After a difficult flight, time without internet, and continuous battles with bureaucracy, I’m finally able to sit down and type some of the adventures up.
So, the flight. I was methodical about choosing the cheapest tickets half a year in advance, and I settled for a STA Travel deal for £450, flying with Air China. I normally enjoy travel, because I can sit back and listen to music or watch a movie. Sadly, the flight was uncomfy, stuffy, and I had to sneakily use my phone under my blanket, because Air China is one of the few airlines that still forbid using your phone in airplane mode. Thankfully my classmates made the journey bearable, and we joked about getting more and more delirious from tiredness. By the time of our changeover in Beijing everything felt like a dream, and a glass of wine at a random Korean restaurant did what half a bottle usually does for me.
When we landed in Kansai Airport in Osaka, we were welcomed by about two hours of passport control queues. At least my medication declaration went smoothly – do email me if you need information about Japanese regulations on bringing more than a month’s supply. The drive from Osaka to Kokui dorm in Kobe was 1,5 hours, and we finally got there at about 1:30 am, despite being supposed to be there mid-evening. Poor teachers, having to wait up for us. The best part of the 24-hour journey time was stumbling out of the residence at 4 am for a little look around, turning to each other and exclaiming: we are actually in Japan! It’s the real thing!
Starting from last Saturday and up to Friday we were in a bit of a bureaucracy hell. Thankfully, we got the best babysitters ever! Kobe university does a student tutor program, where Japanese students get paid to look after us and show us the ropes of life in Japan. I think this week I’ve done more adulting than in the entirety of my first year of university. Opening a bank account, registering at the town office, paying for national health insurance, etc. We also had to go and buy such simple things as mattresses, kettles, bins. Makes me so grateful for Oxford colleges which provide all these things for us and much more. The rubbish collection system is very scary in Kobe – you can get fined up to 100,000 yen (around £782) for sorting things wrong! Oh, and my favourite thing right now is the Japanese shop Daiso – it has all the household items and food you could want for 100 yen each, i.e. £0.80. Fresh food is very expensive though. I miss fruit and veg, but I can’t pay 3 quid for each tomato I fancy. At least cafe and ready-made meals are cheap, tasty, and fairly balanced.
Kobe university, and in particular the 文学部 (humanities) campus, is gorgeous. Everything here is up a hill or a mountain, but the workout provides amazing views. The campus is very modern, full of comfy classrooms with good equipment. The staff are incredibly welcoming, and have been looking after us amazingly well. Every morning, Monday to Friday, we have Japanese language classes from 8:50 until 12:10, which is painfully early, but the teachers make it fun and bearable. I’m panicking about how bad my Japanese turned out to be, but after a week I’m already more confident with spoken language. We have many opportunities to meet Japanese people, for instance in the lectures we must attend – the choices are very broad, and so far my favourite has been one about the link between Japanese religion and Japanese literature. I have to pick at least one series of lectures fully in Japanese, and having attended a lecture on philosophy of science, I realise it’s going to be extremely challenging, but hopefully some knowledge will diffuse into my brain. Oh, and I love the food on campus – we can go to a konbini (a mini store that has a bit of everything), a general diner, and a veggie diner. I’m vegetarian, and it has been very hard to find something to eat in Japanese restaurants, because veggie alternatives are not a thing, and veganism is completely unheard of. It’s a relief that on campus I can get my fix of a warm curry in the veggie diner, which just opened this year, lucky me!
Also, shout out to the typhoon red alert that we had on Wednesday – classes were cancelled, but no typhoon actually came, so we just sort of sat in Hannah’s room and had a typhoon party. Japanese nature is insane, with 24-hour cricket concerts, monster mosquitoes, and screaming birds. I guess the next thing will be experiencing a small earthquake, which are a common thing here.
Today, exactly a week after arrival, is the first day I could afford to wake up without an alarm. I guess this means I’m finally settling in. It’s been very difficult to go through this with depression and anxiety stepping on my toes, but the uni staff, students, my classmates, my boyfriend, and my family all made it doable and enjoyable. It’s Frank’s birthday today (he is a classmate from Oxford), and we have planned a surprise karaoke outing later on – classing Japanese activity, after all. I think everyone is quite homesick, but we support each other, and have been making the most of Japan so far.
It’s time to go and sing お誕生日おめでとう(happy birthday) to Frank now. 🙂
P.S. I will be posting the photos in an album on Facebook: here