The Road of Dreams

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Japan never ceases to amaze me.


Time flies  by and before I even realized I’d been here for 5 months. I haven’t regretted a minute.

Waseda is a superb university, and I truly feel like I’m among an elite, intelligent bunch of young people. Compared to Finnish professors and teachers the Japanese ones really tend to get to know you by name and remember  what you have told them. I have received support from them, but their good memory also prevents me from skipping class. 😉 The staff at the international student center is also always ready to lend a hand, and one of the personnel even learned our names by heart before we even came here. I admire her dedication (and memory, whoah).

The course list satisfied me, as I’ve even gotten a chance to realize my childhood dream of practicing opera. I have happy memories of the truly unique class we had. I think I’ve also increased my Japanese proficiency with caring and talented teachers. Also, future Waseda students, I recommend taking Professor Morikawa’s classes in case you have the chance and interest in his subjects. He is a talented and entertaining teacher.

Japan… So many things surprised me, but I’ve also realized how much this place is just like I imagined it to be. I’m glad I have done my background research, since I don’t think I’ve experienced a big culture shock. Japanese people are truly as friendly as they are described, and you will get help when you need it: If you’re lost, some Japanese people will guide you to your destination themselves, disregarding how much time and effort they will sacrifice for you. The staff in shops is always ready to serve with a smile on their faces. You may make surprising friends in the streets and shops if you have an open mind and extroverted personality – I have.

Group harmony is even more important than I first thought, and that means keeping personal things out of group interaction. Nomikais (literally drink meeting) and other events with friends are there to relief stress, but even in a drunk state a Japanese person strives to keep everyone’s mood cheerful. Beverages flow, but the conversation never dives deeper than the surface. Covers are kept in order to not cause trouble or embarrassment for anyone. While I do appreciate the politeness and manners I find it’s fairly hard to surpass the walls and make friends with Japanese people. -At some point you will be bored of answering questions about your country and the mindless chit-chat. At least I am.

People in Tokyo never stay still. The streets are narrow and filled with people and bicycles, which makes it often necessary to flow with the crowd to get to your destination – there simply is no room to start bypassing, so make sure you have enough time to walk in the rhythm of others. There are no benches to sit down on. Trains are crowded but quiet, and you can rarely hear anyone’s phone, or loud conversations as they are frowned upon. Instead people stand patiently and quietly, playing with their Nintendos and PSPs, cellphones and the like, or sleep on the comfortable seats. Everything is controlled and people know to walk in the right (left) side of the stairs and road, queue diligently and move efficiently. In convenience stores you will never have to wait as the staff will hurry to serve as soon as they see you. -I feel so embarrassed when I have to find/calculate my cash and slow the line for even a few seconds.

However, it’s really hard to get by with only English, as signs and names are written in kanji and people rarely speak even simple English. For truly enjoying Japan with it’s quirks I recon one should learn at least some basic Japanese.

With the Yen and Euro course at the moment it is really, really expensive to live in Japan. In Tokyo vegetables, fruits, meat and dairy products are extremely expensive: One apple, for example, costs 150 yen on average. Rents are soaring, and it’s common to pay around 60,000 yen/month for a 12 square meter apartment. It’s a shame that I’m just a poor student, as the food culture here is imaginative: You can find so many amazing and delicious things to eat!

I love Japan and it’s contrasts and details: a short walk in Tokyo reveals blinding commercial lights, loud gaming halls and shop clerks, consumption and consumerism just to have a quiet temple/shrine or a small ramen carriage just around the corner. The places around Tokyo are completely different from each other: an electronic town of Akihabara (the mecca of nerds), stylish Shibuya, shady streets of Kabuki-cho, romantic Yokohama, traditional Asakusa… I never run out of things to see and experience. Right now I’m preparing to explore other places and varieties of Japan as the spring vacation has just began.

(These pictures are from all over Tokyo, and I’ve taken them during September – October. Please ask permission before using them anywhere.)

Shizuoka and Tokyo Jihen


October 3rd. One of the happiest days of my life.  I finally got to see my favorite band, Tokyo Jihen, and the beautiful Shizuoka.  Even better: I met Tokyo Jihen’s bassist, Mr. Kameda himself at the Shizuoka train station after the concert, and he kindly signed my concert flag. I was so happy I almost cried. An amazing chance!

 

(Please ask permission before using any of these pictures.)

(c) Taija

 

Tokyo – First day


Oh my, 6 weeks have passed and I haven’t written a thing. I am ashamed, although it’s expected, I guess: Simply coping here has taken up all my energy. Time just flows by while I try to survive with school and the progress of making new friends.

I’ll try, however, to summarize some of the things I’ve experienced during the first month in the next entries.

The first day (September 8th) was such a blur that I hardly remember anything from it. I couldn’t sleep in the airplane at all, so at the end of the day I had stayed awake for over 30 hours straight. I was simply too excited, looking out of the plane window whenever I got the chance, enjoying even the airplane food to the fullest. The sky was gorgeous, and being inside and above the clouds exhilarated me the point of squeaking. I saw how the sun set and looked at the outlines of Earth. Later on I got to see some Japanese mountains and the see forming under me. Everything was simply stunning.

 

At the moment the plane had descended to the airport safely I looked out of the window and started crying. -I am finally here.

When I stepped out of the airplane to Narita Airport I was shocked by a heatwave of 38 degrees. I was still wearing my hoodie, as the weather back in Finland was already cold -nearer to 15 degrees-, and had to strip off of it in the hallway. It never gets this hot in Finland, and I felt nauseous without being able to eat anything for the whole day.

There was a pick-up service organized by the NASIC at the airport, but all they could do back there was help me buy the ticket to Narita Express, which I had to run to with my huge suitcase. Everything was new, and I even got a bit panicky when I had to find the right track and car. Luckily some young Japanese people helped me when I stammered some Japanese to them.

