Experiences: My first four days in Japan
Narita was cold and wet when I landed in early March 2014. There is something exhilarating about a one way ticket. I felt a bit awkward when I reached the space on the immigration form asking when I was planning on returning to my country. The first time at any airport is disorienting and I could not locate the train station. It was during this time I found that my phone still had pretty good service, even across the Pacific. I normally do not care to pay attention to what the various phone companies offer, but I can give credit to T-mobile for providing at the very least a basic service from which I was able to quickly phone back home on skype to double check directions and instructions. A taxi would have been a simple solution if my teacher in College and my future TEFL instructor through email portrayed taxis as very expensive and required some level of Japanese I was not comfortable with.
I grew up in Los Angeles and the trains there rattle, squeak, and have graffiti in various places. I was too tired and concerned for my destination to notice how much more efficient the seating space in the cars were, how plush the seat cushions were, or that the heater that was the entire space below the bench was trying to lull me into a nap. The first notion of culture shock came not from the people, but from the first station outside of Narita we stopped at. The doors opened and there was nothing. The dark of night did not allow much beyond the cement of the station platform, but the silence actually caught me off guard. I expected there to be ambient music on the station platform at least. It allowed the realization to dawn on me that the train ride too was silent. There was no talking or even close whispering, but everyone seemed dead tired anyway. There was no obnoxious self proclaimed DJ who thought his favorite tunes or melody-flat repetitious
beats should be shared with the rest of the cabin. It was a nice change from home. I would find out later that talking on the trains is ok it is just a lethargic ride and most either read or nod off for the duration. Once I arrived in Nakano, I learned that the trains run very reliably on time as well.
I had the luck and luxury to have family-friends waiting for me in Nakano. Only the father spoke what we like to call “crazy English”, but I got to practice my Japanese with the rest of the family and save money on a Hotel. I learned real fast just how narrow Japanese streets can get and how fast (I referred to the father as my Uncle) my uncle drove, amazed at how he seemed to psychically know when a pedestrian, bike or another vehicle was going to shoot out from behind an impossible blind corner. Once I was able to put my suitcases down so much stress lifted from my body. The next day would be dedicated to minor sightseeing around Nakano and studying the train route and station names.
I would only spend one more day in Nakano before I would have to pack up yet again and head for Kanamachi. My initial purpose of buying a one way ticket to Japan was to attend and complete an ITTT course to attain a TEFL certificate. I would spend the rest of March relearning the more specific aspects of English with some acting performance training mixed in. To those looking to teach English abroad, do not let my pursuit of this certificate deter or assume it is necessary. I had co-workers who had been interviewed and hired while they were still at home in the United States or England who did not have this certificate. It helps to have it as I will explain in later articles.
The take away:
1. Check your phone service provider’s parameters
2. Host or Hotel? Know where you are going.
3. Become familiar with the trains
Japan can seem intimidating but the individual traveler can navigate pretty comfortably. A lot of the signs, especially in Tokyo, contain English and help desks in the bigger stations often have an attendant who speaks English very well.