In June and July of 2015, I went on a study aboard trip to Japan as a transient student through Valdosta State University. I thought since it’s been five years, and my Facebook timeline is plying me with memories to the day, I’d upload a few stories about my time traveling in Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Miyajima Island, Hiroshima, Kawaguchiko (Mt. Fuji), and Tokyo.
All the pictures here are taken by me or I’m in the picture unless otherwise stated.
First is my study abroad class. Starting the top row from the left, is Adriana, James, Samantha, ? (sorry!), Mackenzie, Mic, Kelly, and Brandon. The second row down is Scott, A. E., DaFene, Levi, and Professor Stoltzfus. The one behind the camera is Professor Starling or Sterling, no one knows. I asked him once which it was and he said people call him either one, and he answers to both.
So the writing below is the entry I made called Memories from Japan from 2015 for my creative writing class the following semester. At some points I’ve edited for publishing on my blog. The dates are the day I wrote and turned in the piece of writing for the class.
Memories from Japan
After 17 hours in the air, three flights from ATL to Dallas, Dallas to Tokyo and finally Tokyo to Osaka, my body has been pushed to the brink. I had last slept Monday night. We’re finally in Osaka on Thursday and I had no sleep except a two hour nap on the ATL to Dallas flight.
Now we have to walk to get to our international dorm at Kansai University. Its dark, so I’m effectively blind and the street lights just make my vision blurry. I’m exceedingly tired and my suitcase feels heavier with each step I take. I can hardly breathe because I’m out of shape and for some reason it seems that Osaka was full of hills.
We’re dragging upwards, my thighs feel like knotted stones, the stitch in my side is like I’m getting knifed in the kidneys each time I take in a breath and sweat…there’s so much sweat. I need a shower, all I want is a shower. I begin to think I’m going to die, unable to take another step, unable to breathe, unable to see, unable to do anything but literally just pass away right there on the late night of streets of Minami-senri.
Then, I hear cries of joy going up, I hear “We made it, we made it!” There’s one last hill up the raggedy cracked pavement and we’ve entered the dormitory. I’ve never been so glad to be at school in my life.
Memories from Japan
After arriving at Kansai University and having orientation, the school threw a welcome party for us. 12 students, 2 professors from Valdosta State. Only a handful of the students were from Valdosta, I was the only from University of West Georgia, then there were students from Georgia Tech and Albany State. This made that some of the students I came with already knew each other.
At the welcome party, Japanese students were encouraged to attend and meet the foreigners. I sat down for a moment and when I looked up, I was surrounded by seven or eight Japanese guys, just staring at me, smiling. I was unnerved but I smiled back and they all wanted to talk to me, at the same time. So I struggled to hold eight separate conversations, turning to remember their names and my head switching around from side to side like a bobble head as all the guys wanted my attention.
I stood up at one point to get my bag and went back to sit down.
Everyone had left.
I looked at my plate, looked up, and there were a good thirteen people standing around me, mostly guys with two or three girls, all wanting to talk to me. It was even more hectic than last time, especially since there was a language barrier.
Then it got weird when one guy was trying to set me up with his friend. I can’t remember their names, so I’ll just call them Guy #1 and Friend.
Guy #1 asked me what my favorite food was.
I said my favorite food was cheesecake.
Guy #1 then said, “Friend’s favorite food is cheesecake!”
Then Guy #1 said, “What do you like to do?”
I said, “I really like reading.”
Guy #1 goes, “Friend really loves reading!”
At this point I totally realized Guy #1 was matchmaking and it made me uncomfortable, especially as Friend seemed to know no English (as he hadn’t spoken a word of it) and hadn’t done anything but smile at me.
