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Adjusting to School/Japan

My last entry was a bit more of a bunch of bulleted paragraphs than a recount of events or thoughts so Iím going to try and give this one a more flowing structure. That doesnít mean it will be totally cohesive though; particularly these early memories that have slipped a bit in detail.

The lead up to moving to Japan to go to university is unsurprisingly pretty complicated. I had to go through getting my passport renewed, getting my GPA up and maintaining it, getting my visa, and there was also a whole lot of random paperwork leading up different stages of my visa and whatnot. But along with that I had to go through several meetings to make sure I understood what going abroad was about and culture-shock and a whole lot of stuff like that.

Kinda like that but also involving lots of wandering around Toronto. Finding the Japanese Embassy was surprisingly difficult. My visa photo also looked like hell because I walked into a camera store during a heat wave and had the guy take my picture. Not the best idea.

Basically these kinds of seminars are totally pointless. When I got to Japan everything Iíd learned from anime and anecdote was mostly correct. Japanese people stare at the gaijin; vending machines are everywhere; unsurprisingly, they speak a different language. In reality the only significant adjustments I had to make were in going back to square one socially. In my third year of university I had moved to a city I donít know and is out of reach of my friends and family.

Not really but it was freaky to not know a single person in the country. Eventually I found the alcoholics (as in, everyone) and it was all good.

Newness is what kept everyone going at the start. People who would later either learn to hate Japan (or Akita specifically) or would be totally anti-social started off running in between friend groups and eagerly signing up for events and joining clubs. Again, it was like going back to first year when all this shit was new. The only difference here is that itís Japan and if nothing else, Japan is a very distracting country. Everyone wanted to test their language skills on the Japanese (and try and impress the other gaijin), anime mascots and Engrish nonsense make even the most mundane shopping experiences amusing, and the change in scenery was just cool on its own.

It's a duck wearing a hat with cat ears. I still don't know why.

The orientations at the school were definitely more useful than anything they tell you at your home school. My school gave very overarching comments about how to not get ripped off abroad, not being an idiot with your money/luggage, and just things that if youíve ever gone anywhere you know already. My school even put me in touch with someone who went to Akita and the only stuff of real value I got out of it was that in Japan they use the same voltage as here so I could bring my PS3 if I wanted (for some reason I did).

Once I landed in Akita things were totally different. As I was going through baggage at Akita Airport I saw exactly one other person with blonde hair and white skin and immediately knew ďWell, she goes to my schoolĒ. We wound up chatting and stuck together for the first little while just because kanji, Japanese, and airport security are a very intimidating combo for people who canít read/speak it very well.
Me and Katrine (who came from Germany, making Japanese her third language) arrived a day early and checked into the hotel together. It helped me get used to some things Iíd be doing a lot of during my time here: pantomime, starting and finishing sentences in different languages, and looking at my gaijin friends with confused looks. People expect that in Japan everyone knows enough English to do their job but thatís untrue. Akita is in the middle of nowhere and if their accent is thick enough even other Japanese people canít understand them. English is still a novelty. Even in big cities though, unless youíre shopping at The Apple Store right next to the airport youíre going to run into a language barrier at some point.

Japanese hotel room. Standard but it somehow still felt smaller than normal. I remember watching Kimba the White Lion on TV, then playing Persona 3 PSP and being like "Oh shit! I'm in the same country they are!"

But like I said, newness kept it fun. Pantomime and confusion became games in and of themselves. And in all honesty, this country has done a lot to improve my communication skills. Trying to explain ďvinegarĒ without just saying ďvinegarĒ helps you think in different ways. However, the one thing I absolutely will not miss in any way is not being able to be properly subtle, ironic, or sarcastic. Japanese people donít understand any of those. As a Canadian with a strong English heritage, going 6 months without marijuana, beer, and word-play is painful in so many ways (read as: being the edgy bad-boy and being the funny guy don't work particularly well on girls here until you actually get to know each other).

So the salient points so far of my initial landing in Japan are these:
1. Stereotypes of the country are reasonably true.
2. Being told anything by anyone doesnít really prepare you mentally for Japan. You can make sure to know that youíre going to be stared at, not being able to communicate clearly, etc but it doesnít really prepare you exactly.
3. However, being unprepared is what makes it tolerable. The idea of going into a city youíve never been to with people you barely know needing to use a language you can barely speak and getting so wasted you can barely walk could and does scare many people away (and for some people probably should) but it shouldnít.

I have photos where I look even less coherent than this. Although in retrospect, this was the night me and four friends passed out in a bus station and the school sent an email to everyone about us scaring the Japanese locals with how drunk we were.

Just as a quick roundup of school I will say this: itís easy. I go to a school that teaches in English so for Japanese people itís quite prestigious but they accept people based on TOEFL proficiency and that means people who speak basic Engrish can get in if theyíre hard-working. This translates to an essay question being 5-8 sentences instead of 5-8 pages; which again translates to most of the gaijin being borderline destructively irresponsible (at least the ones I became friends with) and the Japanese people being very studious. This school is an exception to the rule in that Japanese universities are hard to get into and easy to coast in. For a Japanese person itís hard to get into and hard to do well in. I think thatís all I need to say about school directly.

Since I promised 1000 words an entry Iíll cut off here. There's like, two conclusion paragraphs in a row already so I dunno what to put here.
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About Harris Hatsworthone of us since 6:43 PM on 03.28.2009

I'm a 20 year-old degenerate Canadian currently studying Political Science at University of Toronto. I'm about to finish my third year and I'm doing so abroad in Japan (and as far as I can think that time is going to be all I use this blog for for a while).

I own a PS3, Wii, PS2, DS, PSP, and a SNES and have a considerable gaming collection. I only brought the PS3 with me to Japan and I don't really use it all that much. In fact, I'm not really sure if I plan to keep gaming in the future. At least, not nearly as much as I used to.