Japan

Lost in Japan — Part 5 — Don’t Get Kidnapped

Okay, so I’ve travelled quite a bit and some of those places –Thailand, Mexico, United States– are pretty not so safe. But I’ve never come across any harm or anything. I’ve been to Japan twice, and have had someone try to separate me from my group or get me to go with them a total of 4 times. Keep in mind, I wrestled for 3 1/2 years and most of these people I could hip toss into oblivion, and I was never in any real danger (you’ll see why later).

This first story some people might have read already in the post about Osaka. I was with my mother and our tour guide in the red light district in Osaka. Our tour guide was explaining something to my mom and I had wandered to the next shop over, still pretty close to them. An old man came up to me, put his arm around my shoulders and started pulling me away while repeating “kirei, kirei” (pretty, pretty) over and over. I pulled away as our tour guide beat him with her bag telling him to go away. This guy was ancient. I could walk faster than he could run. But either way, Megan = 1, Old man =0.

The next story was when I was studying in Kobe. My class (all three of us) and our teacher and one of the schools administrators took us to Kyoto for a day trip. We were at the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji). I was hiding in the shade because it was freaking hot out and the rest of the group was pushing through the tourists taking pictures of the temple. A little old lady (seriously) came up beside me and grabbed my sweaty hand and started pulling on it. “Come, come,” she told me. I asked her in Japanese where but she just smiled and kept pulling. So, with the help of my moistness, I slid my hand from hers, said sumimasen (excuse me, sorry), and walked back to my group. I didn’t see her the rest of our time at the temple. Megan = 2, Old woman = 0

The third time was when me and my friend were walking around Sannomiya station in Kobe. It was later than we’d stayed out before (only like 10 or so), and this is when the bars and clubs start opening and trying to bring customers into their shops. I had spotted ahead of us a group of guys who belonged to a host club doing some advertising (they stand outside and compliment you until you come into their club). **For those who don’t know what a host club is** A host club is a place where men get all dressed up and you pay outrageous prices to drink with them while they compliment you. And as awful and weird as it sounds, I still want to experience it at least once. ** Anyways, these super attractive guys were standing outside handing out pamphlets to people passing by. As foreigners we didn’t typically get any fliers since the flier handers assumed we couldn’t read them. Well, instead of just handing us a flier, the group of guys (maybe like 6 or 7 of them) formed a chain and kind of circled around me, separating me from my friend. Then they started to shuffle towards the door of the club, while calling me pretty girl and other words I couldn’t understand or hear. But before we got too far I ducked between two of the guys, shouted at them that I was only 19 (drinking age is 20) and walked away with my friend. Megan = 3, Host boys = -6

The fourth time was during my last visit to Japan (2016). I was on the bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo by myself. I had to sit next to someone as it was the weekend and lots of people travel to Tokyo on the weekend. The man I was sitting next to had kept to himself almost the entire trip (2 hours).  There was only half an hour left when he started talking to me — asking me the general questions like “do you speak Japanese?” “why did you come to Japan?” “where are you from?” which is about 95% of the questions I’m asked in Japan. Then the train made an announcement saying that we would be arriving in Tokyo in ten minutes and to grab your luggage from the back (which I had to do). It was also at this point that this man, with his putrid breath and rank B.O. leaned over and asked me if I had a boyfriend. I told him I did, and he told me that it was okay and he had a wife and kids. He followed this up by telling me that there was a love hotel near the station and asked if I’d go with him. I went from polite and friendly, to complete bitch mode in 2.1 seconds. I didn’t know how to say hell no, and I’d only been taught how to decline nicely so I told him I was too busy and meeting a friend. He told me then that he’d be quick (barf). I stood up and told him I had to get my bags. I found a train guard and told him about the creepy, strange man sitting next to me and asked him to help me get off the train safely. The guard went and got the bags I’d left in my seat and told me to wait until the end to get off. As the creepy man walked past me, he flashed his phone at me. On it was a generic picture of a blonde, Caucasian woman that slightly resembled me. He whispered to me that the woman in the picture is his “ideal type” (I actually just about puked on him this time). The guard told him to keep moving, and after the train had emptied walked me off the platform. He left me at the gates and I looked for the nearest white people. I found a girl and her boyfriend (I assume) and asked if I could walk with them a little ways. They agreed and after about 5 minutes, I said goodbye and left to find my next train. Thankfully I never ran into the creepy gaijin (foreigner) hunter again. Megan = 4, Married gaijin hunter = barf

Bonus story!

The first time I studied abroad in Japan in 2013, there was a guy who liked to find me in the halls and cafeteria at the university and come up to me and claim loudly in broken English that I was his Canadian girlfriend. Didn’t get almost kidnapped, but definitely had to be creative in finding ways to avoid him.

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Japan · JET Programme

JET Limbo — All the Feels

I’ve officially entered JET Limbo- that time where you can’t really plan or prepare too much because you still don’t know where you are exactly going, all your forms have been submitted, and you just feel stuck.

I guess I’m kind of lucky though, as I have 6 weeks of classes left to help me kill some time and keep me distracted. But I only have 10 weeks before I leave. God, that feels weird to say.

