When Adventures Are Good but Not Fun: Japan Trip, April 2nd through 5th, 2017

This time in Japan has been characterized by more “how on earth are we going to get out of this?!” adventures and less “going out for tasty food” adventures. The first kind are not enjoyable as they’re happening, but they bring with them so much more experience and, after a while, fonder memories.

Here are just a few of the kinds of things that have happened to me.

First off, my flight was delayed into San Francisco, which meant that despite having a two hour layover, I was going to miss my connecting flight to Japan. We flew into a gate like #6, and my next flight was leaving out of gate #101. I kid you not.  When we finally touched down, I full on sprinted across the airport, heaving and hacking along the way.

Finally, I made it to the other end of that enormous airport only to find that the plane had already taken off. I was frustrated, tired, and panicked because I didn’t know what to do. I needed to get to Japan! Classes would be starting!

The Narita Skyliner from the Narita Airport

There was a man at the gate. It turns out, we were both on the same flight and we had both missed the same Japan flight. We went up to customer service and as we did, we gathered more people from the flight who had missed that connection. It turns out there were quite a few of us in this boat.

We banded together like the fellowship of the ring and we were all able to make it to Tokyo. The first friend I had met in the airport ended up on the same replacement flight as me and after 11 hours in the sky, we saw each other at the baggage claim in Tokyo. It was camaraderie at it’s finest.

I have learned my lesson, or lessons, about bringing too much luggage. I don’t know whether the problem is I had too much stuff or if I just didn’t commute efficiently with two suitcases. Either way, lugging that junk through the subway system and dragging it up and down streets and stairs took all my strength of body and mind, and then some. I spent my first two days sweaty, tired and late.

Tokyo residential area near Ikebukuro

Trying to get to my placement exam this morning was no exception. I had to check out of the hotel before my exam, as I wouldn’t have enough time to do so afterwards, which meant I had to bring all my luggage with me to the school. Which was easier said than done. I’m glad I budgeted an extra half hour, because I used it all up with my block-by-block rests.

I made it to the school with five minutes to spare, only to find that my school has a second campus I didn’t know about and I was at the wrong building. A student at that branch of the university (a Chinese-language program for Japanese students) helped translate between myself and the person at the front desk. Through her help, we figured out where I needed to go: a 10 minute backtrack (20 min. with my bags), and another 10 minute (20 min. with bags) trek the opposite direction.


By this time, I’d learned my lesson. I decided to just call an uber. However, as I was calling, someone who worked at that branch of the school asked if I needed any help. I explained the situation to him and said that I was waiting for an uber/taxi. He insisted on helping me with my bags and escorting me over there. I was so touched, that I agreed.

He ran upstairs to drop off his briefcase then came back down and helped me with my suitcases. We walked the shorter way through backstreets and talked. He took me on a path that led through the park where the cherry blossoms were blooming.

If that wasn’t nice enough, when we arrived at the right campus, he helped get me signed in and to the right classroom. Seriously, the generosity of some people is amazing. I was rushed off to orientation so I only got a quick “Thank you” in, but I hope I’ll see him again so I can thank him properly.

Cherry blossoms are everywhere. Late March/Early April is cherry blossom season. I’ve been told that one of the best places to see the cherry blossoms is to go to the shrine at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. 

When I arrived for the oral exam, I sat next to a nice girl who offered to help me carry one of my bags. I had stowed my really large ones in the office so I just had my overstuffed backpack and a few grocery bags. I could have carried them all myself, but she insisted, so I let her.

We talked a little bit while we waited for our turn. I am not a fan of oral exams. Since language is all about communication, I know they’re kind of a necessity, but they still freak me out. When I got out of my exam, I found her and we talked a little about it. I didn’t do well at my exam (it’s just for placement, so it’s okay), and she said she didn’t either (though, after hearing her speak Japanese, I think she was just being modest).

More Ikebukuro. It feels like a more colorful San Fransisco.

We went to lunch and then out to wander the streets of Ikebukuro and shop. Even though she knows English, we decided to try to speak only in Japanese for practice. She pressed me to ask directions from strangers. I was terrified and a little irked, but after a few people, I felt more comfortable and I got better at it too. Now it’s not really a big deal to go “Sumimasen, _______ ka. (Excuse me…?)” to strangers.

One of the practice questions was “Where is a book store?” and we actually found one! Nine levels. Nine! I got myself some school supplies and then we spent time on the floor dedicated to manga. I realized, after a little while of talking, that her favorite manga is one that while I haven’t read it, it’s been on my “to read/watch” list for a while.

Near Ikebukuro. See the Tokyo Skytree in the distance?

I see now how people learn languages so quickly through immersion. I’ve only been here a few days, and only one day speaking a lot of Japanese, but the difference in my understanding and reading of Japanese between this morning and this evening were immense. Immersion really does work, but only if you’re truly immersed. Necessity breeds adaptation.

The school’s welcome party is tomorrow afternoon. I don’t like parties all that much, but it’ll be nice to meet my other classmates, and also to meet up with my friend again. I didn’t expect to make an actual hanging-out friend on this trip and especially not so quickly.

Evening is swell this time of year in Tokyo. Cool and fresh but not too cold.

The moral of these stories, I think, is: some people are awful, but a lot of people are secretly super noble and kind. And while it isn’t pleasant at the time, you find those people when you need help, by seeing who comes to help you. I hope to be more of that kind of helper in the future. I am truly inspired.


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