Wednesday, March 25, 2009
One week in
Time for a new post I think. It's 10:00 am here in Tokyo and I just finished babysitting my baby brother, Takuto, while Kayo and Takashi ran some errands. I've never had a baby brother before. I love just being able to hold him and play with him whenever I want to. He's beautiful.
I have been in Japan for one week now. What a week! How I feel now differs greatly from how I felt the first couple days of the trip. In my journal this morning, I was writing about how surprised I am at how comfortable and normal life feels here already. For the past few days I've been commuting to my school for orientation activities all by myself! I have to take two train lines and it's about a one hour journey in total. My first day of traveling to school was quite hectic, but very funny to look back on. I think I approached about ten different people and first asked if they spoke English (in English), most of them replied with "a little," and then I proceeded to ask them for instructions on how to get to where I needed to be. I'm glad I'm outgoing, otherwise I probably would have ended up in some remote village hours away! Hah! The train is a bit stressful though. When I change lines, I have to hop on a train that is known to be one of the busiest train lines in Tokyo! Great! One man's job is to push people onto the train..literally shove them in! AH! Not fun, but quite the experience.
Orientation is going well. The other students and I have discussed how we think it could be shortened. We still have two more weeks until classes start! But, I will not complain too much because they have planned some fun and very interesting activities for us. Yesterday we went on a bus tour of Tokyo, which was fantastic. They let us off at a few stops to look around. We took a walk around the Imperial Palace, where the Japanese royal family lives. It is beautiful there. It is surrounded by a brick wall dating back to the palace's origin and a moat miles wide. The royal family is much more private here than the royal family in Great Britain, but their roles in society are similar. They say the princess here is often compared to Princess Diana. I am interested in learning more about them. The tour also took us to a Buddhist temple and Shinto shrine in Asakusa. Japan is the only country where Buddhism is intertwined with another religion, Shintoism. I spent much of my time there observing the Japanese people as they either prayed or drank from the holy water or covered themselves in incense to make them smarter or prettier or heal an ache. I have been learning a lot about the overlapping of culture and religion. Many customs experienced here are argued as purely a cultural exercise, rather than religious. This is why Christianity in Japan is much different than in the United States. Many people cling on to both the traditions of their culture (such as praying to their ancestors) as well as the teachings of the Bible. I am finding this to be an area of conflict for the Christian people. I plan on learning much more about this. Kayo is teaching me a lot. Back to the tour, the tour allowed us all to see the areas around school, including Ginza, the up-scale shopping area, Akihabara, the technology center, and all of the political buildings around. Sophia University is located in a very governmental area. It is very nice. Something that has taken me by surprise here is how much Tokyo reminds of London. Maybe it's just my way of finding comfort in an unfamiliar place, but I've noticed many things, such as the respectful demeanor of the people, the trains, the lines on the roads, the smallness of buildings, stores, and cars, the English pubs, and many other random things that I see. Funny, huh?
So, one week in and I am doing very well. Tokyo is very westernized and I definitely credit that as a source of comfort for me. Japan has the second most McDonald's restaurants after the United States (and Japan is smaller than the state of California!). I am noticing that American culture is very popular here. Many Japanese people love McDonald's, KFC, 7-Eleven, Starbucks, American movies, American clothing (just shirts that have English on them are popular and many times what they say doesn't make sense), and so on. Something else I have noticed is just how fascinated Japanese people are with other cultures. I have heard that rascism is not common because foreign lifestyles are viewed as interesting, not bothersome or threatening (this statement is not as true for the older population of Japan, who for example, can view the American culture as threatening the traditional "real" Japan). In my opinion, because our world has become so interconnected since WWII, it is impossible to avoid foreign influence and westernization, especially in cities. Holding on to traditional values and customs is much more difficult than ever before. One of the many reasons Japan is so intriguing though is that the old and the new live together in one place. For example, there are Buddhist temples right in the middle of the urban Tokyo. I love it.
Well I must go get ready for another busy day. I have to hop on the train in an hour. Today orientation is covering class registration. Exciting! haha. Commuting today should be much easier seeing that I am going at a much later time! Thank goodness.
Bai bai! (bye bye in Japanese romaji)