Saturday, August 2, 2008

Tokyo and Osaka: Travel Journal

This is a preliminary version that have not been proofread properly. I probably shouldn't post it as is, but everyone was curious how my week is going, so I'll post, and apologies for the lack of proofreading. If you want to wait till I proofread, just wait till this note in italics disappears.

Anton asked me what airplane I was flying on, so to answer his question it's one of the newer 777s. You should see the executive class cabin, it's quite impressive-looking, like in science fiction movies. The economy class is very nice too. There is a power outlet for the laptop. I have to get up and dig out the power cord from my luggage, I don't feel like bothering the other passenger, and it's not like I plan to use the laptop much anyway.

Back to the description of the airplane. I don't know the technical specifications, although I will be sure to look them up once I get to my place, because I am curious. It is really comfortable though in the cabin. The washroom is huge, there are individual TVs at each seat, and there is even a USB port, I wonder what it's for. Maybe for a camera? Who knows... I am going to ask a flight attendant if I remember.
Oh, I asked, the flight attendants don't know.

We are going to fly above Alaska—I wonder if I'd be able to see anything... although I'll probably be sleeping by then.

It's now about 2 PM (on Tuesday the 29th, so we just took off half an hour ago), which means it's 3 AM in Japan. As soon as they serve food I am going to sleep. Mom suggested that I get some alcohol on the flight, because alcohol makes me sleepy, but it looks like there will be no need, at least not right now. I am already really sleepy. Maybe if I wake up in the next 9 hours and can't go back to sleep I'll ask for some, but I had a late night yesterday, so I am perfectly tired right now.

I actually slept really well. It's almost 4 PM right now, and I feel great, no different from any regular day in Toronto (except I'd really like a nice shower).

The flight stayed nice throughout, and I really don't know why people complain so much about Air Canada flights. Maybe they haven't tried Transat, if they did, they wouldn't complain.
Of course, on Friday I get to compare Air Canada to ANA, maybe it's a lot nicer, who knows, but so far I have no complaints whatsoever, well, besides the fact that they checked my carry-on luggage weight.

Japanese Test?
I got my conversation skills tested during the flight today. An old man who sat next to me spoke very little English, but we somehow managed to talk for two hours about lobsters (yes, you read correctly), fishing, skiing, farming (he is a farmer), and I don't even remember what else. It was quite fun, and with the help of my electronic dictionary and my laptop fictionary, we managed quite well, all in Japanese too, except some words. I was actually surprised I can carry on a conversation for so long, so I was thinking, I know more Japanese than I thought, and at the same time, I know less Japanese than I thought. There is so much grammar I need to learn. After that conversation I really can't wait to move in, get my schedule, and start studying regularly.

Getting Around
Getting around the airport was easy. Narita has the fastest border crossing and customs that I've seen. They didn't even ask any questions, I was so surprised, since in Canada, Ukraine, and GB they ask so much.

I found the luggage shipping services easily, and for $37 I shipped my two monstrous 32 kg each suitcases to my school. Amazing service, I'd say, they will be there tomorrow morning.

In general, I think I worried a lot more than I should have about getting around, at least at the airport. I barely used English (except when filling out the customs forms and the addresses for my luggage), and yet it was fine. Such a good feeling when I know I can survive and get around, and I wasn't scared of asking questions at all. I must send a special card to Kondo sensei for being such a wonderful teacher, and I must also thank Haruka for teaching me, and Kaori and Bill for making me practice speaking with them. Ah, Rie too, for making me use Japanese when I talk to her on Skype ^ ^, I think it helped.

*I am in Toyohashi now and it's Saturday evening, and I'd still say that I didn't have much trouble getting around so far. People are so nice and helpful.

View from the Plane
Rice fields look so interesting from the plane: they look like ordinary green fields, but when you fly above them they look translucent, and sun reflects off them. I am going to see if I can find some aerial shots when I get home.

