Flight Day – See you on the other side…

Well, today is my last day in England for a year. Naturally, I left packing until the last minute, so I’ve been a bit busy today rushing around the house trying not to forget pieces of my life… and then trying to cram it all into a suitcase. I’m only allowed 20kg, minus the weight of the suitcase that gives me about 16kg plus a little more for carry on.

My packing has created an explosion of clothes, shoes, bags and toiletries in my tiny room. I’m still waiting for stuff to dry because of my lack of organizational skills.

If you want to catch my minimalist packing story, check out my full post about it.

Okay, so not much more to say except I hope I survive the jet lag. If they’re anything like hangovers…

…I should be fine.

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The countdown begins – 7 days to go

From today, there is only 1 week left before lift off. I still have about a million more things to do before I leave such as:

  • get a haircut
  • get some Yen
  • get my life sorted out

Unfortunately there’s not too much I can do about the last one but I should be able to get my backside up to do the the first two. I have no intention of going to a hairdresser’s within the first two or three months in Japan in case my lack of Japanese leads to an unhappy accident.

Also, with the British Pound going down faster than a plane broadcasting ‘mayday’, I’ve been trying to bide my time to get a good deal, but waiting just makes it worse and worse. By the time I get there, things in ¥100 shops (equivalent to one pound/99c stores) will cost more than well, a pound! Buddha forbid I have to pay more than a few pence for such great merchandise as:

I also need to start packing. In preparation, I’ve already bought some of the equipment I need:

1. A brand new sturdy suitcase:

International Traveller 76cm Black Expanding Trolley Case

International Traveller 76cm Black Expanding Trolley Case

…with four wheels! The suitcase moves like an upright trolley which is much easier than the ’tilt-n-pull’ types which always do my poor arms in after an hour or two of wheeling about (which will happen as I will inevitably get lost). It’s a wonder why not every suitcase is designed with four wheels, just like its a wonder we still have car doors that fly open onto the road instead of sliding ones.

2. A poor man’s DSLR camera:

Samsung WB500

As much as I would have wanted to get an actual DSLR, I decided in the end that they were way too bulky and fragile to carry around Japan with me. I needed a camera that I could easily fit into my bag and carry everywhere, then whip out in a hurry in case I see something really Japanesey pass me by.

I also wanted to take pictures of drunken karaoke nights and I have a suspicion that I won’t have the dexterity to operate complicated machinery after that fourth Southern Comfort mixer.

The Samsung WB500 seems perfect for the job. It’s a little bit bulky, but that’s because it has very good specs, with a nice 24mm ultra wide angle lens and a 10x optical zoom, which pretty much puts it in the prosumer category.

3. Adaptors:

I’ve bought two adaptors: one world one (above) since I plan to go travelling to other parts of Asia, and one specifically for UK>Japan for my laptop because they’re much smaller.

Muji offers a world adapter but (as with most things one could ever want) it costs about a tenth of the price from eBay, shipped from where else but… Hong Kong.

With only a few days left, I sense a panic attack is imminent. Actually, I could do with a a SoCo mixer right now…

Prep iii – Purchase Omiyage

As most people will know, if you are going to stay with a host family, it’s custom to bring them nice gifts from your country (omiyage). I’ve heard many times that the Japanese prefer food as gifts instead of useless bath stuff or trinkets – how very practical! I just wish that kind of thinking will catch on in this country.

So I went out in search of the most non-perishable and suitcase-packable ‘British’ foods I could find. After a few days, my efforts amounted to a sizable omiyage pile mountain in my room.

At this rate, I’m know gong to have to ditch some clothes to fit them into my suitcase. I guess that’s the price you pay if you want to buy a stranger’s love.

M&S Scottish Shortbread, Whittards Earl Grey Tea and Thorntons chocolate

I am quite aware that most British people don’t really spend our afternoons sipping Earl Grey from little teacups accompanied with the finest shortbread whilst overlooking George play polo with his friends from boarding school… but I’ve got to keep up appearances right? Who knows what would happen if Japanese people found out that the normal procedure is to dunk cardboard tasting Rich Tea biscuits into a mug?

