On July 2, 2004, I moved to Japan for my junior year. The academic school year in Japan actually begins in April, whereas in the USA it begins in September, so I was arriving at a time when most students are already halfway into their studies. My program required us to arrive early for an intensive 6 week crash course in the Japanese language, hoping that we would transition smoothly into living alone for the entire year. The intensive language program was at ICU (International Christian University) in the west of Tokyo near Mitaka. My Japanese friend who studied abroad at UCSD the year before had returned back to her home university which was also ICU, and she let me stay at her house for a few days so I could sight see and get over my jet lag before committing to 8am classes. The last thing I took a picture of before I left the house at 4am to catch my 8am flight, was my cat, whom I was going to miss a lot.
My dad drove me to Los Angeles International Airport, and neither of us really wanted to make a big deal out of it. We pulled up to airport curb, he unloaded my suitcases, gave me a hug, and got back in his car and drove home. No fuss, no goodbyes. I’ve flown a lot in my lifetime, and had been through this terminal before, so I wasn’t too confused by the process. I flew Japan Airlines, as the service was great. I had an entire row of seats to myself, must have been a slow day. I was able to put all the arm rests up, grab 3 pillows and 3 blankets, and sleep the whole way in. While waking up and eating dinner I managed to take this picture, flying over the Pacific ocean without a cloud in the sky.
Arriving was a bit of a challenge. I had 3 suitcases and only two arms, in total the weight was near 200lbs, somehow I managed not to get dinged with overweight fees. Since Japan is so compact, it is a very efficient country for delivery mail and courier services, so most people would just go to the courier counter at the airport and have their luggage delivered. I didn’t know my friend’s address, so I had to haul all this crap by hand.
I somehow managed to find the local train at the airport that would take me to Tokyo, and as I rode into the city I was greeted by lots of friendly people on the train, who were more than happy to help me get to my destination. However, I needed to get to Ikebukuro, and the train stopped at Nippori, and the whole switching train lines for the first time was a bit confusing. I ended up on the yamanote train going in the wrong direction, and was late getting to my destination by a good hour. I didn’t have a cell phone and this was before mass wifi, and I only managed to get in touch with my friend using the green pay phones at the station with the use of a prepaid calling card I got back in San Diego. So much could have gone wrong so quickly during those few hours, I was incredibly grateful when I finally found my friend. She reluctantly helped me with my luggage, taking the smallest one thinking it would be light, but seeing as it was my carry-on, I packed it with the heaviest valuable electronics and books, she wasn’t too pleased.
Before going back to her house, we stopped for a bite to eat at the station. Her parents treated us, and I was really thankful. My first meal in Tokyo, cold soba noodles and tempura. Very tasty. After eating, we walked back to her house, which was nearby. Her mom was waiting for us, and already had a hot bath and a futon prepared for me. I crashed out pretty hard after that.