Station to Station
“Can anybody stop this thing, before my head explodes or starts to ring?” –Coldplay, ‘High Speed’
My brain hurts.
Yesterday was the first day of orientation. I left the house at 8:00 with my host mom, and she walked with me to the train station and then to my school. I almost forgot how to introduce myself in English this morning after having not spoken it for 2 days. Weird feeling. So I get to school and take a 4-hour Japanese language placement test that I am positive beyond a doubt that I bombed. Ah well, can’t say I didn’t try. There was an introductory lunch, and then all of the exchange students in the program (about 90) went to meet their “Nihongo Partners,” Kwansei Gakuin University students who have been assigned to guide the exchange students around campus and help them adjust to Japanese life.
My partner is “Riko,” who is a freshman at KGU. She gave me a campus tour, and helped me work the ATM and get my student ID card. Oh, and she doesn’t speak English, which is great, but incredibly challenging. But as she guided me to my host family’s home, we managed to discuss Lady Gaga, Miyazaki films, and Takarazuka Revue. I even ran into one of my old friends who was an exchange student at my university when I was a freshman! With Riko’s help, I managed to buy a six-month commuter pass (wow, this is really happening!). We got a bit turned around on the way home, and Riko asked a man on the street for help (only in Japan, I swear), who guided us halfway to my house and was incredibly friendly! When I finally returned home at 5:30 I was exhausted, and almost fell asleep at the dinner table….
It’s one thing to move to an unfamiliar place and to go to a new school and meet new people, but it’s another thing entirely when you can barely understand their language! I am so overwhelmed with everything right now, but there’s nothing I can do but keep pushing forward. I’m betting things will stabilize once I get a routine down and classes begin. I’m hoping.
Today I commuted to school alone, which was quite the adventure in and of itself. I had to ask the man working at the information booth in the train station which train to take, and after he answered me, I honestly couldn’t believe that we had understood each other! It’s still a strange feeling to know that everyone notices me immediately because I look different, and I don’t think it’s ever something I’ll get used to. When I made it to campus I took an interview test (another epic fail, but I guess I have to start somewhere), and then met with Riko again so she could take me to the town hall to apply for an alien registration card. The receptionist spoke completely in Japanese, but surprisingly, the only misunderstanding we came across was the difference between the city and state in which I was born. We met some other students on the way there, and we all took the train together and even stopped at a コンビニ, or convenience store (which are so not the dumpy minimarts of the US). I felt like I really connected with a lot of people, both Japanese and foreign students. Today was better than yesterday, and I know that tomorrow will be even better than today.
I feel that I’m adapting to the language fairly well for what I’ve been given to work with, and without having yet started classes. When I got home, I even found myself muttering plans for tomorrow to myself in Japanese! Tomorrow is another day of orientation activities (including a seminar on how to buy a cell phone, thank goodness). Classes don’t start until next Tuesday, as Monday is the national “Respect for the Aged” holiday. I love Japan. Unfortunately my university doesn’t cancel classes for the majority of the many Japanese national holidays, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
On other matters, I am now set on attending a Takarazuka Revue show sometime during my stay. Tickets are expensive, but hey, that’s why I have a scholarship, right? Ohoho. For those who don’t know (probably most of you), Takarazuka is the home of the all-female musical theater group, Takarazuka Revue, that was formed in 1914. They’ve done plays such as Singin’ in the Rain, Sound of Music, Shakespeare, and even plays based off of Japanese manga and video games. They are currently performing Man in the Iron Mask, and yes, all roles are played by females (many of them disturbingly convincing). I like to watch their videos on the internet, and was ecstatic when I heard that I would be living in Takarazuka itself! What are the chances? So we’ll see what happens on that front.
Until next time, じゃ、またね！