It’s hard to get first impressions of a place if you’ve already been once before, but I can defiantly say the first thing I thought about Japan when I got off the plane was “Oh my god it’s hot!” Japan is in the middle of summer and in the middle of a heat wave at the moment. It’s not like the normal dry heat you rarely get in the UK (if you’re lucky). This is constant 24/7 humid sticky 35oC heat. I kid you not when I say if you decide to go to Japan in the summer take lots of tops and lots of anti-perspirant.
It was surprising how quickly I found settling in. At first I was apprehensive about the dorms because they looks so small and grey, but after meeting some of the people in the dorm it’s gotten a lot brighter. Most of the students here are either American or Australian and the topic of language has arisen a fair bit along side comments on the various accents. And although it’s only been a few days it feels like we’ve become quite good friends.
I was lucky enough to have met both my Japanese speaking partners, but my Japanese is so rusty I couldn’t get much of a conversation out of it. But I think that’s the same with most people who aren’t used to speaking the language. Like Hana, who’s also from UKC, who knows only the very, very basic Japanese. She found it hard communicating I think but we both know (and I hope her speaking partner knows) that it will get a lot easier and she starts to pick up the language and becomes more confident. I think a lot of the Japanese students here (who have yet to start class but are wandering around campus for goodness knows what) are curious about the foreigners but don’t know how to approach them (and vice-versa), unless they’re speaking partners. So I’m not surprised that I haven’t made any Japanese friends yet and I expect I shan’t make that many over the next few weeks. At least not until the Japanese student’s term starts (mid-end of September) and clubs begin and everything gets going.
To sum it up orientation week was a long week of exploring Hirakata city; learning how to use the transport and where to find food; meeting new people; getting official stuff sorted; having informative and inspirational assemblies (including a sex-ed one); and finishing it off with a trip to Kyoto!
Kyoto I think is what has really gotten me excited for the first time this week. It was insane the number of people going (over 400). So w had to get into a small group and was assigned a few Japanese students to take us on the train to Kyoto. We could choose where we wanted to go and almost everyone chose the temples and so was taken to Kiyomizu-dera (tera/dera= temple). We were happy to wander around in our small group acting like gaijin (foreigners) and practicing the Japanese Shinto customs. We got fortunes and I got a ‘middle luc’ fortune (not as bad as Abby who got the worst luck-she tied it to a tree to stop the bad luck happening). Then we went to an area famous for it’s god which is often affiliated with love. There are two rocks which they say if you can go from one rock to the other with your eyes closed your love will come soon, If you can’t do it then you will have to wait, and if you get help finding your way then you will need help to find your love. I tried it, but one of the guys decided to distract me and clapped his hands when I was about 1m away! So I opened my eyes.
But it was still soooo hot and we were all sweating a disgusting amount. I think we were all happy when evening started to set in and we wandered down into the town as the sunset. Through the back-streets of Kyoto is a very different sight to the main streets.
The main-streets were the most striking when I got off the train, I didn’t think it was even Kyoto. It looked just the same as the other modern-ish grey hot sticky towns we’ve passed through. But as we ventured up to the temple, and especially wandered back down through the back-streets, you could see the older traditional houses with their beautiful small wooden frames and slanted slate roofs. As we ventured through another jinjya (shrine) where lanterns with company names who had donated money to the shrine hung all around the centre; the city centre opened out to us and the busy night-life of Kyoto emerged. A quick detour from the main street took us onto Gion, the part of the city famous for it’s geisha, and we saw some! My camera was on the wrong setting so the first blurred, but I managed to find a second and got a shot of her. They look very serious and I feel a bit rude taking pictures of them, but I know I would have regretted not taking one.
After wandering back out onto the high street we passed a beautiful kabuki theatre which was apparently going to close soon because not enough people go to see kabuki! A real shame. I guess people prefer entertainment more like the street we wandered down which my friend referred to as the “glamorous red-light district”. This was a road full of bars for men to pay and sit with girls and buy them drinks. We even passed an infamous love hotel. One of our Japanese guides said he’d stayed in one but only because it was cheap accommodation, especially if you’re with a few people…I think I’ll take his word for it. I don’t plan to find out at all really XD At the end of that road was a small gyudon restaurant. Here you bought a ticket for food out of a machine and gave the ticket to the chef who stands in the small kitchen behind the counter. Gyudon is rice with meat and egg ontop, it also came with a raw egg which you whisked and poured on, and miso-shi (soup) of course, but that was eaten separately. I was sooo hungry I ate Hana’s miso-shi too.
The point of the Kyoto trip was to meet new people and work out the train system. I don’t think we really did until both our guides had gone home and we decided to take a short-cut back by taking another train. Working out the train routes and times was a lot easier to work out on our own surprisingly, because we weren’t shown by the Japanese students how to read a map, only how to get a ticket. And although we got slightly lost in Hirakata-shi (city) we made it back eventually and now I feel ready to zonk out and not wake up for a good 10 hours. Oyasumi!