Day to day, I’ve kind of become numb to my feelings about moving half way around the world. I think that it’s because every time I do think about moving, I’m overwhelmed by too many emotions and all I want to do is cry.  I’m just kind of maneuvering on autopilot.

Now don’t get me wrong — I’m so freaking excited to be moving. I’ve spent so long dreaming about living in Japan and imagining what my schools might be like, that sometimes everything feels like a dream.

But I’m also terrified. You don’t appreciate how simple life is until you’re facing a whole new way of life. I’ve done extensive research as to the differences between Canada and Japan’s different systems– medical, insurance, government, etc. Heck, adults have a hard enough time dealing with these things in their home countries where they speak the language. I’m terrified to leave the simple behind. I’m also kind of excited, because it will really challenge my Japanese skills, but that won’t come until I’ve settled a bit.

There isn’t much that I’m upset about leaving (apart from family and friends). My city isn’t anything spectacular, I’m not leaving a job I’d consider for my career, and my relationship with my boyfriend would be over the end of June/July anyways (he’s moving to Vancouver, I’m moving to Japan).

I think the most difficult thing about moving abroad, is having to leave your friends and family. I’m super close with my mom and sisters, and I know I’ll be able to Skype them (heck, I’ll probably even talk to them more when I’m in Japan than I do now), but Skype can’t replace a hug from your mom when you’re having a really bad day.

I always feel bad when I bring up Japan around those I’m closest too. My mom always tears up when I talk about Japan, even though she is also the one who encouraged me to follow my dreams and is just as excited as I am.  My friends are the same way, they tell me how excited they are but I can still tell they are sad.

I think JET Limbo really forces you to think about what you are giving up, because you still don’t really know what you’ll be getting at the other end. All I want is to be able to pack and plan and prepare myself for my new life in Japan. I want a tangible location to tie myself to, while I slowly give up my old life in Canada.

Japan

Lost in Japan — Part 3 — Kobe

Day 3, our tour guide took us to Kobe. We did some sightseeing, but our main purpose was to scout out the school that I’d be going to for my study abroad. We were even lucky that the dorms I was staying at let us in to see my room before I started school in the next few days. We met our tour guide in Kobe, as that’s where she was from and were able to take her mini van to our destinations. We first stopped at my school, affectionately known as Kobe Gaidai. It’s actual name is Kobe City University of Foreign Studies. The campus was very nice, with an outdoor pool, tennis courts, archery range, and a pretty large library. We didn’t stay long, since I would be back in a couple days.

Our next stop was to check out my dorm room. We hadn’t actually contacted anyone there, but when we showed up the front desk people were more than welcoming and not only let us in, but showed me my exact room I’d be staying in. It was a small, one room dwelling. I walked in and there was my bathroom (shower and tub room with a sink). Next to it was the actual toilet room. Across was another sink, mini fridge, and some cupboards for food. Then the actual “bedroom” was a single bed with a cupboard at the foot of the bed and a desk against the wall across the room from the bed. It was small, but it worked. There was a shared kitchen with stovetops, microwaves, and large sinks for washing our dishes.

 

After we left the dorms, we went to the Akashi Kaikyo Suspension bridge which is the longest suspension bridge in the world.  It was amazing, especially since my hometown has the worlds longest bridge over the shortest body of water.

bridge.jpg

I was lucky to see the bridge light up at night when I was at my homestay during my study abroad program. It lights up with rainbow lights and with no lights from the skyscrapers to disrupt the view, it’s pretty spectacular.

We finished our day at Harbour Land, which is kind of like an outdoor mall, with an actual indoor mall just up the hill. There are tons of specialty shops, for things like Snoopy, Hello Kitty, and even a giant store for Anpanman complete with it’s own Ferris wheel.

I’m not kidding.

 

I kind of wish I was, but this is Japan we’re talking about.

After eating all the ice cream and visiting the Studio Ghibli store, we finally said goodbye to our wonderful tour guide and returned to Osaka.

 

 

Japan

Lost in Japan — Part 2 — Kyoto

My second day in Japan saw us in one of the most beautiful cities in Japan — Kyoto! Kyoto is one of the few cities that has buildings and roads from before World War 2 and the atomic bombings. It was ridiculously hot again that day, plus even more humidity. Our goal for the day? Besides not dying… involved some major temple and shrine hopping.

Our first stop was at Kiyomizu dera, a Buddhist temple which also has a Shinto love shrine there. The Shinto shrine was particularly interesting as it was home to something called the “love stones.” The concept is you walk from one stone to a second stone a few meters away with your eyes closed, without help, and if you make it, you will find true love. Of course, try doing this with huge crowds pushing and bumping you while you are walking with your eyes closed. I’ve been here three times, and the crowds are always ridiculous. My mom even spent way too much time trying to inconspicuously help those trying to walk the love stones. (“It doesn’t count if they don’t speak English”).

