I'm back in Japan! I can hardly believe it. Back in the land where ambulance drivers wear gloves and helmets but drive on the left, where grown men shove old ladies aside for seats on the trains, and the old ladies are happy to give them up, and buildings under construction are swathed in tarps and netting until they can be revealed in their new glory.
I know I'll fall behind in my journal-keeping, but I'm going to do my best with a weekly digest. Yeah I know you've all heard THAT before...but. Anyway. I wrote part of this on the plane, and the rest after I'd been here for a few days.
I'm well over the International Date Line at this point, so I guess I'm really gone. I'm already in tomorrow. I feel very far away.
We have an hour before we land, and it seems like it'll be earlier than it said on the ticket, so I don't know if my host family will be there when I arrive. I suppose customs will take some time.
But the flight's been great! Upgrades: awesome. Business class: awesome :-) The seats are huge and they recline to almost flat (I slept for 4 hours!), with a million controls for footrests, headrests, lumbar support, etc. I was swaddled in a huge blanket, 3 times the size of an economy class one, and a big ugly JAL sweater, and showered with free wine, earplugs, eye masks (I'm accumulating quite a collection of those), warm towels (they're called “oshibori” in Japanese, and you'll get one at every restaurant you go to, and they're wonderful when flying), slippers; and FED, fed until I could barely walk. I'm so used to the starvation diets on domestic American flights (and also wasn't expecting the upgrade), that I had a sandwich and picked up a few snackies before boarding. Needless to say, I haven't touched them. And after the meal had been served, when I thought my stomach couldn't hold another gram of food, they came trotting by with digestifs and truffles. If plans are cattle cars, I feel like Kobe beef...
The flight attendants are lovely, trim Japanese ladies with the cutest service aprons I've ever seen! I'm tempted to steal one: they have a light greyscale aerial view of some European city, probably Paris, as a background, and big colorful dirigibles and hot-air balloons all over them. Really, really good design. The movies were terrible, so I watched an NHK (Japanese public television) special on bears in Hokkaido, and was gratified that I could understand about half of the narration! Also, it was filmed in a national park that was the subject of a translation exercise I had last fall, so that was sort of interesting. There's some sort of Important Cultural Personage on board, or some such thing; an older Japanese man who gets a LOT of attention from the flight attendants. They're always offiering him something, or, in one case, listening to him for about half an hour, half-crouched near his seat. I wish I knew who he was!
When we landed, I stupidly waited at the wrong carousel for my luggage, and finally found it before it was loaded onto an unclaimed-luggage-pound cart (yikes!), but I got out into the receiving lobby, and there was my host family, with a cute little sign, waiting for me! Kumiko (my host mother) is petite and pretty, and Tatsuya (my host father) has a sort of boyish face, and a big grin. They have a big shiny black Toyota SUV, and we loaded up my luggage, and drove the two hours back to Tokyo. I'm not familiar with the Tokyo highways, so it was a while before I recognized anything, but it was still cool to see all the signs, and the cars full of real Japanese people—wow! (it isn't nice to say that they all look the same, but compared to the sea of American faces, it's sort of relaxing to see that everyone seems to have at least the same basic underlying facial structure). We chatted all the way through the ride home. Kumiko was very relieved that I could speak lots of Japanese and understand it too, since she doesn't speak any English. Tatsuya understands some English, but doesn't speak it much either. I'm glad; it means I won't be called upon to teach English or have to rely on it a lot.
They live in Mitaka, which is only about 15 minutes by bus from the university. They house is totally Western and modern, not a tatami mat in sight. It's European-style, with the living quarters on the second floor. Their son, Koichi, looks a lot like my friend's boyfriend, i.e., cute, and he's friendly and cheerful, not at all surly or teenager-ish, and he doesn't ignore me. I get his room (he's in the guest room downstairs, so that's all right). It's small but perfect for 6 weeks. We had a great dinner of temaki-zushi, which sort of make-your-own using presliced fish and vegetables. No sushi knife experience needed. Afterwards they went over the house rules, which all seem very reasonable (even the curfew, since it's flexible as long as I let them know in advance) and i'm happy to be the new “musume-san” (daughter). Tomorrow I have to get registered at school, so I took a bath (mmm, first Japanese bath in 4 years. Delicious!) and headed straight to bed. It's really hot and sticky here, but I set the timer for the fan for 30 minutes and was out cold (well, not really cold. I wish!) in 10.