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.

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