Non-Fiction

My Trip to Japan | Day 2, A Friendly Face

Previously: I had traveled 2 hours by bus to the town of Naruto in the Tokushima prefecture.

November 3

Arriving at the humble Naruto bus station, I immediately tried calling Jessica to let her know I had arrived.

Unfortunately, she didn’t answer.

It concerned me slightly, considering I was in a foreign country with a limited calling plan, but it didn’t super concern me, yknow? I remember thinking, ‘Maybe she’s in the shower,’ so I sent her a quick “I’m here” text. Waiting for her response, I made my way down to the bus station office.

It was a cute little place, nicer than any small-town bus station in Canada for sure.

There were people at the counter and two others sitting on the lobby seats. There were vending machines and a little tourist information desk with the local area’s mascots. A TV was on, tuned to a talking-heads show that I think was a split between pretty-boy idols and middle-aged comedians. Who knew.

What I did know was that they were talking about the 2016 US election so I was immediately interested. But since I couldn’t understand what they’re saying, besides “Hillary Clinton” and “Donald Trump,” I just started reading my book.

Soon enough, Jessica called me. Confirming my suspicion, she had been in the shower. She apologized and said she was on her way. I said “Take your time.”

I remember thinking, as I waited in the building and reading my book, “I must be a complete anomaly to these people.”

A black girl without any luggage in nowhere Japan. It was surely a moment that garnered attention, especially considering my hair was probably a mess.

Naruto is knee-deep NO ENGLISH Japan – since it’s not a huge international tourist area, there’s no need for people to know English. Thus, besides the handful of ESL teachers, the town likely did not see a lot of Westerners. I sure as hell bet they saw even less black people.

I didn’t get into any trouble, thankfully.

About ten minutes passed and Jessica called me again. There was a dumb back-and-forth of “Where are you, I’m near X,” “Where are you, I’m near Y,” but we eventually spotted each other in the parking lot.

20170525_100207
The highway I rode in on, the bus station I rested in, and part of the parking lot I found Jessica in.

I walked towards her and gave her a hug. I was extremely happy to have someone to physically hold as a comfort. I was extremely happy to talk to someone who understood what I was saying.

Jessica sympathized; she had been in Japan since August 2016 and even though she lived in an apartment with other ESL teachers, she understood the joy of a friendly face in a crowd of strangers.

We walked back to her car and I tell her all my woes. My flight, my luggage, the language barriers, and so on. She completely got it and I felt so much better. Jessica was basically my saint in that first week: she fed me, clothed me, gave me a bed to sleep in. I didn’t feel like I was in a strange foreign country when I was with her.

Her car – The Pumpkin – was orange and tiny. Somewhat similar to a SmartCar, but it was a bit bigger and squarer. The thing was tiny; very unlike North American cars. I swear I could drag it around or even lift it up – it seemed that light.

the pumpkin
Imagine this car, but shorter. That’s the Pumpkin.

We got in and we drove off.

If you didn’t know, Japan drives on the left. I had a hard time wrapping my head around this – every right turn we made, I found myself looking over my left shoulder. I don’t know why, but it just kept happening. It doesn’t even make sense – turning right in Canada wouldn’t require this. Who knows, just a weird thing I kept doing.

The roads in Japan are also very…well the best description is ‘narrow’.

I don’t know if this is one purpose, but – from what I saw – a lot of roads in Japan can only accommodate one car at a time. And we’re not talking a lot of one-way streets. The prime example was the road to Jessica’s apartment; if two cars were to pass each other, one needs to pull off to the side of the road for the other to pass.

20170525_105030
An example narrow road. Not exactly a two-way street, but it works!

I guess I understand this is a layover from Japan’s history. Not every city is designed to handle vehicles (just look at Europe) but it’s just so strange. Couple this with several convex mirrors to help navigate around corners and you’ve got rural Japan roadways.

Anyway.

We drove through Naruto and Jessica explained to me the plans she had made for us. We would be visiting the city of Tokushima, an onsen, one of the bridges I went over, and other local tourist attractions. I asked if we could go to an office where I could get my JR Rail Pass, and she had no problem with it.

As we were driving, she pointed out all sorts of things. The nice school she worked at, the local McDonald’s, and a local private temple. She explained how people in her prefecture are terrible drivers and have the highest accident rates in Japan. She also explained that her prefecture has the highest obesity rate in Japan because everything is so far apart (compared to the rest of Japan) so everyone drives and rarely walks.

20170525_104512
The local McDonalds! Always a comfort ❤

We arrived at her apartment, a cinder-block-looking two-story building. It had a total of six units, and she lived on the second floor. It was right next to a river, there was a really nice view.

Her apartment was unlocked and, the Canadian Kid™ I am, it surprised me. She said it was fine, nbd. Here I was introduced to the Genkan.

IIRC she explained how it’s normal to leave doors unlocked because the Genkan is technically owned by the government. The conversation boiled down to mail deliveries can leave packages in this space even if someone’s not home.

I was in awe of Jessica’s apartment. It had a tiny but functional kitchen, a little living room, a separated bathroom, and her bedroom. It was just a great amount of space for one person and she told me it was equal to (IIRC) $450CAD a month. I was really in shock and I jested at how I should move to Japan with housing like this.

It was hard wood in the kitchen, tatami mat in the living room and bedroom. The shower/tub was separated from the toilet. She had a couch and a TV, but no cable or anything. She had a western bed, which I didn’t recognize as ‘abnormal.’ She told me she was the only one in the building with such a bed. Everyone else slept on futons. Turns out she was lucky when she got this room from the JET program.

According to Jessica, the program will bring you shopping your first few days in Japan to get necessities. This explained why she has two futons and big blankets with their tags still on.

AKA, my bed for the next few days.

Jessica explained that she was sick; a bug had been going around. She was happy to show me the area, but suggested we leave the onsen trip to Sunday. I was perfectly fine with this, since my luggage was expected to arrive between 2 and 5 pm on Saturday.

We bummed around for a bit. She gave me some new clothes to wear and offered to wash mine as she was doing laundry. In the meantime, I tried to set up my WiFi device.

I had ordered a portable WiFi device for my three week trip. I had it sent to Jessica’s apartment (with her permission) since I would be staying with her for a week. I was glad it successfully made it to her, as I was still annoyed by my luggage troubles.

Strangely, it didn’t work at first and I emailed the company. But then it magically DID work about two hours later. Who knows what the problem was.

We settled in for about thirty minutes, and then Jessica asked if I was hungry. “I could eat,” was my response. She had the intention of showing me around anyway, so we agreed to get lunch at the nearby mall. We would also be visiting a grocery store to get ingredients for dinner.

It was going to be a simple day.

Next time: I’m knee deep in Japanese culture when visiting the local mall and grocery store

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