(BGM: Secret Base by Zone)
Funny how a
single song can help you to properly remember a moment the way it
Sept. 22, 2001
After the crows woke me up a final time, my brain
focused to realize that this song was blasting a few rooms down from me.
Looking around the tiny empty dorm room, I was in
a bit of shock. I stretched out my body to see if what my classmates back in Alaska said was
true: Yes, I could actually touch both opposing walls with my toes and
fingers! Glad nobody else was living in here with me! The uncovered
futon lay on its wooden frame without any sheets. There were no curtains
to preserve my privacy. I'd have to buy all that myself. All that stuff
about Japanese hospitality towards new guests, about showing them the
best possible side of their grace and their country, I learned, quite
often DOES NOT APPLY to foreign guests at public institutions like
universities. Of course, friends will go all out for each other. But
institutions are exempt. So there I was, tucked away in the farthest
corner on the highest floor of that old building with no elevator, with a
broken door lock, a torn window screen, puke and coffee-stained carpet
floor and three bags of trash nearly blocking my doorway. Nobody was
sent to greet me or say hello. I was left completely to my own devices,
with absolutely no idea where to find food or even find my way around
the building. Welcome to our college life, Robynn. This is the best we can
do for you.
Lesson 1: Never expect graciousness from anyone, especially if they say you are a "guest."
the part where I try to communicate in vain: Standing at my door, an
overly serious girl with the face of a summer peach came up to my room and
reluctantly said something to me that I didn't understand at all. Her
lips were moving but the sounds just didn't make any sense. She noticed I
wasn't really comprehending her, gave up and with a huff of
frustration, simply walked back down the hall and disappeared. I didn't
know how to react. I was utterly lost.
I, like, seriously have to study harder. The textbooks did NOT prepare me for THIS!
I thought to myself in a moment of humbling facepalm. I had no choice,
now. The return ticket to the States wouldn't be in my hands until next
July. I had to get through this! I just had to!
one of my neighbors, a very lovely girl with long, silky black hair and
a funky reddish crocheted beanie came up to me, properly introduced
herself as Noriko in beautiful English, and then proceeded to tell me
that my luggage was waiting for me in the office on the first floor! She
graciously showed me where the bathroom, shower room and kitchen were,
after helping me carry my big black suitcase to my room. She also
offered her help if I needed anything. I couldn't have been more
grateful. Though she was busy that day, she would be available later on
after work to show me around the town and help me adjust!
Lesson 2: The Universe always sends angels to help just when you need it the most.
things first: I was utterly starving, so I opened up the
meticulously-wrapped present from my dear longtime friend who met me at
the airport: fruit-filled jelly snacks! Perfect for a hot late summer
morning! I ate four of them without a spoon, just ripping off the foil
tops and sucking them up, topping off my meal with the small packet of
Alaskan Air peanuts. That would do. I quickly unpacked my towels,
grabbed a change of clothes, some portable toiletries and made a
beeline downstairs to the huge dorm sento bath. That was the first
time in my life I had to shower on my knees! But it felt incredible to
finally get that two days' worth of crud off of me.
moments after getting back up to my room, my name was blaring over the
dorm intercom. My friends Shiori and Masaru (not their real names), two
awesome friends I made back in Alaska, had come to pick me up!
of crazy laughter and bone-crushing hugs ensued. Then with much ado,
Masaru opened a big white scroll and I was so surprised to see a very
cute hand-drawn welcome
poster of the three of us. What a nice
thing to wake up to in a faraway land! I beamed uncontrollably from
ear to ear at the sight of the hillarious caricature of my friends with
booted feet and funny hats, with chubby me in the middle, glowing with a
halo and naruto cheeks (naruto
is a type of fish cake with a pink decorative swirl pattern).
Lesson 3: Sometimes the best gifts in the world are the simplest.
The universe felt right
again as we walked the city streets a little, stopping by to shove into
my mouth anything that looked remotely interesting (steamed buns, ramen,
etc). I couldn't believe the noise, the smells, the sheer numbers of
people, cars and buildings -it was just blowing my mind! There were more
people in one of these towering steel buildings than in my entire
village back home!
But it was all good. Masaru helped me to cash some travelers checks and apply for my
Alien Registration card at the city office. Then we
all hopped onto a train bound for the Shin-Kotoni area, where we had a very
filling and cooling sushi dinner with Masaru's aunt.
to say, it was the freshest, plumpest and tastiest sushi I'd had in my
entire life up to that point. I mean, Alaska has pretty tasty seafood.
But nowhere in the world is sushi done better than in Japan.
the land from the balcony of her beautiful high-rise condo, staring out
at the Sapporo skyline glinting in the sun with all its square,
flat-roofed buildings, Sapporo started to feel like
home in that moment. Everything would be fine. I just needed to be
patient in this land where even the crows speak Japanese. Masaru's aunt
gave me a beautiful dark blue silk floral folding fan to keep myself
cool. I was so happy that I embraced her, which she timidly tried to
squirm out of, much to my chagrin. Masaru told me that the Japanese
aren't open huggers like we Alaskans are. I apologized at least twenty
times and prayed that her trauma would be short-lived. Woops!
Lesson 4: Never hug a Japanese person unless they instigate it first.
was indeed sensory overload but I loved every minute of it! As Shiori
and Masaru showed me around Sapporo over the next several days, I wanted
to take pictures of every single image before my eyes but they kept
pulling me along saying "that's nothing! There's better waiting!" The
most boring white building facades were decorated with all sorts of cute
characters and brightly colored signs, luring little ole' foreign me,
fresh off the boat from a country where 'cute' was reserved only for
kept getting stares and giggles from all sorts of passersby. I asked
Shiori what the big deal was. She said that it was already late
September and I was still in short sleeves. The Sapporoans were laughing
because they thought it was a bit cold that day. But I was sweating
like a fountain from the 26-degree sun and they told me not to mind. My
friends were also world travelers who knew all about having to acclimate
to different temperatures. I answered each sneer from that moment on
with an exaggerated smile. They weren't going to kill my joy. I was here
to have fun, dangit!
Stay tuned for more adventures from Japan!. Have a good day wherever you are. -Robynn
Copyright 2013 Robynn. All rights reserved. No part of this blog
(written or photo content) may be reproduced or reprinted without the
expressed permission of the author.