The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

First Week in Japan!

Like most of my blogs, this one is long overdue. I always want to catalog every single thing that happens, and with each day that goes by the task seems more and more insurmountable, so I put it off longer and longer. As usual, in order to break the cycle I have to compromise and forget about chronicling every detail. Sadly, this means that you only get to read the abridged version, but I'm guessing most of you don't want to spend four hours reading my adventures. I'll try to hit the highlights.

Daniel and I arrived in Japan on Saturday, February 20th around noon. Our journey started on Thursday the 18th when we left my house in Springfield at around 9:00 am to drive to the Tulsa airport. My parents drove us there, and we met one of Daniel's aunts in Tulsa for lunch before heading to the airport. Our flight left around 5:00 pm for L.A. In L.A. we had quite a layover, then at 12:30 am on the 19th (L.A. time) we left for Seoul. We landed in Seoul at 7:00 am on the 20th, then had one last short flight to Osaka. All told, we were traveling for about 36 hours (from the time we left my house) until we got to our hotel room in Osaka. I don't sleep well on a plane, so I was running mostly without sleep for that time. It was not a great experience... I hate being on airplanes. Still, as uncomfortable as it was, everything went smoothly and we were on schedule the whole time.

I was a bit nervous about immigration, though I really shouldn't have been because we had proof of a return air ticket dated within 3 months of landing (a tourist visa lasts 90 days, and that's all we qualified for upon entry). We waited in the immigration line for the better part of an hour, and when we finally got up to an immigration officer, he looked over our documents carefully, then decided to let us through. Japan requires you to fill out a landing card, like the UK, so we had to hand that over along with proof that we weren't going to overstay our welcome. Then (and this is the best part), we were fingerprinted and photographed by the immigration officer before we could go through. About a year ago, Japan started doing this for every person who passes through immigration. They say it's for the "prevention of terrorism," though I'm sure they use it to prevent illegal immigration too. I don't have a problem with it necessarily, but I imagine that it would not go over well if the US government tried to implement a similar practice. I'm sort of torn on how I feel about the US using something like that... on the one hand, we are at a significantly greater risk of terrorism than Japan and a system like that would probably help catch people, but on the other hand it's a little Big Brother.

When we finally got into Osaka, we rested up in our hotel room for the rest of the day.... mostly just emerging to find food. On Sunday we went to the old palace and scouted out the neighborhood we would be moving to on Monday. There was actually quite a lot to see, because our apartment is about 5 minutes' walking distance from Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi, which are major shopping/entertainment districts in Osaka. We have walked around both of them quite extensively now, and I was thrilled to see that a *huge* new H&M is opening in Shinsaibashi on March 6th! I think you all know where I'm going to be this Saturday. It's opening right next to the Lush in Shinsaibashi-suji (street), so the shopping addictions I acquired in London three years ago will continue to be indulged.

On Monday we dragged our 200+ pounds of luggage from our hotel to our apartment, which was no small feat. I had suggested that we might make things easy on ourselves and just take a taxi, but Daniel was confident we could handle it ourselves. I figured we *could* handle it, I just didn't particularly *want* to, having been through a similar ordeal twice before and not finding it particularly enjoyable. It was just as unpleasant as I had imagined it would be (and a good deal more unpleasant than Daniel had expected), but after two subway stations and several blocks of narrow sidewalks, we arrived at our apartment.

The first time I saw it, I very nearly cried. I have now resolved to be grateful for my circumstances, as I will have the most extraordinary character after surviving this place, but it was quite a shock at first. I knew it would be small; and really, it's not the size that bothers me. I got used to living in a very small space when I was in France, and though my place in France was roughly the same size as this one is, I definitely prefer my French apartment. My main issue with our place right now is that there's no light at all. Even though we have windows in every room, if we don't have lights on in the middle of the day, you can barely see well enough to shuffle from the bedroom to the bathroom. All of our windows open onto cinder block walls, so even though we don't go down stairs to enter the place, it feels like we're living in a basement.

The second bad thing about our apartment (and this ties with the lack of light) is the toilet. I was really afraid that we would end up with a Japanese-style squat toilet, but Daniel assured me that that was unlikely since it's an apartment for foreigners, so they should have western-style appliances. Well. That would have been nice, wouldn't it? When I first saw our toilet my heart sank, but at least we're getting the authentic experience, right? Right.

The last annoying thing about our place is the tiny, tiny kitchen. I had a tiny kitchen in France, and honestly I like a few things about this one better, but the thing that kills me is the lack of counter space. There is literally no work surface at all. I have a gas range with two burners (which I like very much) and a sink. Then there's the fridge, which is nice and roomy (bigger than my French one), and on top of that a microwave and toaster oven. If I want to chop or prepare anything, I have to take it in to the table in the main room. Also, doing dishes is more difficult because I don't have anyplace to dry them or drain them, so I basically have to wash, rinse, and towel-dry each dish individually and put it away. I've taken to washing and drying the largest dish first and placing it on one of the burners, then stacking all the other dishes on top of them.

Besides those things, the place is fine. I like the shower/bath room, because we have a nice deep (if narrow) bathtub and a Japanese-style shower, which basically means you get to sit on a little stool as you shower instead of having to do all that tiresome standing. =) We have a gas water heater and *never* run out of *extremely* hot water, which is more than I can say for my home in the States (hi mom and dad!) =D. Our main room is cozy and has an electric heater so we stay pretty warm most of the time. I love our kotatsu, which is sort of like a coffee table with a heater on the underside, and a blanket attached under the tabletop. You slip your legs underneath the table, surrounded by the blanket, and get to stay nice and toasty.

For the past week Daniel and I have been getting settled in our new place. This mostly entails figuring out how to use everything, how our routines are going to work, and in general how to go about daily life here. We have found a few different grocery stores and are experimenting with what products we like and what sorts of things we can cook at home. We've been exploring our neighborhood and where and how to get what we need. A couple of days ago Daniel went to a big electronics store nearby, Bic Camera, and got us set up with a Japanese cell phone.

Last Friday was our one-year anniversary (of the day we met in London), so we went to a fancy-looking coffee shop across the street from the nice grocery store we like. It was really great. We shared a strawberry parfait and he had coffee while I tried a "royal milk" tea, which I figured was probably English-style tea. All of the cups and dishes were china, and the waiter was very nice. It felt very fine and formal yet also relaxing, which is great because it's name is "Kajin, Relax Coffee Shop." Like most attempts at English in Japan, their sign was full of funny grammatical errors and awkward phrases. Above the door it says something like "It creates a vacuousness in the head." Because of this, we've taken to calling it the "Vacuous Coffee Shop," but it has become one of our favorite places and I look forward to going there again.

For the last couple of days we've been doing things like putting our resumés together and looking up job opportunities. Today I started feeling like we were really getting somewhere, because I was contacted for a job interview! I'm really excited about it really puts me at ease to feel like we're making progress. We're also going out to Ibaraki tomorrow (a suburb of Osaka) to talk to some about ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) jobs. Things seem like they're moving along so I'm feeling better about our prospects, and hopefully we'll both be employed within a few weeks! I'll keep things updated. If you want my address here send me an email; I always love letters!

ありがとう!

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