Mexican with a side of Heavy Heart

(Note: the complete lack of photos is due to my oversight… I forgot to bring my camera on this trip!)

Tourist Monday on the same week I got over my cold included a trip to Osaka to shop. I went with Caroline, and we did some exploring on Namba Walk. All of my efforts to find clothing that fit me were confounded by my unusually big shoulders and tragically oversized feet. The day also included visiting Junkudo and my successful resistance to buying any books. I was at the tail end of my cold, and my recovery thus far was going smoothly. But while I was wandering through the streets of Osaka, one stop in particular brought on a new kind of illness.

After walking to Shinsaibashi, Caroline and I decided it was time for lunch. There was a Mexican place on the eighth floor of a tower, and we decided to eat there. We left the busy streets of Osaka behind and stepped right back into the heart of my hometown.

I come from a place where Mexican restaurants are really common. They’re a dime a dozen, and each one is the same: poorly lit, seventeen variations on the same three or four food items, combo meals or platters… for a moment, I wasn’t in Japan. For a moment, I could leave and call my friends up. For a moment, I could go get an Iced Capp at Tim Horton’s with Melissa before dithering around Barnes and Noble and JoAnn’s for an hour. For a moment, I needed a car to get home instead of a train. For a moment, I was so homesick that I thought I would cry. Between the atmosphere and the food, I wasn’t in Osaka. I was in America, in my hometown, where everything familiar was right outside the door. I wasn’t a tourist or a gaijin. I was a native homebody. For one instant, I was back.

But reality came back the minute I exited. I was back in Osaka, a gaijin who couldn’t navigate her way out of a paper bag and who doesn’t know that Limited Express trains cost extra to ride (at least until that trip to Osaka… I think people could tell I didn’t belong on that train. Maybe because I was sitting in somebody’s seat? Or maybe because I wasn’t wearing a suit and tie…). Japan, for all its splendor, also has its moments of solitude.

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The Departure and Arrival in Retrospect

4 am Breakfast

4 am Breakfast with Flat Kristin at the airport. By this point, I was completely exhausted. Best part: I haven’t even gone anywhere yet.

Tiny planes are frightening. I managed not to cry until I took off from Detroit. I felt entitled to it. After all, I was on about an hour and a half of sleep and on a plane the size of a school bus, leaving my home state behind for at least a year and praying to God that we didn’t crash. The familiar slipped away, and off I flew. An hour later, I was in Chicago, already nauseous beyond all reason.

Cue plane number 2: slightly bigger, but still, I cried during take-off. It’s that nostalgic feeling of leaving something familiar behind. Chicago was, for me, the final frontier. It marked the farthest west I remember being. I nodded off on the plane and woke up to find we were flying over some dessert mountains. The first thing I did when I landed was call my dad to tell him we made it safely. The second thing I did was hunt down some food. I spent $10 on hummus and $3.50 on a vitamin water, and I felt no remorse. After all, this was my last meal in America, but I had to fly another 6,000 miles, so I didn’t want to eat something heavy.

And, at last, the plane to Japan. I got teary-eyed in San Fransisco during take-off, but I didn’t cry. I sat near the back of the plane between two Japanese men who kept bumping me. I slept seven hours of the flight and spent the other three eating, drinking, or using the restroom. Then, we landed.

As I stepped off of the plane, a wave of heat hit me, not like a ton of bricks but like a wet down-feather blanket. It was the sort of thing that shouldn’t be crushing but winds up being crushing just for the shock of it. I wandered through the airport, retrieved my luggage (tip: buy weird-colored luggage and luggage tags. It makes your bags easier to find… thanks for the hideous red luggage tags, mom, and thanks for the magenta bags and blue jelly tags, grandma), and proceeded through customs without a hitch.

Ofuro

An ofuro. If I ever come home, I’m going to need one of these…

One of the secretaries was there to meet me at the airport. By then, I began to feel the thing I chugged almost a gallon of water to avoid: jet lag. Dizzy, displaced, and a little distracted, the secretary helped me ship my luggage to the branch school (it was about 2,500 yen for 2 bags) and took me to meet two of my fellow trainees. The third was arriving on a later plane and would arrive later.

Once we were together, we boarded a train that took us from the airport to another train station. (I’m still really bad with place names, so bear with me). This first train was incredibly nice; the seats swiveled so we could all talk with each other. I was just content looking out the window at the ocean, the mountains, and everything around me.

We then took another train to Daikokucho Station and walked the short distance to our hotel. The size strangely didn’t bother me and still doesn’t. It’s small, but it’s comfortable, complete with three futons, an oshiire (Japanese-style closet), a couch and TV, a small balcony, and, of course, the absolutely necessary bidet and ofuro.

There is a 24-hour discount grocery store around the corner. We all bought dinner and settled in, me with the knowledge that the next day, still jet-lagged, I would spend nine hours in my first day of training.

So it all begins…