Wheels and Escalators

By: M Ledbetter
Keio University
Major: Japanese

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The countdown is over, and 24 hours and 100 games of checkers later I’m here in Japan.  Now, I’ve done my best to prepare myself up until this moment, but all that mental preparation was either about to go out the window or be brought to the battlefront.  The nervousness set it, but I was lucky to have two other friends with me.  Coming to Japan with my two classmates and best friends was my saving grace – I probably would’ve gotten lost without them.  So my next step of course was….. how am I going to get to my hostel?!

This meant one of my first fears being tested – public transportation.  The most public my transportation has ever gotten was riding the bus one time back home,  and back then I only had to cart a backpack (not two suitcases and a backpack filled with my whole life).  Scrambling from point A to point B, and using our mediocre Japanese skills to occasionally ask a train attendant (ekiin san) for help proved easier than I expected.  The stress that resonated was less from me not knowing how or what to ask, but more of me never having used Japanese to people outside of my university or friends online (where there’s spell check!).  Once I got the grove going, I bounced between the train attendants with no problem, making sure I went in the right direction that the previous one had told me to go.

Getting on the train was actually the easiest part! Admittedly it was a tad bit embarrassing as three Americans trekking through Tokyo, each carting two suitcases and backpacks that if tapped, would probably send us flying backward.  On the other hand, the expected stares usually turned into welcoming smiles, especially from older Japanese people.  One old lady (obaa san)  even approached my friend, asking if she was Canadian.  The lady was excited to use her English, because, despite her old age, she often travels to Australia.

Small interactions like that made it easier to breathe amongst all the stares, but something else would be challenging my breathing – escalators (or lack there of).  As we got closer to the smaller stations in Toyko, the less escalators and elevators they had. That meant with every transfer, we were working dwarves running each bag up at least three flights of stairs before running back down to grab the second one.

An interesting cultural difference to note – Japanese people will generally not help you as you struggle with your bags.  They are rushing to where they need to be, and can’t be bothered to help the three silly foreigners with too much luggage for their own good.

By the time we had finally found our way to our hostel the starry eyes and realization that we had made it to Japan began to set in (and I felt like I could bench a small child after all of those reps).  It was time to relax, let it sink in, and start my travels tomorrow.

The countdown is over, and our year is about to begin!

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