A month and a half of summer has gone by, and there are only two more weeks until school starts again in the Fall. Japan has taught me a lot so far, and I feel like a completely changed person. The country hasn't changed me in the ways that I thought it would ー with that idealized image every foreign traveler has about being culturally transformed. I'm realizing now that my own personal journey has not so much to do with me fitting into the Japanese culture, as it does with how I never truly will.
All of the richness of culture, food, language, and mannerisms that exist here won't come back with me to the U.S. I won't implement them into my daily life, and I'll most likely fall right back into the customs surrounding me because it's human nature. What will go back with me, however, is the perspective through a foreigner's eyes. The knowledge of my place in the world, not just my place in the small confines of Los Angeles, California. The knowledge that there is so much beyond my daily interactions, so many more systems and patterns which govern other peoples' lives. And most importantly, the knowledge that there is so much room for me to grow.
Outside Takadanobaba station on a clear summer day
The past couple of weeks have been filled with first time experiences: from my first chef's training session at work, my first visit to a Japanese museum, my first dinner date with my roommate ("housemate" she calls it), my first Japanese company party, to my first dinner party in my own apartment.
Yasu and me at the Ghibli animation museum
Me and a cube I should be really excited about, but have yet to watch the movie
Sere at the cotton club, the place she chose for our first neighborhood outing
Grilled buttered mushroom salad
LINA's 会社の飲み会 (Kaisha no Nomikai, Company Party)!!
New friend Yu. Twenty one years old with English skills and impeccable style!
Shikata-san. I can't believe he's the same guy who interviewed me!
Yotsuya at 5:30am, before catching the first train
Eiki's tantalizing birthday dinner.
Last Saturday was also my first time volunteering with a program called Hands On Tokyo. This program aims to create meaningful experiences and relationships by providing volunteer opportunities in places such as senior homes, special education programs, and blind center. I had the opportunity to participate in teaching English to people at the Tokyo Metropolitan Welfare Association of the Blind. It was nothing short of inspiring to see how enthusiastic these people were about life and learning. I hope that it's something I can remain consistent with throughout the next four and a half months! I didn't take any pictures because Hands on Tokyo suggested not to for privacy reasons. Maybe it varies from program to program, but I'm hoping that at some point, I'll be able to photograph my experiences.
There's also the more seemingly mundane firsts such as reading alone in a cafe, to trying Tokyo's famous taiyaki. And the the one I'll always look back on with fondness - my first time wearing athletic shoes to work. Unremarkable, perhaps, but they were still exciting for me!
鯛焼き (Taiyaki) Waffle batter stuffed with あん (an) sweet beans, baked to golden perfection. Waited so long to try one!
Daily dose of the bible, along with some comic relief from my friend Mr. Sedaris. And of course, caffeine.
Next semester's study spot: Veloce Cafe 西早稲田 (Nishiwaseda)
Wearing running shoes to work was exciting for me because even though I looked like the biggest dork ever, it was the first time I ditched the fashion nonsense and wore what made sense. If I'm on my feet for five hours with no break, I might as well avoid back pain! My boss laughed said it was totally okay if my shoes were ugly, which just made me regret ever wearing anything else.
Not so cute, but feels great!
This picture was sent to me by Watanabe-san with the caption "Master Sara"
Chillin with Watanabe and Suda-san
ちゃんちゃん焼き (Chyanchyan-yaki), a local dish famous in Hokkaido fishing towns, made of baked salmon and vegetables. So far my favorite Ushikai dinner!
穴八幡神社（Anahachimanguu) in Nishi-Waseda
Lanterns in Shinjuku
I'm not much of a movie watcher, but one of my goals was to dedicate myself to watching seven Japanese movies this summer - and not just with subtitles, but also once more without subtitles. My Japanese friend who learned English at a remarkably fast rate told me that this method worked for her. I'm only two and a half movies in, but I'm hoping it helps!
One thing this schedule has left me with is a lot of time by myself. My roommates are at work by the time I wake up, my family and boyfriend are asleep or at least getting ready for sleep. I hadn't made close Japanese friends (until very recently), which has equated to lots of time spent alone. Running errands, exercising, grocery shopping, cooking, eating, all of it's done alone. Once in a while I'll read a book or watch Japanese movies, which will allow me to pass the time and feel a little less lonely. But most of the time, I'm just wishing I had more friends here. Wandering around busy streets like Shinjuku, or even watch people interacting with their friends and co-workers at the restaurant, is when it becomes especially apparent.
Near a busy intersection outside of Shinjuku station
On my way to buy a laptop charger at ビッグカメラ (Big Camera)
A few days ago, to avoid being hungry while grocery shopping, I gobbled down a quick bento box outside of Seiyu. My roommate and I had plans to get dinner but something had come up at her workplace, so we had to reschedule. On this day, I think was when I hit my ultimate low point, and I just remember feeling so isolated. I was hungry with a bento box in my hand, but I had made my purchase on one of the busiest streets in Takadanobaba. Everywhere I looked, people were with friends, laughing and joking. Once in a while, I could feel their gazes shift to me, alone in my running clothes late on a Tuesday night.
Midnight grocery shopping!
Searched the entire aisle for bagels and these were the closest thing! So this is culture shock...
Sere and I had some roommate bonding time on Wednesday night. The following day, I visited a museum with my friend Yasu and later, Sere threw a birthday celebration for her friend Eiki and I had the honor of helping them with it. Just last night, Yasu, and my two new friends, Yumiko and Andy, went for Chinese food and karaoke. And a few days ago, a girl I met at my company party named Yu invited me to a concert in her hometown in Yokohama, a place I've been wanting to visit for months! I feel like I've been rescued by God after feeling trapped last Tuesday. I don't want to say that I'm completely happy or that my feelings of culture shock have vanished, but progress is being made!
Yasu, me, Andy, and Yumiko
Getting Chinese recommendations from Andy