After a 30 minute trolley ride, we arrived at was another Buddhist Temple, Daihonzan Tenryuji. It was very peaceful and beautiful, with rock gardens, monstrous koi fish, and fields of green leafy plants. This temple lead us up to Arashiyama (a pretty famous tourist destination) and the bamboo forest.  Out of all the places I have visited, the bamboo forest is the most surreal. You are transported into a different world, and if you manage to go when students are studying for final exams (which we did) you won’t have to battle the sheer number of visitors.

 

Like actually, you try getting a photo without people in it. It’s a lot more difficult that it sounds.

We finished our day by climbing down the mountain that the bamboo forest is on down to the main part of Arashiyama before finding a taxi and riding back to a train station in Kyoto that would take us back to Osaka.

We were quite lucky, as while we were on the taxi we got to see a Maiko (a young Geisha-in-training) and with my super stellar camera skills, I managed to get a blurry shot of her back. So skillful.

maiko

Still counts though.

 

Japan

Lost in Japan — Part 1– Osaka

 

April 2013 was when I found out that I would be travelling to Japan to study abroad in Kobe for 3 weeks in late July-August.

The first time I visited Japan, I knew I wanted to live there.  It wasn’t that flickering “oh this place is really neat.” It was like I got hit with this overwhelming sensation that I had found home and that I really belonged.

July 2013 I departed from Canada with my mother on an international adventure, leaving Saskatchewan, stopping in Vancouver, then again in Seoul, and finally landing in Osaka around 9pm or so. Even at 9, it was incredibly humid and hot out. I don’t think I’d ever experienced anything like it. Thankfully, my mom had booked a hotel room at the airport so we could sleep before starting our adventure the next day. We both woke up fairly early (around 5am?) (yay, jet lag). And what an adventure it would be. Prior to this trip I had taken only two beginner level Japanese classes at my University, so my knowledge was limited to saying things like, “this is a pen,” “where is the train station,” “I like food.” Nothing super helpful when trying to figure out trains and schedules written primarily in Japanese. Every so often, a sign would have some English which I think is the only way we made it to our next hotel, only after I dumped my suitcase down an escalator.

Side note: Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka, Nara) people are incredibly kind. When I dropped my suitcase, about 4 people came rushing over and brought it up the escalator, asking if I was okay and if I needed any help.

Side, side note: I’ve spent 90% of my time in Kansai, so I’m probably biased.

Finally my mom and I got on the right train, and ended up at our train station. For those of you who haven’t been to Japan, train stations are often home to other businesses– like giant freaking department stores and malls. The colours, the sounds, the smells overwhelmed me as my mom and I had to walk through this train station/mall with our giant suitcases looking exactly like lost tourists as we tried to find the right exit for our hotel.

My feet were sore, it was hot, and my bags were heavy. We were very close to finding a taxi when we took our next exit and looked at all the high rise buildings and found the name of our hotel flashing fairly close to us. Our hotel was fairly nice, both my mom and I were ecstatic about the blue yukata pajama’s laid out on our beds. Starting the next day we had a tour guide who was going to show us around Osaka, Kyoto and then finally in Kobe where I would be spending the next 3 weeks.  We started in Osaka, visiting shrines and temples, the Osaka castle, a historical museum where I tried on my first yukata and got to wander around ancient buildings. We even got to see the beginning of a local festival where students (high school) would play a taiko drum while carrying a giant, portable temple through the streets. All traffic lights became irrelevant as the temple bobbed through the intersection on the backs of teenagers.

We ended our day in Osaka by visiting the red light district where I got to meet a cross-dressing actor. This is an old form of theatre in Japan and you will often come across females portraying males and males, women. I also got to try plinko which is Japan’s version of gambling, without actually gambling (which is illegal in Japan). It’s a bit like pinball, but after you get a certain amount of points you take your receipt with your points to the next door building where you can trade your points for everyday items and food. See, not really gambling.

This is also where I first almost got kidnapped. Well, probably would have been kidnapped.

My mom and the tour guide were looking at a shop and I was just a few meters away looking at something else, when an old man (like, dinosaurs were still around when he was a teenager) came up behind me and put his arm around my shoulders while pulling me away from my mom and tour guide, repeating “kirei, kirei.” (It means, pretty). I was able to pull out from under his arm and my tour guide came running over, hitting him with her fan (legit straight out of an anime) and telling him no. I don’t think I was ever in any real danger, but considering all of my almost kidnapped stories happen in Japan, this one had to be included.

After leaving the red light district, it was time for our tour guide to return home. She had told us about a fireworks festival tonight, gave us directions, and then left us to enjoy the popular shopping area.

We went to the festival and experienced the famous train squishing, where guards would force as many people as possible onto the train. Surprisingly it wasn’t as awful as I’d thought it would be, since the train was well air conditioned and everyone was doing their best to keep their hands away from uncomfortable areas.

The fireworks were amazing, at least 3-400 people were crammed onto a tiny bridge, with another 6 or 7 bridges filled the same way and thousands of people lining the sides of the river.  Bright, colourful boats floated down the river while fireworks lit up the sky with smiley faces and hearts. Unfortunately, jet lag had finally caught up with my mom and I, so we made our way back to our hotel on a nearly empty train.

And here I will leave you, with my trip to Kyoto for next time!