I can't see too much from the train right now (I am riding from Narita to Steph's place), but what I do see looks really nice and green. I hope it's like this in Toyohashi as well.

Food in Tokyo
Well, food is good. Not much I can say :P, it's just so much better than Toronto, but I am sure everyone knows that already.
Steph and Tatsushi took me to an Okinawan izakaya the first night, and to an Italian restauraunt the second night, and I loved both. We also had lunch outside of ToDai (Tokyo University) in a small family soba restauraunt, and Steph got me to try natto for breakfast. I expected natto to be a lot worse, but it's not so bad at all. It is probably not something I'd eat too much, but it's good once in a while. Yesterday I just ate it with rice, nori, and mustard, but today I ate it with a raw egg, in addition to the other stuff. I would fry the egg next time, and maybe use a bit less natto and a bit more mustard, but otherwise it was quite good.
I just ate two onigiri at the airport, while waiting for my flight to Osaka, and they were super tasty. I love Korean Town onigiri too, but these ones were really warm, and they had really interesting things inside: one was with fried shrimp, and the other—with cod roe (that's what it's called, I think...) I need to practice making onigiri, and putting different stuff inside, it's so fun.
I bought some omiyage for Rie and Anton, it's famous "Tokyo Banana" pastries that taste like banana cream cakes, and look and smell like real bananas.

Osaka Food
I am too lazy to write about food in Osaka. It was good.

Interesting Observation
I noticed I sometimes forget I am in Japan. It doesn't feel alien or anything, or maybe it's because I've already been through an experience of moving to a foreign country (Canada). Sure, I have to use Japanese and I have difficulties expressing myself, and sure my English was a lot better when I came to Canada than my Japanese is now, but then, I am not really too afraid to use Japanese, and people are so helpful. At the airport in Osaka when I didn't know how to buy train tickets a really nice CA (flight attendant), probably on her way home from work, offered help. On the train a really nice ojiisan also helped me to find my stop on the map.
Rie's friend was visiting and hanging out with us, and while her English is really good we mostly used Japanese, and it wasn't so bad. Everyone was really helpful and patient with me and I just keep getting surprised at how much I can actually understand.
I was worried before I came about being treated as an outsider and a foreigner, but the truth is, I think it doesn't matter where you are, if you expect a certain treatment, you are more likely to get it, so being open-minded can do o much. Well, I've only been in Japan for a few days so of course I can't say too much, but none the less, I am sure I'll be fine as long a I am nice to people and always try hard to be open-minded. Well, more on that later, once I have actually lived here lng enough.

I was lucky, Tokyo's weather was pretty much the same as in Toronto when I left. Steph says that that it was worse before I got there though.
As for Osaka, let's just say, Steph gave me the best present ever, a parasol—I really put it good use. Oh, no, actually, I didn't get a chance to use it as much in Osaka because I was out mostly in the evening, but in Tokyo I used it a lot, and I will use it a lot again in Toyohashi.
Apparently I was also "lucky" in Osaka with the weather, and apparently it was "only 33C", while a few days ago it was 36C. That place would take time to get used to during the summer, I guss. It's uncomfortably hot, and sleeping without the AC is not so pleasant. We went to bed around 7 AM (more on why later), and I woke up and 11 and couldn't sleep anymore, even though I didn't have to get up until 1 PM. The thing is though, with enough sunscreen, parasols, water, a fan, and some patience it isn't that bad. I'd pick Osaka or Tokyo over Toronto any day (in terms of location).

*When I arrived at Toyohashi it was +29 or so, and very bearable. I can't really tell though how bad it gets because I got here after dark, and it seems a lot cooler in the evenings here. We'll see tomorrow.

We went to watch fireworks close to Anton and Rie's house, and they were so beautiful. They also lasted for an hour. I think next weekend we are supposed to have fireworks in Toyohashi, so I will definitely look up the information about it and go if I don't have anything else to do that day.

