Arriving in Japan: Part 1

Just where does the time go? Now in my fifth week of living in Japan. The first month over before it even began. If the bygone month were a person I would describe her as a burly mountain woman, crashing through my house window. Dishing out a welcoming bear hug, followed by a swift kick to the balls. Smashing her way out through the other side of the house shouting “日本へようこそ!”. Leaving me lying in a fetal position, Wishing like hell I had my Google translate app, the f%^& did she say? I should have studied more Japanese… teary eyed, baffled and strangely attracted to what just took place.

I have been kept busy with setting up my new life, acclimatizing to the new environment and trying to create bonds with colleagues, locals and fellow ALT (assistant language teacher) JETs. A whirlwind of activity from the second I waved goodbye to a couple of top mates as they kindly dropped me off at the Wellington airport.

It would be unfaithful to write about arriving at my new home without mentioning the transition period that is commonly known as the ‘JET Programme Tokyo Orientation’. A three day conference that can only be described as a flurry of briefings, workshops and talks by local dignitaries and other experienced foreigners living and working in Japan. My favourite part of the orientation was meeting new JET Programme participants, who were just like me, wide eyed with excitement and anxiety. The mere knowledge that others are going through the same emotions and challenges as you, can go a long way in alleviating feelings of anxiety and tension. Aren’t humans an interesting species?

Those crazy 5 days of ‘transition’, were marked by a sudden realization that what I had planned for so long was now real. It was an exciting time and completely different to anything I had gone through before. This exhilarating yet brief period will always remain special in my memory. I recommend to all aspiring JETs, about to take part in Tokyo Orientation, to soak up the electric atmosphere, get to know one another and most importantly enjoy every minute of this wonderful time in your life. It will be over before you know it and you may never experience the sort of excitement again. I made some good friends during this period. People who I hope to cross paths with soon, as we embark on discovering Japan in our spare time.

Nevertheless, as the last morning of Tokyo Orientation rolled in, there was no more time or energy for sentimental thoughts; I was leaving the hustle and bustle of the Tokyo event. It was an early wakeup call, the sun barely peaking over Tokyo’s skyline. The suit and tie were on and so was my ‘game face’, there was just one last flight to catch..

I can recall my arrival in Kochi prefecture like it was mere moments ago. Following a relatively short 50 minute flight bound south west of Tokyo. The plane literally hit (perhaps a story for another time) the tarmac of Ryoda Sakamoto Airport in Kochi city. I had arrived, but not to my new home, one and a half hour car ride left to go. Nervously I shuffled together with other passengers out of the plane and down ever so familiar airport corridors and walkways. The notorious humidity of Shikoku greeted us warmly as we transitioned out of the relative comfort of the air-conditioned aircraft. At this point I was seriously regretting having to wear a full business suit, first impressions though.

Arriving at the carousel, my mind was typically fixated on spotting my own luggage. To my surprise, the first thing I did spot wasn’t an offensively bright red backpack I had carefully purchased just weeks prior, instead I saw my predecessor and now my good friend Alex. Largely thanks to our previous Skype sessions, we were able to pick each other out of our corresponding crowds with ease. Alex was standing 20 meters away, just outside of the arrival area and holding a handmade welcome sign. Art wasn’t his forte; the effort was evidently there though. “Welcome Ivan”. From distance I could see playful colours and photo cut-outs covering the work of art; it was enough to soften my anxiety into relief and even joy. Next to Alex, at his shoulder level stood my future supervisor, looking directly at me. Together with Alex she waved her hand as a welcome gesture. The warm greeting from both of them finishing the job Alex’s masterpiece had started, completely eradicating what was left of them anxious little bugs in my head. I did my best not to look exhausted as I grinned like an idiot and returned the wave

Grabbing my luggage I beelined right towards Alex and my new boss. The first greeting being mix of customary Japanese and western as I blurted out my Jikoshoukai (Japanese self-introduction) . My supervisor, evidently way too nice and polite to correct my mispronunciations, smiled back and returned my “yoroshiku onegaishimasu” with her own. A handshake and the ice was broken.

We stopped for lunch on the way to my final destination. A highly regarded yet casual sushi restaurant where I was able to cool down and get to know both my supervisor and Alex. First impressions of my supervisor were that of a very down to earth person who was friendly and compassionate. I felt I was in safe hands. Despite the language barrier we managed to communicate our ideas on a range of topics. We found common interests (cooking), we made jokes, we laughed. The broken ice was now well and truly melted.

Next up, meeting my new home…

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