I’m an introvert and I rarely get male attention, if ever (and that’s the way I prefer it). So being in Japan, surrounded by males all trying to get my attention (and apparently hit on me for their friends) I was way out of my element. Yet I handled it, managed to keep smiling and do my best to make conversation even though I’m bad at making conversation. (When you spend all your time reading and not socializing, it has some drawbacks)
When it was over, I had made new Facebook friends and actually felt better for going through the experience. For someone who doesn’t really talk to anyone and just spends her time reading and writing, ending up trying to hold many convos all at once all by myself, it was crazy and daunting. But I did it.
Memories from Japan
The summer weather in Osaka is similar to Georgia, with heat waves rising up from the pavement as if Hell simmers just beneath the ground. The humidity is so thick you could cut it with a knife, in fact it feels like I could swim in it. Sweat is a constant lubrication, so we all bought small hand towels from the 99-yen store to always be on hand for sweaty foreheads. 99 yen is less than a dollar, like 88 cents.
Anyway, so a normal day is to wake up in the dorm, grab some bread I bought at the grocery store from my mini-fridge and eat while getting dressed. Try to get to the girl’s washroom first to get the good sink by the door, the other sinks all have automatic faucets.
After that, its time to walk to the train station. Minami-senri train station is about a ten minute walk from the Kansai International Dorm, so you just cut through the large park and get there after crossing the street, up the escalator and do your best not to get distracted by the Garden Mall attached to the station.
It’s two stops to get to Kandaimae, the stop where Kansai University is. Off that stop, get into the street and walk to campus. The roads are lined with restaurants, fast food for burgers and ramen, and convenience stores like Lawson and Yamazaki Daily. Up the hill, as Osaka seems to always been on an upward incline. Smile and nod to the officer directing traffic, up another hill past the giant clock and you’ve made it, usually with at least ten minutes to take a seat on the wooden benches and get a breather before class starts.
Memories from Japan
Ordering food with one-word!
One evening in Osaka, I toured the Garden Mall to eat in a restaurant I hadn’t eaten in yet. A few were closed, places in Japan close midday, like around 2pm for lunch. Most of the restaurants seemed to be closed, except for this Chinese style restaurant. I heard from another group member DaFene that the food was really good and he had eaten there multiple times. So what the heck, I go in.
The menu is in Japanese Kana, which I can’t read. So I go by the pictures and the prices. Eventually I decide on this fried chicken dish, it looks like its cooked similar to sweet and sour chicken, only without the sweet and sour. I didn’t just want a plate of meat but I didn’t see any side dishes. So I mention the waitress over and I point at what I want, as we all do. She nods and then I say in Japanese, “Gohan?”
Gohan means rice. (And yes, the main character DBZ’s name. His name means rice!)
She smiles, says, “Gohan okay.” And just like that, I ordered chicken and rice in Japanese!
Second time I ordered food with one word.
This takes place the last day in Tokyo, we would be heading to Narita Airport just the next morning. So I decide to explore more of the Tokyo subway station and eat at a place I hadn’t eaten before. Everyone had split up and I went out on my own. I found this beautiful little bakery place and I go inside, just charmed by looking through the plate-glass window.
Inside, I go and look over the menu on the wall behind the cash registers. Its all in Kana!! So I look down on the counter and they have picture menus. I see pancakes with several different types of fruit toppings. I tried to ask the girl behind the counter what kind of toppings they are but she gives me the blank “I do not understand” eyes and a nice smile. Hitting the terrible language barrier, I know I have to scrounge up some Japanese word that will convey what I mean. I stare at the fruit toppings then I point to one, and ask, “Momo?”
She smiles and starts to ring it up, saying, “Momo hai.”
Momo means peaches and hai means yes. I did it! So I got my pancakes topped with peaches and whipped cream. It tasted so much sweeter with the knowledge I had spoken in Japanese to order it. It maybe one word request but I still did it!
Below is the most delicious breakfast I had in Japan.
I have a million and one more stories from my trip to Japan I could talk about, but I chose these for today’s Personal Piece. Has anyone else gone to Japan? Or anywhere else you’ve never been to, out of the country or not? Share your story in the comments!
And as always, my cat Aomine keeps me company by my side.