Ishida House, Matsudo

I woke up at five this morning. Still working on this time zone thing, although I guess it's better to be ahead than behind. We had pancakes for breakfast, yum.

We went for a walk down past the train station to a local temple. There was a famous old sakura tree there, but this isn't the season for it to be all pink, so it looks like a regular tree now. There was a huge bell, and something making noise from within the temple (a priest?), and we had the whole place to ourselves. On the way back, we stopped at a little shop and bought some dango for yokoo-sensei.

After we got home and had lunch, Naota fired up his laptop and challenged me to play against his 100yen go program. The first game lulled me into a false sense of security (I beat it by more than 120 points), then he cranked up the difficulty on me. I would have won the second game without komi! I wasn't really trying, anyways. Pshaw.

We walked to Yokoo-sensei's house (one of my host families from two years ago), and I got to see Naoya again. His dad is working in Shinjuku now, so he doesn't need to rent an apartment in Yokohama anymore, he was happy about that. Everyone is doing great, and I should get to see them a few more times this month.

We had Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki for dinner, which is basically okonomiyaki with yakisoba. Good stuff.

Ishida House, Matsudo

I woke up at four this morning, but managed to get back to sleep until seven. Got up, packed, and turned on the TV in the hotel room for a while. There are not a lot of channels on most Japanese televisions, cable is pretty rare. After surfing through the twelve channels, I could understand the lack of demand for more of the same. I watched a newscast that spent ten minutes talking about the rainy weather. One of the channels in the hotel was the BBC world news. I watched that for a while and learned that McCain picked his running mate. I forget her name, but she seems like the last thing Obama would want to be up against.

I went down and ate breakfast, it was sort of a continental buffet. They had natto, but there was no one to impress by eating it, so I restrained myself. I went back upstairs and watched some more TV (saturday morning cartoons are a bit more interesting here). I went down and waited in the lobby a little before ten, our meeting time for the orientation was 10:30. When I got to the lobby, I noticed that one of the rental computers still had five minutes left one it, so I took my chance; I had been meaning to double-check that my macbook's power brick was 100v compatible. After four and a half minutes of fighting with the Japanese keyboard, I managed to get to the apple site and confirm it.

I spent the time waiting on a bench with my DS dictionary, entering kanji and studying. I learned how to write "Tokyo" (東京) pretty well, because it wasn't in my DS dictionary and I entered it a dozen times thinking I'd made mistakes. Eventually everyone came down, and we proceeded into the cafe area for the orientation. As Ariel briefed us, another dude from LABO came in and set up some more tables, then our host families arrived and did their own orientation.

We introduced ourselves. Most of my host family was there: my host father, Naota, brother, Yuuto (8), and sister, Mayoko (4). My host mother, Tomoko, couldn't make it. After some pictures, we left. Emma's host family lived nearby and drove, so she wasn't going to the station. Coral, Katie, and I needed to change money, so our hosts agreed to meet up near the station and go to an exchange place. Coral defected along the way, I guess they changed their mind. After wandering around Odakyu for a while, we found the exchange place. After that, we went to eat lunch at an underground restaurant.

My family won't be able to accompany me on the train for the first day, so I had to keep track of the line as we traveled. On the way, my host dad updated my Suica commuter card from two years ago.

We arrived home after a short walk. It's a fairly big house by Japanese standards, enough so that they gave me my own room. At 4:30, my host mother arrived home. It was raining, as it had been on and off since I arrived. Lightning got pretty close. Among other things, I played othello with Yuuto before dinner. He beat me soundly, even though I thought I was winning for part of the game.

Dinner was great. Afterwards, I showed them my (tentative) album on my computer, and delivered scharffen berger. It had gotten a little melty in the heat, but it was still well-recieved.

Everyone helped me set up a brand new (!!!) futon and bedspread in my room. I took a bath, then we watched about half an hour of a Japanese dub of Independence Day that was on TV. The aliens loomed over new york, and just as they blew up the empire state, it cut to a commercial of a cute little girl singing and dancing.

Then I brushed my teeth and came up here to write this. Sorry if I seem a bit punctual in these entries, I guess that's a side effect of writing when I'm this tired.

Friday, August 29th
New City Hotel, Nishi-Shinjuku

I'm here!

Those words don't convey much on their own. But when "here" is understood to be "on the other side of the planet," damn the semantics. Japan is no longer "there," it's "here." That is awesome.

Yesterday I spent the day packing. I wanted to travel as light as possible, so there was a lot of saying goodbye to treasured possessions I had hoped to be able to bring. Lots of cleaning up so that I wouldn't leave behind too big of a mess. Lots of loose ends to tie up. With so much to do, it was convenient that time seemed to pass slower the more I anticipated the next day. I finished everything up at the reasonable hour of midnight, and went to bed.