During the train trip I enjoyed some orange juice and looked out from the window all the time, just trying to capture everyhing: the colors, the moods, the landscapes, and was particularly surprised at the fact, that Narita was located in the country side. During the first hour I mostly saw rice fields and farmers, tall bamboo forests, trees I couldn’t recognize and small stone buildings. As the time passed I got to see a whole different side of Tokyo when I saw my first sky scraper reaching towards the sky like a parable of Babel.

The pickup service had sent three girls to help me get to my dormitory from Shinjuku station. Luckily, since the whole place was, and still is, a maze. I saw people in suits, old people, young people – just a lot of people, which, although I had prepared for, still made me a bit nervous. I just followed the girls who talked to me in fast Japanese and felt exhausted just trying to reply anything to them. The heat and lack of sleep in a completely strange environment made me want to lock myself into a dark room for a while.

Nishi Waseda dorm was even cleaner than I expected, and I was greeted by a friendly Japanese woman who brought me my very own slippers. A younger woman took over the mission to introduce me to my room, and showed me everything very thoroughly: she wouldn’t leave the room until I showed her how to switch the lights off and on. I don’t know whether she thought I was really simple-minded or if that was a part of the Japanese culture of care and concern. Nevertheless, I was a bit amused. 😉 I am so lucky to have my own toilet and bathtub! Even though the room is so small that I can hardly turn around, the extra privacy completely makes up for it, I think.

After the young woman had left I quickly changed my clothes and ran to see my Finnish friend whom I had promised to meet at Shinjuku. She helped me to apply for my Alien Registration Card and Health Insurance. I am still very grateful, since I was way too tired to even think about how to handle such things in Japanese (Thanks, Laura!). However, I was so exhausted because of the lack of sleep, food and because of the heat that I quickly started to feel very nauseous. Thankfully she also helped me back to the dormitory after I had managed to eat an onigiri (which are delicious, by the way!). I was so tired that I unpacked only the most necessary stuff and went to sleep at 8pm.

…And woke up at three in the  morning, heart bouncing, completely jet lagged and unable to sleep. It took me a week to even start to get my sleeping rhythms corrected, and much, much longer before I stopped wondering where the heck I was every time I woke up.

Definitely a big change for a small-country girl.

Start of a new quest


My plane leaves today, in just a few hours.

Maybe it’s because of the silent acceptance of things in the end, but I feel surprisingly calm. I’ve spent my last days in Finland with beloved friends and breathing the clear autumn air of Finland. Also, I’ve been taking a lot of photos  – I want to remember these moments of warmth and clarity, the deep-rooted love.

Thank you for everything, friends and loved ones; my gratefulness to you cannot be put to words.

Farewell Finland. – I shall start my new quest with eyes looking forward and hands holding the things I love.

 

Pushing feelings


Little by little it starts to sink in that I’m leaving everything behind: My family and friends, Finland with all its positive and negative points, even my old self. Lately I’ve been bouncing between feelings of excitement, fear, sadness and wonder at a rapid phase and I find it somewhat hard to focus on anything. Over two weeks have gone since I moved away from my apartment, and it has been a speedy blur of building my career in a company I really want to work at, revising my rusty Japanese and seeing friends in huge portions at gatherings and parties.

What really struck me the most was when I saw my mother, little sister and little brother knowing, that this would be the last time in a really long time. I mean, I’ve been living on my own and fairly independent for ten years now (Yes, I’m old.), but the feeling of being unable to see them, to hug them, and of being truly separate… It’s quite concrete.

We also got our dorm info over a week ago. I’m going to reside in Nishi Waseda. The rent is dizzying: a whopping 63,000 yen a month, utility fees included, from a 12,5 square meter large dormitory room. Luckily I’m going to have my own bathroom. But 63,000! With the course of Yen being so high as well this will definitely drill a hole in my thin wallet. Other than that I found it hard to interpret the Japanese way of expression in regarding rules: There is a curfew at 11pm, but the rules also state that ‘However, if you return very late at night, please try not to bother other dorm residents or your neighbors.’ I really hope that I’m going to be allowed to return whenever I wish as long as I’m quiet. What do you think?

23 days to go.

Preparations


A new beginning

This is it, then. -No turning back. I have denounced my apartment, and will be a charming vagabond during August (Sorry friends! :D). Plane ticket has been bought, and my flight leaves on September 7th starting a road to the unknown. The truth is, I have no idea what to expect since it’s my first time in Japan, and I can only trust all the things I have heard, as well as images I’ve seen and imagined. What will it be like, going to a foreign land and trying to survive with only my limited skills in Japanese and two bags worth of items?

I’m afraid, but also excited beyond belief: I finally get to realize my childhood dream!

Big wheels they keep on turning


I decided this would be the perfect day for the first entry, since I finally got a reply from Waseda University:

I am now officially accepted to study in the SILS program of Waseda University for the academic year 2011-2012.

This whole application procedure has been a long struggle accompanied by a straining wait. The process started already in October when we applied for the bilateral study program in our home university (University of Helsinki). After receiving the green light we continued to second phase of paperwork and running around on January until the deadline at the beginning of February.

The pile of papers we returned to Waseda University on February

The period was quite tiring, and it wasn’t made easier by some very unclear issues.  The wait from February to the end of June, however, has been the most agonizing element of it all: Leaving all your planning open in the air, unable to act one way or the other, unable to attach yourself to anything.

I have to say that even though at the moment I am thrilled beyond imagination I am also so tired that the joy remains locked inside. Maybe as I realize the reality of this all it’ll bubble out in the open along with sadness caused by the unavoidable separation from all the things I hold dear in Finland.