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Fresh Off the Plane

August 21, 2018

Me in Front of Himeji Castle, Also Known as the White Heron Castle (Shirasagijo)

I still can't believe that I'm in Japan! Everything feels so surreal. Today is my first full day in Japan. I woke up at 4 o'clock, and having slept six hours, I was ready to start my day. The sun had yet to rise, but because I wanted a fresh start here in Japan, I decided to begin with a new sleep schedule. Thus, during the four hours I had before meeting Mr. Kamata (my supervisor) to got to the bank to do more paperwork, I unpacked all my belongings, exercised, showered, read parts of a couple books, and wrote this post. Being told that there were no affordable, decent weight lifting gyms in Japan, I brought Casey's pull-up bar that hangs on door frames. However, because Japan's doors are slightly wider and protrudes from the walls less, the pull-up bar is basically useless to me. Thus, I was forced to improvise. For today's exercise, I jump roped (yes, I FINALLY used the jump rope I bought three years ago) for cardio, and afterwards, I did sets of regular pushups and sit-ups until the total reps equaled 75 for each exercise. Afterwards, I proceeded to shower and do the laundry that I hadn't gotten a chance to do while I was in Arizona. Thankfully, most of the machines are either intuitive on how to use them or have English notes indicating what each buttons does. Thus, doing laundry was fairly straightforward; there is only a washing machine, so when the clothes were done washing, I took them to the outside patio and hung them on racks. Lucky for me, I had moved into an apartment that was fully furnished, buying all the furniture and household items from the past teacher who lived here. 

Himeji city hall, in my opinion, was underwhelming when the other teachers and I visited to declare our arrival and to open a bank account for salary deposits. Arriving at 8 AM, we were able to finish the paperwork, eat lunch, and leave city hall by 12 PM. The banks are VERY particular when it comes to paperwork; there can be no mistakes, writing must be done in black ballpoint pen ink, and English writing must be in all uppercase letters. What I found exciting was receiving my Honko. A Honko is a wooden stamping instrument that acts as my personal signature. It is valued as much as my passport or my resident card, and every person’s Honko is different. There is another teacher whose last name is the same as mine, so our Honko’s are very similar. However, because each Honko is personalized as a person’s signature, there are very slight differences such as thicker or longer lines. While waiting for our paperwork to be thoroughly checked (taking roughly 1.5 to 2 hours), the other teachers and I went to find a convenience store with an ATM to withdraw cash, as Japan is largely a cash driven country, and to my pleasant surprise, my Bank of America card worked! I was only surprised because it did not work in Colombia when I attempted to withdraw cash, but I also didn’t put in a travel notice with my bank when I went to Colombia. Anywho, once our bank accounts were open, Mr. Kamata treated us to lunch in the café of city hall. I had miso soup and rice with mapo tofu, and it was delicious. 

Speaking of delicious, the very first meal I had in Japan was at a conveyer belt sushi restaurant. It is tradition for renewed teachers to treat newly appointed teachers to sushi as a first welcome meal. When I first heard that we were going to a conveyer belt sushi restaurant, I felt slightly disappointed that that would be my first meal since Arizona’s conveyer belt sushi is horrendous. However, to my surprise, this restaurant was not only technologically interesting but it was tasted delicious! They had matcha powder available at each table and a hot water spout so customers can drink matcha tea. All orders were done via a screen at each table, and the orders would come out on trays that indicated which table the order belonged to. The wasabi is much stronger than any wasabi I have had before, but it was good nonetheless. 

I’m still not sure how I feel or how I should feel quite yet. Everything seems so surreal. All my friends and family are halfway across the world, I’m living by myself for the first time in my life, and I’m living in Japan! Rather than a single room, I was placed into a family room, which is the equivalent of a one bedroom apartment in Arizona. Even though the apartment is fully furnished and I have unpacked all my belongings, it feels empty. I have been so used to living with roommates. When I moved out from my family’s house, I lived in dorms with roommates, and afterwards, I lived in a house with roommates. So being here in a one-bedroom apartment in a different country where I don’t speak the language makes me feel a bit lonely, something I don’t think I have felt in awhile. Luckily, I have great friends in Arizona that I am still able to communicate with (shoutout to T-mobile for their unlimited data up to 2G and unlimited texts), and I have access to the music I usually listen to on Spotify. I look forward to this upcoming year, and I hope to get adjusted soon. Thankfully, my start date isn’t until September 3, which gives me a bit more time to learn essential Japanese phrases (like “I do not speak Japanese”) and to plan my introduction speech and presentation for school.

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An Tran
An Tran

Recent college graduate in biomedical engineering exploring Japan as an assistant language teacher. 

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