After three days it has finally sunk in that I am actually here, living in Japan! At first everything just seemed like a surreal, jet lag induced dream, but after making some friends and going on some exciting adventures, my sleep schedule is almost back to normal and I am becoming comfortably immersed in Japanese college-life culture.
One thing that pleasantly surprised me was how friendly the graduate, doctoral, and post-doctoral students were and how quickly we were able to overcome the language barrier. I must admit, though, that cross-language communication the first night I got here was pretty terrible. Having absolutely no knowledge of how the Japanese language worked (and also having stayed awake for about twenty-seven hours straight on the plane), I was having a lot of trouble simplifying my English to a form that would be easily understandable to everyone, and many of the Japanese students, although they had all learned English starting in junior high school, were a little rusty or had never had to use the language for an extended period of time. However, my second day here, I showed everyone I ran into a lot of interest in learning the Japanese language, and most everyone was very willing to help me! Looking back, I find it funny (and fitting) that after explaining the structure of their language to me, I was suddenly able to understand what they were saying in English a lot better and they were suddenly able to understand my English.
After spending all of Friday and the first half of Saturday getting accommodated, learning Japanese grammar, and making friends, I got to have my first true adventure. One of the younger graduate students who had picked me up at the airport and who was the first to start helping me with my Japanese asked me if I wanted to go to a sushi restaurant for dinner, and when I said yes, he got a whole party together of people I had met to go with us. As we were driving to the restaurant, I was asked over and over again whether American sushi was “rotation” sushi like in Japan, but I had no idea what that meant so I didn’t know how to respond. However, as soon as we entered the restaurant I suddenly understood what they had been talking about: rotating around the restaurant was a conveyor belt carrying all types of sushi! All you had to do was sit at your table and grab whatever sushi you wanted. Each plate was either 100, 200, or 300 yen (the American equivalent of $1, $2, or $3), and if you wanted to place a special order, all you had to do was type in exactly what you wanted at the touch screen at your table and a miniature version of the Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train, brought the food to your table! I was only able to eat three plates because of how filling they were, but all of the guys at my table ate somewhere between ten and twenty plates. After listening to crazy stories about their friends eating thirty plates of sushi and beyond, I am under the impression that boys here brag about their sushi eating skills the way that boys in the U.S. brag about their pizza eating skills.
Sunday, however, was even more exciting. After showing interest in going to Hiroshima city, three of my new found friends said that they would love to go with me and began helping me plan our route. We began by visiting the Atomic Bomb Dome, the dome around which Hiroshima city was rebuilt after its destruction in World War II. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Other famous sites that we got to see included the Children’s Peace Monument,
the Peace Bells,
the Cenotaph for Korean Victims,
and the Memorial Cenotaph.
The museum itself was fascinating, but incredibly sad. There were journal entries of those who died of radiation in the following years as they saw their health deteriorating, pictures drawn by survivors showing the fire consuming their loved ones within the city, and scientific exhibits on abnormal chromosome activity due to radiation. There were also exhibits showing the science behind the atomic bomb, historical documents containing the reasoning behind hitting Hiroshima, and letters between major political figures arguing for and against the use of the atomic bomb. Also, ever since the bombing of Hiroshima, whenever a country conducts a nuclear test, the mayor of Hiroshima sends a letter urging that country to stop those tests in the name of peace. Copies of these letters were on the walls, the most recent all being directed towards the United States and North Korea.
The mood lightened as soon as we left the museum, however, as we explored Hondori Street,
ate Hiroshima style okonomiyaki,
and took a trolley to the beautiful, Japanese style Shukkei-en garden.
We finished our tour by going to Hiroshima castle.
I have always found Japanese history very interesting, so getting to explore the inside of the castle which is a museum explaining the entire history of Japan complete with plenty of samurai artifacts, was especially fun for me. We also got to play dress up…
Overall, an incredibly fun first weekend!