Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The First Two Days


I'm finally here!

I arrived at the Fukuoka airport around 9:15 a.m. All 外国人 had to wait in line to get their pictures taken and fingerprints electronically scanned. After that we had to turn in our embarkation card that was given to us to fill out on the plane.

I picked up my luggage and wheeled it to where Jack and my tutors were waiting for us, "Kyushu University" signs in hand. After our greeting we went outside where a shuttle bus was waiting to take us to the kaikan (international dorm).

My tutor's name is Takafumi and we chatted a little in Japanese during the shuttle bus ride. I couldn't stop looking out the window though! It was raining lightly and the sky was overcast but it was still incredible. I passed some building that I'd seen in pictures when I was researching Fukuoka before I came. It was somewhat surreal seeing them in person.

When we arrived we went immediately into the international hall where I finally met Obata-san (she had been in communication with me via email for the past few months). I sat down at the table across from one of the assistants who proceeded to go over a large packet of papers containing information on everything from our room keys, fire safety, office hours and disaster drills to the seemingly very strict regulations on garbage disposal here in Fukuoka.

(Residents are required to separate trash into three main categories: 燃えるゴミ(burnable garbage), consisting of things like kitchen waste, rubber and plastic goods, paper, cloth, etc.); 燃えないゴミ(non-burnable garbage), consisiting of glass, empty cans, batteries, aerosol cans, metalwares, etc.; 空びんペットボトル(glass containers and PET bottles), which are recyclable. This is all to be put into separate "official" bags, marked accordingly, and take to the desigated trash bins on the desiganted day(s) of each month. It may take a while to get used to but I'm sure I'll get the hang of it.

Next, we went to our rooms to drop off our bags. My dorm is small but plenty big enough for me. There is a ton of storage space, a closet, shelves, desk, bed, A/C and heater (one unit), bed, small refridgerator and bathroom with shower.

Takafumi showed me the laundry room and kitchen next. The kitchen is a little scary with old appliances and fading paint job, but according to previous JTW students you get used to it.

We were all pretty hungry so Takafumi, Jack, his tutor and I walked to JUSCO shopping mall which is about 5 minutes away on foot. This place is huge with a multi-story grocery/department store, tons of restaurants in the connecting mall, and various shops (music, book, etc.). Jack and I wanted to experience Japanese food in Japan so we decided on a place that looked like it had really good food. I ordered the すし御膳(sushi gozen), which was a fairly large meal consisting of 6 assorted pieces of sushi, soba noodles, miso soup, and green tea. Delicious! I can't get used to eating out like that though since it would have ran me ¥1,230 (about $13.00) if Takafumi hadn't bought it for me.

After lunch we went to the grocery store to pick up some things we still needed for our dorms. I purchased a towel, cup, frying pan, saran wrap, a few cans of cold coffee, alarm clock, bottled water, instant noodles, spaghetti and sauce.

We walked back to the kaikan. Takafumi helped me hang my curtains and make my futon. I unpacked my clothes, books and other things I had brought. I thanked Takafumi for his help and we made plans to meet at my dorm around 6:00 p.m. the next day.

After a little more arranging of my dorm I decided to shave and shower. After a 15 1/2 hour plane ride this was very welcome! There was no shower curtain (I still need to buy one) so I had to be careful not to get water everywhere.

After the shower I changed into fresh clothes and decided to go back to JUSCO by myself to explore a little further. I went to a Starbucks inside and ordered a tall drip coffee which was too hot to drink until I left the mall. I found a bookstore, a Tower Records and a small kiosk that sold Pokemon cards and video games. I went back to the department store and purchased an umbrella since it had been raining sporatically throughout the day. I saw another foreigner while I was there: a tall, black man wearing a tan "Gilligan's Island" hat. I've noticed that I haven't been receiving as many "Look! A gaijin!" looks as I thought I would have. I'm guessing this is because the people around this area are so used to seeing a new wave of international students come and go year after year.

I've only been in Japan for one day, but I've already experienced brief waves of both culture shock and home sickness. But, I'm looking forward to the change that's going to occur within me as I get acclimated to my new life here and as I get used to using and hearing Japanese daily.

The dorms won't have internet until the beginning of November so I won't be able to be in contact with everyone back home as much as I want until then. They've set up a temporary Wi-Fi connection in the main building for us to use until then though, so I'll be able to get on from time to time.

