I started to edit the old part 2 of this story, and after two hours, I realized that I was just basically rewriting the entire thing.
Before I’d even finished, I knew that an edit wasn’t going to cut it. I’m just writing the whole thing from scratch. I saved the old post in my archives for posterity and reference, but deleted it from the public server, and now, instead, we have this shiny, detailed, and just waaaaayyyyyyy better awesome new post!. I can live with that. 🙂 Actually, I’m pretty excited now!
It was September 16, 2004, in the late afternoon/evening.
I had just arrived at Narita airport outside of Tokyo, and rushed off to the first bathroom that I had seen. Thankfully the sign was in both English and Japanese. I had no idea what was was doing, and just like a girl who has no idea what she’s doing, I left all of the information that Nova (my employer) had given me in the bathroom stall.
D’oh! I rushed back in not a minute later, only there was already someone in the bathroom! NOOOOOOOOO!
I waited. I waited. Then, nervously, I waited some more, and whomever it was didn’t come out of the bathroom.
Okay, surely I don’t need the information. I can get new information, and there is supposed to be a Nova liaison waiting for me on the other side of Immigration control. Okay. I left it there. Nowadays, I might have knocked on the door and asked whomever was in there
if they were okay to pass it to me under the door, but I didn’t speak Japanese and I was having a hard enough time coping with the fact that I was finally here.
A ball of nerves now, I headed for immigration control. My first ever immigration control. While filling out the paperwork that I needed at a standing table, a girl came up next to me. She was just arriving from New York, and she was heading to Nova too!
INSTANT PALS! ｡ﾟ+.ヽ(´∀｀*)ﾉ ﾟ+.ﾟ
We both had two huge suitcases and a carryon, but somehow we managed to drag out immense baggage (literally) through customs and proceeded to look around for our contact from Nova.
We couldn’t find him.
We looked. Then we looked some more. Oh no. Did they leave without us?! Had we been deserted?! Did they get the date wrong? Omg we’re stuck in a foreign country (even though it’s Japan) and we don’t know what to do heeeeellllllppppp!
In case you can’t tell, I was a little less self-sufficient at the time. I needed some guidance. I’ve grown up a lot since then (probably).
Back then, though, we were starting to get panicked. We looked around, and latched onto the only promising-looking sign in the lobby: A woman holding a paper sign saying “information” in a ton of different languages.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! OUR SAVIOUR! She steered us right to where we needed to go– to a group of about 30 obviously non-Japanese people, standing to the side of the arrivals gate. The man who was supposed to catch us as we’d exited the plane? Yeah, he had gone to the bathroom. Thanks, man.
We were the last arrivals of the day, and right there in the airport on those lovely cushy, beige airport chairs, we had our “welcome to Japan” orientation session. Everyone received envelopes with oodles of information about our new residences, how and when to get to orientation, maps of the railway system in English (there were no smartphones back then! Dinosaurs also roamed the Earth. Okay, it was 2004, but still), apartment keys, international phone cards, and copies of Metropolis, Japan’s #1 (and only) weekly free English magazine. Years later, I was interviewed by them for a feature on my work in The Prince of Tennis, and even wrote for them. Small country, Japan. 🙂
I fumbled through my money exchange after that (with some help), and then turned to the pay phones, looming there in the lobby. I’d promised to call my mom and let her know that no, no I hadn’t gone down in the middle of the ocean
and was now stuck on a Pacific Island somewhere in the vast waters between Settle and Tokyo (Lost wasn’t on tv yet). , and was now battling invisible monsters in the forest and trying to figure out what significance there was to the numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42
It was scary. It was green. It was a foreign phone, but how did I use it? I don’t even remember, because it was the ONE time that I used a payphone in Japan. I never once used it after that day. I only remember how my trepidation turned to confusion, and then to frustration as I, and several other people, could not get the phones to do what we wanted them to do. Time was running out. I eventually gave up on using the calling card and just put a 100 yen coin in the slot. That was enough, right?
Sure! Enough for one minue, that is. I called my mom, and as we were talking, the phone told me something in Japanese that of course I didn’t understand. What? Oh. When it hung up on is in the middle of speaking, it was pretty clear. 100 yen per minute. Got it. I didn’t bother calling back though, because hey, she knew that I was alive, right?
Our leader/guide from Nova split us up into groups and assigned another Nova person to go with each group. Oh. Where had these other Nova people been when that first guy was in the bathroom? Rawr. Me and 7 other people all got on the Narita Express, and I chatted with the guy from Texas who had been seated next to me. We read out personal ads from Metropolis, and spent most of the ride laughing our heads off (probably to relieve stress. At least, for me it was.)
The group dwindled down, until even the leader left just me and one other girl, alone together on the train. Her name was Nicole, and now she acts, teaches (in the US), runs a hilarious dating blog, and a website that sells green baby clothes. She’s very awesomely multitalented. 🙂
Now, I was lucky because Nova, as my employer, was not only meeting me at the airport, they were providing me housing (it came out of my paycheck, but at least I didn’t have to find housing on my own) The guide made sure that Nicole and I were on the right trains, but while hers would take her the entire way that she needed to go, mine wouldn’t. I’d need to transfer. It was completely and totally nerve-wracking. I had NO idea what I was doing. I’d never lived in a big city. I was from the US. That meant that reliable public transportation was a wholly new thing for me. I’d never even seen a passenger train until then. Other than the yellow schoolbus as a kid and a Greyhound once, I’d never even taken a bus. Trains? What are trains?
Ohhhh man, I don’t know how I did it, but I did, and I counted the two stations until I got off. My two roommates (also Nova employees) were thankfully there to meet me.
At Kuji station, my first home in Japan (see below for photos).
What happened next? Find out soon!!! 😀 I will probably continue it tomorrow, since this gets into my first impressions on Japan, and my first taste of Japan. Ohhhhhh boy, some of my first impressions are so funny to look back on! XD