I’ve been in Japan for a week now and have received what I think is the best and most thorough orientation I’ve had to just about
anything in my life. This week has consisted of a tight but smoothly run program of Japanese lessons, lectures on Japanese culture and science, the best cafeteria food I’ve ever had, and a weekend staying with a Japanese family.
So far my impressions of Japan have been limited to the orientation center and my homestay, but overall they are good and all of the people I have met, including other foreign students, the people organizing the program, and the people I met over the weekend have been extremely friendly. I have even made a few friends that will also be in Tokyo, so I’m sure I will have great adventures exploring the city and its surroundings with them.
Ok, so I haven’t done ANYTHING research related so far, but I guess this week counts as cultural research, so I’ll tell you about what I did with my host family. Noriko-san and her daughter Rina-san came out on Thursday night for the “Japanese cultural experience” (as labelled in the orientation schedule), and I went to their apartment on Friday night. That night we all had delicious Japanese curry made by Noriko with her friend who was also hosting a student and her family. Later that evening Noriko’s husband, Masayoshi, came home from work, and we had a conversation with the assistance of his iphone since he doesn’t speak any English, and let’s face it, those Japanese lessons really haven’t soaked in yet!
The next day, Masayoshi went to work, but first we went to the grocery store to pick up some things for lunch and then he dropped us off at the Kanozaki Natural History Museum, which was a very interesting experience. At the museum we were greeted by a diorama of ancient sea creatures and dinosaurs complete with a statue of Godzilla in front of it, although somehow I think paleontologists have yet to find fossil evidence of his
existence . The museum was quite impressive, if a little outdated, and mainly focused on the various aquaculture industries, but also had impressive live and/or preserved collections of plants, algae, fish, crustaceans, and of course, molluscs. They even had touch tanks outside with the friendliest octopus (tako) which basically
tried to snatch my hand and bring it into the clay pot it was hiding in. The ironic thing is that is was tako that we made for dinner. In fact, I got to help make takoyaki, delicious octopus filled baked eggy batter balls of joy. We brought them to a party that was thrown for me and the other student staying with Noriko’s friend’s family. The two host families are part of the Hippo Family Club, which is basically a club that has the goal of learning multiple languages simultaneously and we basically played games with all the moms and kids and a couple dads and then ate a bunch of delicious (oishi) food. It was all a little exhausting, but the weekend was a nice look into Japanese family life that I would not have pursued on my own.
The next day was also filled with fish, food, kids, and big buddhas. First we went fishing and stopped at the largest fishing supplies store I have ever been in. Seriously. This place was the size of an ACE hardware, but was ALL fishing supplies, no joke, I don’t even know how they could have come up with so many different kinds of rods, fake bait, hooks, sinkers, bait holders, and I don’t even know what else, but apparently people are really into their fishing in Yokosuka. So, once we got our
worms (mushi) and a few weights, we were off to the edge of the sea (umi) to see what it offered us. The answer was unclear though. Since I have no idea what this first invertebrate was that we pulled up, and then all we got was a small fish. An interesting scene to see though! And this was just the beginning of the day!
For lunch, we headed to Rina’s elementary school for a festival where we bought different kinds of food from the kids with fake money. It was pretty fun and I got to try a few more new things, but it was a little intense and exhausting just being around so many hyper children speaking a language I don’t understand. I was pretty relieved when it was time to leave and we had a chance to just chill out at the apartment for a little bit before going to kamakura to see the rainy season flowers (beautiful irises and hydrangeas) and two big buddhas. It was pretty funny too because since this was the main sight to see in the area, I saw several other students in my program being towed along by their host families too. The flowers are gorgeous though and I think I can understand why Japanese are so obsessed with flowers blooming. However, I don’t think I would wait 60 minutes like some people were doing to get up to a particular place at the shrine where there were supposedly more flowers.
All in all, the orientation and home stay were great experiences, if a little exhausting and over-scheduled, but I am relieved to be going to Tokyo tomorrow and getting back to doing science. I’m thinking it will be a little more familiar, but in a completely unfamiliar way… if that makes any sense. And I’m also just looking forward to seeing where I’m living and actually unpacking to settle in for awhile and meet my host advisor and my Japanese labmates.