I returned to my apartment and intended to take a short nap...it was 4:00 p.m. when I layed down and I didn't wak up until 6:00 the next morning! I guess I was more tired than I thought.


I woke up early, around 6:00 a.m., wrote in my journal for a while and then headed out the door for a bit of exploring.

Instead of going out the main gate like I usually do, I went a different way. I walked along the fence opposite a beautiful park with various typed of flora. There is a foot path running throughout by which many people hurried along, most looking as though they were about to be late for work (the salary men) or school (the girls and boys in their school uniforms).

I found a side gate leading out of the kaikan grounds and went out. I don't remember exactly which direction I went but I stumbled upon a street full of still-closed shops, restaurants and barber shops. What I found most interesting was the number of vending machines there were sitting outside of almost every storefront. Most of these sold an array of cold tea and coffee drinks, but some sold mini energy drinks and western sodas. There were separate machines that sold cigarettes. I ended up purchasing a drink called "Real Gold", which was a vitamin enriched concoction that tased like a super fruity and sweet Mountain Dew.

I continuted walking around for most of the morning just for the sake of seeing more of my new city. When I got hungry I went into a コンビ二 (convenience store) and purchased a fish sandwich and some 御握り (onigiri). I ate the sandwich as I walked back to my apartment and finished the onigiri while I was there. I rested for a while before heading out again.

I knocked on Jack's door (which is only 2 rooms away) and asked if he felt like walking around town. We decided to head toward the ferris wheel we had noticed across the water near JUSCO. We reached a walking path next to the beach and followed it along until we reached the area where the ferris wheel was. We saw that there was also a roller coaster and that it was a mini amuesement park surprisingly called "Motown".

The park was obviously gated off so we continued toward what looked like a neighborhood full of traditional Japanese-style homes. We walked a couple of miles around this neighborhood, admiring the architecture of the houses and the few shops we saw.

By this time we'd walked quite a ways and our feet were starting to get a little sore. There's a tall billboard near the kaikan that I use as a landmark in case I get lost and I couldn't even see it from where we were, so I knew we were quite a ways away. I had a pretty good idea of which directions we had traveled so we started walking, eventually reaching a busy downtown district. I saw my billboard far in the distance so we started walking toward it.

Around 5:50 p.m. Takafumi and his friend Dustin, who's living in Fukuoka but is originally from Muskegon, Michigan, found us in the main building using the internet. They led us back to the downtown area we had passed through earlier and we found a really nice restaurant to eat at. The seating arrangement was traditional with a large, short-legged table and pillows to sit on. We removed our shoes, stepped up onto the semi-raised platform, sat down cross-legged and ordered the first of what would become MANY waves of various やきとり (yakitori - skewered meat, fish, and/or vegetable). We also orded tall glasses of Japanese beer.

We ate, drank and had hours of great conversation, alternating between Japanese and English. As the night went on I found myself being able to speak and understand the Japanese being spoken at the table much more easily. Of course there was still tons of it that I couldn't, but I could tell that if I just keep hanging out with Japanese speaking people I would eventually, little by little, become more fluent.

We finished off the night with a bottle of Imojochu, a type of wine made from potatoes. Takafumi also ordered some chocolate ice cream (he can EAT!). We asked for the bill and Takafumi realized that he had lost his wallet! Dustin fronted his portion of the bill, we paid ours and then headed back to the kaikan where Takafumi informed the staff that he may have lost it there earlier.

We said our "good nights" and I thanked them for taking us out. Other than the lost wallet, it was a great night and a perfect way to end a great day!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Final Preparations

Yesterday I went to a travel agency in Ann Arbor to pick up the 5,500 in Japanese Yen I purchased. I like their money :)

This morning I finished packing my suitcases.

I think I'm done...now I just need to get there.

I get on the plane to Japan in about 36 hours! That's so soon!

I'm getting dropped off in Ann Arbor this evening around 6:00. Jack and I will leave for Kalamazoo around 8:00am Saturday morning. Later that afternoon his friend will be giving us a ride to Chicago. Then off to Japan!

I know this post was kind of boring, but the next one will be written in Japan so it should be much more interesting. Expect some pictures of my dorm, college buildings and hopefully some of the city.

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