weill in japan: day 02
I'm not having any fun.
It has been 24 hours since I landed in Japan. After lugging my bags from
the airport to my new home, I have been anxious. I have eaten nearly nothing,
my Japanese skills are so bad that my host mother often pieces together
sentences in English instead, and I'm not doing anything.
I went to sleep at about 11:15 PM last night after a
very busy day in transit, but did not sleep
well. Just as I did yesterday, I dreamt of being completely bewildered by
the train system, spending what seemed like hours dwelling on simple concepts
like transferring. I have boring bad dreams. I woke up with the sun, but was
surprised since my alarm clock set for 7:00 AM hadn't rung. After a few
minutes of confused silence, I got up to look at the clock. It was 4:30 AM.
The sun was up at 4:30 AM! It hadn't really dawned on me why Japan is
called the "land of the rising sun," but my experience this morning was
definitive enough. When I woke from my nap last night at 7:00 PM, it was pitch
I took a shower downstairs at about 7:30 AM. The shower took about nine
minutes. I opted not to soak in the tub afterwards, especially considering
that the tub was empty and not likely to be used later in the morning. A
morning bathing routine is not common in Japan according to the orientation
materials provided by ICU. Hopefully either I can get used to an evening
bathing routine, or my host family can get used to my taking showers in the
morning. There was an uneasy silence after I turned off the water and my
host mother told me to stay where I was. Orders are hard to understand through
glass when I'm standing naked in a bathroom.
I've watched a little television while here. All the unintentionally hilarious commercials and variety shows are no longer all that entertaining
to me. I watched the end of a Yomiuri Giants baseball game last night, but
I couldn't get interested in what was going on. We only get seven broadcast
channels, since my family has neither cable nor a satellite dish.
Carnegie Mellon's Office of International Education publishes a booklet on
study abroad, with helpful tips for surviving the transition. I read through
it earlier today. Seeing though I haven't even registered on campus yet --
I'll do that about an hour and a half after I write this -- not all of the
withdrawal symptoms apply. These are the overall symptoms and withdrawal
symptoms listed in the pamphlet.
- Anxiety - Yes.
- Homesickness - No.
- Helplessness - Probably.
- Boredom - Somewhat.
- Depression - Yes.
- Fatigue - Somewhat.
- Confusion - Yes.
- Self-doubt - Yes.
- Feelings of inadequacy - Yes.
- Unexplained fits of weeping - None yet.
- Paranoia - Not really.
- Physical ailments and psychosomatic illnesses - My appetite is
gone. This will lead to more serious problems as time progresses.
- Physical and/or psychological withdrawal - Too soon to tell.
- Spending excessive amounts of time reading - I spent much of the
late morning reading while my host mother taught a cooking class in the
- Need for excessive amounts of sleep - Possibly.
- Only seeing other Americans or Westerners - Not applicable.
- Avoiding contact with host nationals - No.
- Short attention span - Yes.
- Diminished productivity - Definitely. I don't think that I'll be
able to complete a pre-employment test for JP Morgan Chase's Japanese office
in time, since I can't focus on it.
- Loss of ability to do work or study effectively - Possibly
- Quitting and returning to your home country early - I want to think
that this isn't an option.
The handbook stresses that culture shock is perfectly normal. I see these
symptoms also manifesting themselves as the result of adjusting rapidly to
the new relationships that I will need to establish within my family.
I have always been very bad at relationships, to the point where anxiety takes
over, I lose my appetite, and I see other symptoms similar to those mentioned
in the list above. The hot and humid weather outside makes conditions worse
for me. I feel sick, detached, and alone. Calling home isn't an option for
most of the afternoon: my parents are at work from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM Japan
Standard Time, and go to sleep at around 11:30 AM Japan Standard Time.
My host father has a computer in his office, and is capable of dial-up
Internet connectivity. I checked my e-mail today for the first time since
Monday. Nothing too critical was in my e-mail, but at least I was able to
check it. I did not send out any messages to friends or family, although I was
able to fire up the Java applet version of AOL Instant Messenger to communicate
with one of my buddies in Pittsburgh.
ICU seems like an oasis -- a spacious Western-styled campus that is not too
far from here. I'm not thinking about the academics, but rather the culture.
Being able to share my feelings and experiences firsthand with other students
will be good for me. Maybe we can also get together to go into Tokyo. I still
need to buy my brother a birthday present for next week.
I don't know how to feel.
I'm back from my first trip to ICU to get registered. My bad mood went out
the door with me this afternoon. I had a substantive lunch of noodle soup,
but my host mother was once again upset that I didn't finish all of it.
The U.S. Air Force maintains an international radio and television network,
and I happened to find their Tokyo affiliate, AM 810. It's pretty interesting
listening: classic rock, teen pop, news, and public service announcements
geared towards military personnel. Since today is Independence Day, I also
heard the Star-Spangled Banner. Good stuff. The other AM station I found was
AM 693 (the AM band goes in 9 kHz increments in Japan) which features a wide
variety of international programming. Earlier today was a singing and dancing
English instructional program, and now I'm hearing the news in Portuguese.
There are a few FM stations as well, but I haven't found any that I like just
yet. Kudos to my host family for providing this stereo setup.
Holy crap. Rush Limbaugh is on AM 810. Even going halfway around the world
doesn't rid me of him.
I don't quite know what to make of ICU just yet. The workers there are
nice, and all are bilingual. My commute includes a 20-minute walk to a train
station, a brief train ride, and then a brief bus ride. All told, I will
probably need to allocate an hour or more when factoring in my getting lost
on the way to the station, waiting for buses, waiting for trains, and the
infamous Tokyo rush hour traffic.
Really cool: many Japanese train stations have enormous shopping
areas nearby, offering tons of food and many other products. After my host
mother and I got back from ICU, we bought some take-out sushi and then ate at
a nearby McDonald's. I'll need to check in to see what else I can buy in this
Sidenote: McDonald's is transliterated as
makudonarudo in Japanese, but is abbreviated to makudo in Osaka
and the nearby Kansai region and simply maku in fast-paced Tokyo.
Even though I've only been to ICU for all of 20 minutes, I've already met a
couple of students there for the summer. While at JFK airport on July 2, I
bumped into a recent Columbia grad who will be at ICU. While leaving the
campus, I met an entering college sophomore who just arrived in the country
today. Some bilingual conversation followed as my host mother and I guided him
through the rail system. Interestingly, each of these two people has a
hidden agenda concerning something they want to buy: the fellow I met in
New York wants to buy some car parts to help customize his vehicle on the
cheap, while the guy I was talking to on the bus and train wants to get some
Japanese music CDs. Me, I want some electronic toys. A trip to Akihabara is
definitely on the agenda sometime soon.
I've tried to explain to my host mother that my appetite is not very large,
but she is insistent that I eat a lot. For example, after we returned from
our trip to ICU and later to McDonald's, she was already asking me when I
wanted to eat the sushi that we bought. I had just eaten, and wasn't planning
on eating again any time soon; she prefers that I eat tonight. Effectively,
I'm being made to eat four meals a day when I'm accustomed to only two meals
a day while at school. During my Japanese courses at Carnegie Mellon, I
have studied host families, and Japanese mothers have a reputation for being
Cabin fever bad, adventures in city good.