My First Few Days In Japan

At the time of writing I have been in Japan for about 4 days and I figured I’d write about my initial experience here as I have no internet in my apartment and I’m trying to take things easy this weekend before training starts.

On Monday morning I left London, heading for Nagoya, Japan – 17 hours later I landed. That alone was exhausting enough. I first flew for 11 hours before stopping in Hong Kong airport. It being 7am when I landed, nothing was actually open. And so with three hours to kill and no gate for my flight yet, I wandered aimlessly through the huge airport before eventually finding something I recognized, a Starbucks – and it was open! I checked and they accepted Yen, which was great because it was all I had on me. However they only gave change in Hong Kong dollars. Suffice to say, I now have 20 of those and no idea how much I actually spent. Eventually I got onto my next flight toward my final destination of Nagoya.

Stepping off the flight in Nagoya, the very first thing I noticed was the unbelievable humidity. Granted it is the summer here and people warned me, but I come from England, a country in which the first sign of sun warrants people sunbathing regardless of actual heat and everybody still manages to burn.

After shedding down my layers to a t-shirt I headed for customs and immigration. On the plane I had been given a form to fill in, and I thought I had filled it in correctly. However while standing in line, a worker made a dash toward me, instantly pointing out the mistakes I had made. I’d like to think it was because they were just helping out the only non-Japanese person in line, knowing I’d struggle with it, but it was more likely to do with the confused look on my face from the moment I stepped off the flight.

The Immigration officer took my fingerprints, looked through the mountains of forms I was required to bring and then provided me with a residence card – but not before getting a photo of me for it in which I look furious at him. After this I went to collect my luggage, only to be greeted by a worker asking if I was the one who flew in from Hong Kong and upon saying yes she told me where to get my bag. I thought to myself “Wow you’d never get that service in England”. I then walked to the carousel only to see my bag taken off of it and slumped on the side.

My employer greeted me and we headed for the company offices where he took photocopies of my information and we then went to the apartment where I would be staying during training. He gave me a brief tour of the area but at that point I had been travelling close to 24 hours and all I wanted was food and a good night’s sleep.

The apartment is pretty basic but fine for the 3 weeks – it’s also a lot larger than my actual apartment will be so no complaints here. The first thing I noticed were the tatami mats used on the floor and futons used for a bed. I didn’t care though because I was exhausted and would have probably slept on a wooden floor at that point. First, I needed to eat though and with my roommate (who luckily speaks Japanese) we went to a convenience store around the corner and I grabbed some katsu chicken and rice. It was surprisingly good and extremely cheap. I then passed out… at 7pm. The next morning I awoke at 4am unable to sleep because jet lag is awful. I had also come down with a bad cold and was sneezing constantly. I had heard that westerners picked this up when coming here but I didn’t expect it so quickly. More than likely it was from the plane.

Eventually, my roommate and I decided to take a walk to Starbucks so we could use the Internet. It was one stop away on the train but we figured we would walk and get to know the area. We could see the track and so it would be easy enough to follow along with. Somewhere along the way we must have taken a wrong turn as we ended up in a random area an hour later. We hopped on the train and went to where we needed to go. It was my first experience of the trains here and I was seriously impressed.  They were frequent, arrived on time and extremely fast. So much better than back home, as anybody who has dealt with First Capital Connect can confirm. Finding a Starbucks I quickly checked everything online and then headed back for a quick nap as I was beginning to get tired again.

Later in the day I headed to the area surrounding Nagoya station as it was the most popular part of the city. I impressed myself by managing to buy a ticket without using the English version of the machine. I wandered around for a while before ultimately deciding to head back because there wasn’t really anything for me to do there besides shop.

The next morning I woke up early again, though this time was at about 5.30am so it was a little better. On the spur of the moment I decided that I was going to go to Kyoto because it’s my best chance before I move up to the north of the country, so I headed to Nagoya station which is where the bullet train leaves from. I tried getting a ticket at the machine but it was confusing and far too expensive to get wrong, so I went to the ticket booth and had them explain the best options to me. The guy serving me only spoke a few words in English and I only managed a few Japanese words but between us we worked our way through it and I settled on a bullet train to Kyoto and a normal train back because it was a lot cheaper. I would come to regret the choice but more on that later.

