Japan or Bust 02 — Alone and Scared in Osaka
Hello all, sorry for the wait, I’ve been insanely busy these past few days. It feels pretty weird to write this in English after speaking Japanese for so long, so please excuse any grammatical errors.
Currently it is noon on Sunday May 28th, I am sitting in my host family’s house in Kyoto. I arrived here on Wednesday May 24th, so needless to say, I have a lot to talk about. For that reason, I’m going to split each of the last few days up into its own post, so that this post doesn’t get too long.
With that said, let’s go back in time to Tuesday May 23rd, and let me tell the story of how I got lost in Osaka
I’m sitting in the Hearton Hotel Kyoto, breathing a massive sigh of relief after surviving one of the longest and most legitimately terrifying days of my entire life; A day which started on the morning of May 23rd and finally ended the night of the 24th.
We’ll start from the moment I finished writing the first blog post, waiting in the Philadelphia airport, nervous yet excited for what was to come. My flight from Philadelphia to Toronto had been delayed by about an hour, so we took off at around 9:30pm (instead of 8) and landed at around 11:00pm (instead of 10). That flight was short but very pleasant. They served tiny pretzels and Canada Dry (a nice touch considering they are Air Canada) and I got a chance to take the cover picture for the previous post.
When I arrived in Toronto I was immediately greeted with the news that, due to the delay, I had missed my connection to Vancouver. My original plans were to catch a connecting flight that night to Vancouver, spend the night, then g0 to Osaka at noon the next day. Luckily for me though, Air Canada offered to reroute me onto a morning flight to Vancouver that landed at 9am, which would give me plenty of time to make my noon flight to Osaka.
I graciously accepted their offer and resigned myself to the fact that I would be sleeping on some table in the Toronto airport.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances, Air Canada was very understanding and gave me a care package with toothbrush, toothpaste, and other essentials. I wandered around the Toronto airport for a while, posted the first blog entry, and took a few nice pictures before getting a Subway sandwich and finding a nice table to sleep on.
At this point in my journey I was a bit worried, but for the most part I was pretty level-headed. I was alone in a foreign country, I was afraid my bags were going to be stolen from me while I was asleep on this table, and I was afraid I would oversleep and miss my flight, but at the same time, I was ready to handle those possibilities.
It was the calm before the storm.
According to my fitbit, I slept from 2:43am to 5:20am that night, so exactly two hours and thirty-seven minutes. It was not a very refreshing sleep (and my body really hated the position I decided to lay in), but it was sleep nonetheless. After I woke up, groggy and disheveled, I grabbed my bags and immediately headed through Toronto security.
I boarded the Toronto flight at around 6:30 that morning and flew for about four hours before arriving in Vancouver at 8:45. I was still dead tired during that flight, so I drifted in and out of sleep for most of it, which, according to fitbit, came to a total sleep time of 2:14. Since I was in the aisle seat, I didn’t get many good flight pictures, but I’ll include what I did manage to get in an album after the end of the post.
Keep in mind that, at this point in my trip, it had been a day and a half since my last shower and I had been wearing the same clothes for the entire journey. Nevertheless, painfully conscious of this hygienic flaw in my plans, I got off the flight, retrieved my huge duffel bag, checked it in again, ate breakfast at Tim Hortons one more time (because why not), and went back through security.
After I made it through security, I was greeted by the most gorgeous scenery I may ever see in an airport. I’ll include more pictures in an album which I’ll link to at the end of the post, but this building was absolutely incredible to say the least.
In the terminal, I passed bridges across an indoor river with charming statues and plants scattered everywhere. The morning sunlight streamed in from the glass ceiling onto the duty free shops and tables, making the entire building seem like a high class mall that planes just-so-happened to land at. I didn’t expect to be blown away by the Vancouver airport, so that only added to the shock and awe.
At the Vancouver flight gate, the flight attendants repeated all of the announcements in Japanese, my understanding of which only added to my growing excitement.
This was it. I was about to finally leave for Japan. My anticipation was building steadily and my nerves were melting away.
The flight to Osaka was 11 hours long and consisted mainly of studying for the entrance exam I knew I would have to take. I had downloaded 3 hours worth of music and a Japanese textbook in PDF form, which kept me occupied for quite a while. I also spent some time playing my Japanese copy of the new Pokemon game (which is my way of studying when I don’t want to).
I made a conscious choice to not sleep on the flight in order to help deal with the inevitable jet lag. Little did I know I wouldn’t get another chance to rest for about 8 more hours after landing. At about 2pm JST (3am for my internal clock) the plane finally landed in Osaka.
The day I finally landed in Japan was a quintessentially depressing day — the sky was covered with dark clouds and the ground had been soaked by intermittent rain showers. In spite of this weather, my spirits could not have been higher. I had made it to Japan.
The first person to whom I spoke Japanese was a security officer at the customs gate. I said to her, while pointing to my customs card:
「ペンシルを使いました」~ “I used pencil”
I was so hilariously nervous while saying such a short and simple sentence. Before this, I had only ever spoken the language in short bursts in class to my sensei, and never for survival purposes.
Would I sound weird? Is this grammatically correct? Am I using the right politeness level? Do I visibly stand out as a foreigner trying to speak Japanese? Is my accent funny?
