I arrived at Kansai International extremely exhausted. With layovers, it had been a 20 hour flight, and I barely slept the entire time, and that was with not sleeping at all the day before. Despite this, I exited the plane alert and anxious. Even with my constant interest in international topics and the various cultures of the world, I very rarely traveled in the US, let alone by myself internationally, so finding myself alone in the airport check in process was daunting. My Japanese was extremely basic at this point. I studied up on some airport words in an attempt to speed up the entry process, but that didn’t help a great deal. I could not understand the staff member at the foreign entry counter at all at first. I was attempting to get any Japanese words out of their statements, but then realized they were actually speaking extremely heavily accented English. I tried both languages but communication was still difficult. Japan was always presented to me as a place where service was held in an exceptionally high regard and where extreme politeness was a social standard. I quickly learned this was not at all a consistent case. The attendant quickly became visibly frustrated and lost patience. I managed to stumble through our interaction, and it lasted no more than 3 minutes, but it definitely unnerved me. Finished with the bureaucracy, I began to wander the airport looking for the meeting place described to me earlier online. I didn’t have to look long; after about a minute I heard my name being called. I turned to see two women in a quick rush towards me. I recognized one of them as the program representative I had been in contact with over the summer. Both women were extremely kind and patient as they dealt with my questions and general exhausted post-flight bumbling. This helped to lift my frustrations from before, and I once again became consumed with excited anticipation.
After a few days of orientation, I met my host mom face to face for the first time. The introduction ceremony was overly elaborate, and supposedly hadn’t changed since the early years of the program over three decades earlier. Our program coordinator, an American professor, mentioned earlier how Japanese society is often slow to embrace change, particularly in regards to procedures. I suppose I was seeing this first hand. They introduced us to out host families in alphabetical order, so I got the dubious privilege of being first. I bowed and shook hands with my host mother, and then we were directed towards the first set of a long line of chairs. Since we were first, I had about 25 minutes until all the other introductions were completed. During that time, it was just my host mother and I sitting next to each other. Of course the first face-to-face meeting was going to be awkward, but the seating arrangement and extended waiting time was not helping. Her English was about as capable as my Japanese, so little conversation was possible. I summoned up all my abstract vocabulary to ask as much as I could, but it was still rather uncomfortable.
Shortly after the ceremony came to a close, we went to pick up my host father and host little brother and drove to the city hall in order to file some residency paperwork. The ride was again awkward, but I was able to talk to my new little brother to a decent degree (he being only about 4 at the time made this task a bit easier). After about 15 minutes of silly questions in Japanese, I decided to inquire about sports. I asked “yakyū ga suki?” (Do you like baseball?). He responded with a strong and loud English “Yes!” My host parents and I all laughed, and I felt some of the tension melt away. It was a minor moment, but it felt important.
Upon returning home, I was introduced to my new room. It was an average sized room, but the furniture was much simpler than I was accustomed to. I found myself immediately having to change the way I organized my things in order to accommodate what was presented to me. The strangest thing about the room, though, was the pillow on my bed. It looked like a bean pillow, but upon closer examination I found it to be filled with small, hollow, plastic cylinders. I laid on it for a few minutes and decided it was very odd. I knew I would get used to it though, and I knew that it was only going to be a minor item on a long list of alterations to my routine. I stared out my window at the ever familiar sky, and looked forward to seeing what other variations I would be making during my long stay.