Before this month, the furthest I’d travelled alone was a five-hour train journey from my university down to London. So for my next solo trip to be flying to the other side of the world, on a journey that would take me approximately 20 hours, it’s fair to say that I was taking a gigantic leap.
I’d flown loads of times before, and my last flight was a long ten hours on the way back from California, so it’s not like I’ve ever been too nervous on an aeroplane. But this felt like an entirely different ballpark.
Completely alone and having to navigate three flights, four airports and both international and domestic transfers, this was the most challenging journey I’ve ever taken.
The worst part was transferring at Haneda, where I had to go through border control (where my paranoid brain decided to tell me that I wouldn’t be let into the country, even though I had all my documents), then baggage claim, haul my suitcase onto the bus to switch terminals, get to the domestic terminal, figure out which desk to go to, drop my bags off and then get through security with about ten minutes before it closed. It definitely did not help that my flight had been delayed at Munich, so I was already half an hour behind schedule.
But I did it, and made it onto the plane anyway.
I always knew that this would challenge me, and shove me so far out of my comfort zone that I couldn’t even see it anymore, but I didn’t truly understand until I got here. I’d be fighting a pained grimace every time I choked out a nervous arigatou gozaimasu to airport staff, worried that my inexperienced Japanese would sound wrong. I’d be desperately memorising the rules of my dormitory like when and where to take your shoes off, while being introduced to the staff. I’d be hyper-aware of the fact that me and the school’s representative were the only Westerners on the entire subway.
I do think that suddenly becoming a minority in a mainly Asian nation is going to be one of the biggest learning curves. Being white, I don’t think often enough about how my culture and my society caters towards people like me, and to take a step back will be good for me to understand a fraction of what minorities in the UK experience.
On my second day, I was still feeling very rough thanks to the worst jetlag I’ve had in my life (and I thought coming back from California was bad). But I dragged myself out of bed at about 10am, which would be 2am UK time, and messed around on my laptop for the most part of the next few hours. I’d already decided that throwing myself into exploring the city would be too much for now, and that Day 2 was my recovery day so I wasn’t concerned about missing out. I do have a whole month after all.
After that I ventured to the local konbini, which is literally round the corner from my room. I needed to stock up on some food even if I wasn’t feeling 100 percent yet. I didn’t want to take any photos in store because I was already aware that I didn’t really know what I was looking for, and the last thing I needed was to look like the weird gaijin taking pictures of the drinks aisle.
It’d been pretty rainy since Saturday morning, so Day 3 was entirely depending on the weather. Luckily, it was both sunny and warm, and I wandered around the local area so I could figure out my route to the station in time for school on Monday. To my surprise, there was what looked like a street festival around the Nakanishi shopping area, with barbecues, character mascots, and activities for children. I can’t find anything about it online, but by the amount of students in bright green shirts, I’m guessing it was run by one of the local universities.
While I was only passing through, the whole atmosphere was great… although it is kind of surreal walking through a Japanese street with Taylor Swift blaring out of the speakers.
It’s a national holiday in Japan on the 10th, because it’s Taiiku no Hi, or Health-Sports Day, so instead of classes, we’ll be taking a trip to the island of Nokonoshima to view the cosmos flowers. This will be the first time I meet any of the teachers and other students so here’s hoping I make friends fast!