None of these concerns actually mattered in the end, as the attendant understood me perfectly and actually provided me with a pen, a clipboard, and a new card for me to fill out again. After I finished and handed the clipboard back, she actually asked me if I lived in Japan, which boosted my confidence to the stratosphere. I left security into the airport lobby feeling confident that I could use my language ability to navigate. This ability was about to be put to the ultimate test.
Alone and Scared
Up until this point, I had been so focused on getting to the airport, that I forgot to think about what I would actually do when I got there. The hotel I was supposed to get to by nightfall was in downtown Kyoto, and I was in Osaka, about 60 miles away. I promptly read the study abroad program’s guidebook, which recommended that I hire a taxi service to get to Kyoto. It was then that I realized, I had screwed up. I was supposed to have hired the taxi two days in advance, and in my hurry to get to Japan I had forgotten to do that. This is when I started to get really worried.
I was dead tired, I was carrying two backpacks and a duffel bag (which weighed about 70 pounds), I hadn’t showered in around two days (and it was easily visible), I was completely alone in a foreign country, I had no internet access, I had no money, I stuck out like a sore thumb among all of the ethnically Japanese people, I had a time limit to reach my destination, I had only a basic grasp of the language, but most of all, I had no idea where I was going.
I’ve never really been the type of person to succumb to stress. I tend to perform well when the pressure is on. Still, I will forever remember this moment, stranded in the airport terminal, with absolutely no clue what I was doing and how honestly terrifying it felt.
It may be hard for you to empathize with me here, reading this from a hopefully comfortable and familiar place, but really take a moment to imagine the scenario. You are visibly a foreigner in a completely random country. You have none of this country’s currency. You are tired. You are alone. You look dirty and disheveled (and smell like it too). Your bags are too heavy to carry for long. Everyone around you speaks a different language. If that isn’t scary, I don’t know what is.
After a while, I managed to compose myself and started thinking of things I could do to get myself out of this situation. First, I left my stuff at my seat (since carrying it was destroying my shoulder) and found an exchange machine so I could get some Japanese yen. Second, I tried to find some way to access the internet, so I could look for the train I needed to board. I ended up finding an internet cafe and was able to use the computers there to plan my route.
According to google maps I needed to take the JR Haruka train to Kyoto, and then take the Kyoto subway to the hotel. I wrote as much information as I could down and then went back to pick up my stuff. After lugging my bags all the way up two flights of stairs, I finally found an information desk and asked in english where the JR Haruka train was.
The lady behind the desk only really understood the words “JR Haruka” and gestured towards the door leading outside, so I slowly dragged my bags over there and tried to find the ticket booth. After much difficulty I managed to buy a ticket for Kyoto and make it to the platform where a train was waiting with the door open. The attendant standing at the platform read my ticket and pushed me onto the waiting train, while saying in broken english “Change at Osaka”. I had no idea if the train was going the right way, but I trusted that he knew more than I did.
While it wasn’t necessarily a mistake to trust the train operator, the train I was pushed onto was, in fact, the local train, which stopped about every 10 minutes. I soon realized that I should have boarded the express train (which went directly to Kyoto), but by that point I was too tired to care and was just glad I was on a moving vehicle. Since I was pushed onto the train rather late, I wasn’t able to get a seat.
I ended up having to stand for the entirety of the train ride to Osaka (which took about an hour and a half).
The closer we got to Osaka, the more crowded the train got, and I found myself getting more and more self-conscious of the size of myself and my huge duffel bag, which was taking up a lot of space and becoming more and more of a nuisance to the people around me. When the train finally got to Osaka it was around 5pm, and it was peak rush hour time in Japan.
Now, I’d like for you to turn your attention to this video.
Now despite this video depicting a particularly extreme case, I can assure you that this does actually happen to rush hour trains in major cities in Japan. Now, imagine being in my situation, with a bag that is twice the size that you are, trying to get on a train from Osaka to Kyoto during rush hour. Let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty.
Not only was I being a general disturbance to the flow of the Osaka station (blocking the escalators and whatnot with my luggage), but much to my dismay, I was actually subjected to this sort of train stuffing (to a much less extreme extent) when attempting to board my Kyoto train. I had one backpack on my back and one in my hand and I had my duffel bag on my shoulder. I smelled terrible (having not showered in 2+ days and being generally hot and sweaty), and now I was being pushed very forcefully up into a packed train by a crowd of people against a bunch of tired businessmen. When I pictured my first day in Japan, I never thought it would turn out like this.
I bumbled around for a while trying to find a good place to put my bag without being much of a disturbance, but in doing that I only ended up hitting more people with my backpack and blocking the way for people to move.
The train stayed like this for about an hour, completely packed with people and terribly uncomfortable. When the train finally thinned out it was getting close to 7pm. I had been standing for almost four hours, awake for over 24 on very little sleep, and I was dead tired. I finally got off at Kyoto and fumbled around some more to find the subway, but by this point I knew I was close to the end.
After leaving the subway, I slowly trudged about three more blocks with my heavy bags until I finally arrived at the hotel. I got my room key, entered the room, closed the door and took a nice deep breath.
I had made it. I had survived my first day in Japan.
Thanks for reading all the way until the end. I know this one was really long, so I’m definitely going to try to be less wordy next time. This was by far the lowest point of my trip, so the mood of the blog will only go up from here.
Here is the link to the rest of the pictures — https://www.flickr.com/gp/155399848@N08/5gA265