I want to get good at regular Japanese soon, so that I can ask Rie to teach me some Kansai-ben. It sounds so fun, I enjoyed listening to her talk with her friend yesterday.

The karaoke place had all the songs I always want to sing in Toronto, but can never find. Well, guess that's because I usually can't find the Japanese songs that I want to find.
We took turns, the four of us, and we stayed at the karaoke place from a bit after midnight and until 6, so you can imagine how much I got to sing. It was so strange to be ok with singing by myself for so lon. Well, I didn't entirely sing by myself, the others helped me with many songs, but still.
Now I am riding on the train from Osaka to Nagoya, and I am getting so sleepy, it's sad. I am so worried about sleeping on this train though, I will be arriving at Nagoya in an hour but what if I don't wake up when I need to? It's so tempting though..

Jet Lag
I did not have any. Well, right now I am sleepy in the middle of the day, but then it's understandable, we've been up until 7 AM and I only got 4 hours of sleep. Tomorrow I am sleeping in if I can. Anyways, in case anyone is wondering, I think I figured out a good way of preventing a jet lag. Basically what you do is either have bad night's sleep the day before so that you can sleep well on the plane and arrive well-rested (that's what I did this time), or you sleep normally at home, and then don't sleep on the plain at all, so that when you arrive you are so dead-tired that all you want is a shower and a bed, and this ensures that you sleep through the entire night. The latter will only work well if you arrive in the evening, because if you arrive to your destination in the morning or early afternoon, your whole day is wasted. I arrived in Tokyo at 3 PM, so that's why I did't sleep properly the night before. I am very glad I made sure I don't have jet lag, because I could spend all the time I had with Steph and Tatsushi in Tokyo, and then with Rie and Anton in Osaka, instead of wanting to sleep all the time.

It's so cool, the trains here have a camera in the front, and show the view from that camera in every car on a screen.
Some of the train systems (for example JR, which isn't always the cheapest/most convenient option but still) have money cards that are kind of like the oyster card in London. It's very convenient for lazy people, busy people, and people who don't know any Japanese.

Speaking of not knowing Japanese: most of the train stations, if not all, that I've seen have their names written in English and it's very convenient. In general, finding where to go is probably a lot easier because of that.

Flying ANA was nothing special, except they gave you really tasty candy before take-off, I suppose to help with the ear problem.
The view from the plane when we were landing in Osaka was quite something. Next time if I have to travel lik this though, I'd rather use the trains, it's a lot more fun, and you can see so much.

Sorry but I have been keeping my camera in my suitcase throughout the trip. Most of the time it's either really hot, or I am not in the mood to take pictures, or I have luggage with me, so I did not take any pictures at all.

There are mountains here, a lot of forests, and so many rice fields everywhere. The cities that I saw so far are really neat too, the streets are tiny, and a lot of the time you just walk along the road. Everyone bikes everywhere, so wearing headphones is a bad bad idea. Carrying luggage around is also not the best thing, you have to be very careful.

Rie was really sweet to let me use her bogu. It's so nice! I am so used to my old bogu from the club that is falling apart and has been fixed so many times, that seeing Rie's new bogu made me so so happy. Everything fits really well, except for the men, it's a little small. I will get a new one some time, maybe when I go to get shinai and a gi, but I can still use hers for now though. It fits a bit funny, but if I use padding on the sides, it's fine. Now that I am sitting in an air-conditioned train, I actually feel like practicing, but I am sure this resolve will dissapear quickly once I get off the train into the 30+ degree heat.

To Be Continued?
Of course I will be writing more, but I feel I need a break from writing a travel journal, so it might be some time until I post. Tomorrow I have to go food shopping etc, and settle in (although most of my luggage is at work, so I can't do too much yet). Training week is going to be pretty intense it seems so I might not write as much next week, but we'll see.

Overall, I just wanted to stay to those who are wondering, I am doing well, I am really enjoying myself, and that Japan seems like a really nice place (duh).

Ok, bed time for me.

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