Usually when I go to bed, I need to listen to some music or podcasts to get my eyes shut. Last night, I didn't bother. I laid down in my freshly turned bed, and looked out the window. I could see a single star shining through the smog, and tracked it as I thought about what lay ahead. Was I ready? Did I forget anything? How's the flight going to go? I marveled at how far I was going to travel, something on the order of 5000 miles. The starlight twinkled at me as if to brag, "miles? Try light-years!"

Moments of clarity like that do not come to me often, and I knew that I wouldn't get another one for a long time to come (for about a year, to be precise). I rolled over and went to sleep.

My alarm was set for 8:00 in the morning (I needed to leave the house at around 10:00), but someone apparently thought that wasn't early enough. I woke up at about 7:15 to the obnoxious ticking of the kitchen timer; it had been brought up to my room as some sort of parting gift, I presume. By about 7:30, I was getting ticked off enough to get up and chuck the thing out the window, but it seemed to sense my intentions and went off before I did. The funny thing about our kitchen timer is that the ticking is louder than the ringing... but I digress.

I couldn't go back to sleep, and I ended up getting up before my alarm anyways. Took a shower, took my bags downstairs, ate breakfast. Dad was kind enough to accompany me on bart to the airport (SFO). We arrived two hours before my scheduled flight, and it took about half an hour to check in. As dad and I were getting something to eat before splitting up, I noticed that the line to the security checkpoint was rapidly growing. I took a spot in line, and dad brought me a little seaweed salad to munch on. The line took about ten minutes to get within the roped area, when dad and I said goodbye.

At least half an hour to get through security (man, it was jammed), but no problems. I bought a little bottle of water and a pack of lifesavers for the plane, which ran me more than five bucks. I got on the plane.

My seat was a window seat on the left side of the plane, with a little monitor and a tethered remote. The plane taxied and took off.

Flying is nothing new to me, I do it all the time. I had prepared some movies on my iPod to watch, but once the monitor activated, it became apparent that Northwest had me covered. There was a selection of about 40 movies, a bunch of music, and even some simple video games. Throughout the flight, I watched "Kung Fu Panda," "Iron Man," and about half an hour of "The Wild." I listened to some J-pop music (HiHi Puffy AmiYumi had a song I really liked... don't remember the name, but I know it was on the album Honeycreeper), and played some Picross and Chrono Trigger. Great fun.

I hadn't registered a vegetarian meal plan. Oops. My neighbor was a nice old Philippine lady who decided that she didn't like any vegetarian item that was served to her, once she heard tell of my predicament. By the time the last meal of the flight came around, a few more people in the row were doing the same. I survived on charitable donations of fruit cups and rolls. People can be pretty cool sometimes. I helped her by getting her movies playing a few times and with her baggage.

As we descended into Narita, I whipped out my camera and took a few photos. A bunch of them through the window, the clouds were nice and fluffy. The captain said to turn off all electric items and stow baggage, so I obligingly put away the camera. As if on cue, one of the most blindingly vivid double rainbows you ever saw jumped out, dead center through my window, over Tokyo. It hung around for a few minutes, lots of people admiring it.

We landed in light showers, and got off the plane. I meandered through the terminal towards immigration and customs, taking a few pictures along the way. At immigration, I was faced with a stunningly huge line of people. Over on the other side of the room, there was a single open immigration window, with an officer hollering to get my attention. This, it became apparent, was the foreign passport area. They took my picture and fingerprints (a new addition since 2006), and checked my paperwork with impressive efficiency, and had me through to the other side within a matter of seconds. I got my bag and went through customs, and the officer looked at my passport, asked what I was doing in Japan, and waved me through even faster than immigration.

I walked into the lobby and met with Ariel (my coordinator), who took me over to the tired group of Emma, Kate, and Coral, my fellow North American interns. We shipped my bag and ate dinner at the airport, then (after some effort) retrieved Emma's bags, which the airline had previously lost. She had a nice big tear in one of her duffels, apparently a brand new one. :(

As we took the train to Shinjuku, the rain got harder. By the time we got through Shinjuku station (stopped by a photo booth on the way for our alien registration card photos), it was pouring. We got into taxis to get to the hotel, amid flashes of lighting and rumbling thunder. Checked into the hotel, I got my own room, where I am now typing this amid what sounds like an alien invasion just outside my window. I'm on battery power, because I'm not about to plug into these groundless outlets in a storm like this.

Now it's been about 24 hours since I got up, and I'm sleeping. Goodnight.