient and pleasant and has gone out of her way to make me feel welcome. She gave me stationary, an envelope, and stamps and let me write a letter home tonight; she helped me address it while we were watching T.V. This communication reminds me of my brother somehow. I often wonder how he views the world, as an autistic kid. He can speak very basically, expressing simple wants, and becomes easily frustrated when not understood. That is just observing from the outside, but it offers me a weird sense of understanding and appreciation. In his own way, his thoughts must be coherent and understandable to him. I feel stupid in the presence of others who speak so much better than I do, and when I can speak basically and communicate correctly I feel like a child in elementary school again. It feels weird, sure, but it’s not all bad. I understand how my roommate must have felt my freshmen year, coming to the U.S. with some English but not as proficient. It’s very humbling to be on the other end.

Sueko-san gives me motivation. I like her. I want to be able to speak to her and understand her. I want her to be proud of me like she is of Haley, her last homestay student. I want to give her something back that isn’t necessarily tangible, like the gift of Virginia peanuts I brought. :) I want to improve my Japanese much more before I leave, and I have a feeling she can help me do it. I’m feeling a little of that culture shock, but it’s no where near as bad as I thought it would be.

A little extra detail: I like the big bath tub with no overflow drain. :) It’s funny that the toilet is in a different room, but I guess I understand why it’s considered dirty to put them together. I figured out the toilet just fine; I just ignore the buttons unless I have to. I may have some trouble figuring out the shower, but that will come with time I think. I hope :). I like that the northeast part of Tokyo that I’m staying in seems smaller and a little less crowded, at least still you get to the train station.

It’s quiet here. Maybe a little because it is night, but I get the sense this is a calm neighborhood. The nearest convenience store is literally a block and a half up the road. My room is small but homey and comfortable. I hope it all goes well.

Tomorrow we practice getting to the University and meeting people there. I tell you more as it comes up. :)


BTW, these weren’t pictures I took. I’m slow to do that just yet because A) I feel like a stupid tourist, and B) I’m just getting settled. I’ll pull out the camera more when I have more energy. See you soon

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