The Shinkansen (bullet train) was incredible. It was clean, spacious and got me from Nagoya to Kyoto in about 30 minutes, instead of the standard 2 hours. The only downside is the cost but truthfully it is worth it if you have the money.  Inside Kyoto station I went to the underground section in search of how to get to Heito Shrine, which is what I most wanted to see out of anything in Japan. I couldn’t find it listed and so I attempted in poor Japanese to ask people for help with it. The first was an elderly woman who immediately said is a flustered way “no English” before walking off quickly. That was a fun moment. The second person was much more helpful. She did her best to explain that I needed to get a bus there. I went to the bus terminal and was pointed to the right one.

About 30 minutes of a bus ride and I was at the stop for the Heian Shrine. It was a little walk away but I could make out roughly where it was in the distance. While walking there I was stopped every 10 seconds by school children who would say “Hello!” before giggling to each other and running away. It was a really funny experience.

The Heian Shrine was easily the best part of Japan so far. It was visually stunning and an incredibly peaceful place to be. I sat and people watched, washed my hands in the blessed water and took a ton of photos. It is somewhere that I definitely want to visit again in the future as I couldn’t fully appreciate it for too long because I was sick.

At this point I was getting a little hungry and because I saw that Osaka was only £3 extra to get to on the underground I figured I might as well head there while I could.  I got on a rapid train but it still took 30 minutes to get to Osaka station. I wanted to see Dotomburi, which is the area most famous for a street full of restaurants. I asked a mother and son how to get there and since they didn’t speak English he pulled out his phone and translated how to get there. This took another half an hour and by this point I was absolutely starving and when combined with being sick and the extreme heat, it was not a good combination. I went to the street and dizzily walked through it trying to decide on what to eat, eventually settling on some takoyaki, which is octopus in a kind of batter with a sauce and fish flakes on top.

After taking a load of photos and walking around the city I was feeling really sick and so thought it was best to head back since it would take around 3 hours. I got to Kyoto station and asked what line I needed for the train. I was told one thing but upon checking while waiting, someone else told me a different place and so I asked a police officer who told me the first place was right but that I had to get off at a location and change trains. This seemed fine and I got on.

I sat on the train for about an hour and a half, looking out for Maibara, the stop I had to change at. When it didn’t show up and we stopped for a few minutes I got out and asked the conductor if I was on the right train. He told me that it was the wrong one and that I had travelled really far west of it, but that I could keep going to another stop, change there and get another train to Maibara, then change there for a train to Nagoya. At this point I was really sick and it was the last thing I wanted but I had no choice. About an hour or so later I finally reached Nagoya station and headed back on my final train to the apartment, before passing out in bed.

Today I slept as late as possible, which even with everything yesterday, was still 7am. I was feeling really sick still so I took things easy. I once again headed to Nagoya station, as I needed a notebook for training. However, once there I somehow forgot about it completely and just walked around the shops for a while. I then came back to the apartment, ate, and wrote this.

It’s been an extremely busy first few days here but I’m enjoying it so much. From Monday I will be training for the job for two weeks and then I move to Yamagata City where I will be working for the next year. I’m so excited to start and to settle in to my actual apartment. Even this early I’m seeing improvements with my Japanese and I’m going to keep using it wherever possible. It’s intimidating at first to be in a country where nobody speaks your language but I’ve found that you can still get by and that the Japanese are extremely friendly and understanding of it. It makes things so much easier.

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  • Ali

    Hi Yianni I’ve just been reading your blog post- really pleased you’ve settled in ok- it sounds like a whirlwind and really exciting! Hope you continue to have loads of fun and good luck with the teacher training! Ali xoxoxo

    • yianniscove

      Thanks Ali! Hope you and David are well. Pictures should be up as soon as I move to my place and get internet.

  • Ali

    Ps look forward to seeing the photos!x