Tuesday, March 22, 2016

In Fukuoka

I'm starting my 2nd day in Fukuoka today! This is just a quick note to say that I'm doing well. It's all been a lot to absorb, and I haven't sat down to process my thoughts into writing yet--but that will be forthcoming, along with pictures. This morning I'm going to see  Sumiyoshi Shrine and Rakusuien Garden, and then in the afternoon a friend of my host is going to visit the Fukuoka City Museum with me. So much to do!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

First Day

I'm writing this morning from the shared kitchen of the hostel I'm staying at in Ikebukuro, the morning of my second day in Japan. Yesterday was mainly planned as travel and recovery, but I had a great walk around the blocks surrounding Ikebukuro station, and had my first real Japanese restaurant experience (not counting the shokudo in the airport). I was a little anxious, but it was all very simple--I was even able to understand when the waitress asked if I wanted my soba noodles hot or cold (I'm not sure what exactly I had--it was some kind of tempura-don with a side of soba noodles in broth--hot. おいしかった!) 

I checked in around 1:30, and then proceeded to start crashing hard around 2. Not unexpected. Jet lag will get to have its say.

The room I'm staying in is about half the size of the smallest hotel room you've stayed it in the States, exactly as long as the pairs of bunks on each side, with a narrow path down the middle. It sleeps 8, although fortunately only 4 bunks were occupied last night. I'm not complaining though--it's a cultural experience! The Korean guy and the Chinese girl in the bunks closer toward the door from me were flirting in awkward English, until, like true children of the 21st century, they exchanged Line ids and continued on their phones. I had a conversation with a Malay family in the shared kitchen, who were putting together their own supper--they complained good-naturedly about the challenge of finding "safe" food when you can't eat pork. 

I've been struck several times by the global reach of English--English as a default second language in signs everywhere, English as the expected lingua franca, as it was between the Korean and Chinese. I'm the only native English-speaker on this floor, and I get the sense that those signs aren't so much for me--they're for everyone else, travelers from all over who have probably learned at least a little English to aid their journeys.

A strange coincidence--I wonder what it would have been like if an east-asian language had become the international tongue of choice. Maybe we US citizens would have been forced to be a bit less parochial. 

Out the window, it's blue skies and wispy clouds, an improvement over yesterday's rain. The corvids here are really something--huge, with great long, hooked bills. They caw back-and-forth at each other in the cadence of a conversation. English has not been adopted as a lingua franca there, at least not yet.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A beginning

I'm writing from the spaceship-like confines of my capsule in the hotel 9 hours at narita. I was right that I wouldn't have the gumption to negotiate mass transit after my int'l flight--wrong that the airport hotel would be a completely simple alternative. (It's in a different terminal; I wandered for a while, lost in mazy underground concourses, before mustering the courage to ask an omawarisan to straighten me out)

In some ways it's been all pretty quotidian so far--customs line, terminal shuttle, and then this hotel--which you could almost imagine in a US airport, if Americans were habitually so tidy and quiet.

But then the PA announcements in Japanese, the 日本人 everywhere, conversations almost understandable, but still ultimately mysterious. I found myself staring at the stop button in the shuttle; in glowing letters it said

, like that--and felt a quiet thrill. I'm really here! Japan!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

All packed

It's super late; one day I'll learn to get organized well in advance of a big trip.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Going On An Adventure

This Thursday I'm hopping on a plane to Japan! I will be spending two weeks traveling a loop around the Ariake Sea on the island of Kyūshū, taking in the spring cherry blossoms, practicing my 日本語 and eating everything in sight (well, we'll see about the basashi--some sake may be required). I will be bringing myself, my trusty backpack, and my sense of adventure--and, of course, a camera. 

While I'm not going to be "that guy"--that guy that's too busy photo-blogging his vacation to actually enjoy it--I'm going to try to post some of what I see! So, this running blog will temporarily be a travel blog--please tune in for recountings of my adventures over the next two weeks. 

My itinerary: 
3/19-20: Tokyo (mainly to rest up from my flight, but I'll surely be visiting some of the tourist sites)
3/21-26: Fukuoka (and some day-trips). 
3/27-29: Nagasaki and surroundings
3/30: transit from Nagasaki to Kumamoto. I'm going to try to see Shimabara-jo on the way (and ride the ferry!)
3/31-1: Two days in Kumamoto
4/2: Ride the Shinkansen all the way north from Kumamoto to Narita, where I'll be staying my final night near the airport (no last-minute panics to catch my flight home this time). 
4/3: back to America!

I'm using airbnb for my stays in Fukuoka and Kumamoto. I've never used it before, but both my hosts seem super-nice, and my host in Fukuoka even offered to match me up with some locals who would be interested in showing me around in exchange for 英語 practice. Very excited!