It’s now my third day in Japan, and finally I have enough time to write a decent blog post.
Last Wednesday I got up at 5:30 in the morning, and my parents and I left for Schiphol Airport at around 6:30. Fortunately traffic was not too bad, and we arrived at Schiphol shortly before eight. There I picked up my tickets (which apparently really costs €4800 for a one way ticket as I had previously seen on the web; why they don’t just buy a round trip (which is only about €1000) is beyond me) and met up with Vincent, the other Dutch MEXT student who was leaving that day. After saying goodbye to my parents and a few friends who were there as well I went through security, and at around 10:10 we boarded the plane to Frankfurt.
Thanks to strong winds at Frankfurt, the flight was around thirty minutes late, but we were still well in time for the connecting flight (especially since that one was delayed as well; apparently they had to close a runway because of the wind). As I had feared I wasn’t able to sleep in the plane, despite trying to, so when we arrived at Tokyo eleven hours later (around 8:30 local time, 45 minutes later than planned) I was thoroughly tired. Unfortunately, I wasn’t about to get any rest.
The first thing we had to do at Narita was go through customs, which took a long time. Because almost every European MEXT student was on that flight there were a lot of foreigners, and they were very thorough, and because I was at the back of the plane I was also at the back of the line. It took maybe two hours before we were finally finished. Then we had to wait for transportation. It was complete chaos as nobody really seemed to know what we were supposed to do. I hadn’t really expected the Japanese to organize things so badly. For me this was especially aggravating because I had to meet my “tutor” from Tokyo University at noon, and had no way to contact him about it.
Eventually, everybody had registered, and we went by shuttle bus to the Tokyo City Air Terminal in central Tokyo, and from there with a taxi to the international house. By then I was about 90 minutes late for my appointment. Turns out the poor guy was waiting for me. Because I was so late (and understandably very tired; I was awake for about 25 hours by then) we decided to cut short our plans a bit and only went to Hongo campus (the main campus) where I had to fill out some forms at the Office of International Relations. We couldn’t finish some stuff because I don’t have an Alien Registration Card yet, so I’m going back on Monday, which is also when I will first go to Kitsuregawa Lab. Hopefully I will also find out when the Japanese language courses will start, the lack of information about some stuff is really driving me nuts.
After having dinner with my tutor (I still can’t quite get the hang of eating with “hashi” (chopsticks), but it’s getting better) I returned to the international house and pretty much went to sleep immediately. I had a pretty rough night; although initially I didn’t have any trouble falling asleep (and that’s not surprising since I was awake for 32 hours by then), I woke up at about 2:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep, mainly because of the rock-hard pillow. After switching to using a towel for a pillow (after eleven years of being a boy scout you learn to be creative with your sleeping arrangements) I managed to sleep again until 9:00.
The next morning at 10:00 we had a brief orientation meeting, followed by filling in more forms for the never-ending bureaucratic processes here in Japan. Forms for the house, alien registration and health insurance all had to be filled out. We also got a brief tour of the house, including facilities such as the library and the gym. Then we went to the Setagaya administrative office to deliver the forms. It’ll take about three weeks before I get the alien registration card but I did get a written certificate that I can use in the mean time.
After that we returned to the international house, and together with two Italians who had also arrived the day before I went to find the other station (there are two near the house). There was a very nice shopping street there as well so we browsed around a bit there, and then ate at a take-away for only 210 yen (around €1.30, really cheap). I don’t remember what it was called but it was some kind of omelet-type-thingy and it was very good. Then we stopped at “Mister Donuts” for desert which you see a lot around here; it’s kind of like Dunkin’ Donuts. One of the Italians was apparently a pretty big fan of “Mister Donuts” and insisted we went there. :-) After coming back I briefly checked my mail, and then went to bed.
Today I didn’t do much. I slept in late, ate something and talked with a few French guys and an Irish guy. Then I went to Shinjuku and walked around a bit, browsing the shops. Shinjuku really is the way I imagined Tokyo to be: bright, noisy and crowded. The train station alone is so big that the train line from my house has two stops there (yes, two different stops at the same station)! There’s an electronics store there called Yodobashi Camera where they sell everything. The closest equivalent in the Netherlands would be something like Mediamarkt, but this is about five times bigger and fifty times more crowded. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera but I’m sure I’ll go there again sometime in the next two years. ;-)
And now I’m writing this blog post. I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do tomorrow. There’s apparently a flea market here at the international house where I should be able to pick up some stuff for my room, and then there’s the guy from the NTT of course, but after that I don’t know. Maybe I’ll go to Shinjuku again, or maybe Akihabara, or perhaps something else will present itself.
In any case, so far it’s been pretty good. The jetlag hasn’t been too bad after the first day, and so far the culture shock hasn’t been too bad. Mostly people are just incredibly polite. For example, no matter how packed the trains are (and they can be very packed, much more so than Dutch trains) they always queue up neatly in front of the entrance, and enter orderly without any pushing at all, quite unlike the way it’s done in the Netherlands. One thing that I hadn’t anticipated is that it gets dark here very early, around six (compared to after eight in the Netherlands). This is because it’s much more southern than the Netherlands and because there’s no Daylight Saving Time.
The only annoying thing, as I said, is a lack of information about some things relating to the University. But I’m sure that will improve next week.