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Journals from Doshisha University, Japan

2010-09-13 Arrival and First Morning in Japan

––She spoke Japanese This in a whisper from somewhere over my head, in response to my tiny "- Oh, thanks as one of the men crammed into the elevator with me helped me pull in my largest and most stubborn piece of luggage. Can I understand Japanese? Just a little. Well, was I an exchange student? Yes. Oh, how nice. Welcome to Japan. Thank you. Then they and their expensive suits left the elevator and went briskly about their mysterious business. Yes, I am in Japan! It didnt really sink in until that moment. On the plane Id caught a glimpse of the western coastline, a graceful curve of flat green lying on the blue sea that stretched away into the haze. As we descended over Osaka, the land became more distinct, rumpled with modest green mountains and dotted with cities that I noticed covered the flat areas and followed rivers. It was much prettier than the smog-choked San Francisco Id left behind. As the plane taxied down the runway my nose was glued to the window. A Japanese bird fluttered in Japanese weeds! A Japanese truck trundled along with Japanese people in it! But it still seemed very unreal and dream-like (perhaps due to the 11-hour flight in which I was too uncomfortable to sleep at all) until the moment I talked in Japanese to someone. The train ride from the airport was a blur of exhausted excitement. Id met a friend in the airport who is studying at Doshisha this year as well, and we took the train together and talked merrily the whole way, remarking on the apartment buildings, pachinko parlors, and department stores of Osaka as they whizzed by -- just like from a Japanese drama! Once another train drew up alongside ours, and we looked over and saw it was crammed with salary-men, a certain species of Japanese white-collar worker, all nearly identical in their summer short-sleeve shirts and suit trousers. We laughed and laughed as the other train drifted back and forth in relation to ours, the bored brown faces swiming in and out of view like fish in an aquarium, though these were packed in like sardines! We weren't the only silly foreigners on the train. A Chinese man next to us was cause for more giggles when he took a pair of pants out of his suitcase and put them on right there on the train in front of everybody. At Kyoto Station we were met by volunteers from Doshisha who would help us get to our dormitories. Both thought our middle names were our first names. Oh well, when everyone has two names its rather confusing what to do on forms and documents when the gaikokujin (foreigner) has a third one, I guess. The dormitory is very nice, if a little old and grungy in the corners, and so is my room, which is about the size of a nice American walk-in closet. Its quite enough for me, though, and I havent had problems adjusting to the thin futon or strange, rock-hard, bead-filled pillow many of the other international students here complain about. I was so utterly tired that night that as soon as I could I shooed away the volunteer and the other students in the dorm who wanted to meet and feed me, and plopped onto the bed (I felt like a thick liquid and that I was being poured onto it) and didnt move at all until morning, which comes very early in Japan! I wake up around 5 or 6 when it is already bright outside, and the light shines through the shoji window screen. That first morning I slid back the window onto a neighborhood already stirring. Doors scraped to, a tiny dog yapped for his breakfast, and a salary-man whizzed by on a bicycle, trailed by a pair of girls in school uniforms, their chatter loud in the quiet little streets. Sunlight glowed lazily along the sloping, tiled roofs, though it was not yet high enough to find its way into the cramped little gardens each house hides behind high walls. Crows called with different voices than I was used to and tiny sparrows pecking in the street chirped the same as at home. It would be a hot day, and my first in a foreign country. It was the first time I had woken up with a thudding heart! But I cant stay safe and comfy observing from my window all day, and its time to venture out and see what the day will bring. Leah Sedy

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