As the pilot made his final announcement before we began the descent, I turned to my friend Audrey, and I could tell we were feeling the exact same thing by the look on their face. After years of waiting for this day to come, I was finally going to be in Japan. The excitement in my chest began to swell, and all I could think about was how much I knew these next few months were about to have in store for me. The sights, the people, the stories, the food, the food… and as many experiences that I could possibly fit into what time I have. But as for first experiences, the heat that washed over my body when I stepped off that plane was unbelievable. In an unfamiliar place, it ‘s given that you’ll be faced with unfamiliar challenges to overcome, that being one of them. However, the real challenge was navigating myself through the train stations to where I was supposed to meet the family that I would be staying with during my time here. Two and a half hours and a couple missed train stops later I was greeted by the smiling face of my host mother, waiting outside the ticket gates.
The walk to the house from the station was quite a surreal experience (looking back, I had one of these just about every hour in the first week). No one in my host family speaks conversational English, but I have learned enough Japanese for us to communicate well and I’m excited to see how that improves as time passes, as well as my connection to the family. And as we spoke, I could tell how lucky I was to have been placed into such caring and enthusiastic hands. After arriving, she gave me a tour of the house, showed me to my room, and then made a homecooked meal of udon noodles with bean sprouts and grilled chicken. After 26 hours of traveling and making my body wonder why I was awake at such a wicked hour, it felt like I was eating food meant for kings. The next morning, it was time to see what was up.
If you are reading this, you have probably heard of the Shibuya Scramble Square, and if the name doesn’t ring a bell, I’m sure you have at least a picture or video of it. But that was the mission for the day; I figured I might as well get straight into it. I had to come through Shibuya Station the previous night to get to the one near my homestay, so I knew I could at least make it back there. Upon arrival, and after becoming a part of the swarm, I found my new favorite phrase: sensory overload, in the best way possible. Being there in real life was surreal. Aside from the Square itself, I discovered that you could be in just Shibuya for a month and still not do or see everything worth doing or seeing. I spent the whole day walking around town on my own, which embarrassingly enough, I realized I had never really done before in an actual city. I was already unrecognizable from the child I once was. Around every corner was a delicious-looking café or restaurant, a store filled with things I never knew I needed, or of course, a convenience store. I had no one with me to share the excitement with, so, on the surface I was collected, but it felt like fireworks were going off inside my head.
Over the course of the first week, I was able to visit and become acclimated to the TUJ campus, make some great new friends, explore new areas, get to better know my host family, plan a couple things to do/places to go during the semester, and hit up a McDonalds, but I still don’t understand the train stations. While 3 and a half months sounds like a long time, especially when I had such a productive week, it already feels as though it isn’t long enough, which it probably isn’t. But while I am here, I plan to spend every single moment really being here. I plan to soak in every bit of every moment, exposing myself to the miracles and opportunities that await me, and try my best to share with everyone what I can through these posts. To anyone who does follow along this journey, I will do my best to translate the true essence of each experience, and by doing so show what it’s like to explore other cultures and lives. Ikimashō(lets go)!