Japan's Surprises and Wonders
THE LAST POSTCARD OF SUMMER
I was scared out of my mind. All I knew really was that I would be spending the next 10 weeks in Osaka, Japan, working for a large company called Osaka Gas, and living in the company dorm. About the only other piece of information I had was that I was to be met at the airport by a Mr. Yamamoto.
As I stepped off the plane, two hours late, I held my breath and prayed that the mysterious Yamamotosan would be there. I frantically searched the crowd for my savior, but to my utter dismay there was no sign bearing my name, and no indication of my host. I managed to wait for about 30 seconds until panic began to overtake me. Where was he?! My lower lip began to quiver as I realized I had no phone number, no address, and absolute no idea where I was going. I thought about calling home but then realized that a) I didn't know how to call home and b) even if I did, what exactly could my parents do to help me at 4 a.m. on the other side of the planet?
So I hobbled over to the information desk, dragging my 75-pound duffel bag, determined to take control of the situation and hoping the daintily-clad attendants in pink uniforms would come to my rescue. The two of them looked panicked as I approached. "Is this where people usually meet?" I mumbled in Japanese. They seemed to understand and nodded yes. I took my chances and decided to ask Osaka Gas, hoping for the faintest sign of recognition. Perhaps he had left a note for me. But their confused looks and empty nods revealed they had no idea what I was talking about. I came to the conclusion that I was just making them nervous, and holding back the river of tears, I turned back toward the main exit.
As I began silently cursing this fictitious Yamamoto-san in my head, I noticed a man walking toward me with a slightly hesitant, yet unmistakable sense of purpose. "Are you Amy?" he asked in impeccable English. The relief that flowed through me at that moment is indescribable, and needless to say, any bad feelings toward my guide Yamamoto-san vanished the moment he appeared.
Nothing was to be simple that night. The trip to the company dorm took over two hours, by bus and taxi cab. When we finally arrived at my place of residence for the next two months, after 24 hours of solid traveling, I wanted nothing more than to go to sleep. I was therefore astonished when I entered my room. I had to restrain myself from blurting out, "Where's the bed?" I hadn't even considered the possibility that the rooms would be decorated in traditional Japanese style, with Japanese futons instead of beds. The thought that I would be spending the next 10 weeks sleeping basically on the tatami-matt floor was too overwhelming for me. I wrote in my journal that night, "I am afraid to go to sleep. I am almost afraid to face the next day."
But face it I did. That one, and the 70-some more that followed. And to my surprise, I enjoyed them all. The following are excerpts from the journal I kept during my stay:
"I never realized how truly diverse American society is until now. I walk down crowded streets, and ride in crowded subway trains, and without fail, I am the only non-Japanese person to be seen. People are usually too polite to stare, but I realize how different I must look."
"Breakfast has taken on an all new meaning for me. I think I am actually growing to like having Miso soup and rice every morning. It's quite a change from Special K and milk."
"The hour and a half commute to work each way is definitely draining, but quite an interesting experience nonetheless. There is absolutely no comparison to the Japanese subway experience, especially during rush hour. Bodies are packed into the train literally like sardines. There are even hired attendants who stand on the platforms and push people in, waving a white flag once all dangling body parts are cleared from the doors."
"Bi-ru (otherwise known as beer) is by far the most popular beverage here. I was shocked this morning on the train to see the man sitting across from me having a beer at 9:30 a.m. to accompany the morning paper. Last week, I was surprised to see two grandmothers going home after a summer festival sipping cans of beer wrapped in dainty Japanese handkerchief. There are even beer vending machines on every street corner."
"It's amazing how little things can become such grand accomplishments. I finally found the post office today, and I even managed to buy stamps."
"I will never be able to get accustomed to Japanese prices. A cup of coffee can cost up to nine dollars! A large size soda from McDonald's here cost $2.10--never mind the fact that its actually the size of an American McDonald's small. Today, I decided to splurge and go to the movies to see Mission Impossible. The cost of a movie ticket--$18.00!"
"The streets here are so narrow. It's no wonder that big American cars don't sell here. I don't see how they'd fit on these roads. The traffic is always horrible, so instead everyone here rides bikes. This actually makes it very dangerous for pedestrians. I can recount numerous occasions when I have nearly been run over by reckless bicyclists, on their way to school or work. Apparently, its a common threat all over Japan, Mr. Yamamoto likes to call them "kamikaze bikers."
"Yesterday I went sight-seeing with Mrs. konshi. We make quite a pair. She majored in English in college and speaks quite well. We've settled into this funny pattern in which she speaks to me in English, and I speak to her in Japanese. Although it sounds odd, it actually feels quite natural. We correct each other whenever necessary, and talk about all sorts of American and Japanese customs. I am sure people that hear us talking must think we are nuts."
And, my final journal entry: Today, after I got back from work I sat on my futon for a long while, remembering how much I dreaded coming to Japan, and how lonely I thought I would be. I never imagined I would have such a fantastic experience. The people here--Isome-san, Yamashita-san, Konishi-san, Yamamoto-san--they have made these past 10 weeks so enjoyable and so rewarding. I can honestly say that I am sad to be leaving.