The chocolate apes are customized with my host family’s kid’s names. From experience, I know that a good indication that little girls cherish your presents is that they like it so much they wouldn’t want to eat it. I hope that happens. Or better yet, they love me so much for giving them such an awesome gift that they decided to share some with me.

So that’s another thing ticked off the prep list. I don’t think I’ll be adding much more to the pile lest I have nothing to wear when I get there. I considered buying whiskey for my host father but since all I know about whiskey is how to spell it, I think I’ll give that a miss.

Prep iv – Prepare for culture shock

Given that Japan is on the other side of the world, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to assume that the culture would not be similar to ours on the Western side in quite a few ways.

For that reason, I knew that in order to relieve the hormonal shock to my system that would probably lead to weight gain (eek!), I would have to do as much background research as I could.

As always, the solution to my problem was to bury my nose in a few books. A lot of them focussed on going to Japan as a tourist, but what I really wanted was a book about living in Japan. One of the good ones is CultureShock! Japan: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette by P Sean Bramble. A light and humorous approach to everyday life and the wacky things you’ll probably encounter in Japan.

Another interesting book I found was this handbook:

Unfortunately, it doesn’t really have a title except for ‘Introducing Japan in English’. I bought it off ebay a while back from my saved search of Japanese language books (yes, that’s what I said). I tried to find it just now on amazon but had no luck.

It features various information about Japanese food, festivals and other cultural things in both Japanese and English side by side. At the moment, the Japanese is too advance for me to read and the kanji doesn’t have furigana (how to read the chinese characters) but it’s still useful in that I can see how a particular sentence would be translated.

Other things I’ve done include watching Begin Japanology which is a great show on NHK (or vimeo…shh!) hosted by Peter Barakan.

And of course, purely for research purposes, I’ve been watching a few doramas. I think some of they give a pretty good inside look into what a Japanese home and typical family are like. I don’t what it is about them that keeps me watching, but I have a suspicion could be:

  • the bad acting
  • the cheesy lines
  • the phobia of PDA

As for food, if you count the Westernized chains like Wagamama and Yo! Sushi, then I’ve eaten Japanese food tons of times. If not, I’ve only had a little. Once, I ate at an ‘authentic’ (and expensive!) restaurant run by a Japanese chef and kimono-clad waitresses back at uni. Also, I already eat a somewhat eastern diet based on rice anyway, so I should be fine …

So this was plan to alleviate future culture shock. I hope it works, but I have a feeling that it’s probably all a waste of time anyway, because even though I won’t be in shock, I’ll still probably gain weight.

Prep i – Revise Japanese

Some sing, some dance... I apparently collect Japanese language books

Given that I only have a few days left, I’ve been revising everything I’ve learned this year like a crazy lunatic. As always, one can’t expect cramming intensely revising year or two’s worth of work into the space of a few weeks will work very well, but it’s better than nothing.

At Leeds University, we use the Minna no nihongo textbooks and we study both parts I and II in one year. We blitzed through them like a homeless person at a buffet table so that we would be just as prepared as other students who are about to go abroad in their third year. Despite the speed, I would say that it has worked quite well. In my opinion just doing just part I in one year would be way too slow, and it would mean that we wouldn’t be able to go abroad until we were in our third year as well.

Frankly, if I had to wait any longer, I think I would implode with impatience.

I also use the Japanese For Busy People series because I was learning from them before I went to university. Personally, I think they’re much better for self study than Minna no Nihongo which only really works if you have a teacher and all of the different books that go together as a set, ie:

  • the main textbook I/II
  • the grammar book I/II
  • the kanji book I/II
  • the exercise books I/II

Of course, they are all separate so as to squeeze every penny out of an already starving population of students.

The reason why I have be at least competent in some Japanese (apart from because I’m going to Japan) is that there is a placement test at the beginning of the semester. Depending on your score, you will be put in varying levels of Japanese class for the rest of the year. There is some mobility, but only if it is really obvious that you are either too good or crap for that level. If I end up in a lower class, I will probably have to do Minna no Nihongo II all over again, which (although would be easy) would be a complete waste of time and money. Besides, all Leeds students have to take the same exams and I’d rather learn more so that it is easier to pass it than be stuck on a plateau for the whole of the year.

Finally, I also need to be able to speak Japanese so as to not look like I have the intelligence of a rice cake to my host family.

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