I’ve been in Japan for less than four days, an enormous portion of which I have spent feeling very, very confused. That’s not to say it’s been in any way unpleasant, just a little overwhelming. These last few days have been a jumbled mix of fascination, frustration, confusion, and elation, all topped off with a mind-numbing layer of jet lag.
From the moment I stepped off the plane in the Tokyo-Narita airport after fourteen hours of mediocre movies and casual small-talk with my fellow Centre travelers Whitney, Than, and Gerard, I began to understand that my life was about to be turned upside down. It took us almost four hours just to get out of the airport, only a few minutes of which had anything to do with customs. Seemingly simple tasks like using a pay phone to call the exchange program director in Yamaguchi or sending our luggage ahead were transformed into long, humorous adventures in cross-cultural communication, poking at, but never actually breaking the tremendous language barrier.
For some reason, it’s the small things that really throw you off. In Japan, what seems familiar is sure to have some little detail that renders it completely foreign, and what seems foreign is certain to be juxtaposed against something so
unexpectedly familiar that it’s almost impossible to get a grasp on where you are and what you’re supposed to be doing. Pay phones, for example, seem fairly normal, but it made for some awkward moments when Than and Whitney discovered that the base charge of one yen only covered about 10 seconds of queries in broken Japanese before they accidentally hung up on whoever they were trying to talk to.