My work has me travel to Saitama on Saturdays. The only problem was that Amanda (fellow iwu intern) and I weren’t given a direct address. We were given the address of the entire prefecture and a vague map of the area. Then we had to figure the rest out on our own. It was kinda scary. I took several wrong turns on my way there. I even took the wrong train…twice! Luckily I left really early, so I arrived right on time. Work is the same as it is in Akihabara. Organize the food, pack the rice, sort the bins, and distribute to those in need. My boss at the Saitama location wasn’t as proficient in english as I was led to believe, but there was another volunteer there who could translate any complex directions. After work, I went to Tokyo. Beautiful Tokyo. If Chicago is considered an urban area, then Tokyo must be a highly advanced alien civilization. That being said, for some reasons there are spots in Tokyo where the air smells like something rotting. I would have to say the beauty masks the smell pretty well.
It’s only been about four days and I feel like a routine is settling into place. Take a shower eat breakfast, get on the train, walk to work. However, I found a little shop that I like that serves these amazing creme brûlées. I would show you all a picture…but I ate it. I had some spare time today to walk around Akihabara station before work. It is jam packed with anime characters, little cafes, and electronics. I’m a little nervous to go in to some of these places because I don’t want to get swindled out of my money. I heard that some places charge you to sit down. By doing so they trap you into ordering something because, otherwise, it’s not worth the charge to sit down.
I decided to just head for work. Work was similar to yesterday. I distributed food to those in need, made sure people got their share, and cleaned up after. The only big difference is working with kids at the Kids Cafe. They have a place for kids to do their homework, learn some english, and decorate the place for the upcoming star festival. I played uno with a kid and learned the names of some colors. I lost track of time at that point and got home kind of late. I don’t want to make my host mom worry, so I’ll set an alarm to, at the very least, check in with her.
I finally arrived in Tokyo on June, 18th 2018. It was a long plane ride and I was very tired, and even more hungry. When I arrived in Japan I went through customs, and my friends/IWU classmates and I were greeted by an IES staff member, Mariko Ishikawa, at the arrival gate. She directed us to a luggage delivery system where my luggage was shipped directly to my homestay, which was incredibly useful. However, we were only directed as far as the bus. Mariko was not with us for the rest of the day. On the bus ride I tried my best to read the hiragana and katakana on signs. I think I will do that more often from now one because, on the bus, I figured out that there was sign in regards to something about our seatbelt. Unfortunately my knowledge of the kanji characters is very limited, so I wasn’t able to decipher most of the words I saw. To my surprise, most of the signs in Japan have kanji. Later, I looked online to discover that there are literally thousands of kanji characters, however, most Japanese citizens only need to know around two thousand or so to get by. After arriving at the hotel, I organized my things and got an IES document filled with information about my responsibilities at Second Harvest Japan. I don’t know why we didn’t receive this information until that day of all days, but I decided to roll with the punches. The schedule told me what days I would work, what my hours were and what I was doing on certain days. After briefly going through the rest of the packet with IES information, my friends and I decided to take a walk around our hotel to find a place for dinner in the meantime we waited for the final classmate to arrive (he arrived late because he left from a different location). First, we stopped by a park and played around in this playground with weird toys we hadn’t seen before. Soon, we found a dollar star, which is called a hyaku en shop in Japan (literally meaning 100 yen store), where I purchased a coin purse, and then we found a building with plenty of restaurants. Our final classmate arrived at a hotel and we brought him to the building with plenty or restaurants. We ate at a place called Lemon Grass. Our server was definitely not from America. I pulled out my translate app so my friends could asks questions about their order a bit better. However, most of us were still a little nervous to use our limited Japanese, so we mainly tried conveying through gestures and pointing. Eventually we got our food. I didn’t really eat my food. I devoured it. It was a kind of spicy beef and I couldn’t bring the chopsticks to my face any faster. And that was the first day. On the second day, we had breakfast at the hotel and met with Mariko again. She directed us to the IES center. From there we had orientation, which reiterated our responsibilities, gave us a clear direction in case of emergency, and told us how to properly treat our host family. Then we went to a place that had revolving sushi/food. Our group had a hard time figuring out how it works at first, but it turns out the they had an english setting. I had some kind of sushi and miso shrimp ramen, but it wasn’t very satisfying. Afterwards, Connor (my classmate on the trip) and I met our host mother, Yasuko Aoki. She was a very laid-back woman in her 60s. Yasuko let Connor and I know about how things work in the house. I was confused about how to use the shower, but everything ended up ok in the end. That night, Connor and I gave our host mom gifts and thanked her for inviting us to stay in her home. She was very happy. Day three I had a wonderful breakfast that Yasuko made. The train station is a few minutes away from home and is very crowded sometimes. I had a hard time figuring out what train to use, but later realized that the trains were color coded. The train rides are quiet, clean, and sometimes crowded. I have an hour train ride and a 20 minute walk to work. My feet are killing me by the end of work so I’m often in bed before 10. I made a few wrong turns getting to work my first time coming there, but I made it on time. Mana Nishioka is my supervisor. I was very glad to know she speaks english. She had to consult Amanda (the second Second Harvest Japan IWU intern/classmate) and I about a work schedule. I’ve only worked for two days, so not much has been happening. The work I do involves me helping package food and handing it out to people who come to the Second Harvest Japan center and have the proper paperwork to let us know that they need the food. Sorting the food is sometimes hard to do, because the labels are sometimes in Kanji. There’s also a kids cafe next door that I’m supposed to go to in order to entertain kids if there happen to be some. However, somedays we finish early and can go home. Hands down my best night here so far was Thursday night. Connor and I went to a restaurant with another IWU student, named Emma, and their host family. We ate octopus, raw fish, yakitori (chicken on a stick), and some kind of dough-ball with meat inside. And the night didn’t end there. After dinner, we all went to a karaoke place and sang together. I’ll never forget Connor going singing “I’m a barbie girl” for the rest of my life. In the future, I plan to do more frequent posts on my blog. Daily, if possible. It has been a bit overwhelming with getting accommodated with the environment, but, as things have settled a bit, I think it’s possible. Look forward to more posts! #iwu
Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton