The best stories always begin with origin stories. では、始めましょう (So, let’s begin)! On June 6th, I boarded a plane from the Dallas Fort Worth airport that would land in Tokyo at Narita airport.
Author’s Note: For those that are not aware, I am participating in an intensive language program in Japan. See here for details.
The plane ride was about 13 hours. Since it was an “overnight” flight (although technically we basically just skipped a day crossing the international date line), they had individual TVs with movies and the like. I checked the music section just for fun and found a playlist of Japanese music which was quite excellent. It had a few artists I recognized, like The Oral Cigarettes, Eir Aoi, and Bump of Chicken, as well as some excellent songs from artists I did not know. I wish they had given the performers’ names or at least the names of the songs.
Narita is a bit on the outer portion of Tokyo, which was actually pretty cool because it allowed me to look at the busier parts of the city without having to be directly in the line of chaos. Here’s a picture to give you an idea, courtesy of my crappy phone camera:
I stayed at the Hotel Grand Le Daiba for a night because all the travelling to get to Tokyo (including getting through international customs) was a long struggle. For reference, Le Daiba is a far nicer hotel than college students should be allowed to stay at, so thank you to the program organizers for picking it. There was a really awesome indoor shopping mall nearby, at which I had some ramen and bought a copy of Robico’s new manga series.
The next day, me and other members of the program flew out of Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Hakodate. Just in case there are people reading this who aren’t aware, let’s have a little geography lesson: what most people consider “mainland” Japan is divided into four islands (in order from North to South): Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Tokyo is on Honshu, while Hakodate, the city I am staying in, is on the very southern tip of Hokkaido.
Fortunately for me, Hakodate is in the relatively unique position of being a city that features both the ocean and mountains prominently while being relatively isolated from the “foreign influence” of Tokyo. The city is actually a port town which, by the way, apparently has really good shiyo (salt) ramen. I can attest that this is true, having already had shiyo ramen here multiple times now. I’m a big fan of mountains, but being on the ocean also means that there are fewer issues with adjusting to the altitude (unlike my vacations in Colorado), so I immediately grew a bit attached to what is essentially my home for the next few months. The first couple of days were very cloudy and rainy (which, I should note, is actually some of my favorite weather). This might have been partially due to Japan’s current 梅雨 (tsuyu), or rainy season, although it doesn’t really affect Hokkaido for the most part. Fortunately, this weather ironically generated some pretty amazing views:
Hakodate actually has a pretty temperate climate, with highs in the summer only reaching the lower 70's in Fahrenheit. It is because of this that I have dubbed Hokkaido as “Japan’s Canada”, with the only difference between the two being that I can personally provide proof that Hokkaido exists.
When I first arrived in Hakodate, I stayed at the Hakodate Kokusai Hotel, another nice hotel right on the edge of the ocean. During this time, I had to prepare a bunch for my entrance exams, especially since the curriculum of my program uses a different series (and thus different kanji!) of textbooks that my university does not. I also had an amazing breakfast from their buffet:
I of course walked around the nearby area, and saw some excellent things, including Japan’s oldest concrete telephone pole and a candy shop that charged me 5 or 6 times more than I should have spent on candy before I even realized it.
Needless to say, over the course of the past few days I’ve spoken more Japanese than I had in my entire life before, which is awesome even though my Japanese is what we might refer to here as 燃えないゴミ (unburnable garbage- more on this later, maybe). Here’s to a good summer!
If you’re interested in hearing more about my Japan journey, be sure to stick around AniTAY. Also, it’s worth noting: I am taking requests for articles. If there is something you might be interested in hearing about (like, maybe, Japanese toilets), be sure to let me know in the comments!