“Sleeping is giving in, no matter what the time is. Sleeping is giving in, so lift those heavy eyelids.” –Arcade Fire, ‘Rebellion (Lies)’
This morning I woke up in Japan. What’s even harder to believe is that before last night, I hadn’t slept for about 50 hours. I’m probably too tired to be writing this right now, but I wanted to get my feelings down before I got wrapped up in other things, and I thought that everyone deserved an update.
I was as giddy as a kid on Christmas looking out over the lights of Tokyo for the first time through my small plane window. Whether the goal of pressing my face to the pane was an attempt to gain what little sleep I could or to see the city itself, I couldn’t tell you. But as I looked down at the lights that bled into Tokyo Bay, my entire trip seemed so surreal. It still does. In a way, I feel like I’ve talked about it for so long that I’m not sure it’s really happening.
I love the efficiency of the Japanese. On my many American flights I’ve had a particular experience more than once: “Folks, please bear with us for a few moments while we wait for an open gate.” Of course these ‘moments’ can turn into hours (hello, Dallas/Fortworth!). When I saw that the gates were full as we pulled up to Haneda Airport, my heart sank. “Please be patient as we pull up to an open gate,” the stewardess announced. Oh great, I thought, American Airlines all over again. But not Japan! What did they do? The Boeing 777 stopped in the middle of the lot, pulled up to a portable gate, and over the loudspeakers I heard, “The busses will take you to your location. Have a nice day.” Yes.
Crowding off the plane in the most orderly fashion possible (and yes, in Japan it is possible to ‘crowd orderly’), five massive transport busses were already lined up, ready to go. Within thirty seconds I was off the plane and riding toward the international terminal on a shuttle, trying not to think too much about how strange it felt being the only white person on the bus. Attempting futilely not to look like a creeper while smiling at this scene, I pushed my way out of the doors and made my way up the packed escalators to customs and to the eight-hour layover that awaited me.
After a long night in the international terminal lobby, I caught my 6:20 flight to Kansai, still having not slept at all. Adrenaline has kept me going, but I’m starting to wonder when I’m going to crash. I landed in Kansai International Airport just an hour later, where I met a school representative and several other exchange students from around the world (Singapore, Vietnam, Germany).
An hour-long bus ride later, we arrived at Takarazuka Station to meet our host families. Well, “meet” was definitely not the right word at the time. It was more like being auctioned off, with all of us standing there in a line, waiting for our fates to be announced. Definitely the most anxiety-filled moment so far. The woman with the clipboard called my name and I hesitantly walked up to her. She introduced me to Yuya, my host brother, we proceeded with the traditional Japanese introduction. He guided me to a curb where my host mom was waiting in her car, and helped me load my things. I had an awkward introduction to Kayoko, my host mom, as she was driving, but somewhere along the trip we all said together, “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu” (roughly: please treat me kindly and do not forget me), which relieved a certain amount of tension.
On the way home we stopped by Nishinomiya Gardens, which I found out is the largest shopping center in Kansai. My host mom wanted me to buy shampoo and conditioner because, as she told me, she didn’t like the other exchange students using hers. I wish I knew how to tell her that I had already been planning on it!
After we got home and I was briefly lectured about how I took my shoes off the wrong way, I met Akihiro, Kayoko’s youngest son. I was shown around the house and to my room, which has traditional tatami mats and a simple bed and desk. Only the room upstairs has heating and air conditioning, so they usually close it off to save energy and everyone sits in the living room or at the table (where I happen to be sitting right now). Even though they have laid down a lot of rules (understandably), the whole family seems very laid back, and I have a feeling I’ll get along well with everyone. Well, at least once I can say some coherent sentences.
I could go on, but there is simply too much to share. Tomorrow I go to school to begin orientation, which will probably call for another update. Wait, school? Oh yeah, that’s why I’m here.