The day I arrived in Tokyo it was pouring rain. A true Canberran, I had not thought to bring an umbrella. This resulted in me being soaked and freezing cold by the time I had managed to crawl my way over to my new home. A little later that day, the rain stopped. Optimistic, I took myself out to explore the city I’d be living in for the next half-a-year. Then, it started to snow and I began to question whether I really was so welcome in Tokyo after all. Yet the next day the sun came out, and I realised that thousands of Sakura trees were in bloom throughout the city.
Reflecting on the somewhat turbulent welcome to Japan that the weather gave me, I realise it makes a good metaphor for what the first month of living in a new country is like. You often feel overwhelmed, you’re bombarded with the new and unexpected, which though exciting is also exhausting. Faced with a number of challenges and unanticipated events, at moments it can become just downright uncomfortable. You didn’t really prepare for the snow. But you let some time pass and you realise that there is a wealth of new opportunities and friendships to be had laying before you. You try your best and you begin to blossom. I recently realised that I’ve been in Tokyo for over a month now. This month has undoubtedly been the busiest and most exciting month of my life and I thought I’d take some time to reflect on what I’ve been up to.
My first week or so I had quite a bit of free time on my hands. This allowed me to go into ‘tourist mode’. I got to explore many of the famous sights of Tokyo and best of all, if I really liked what I had done that day, I was able to make a note to plan to go back in the future. One of the many perks of being on exchange. It still baffles me to realise that I am actually LIVING in Tokyo. I could go to Akihabara everyday and Harajuku every weekend if I really wanted. There’s a convenience store on every corner and I commute to my campus everyday by subway as if it’s nothing. I’m definitely not in Canberra anymore.
Amidst the exciting explorations of my first few weeks were a number of less exciting administrative tasks necessary for a new resident/student to complete. Yet being so new to Tokyo and Japan in general, every task, no matter how small, felt like a mission. I had to figure out what to bring and where to go (Google Maps is my now my best friend). If I made it to my desired location, I then had to use my toddler level Japanese to attempt to explain what exactly I was trying to achieve. Still, I got through those tedious tasks and I felt pretty proud of my little Canberran self for somehow never getting too badly lost in this concrete jungle.
Though an exciting experience, moving to another country can also be very challenging and lonely. Knowing this from prior experience, I prioritised establishing friendships early on in my exchange. This goal was made particularly easy thanks to the overwhelming presence of clubs at my host university, or as they’re called here, ‘circles’. The culture surrounding these circles is quite different to that of the clubs and societies at ANU. Generally, these circles are taken a lot more seriously, holding multiple events in just one week. They are also extremely eager to recruit new students, making it easy to get involved. Many of them are even more eager to recruit exchange students, some clubs even slashing the membership fee for us foreigners, one of the few opportunities to save a penny in Tokyo. Not to mention, there are dozens of circles at my host university, meaning the only people who can’t find a club that interests them, probably have no interests at all.
I have taken a rather basic route of joining an ‘International’ club. It’s focused on initiating interaction between exchange and domestic students through a variety of social activities as well as through language and cultural exchange focused events. The events they have held have provided me with great opportunities to interact with a diverse group of students. I have been lucky enough to form a number of friendships already. I am particularly grateful to have befriended so many other exchange students in these early stages of life in a new country. It’s great to be around people who feel just as confused and overwhelmed as you do and are just as eager to explore the city and get their tourist on. Additionally, my involvement in my circle’s activities has surprisingly led to some improvement in my Japanese language skills. Determined to interact with anyone and everyone, when spoken to in Japanese I’ll reply in Japanese. It’s not good Japanese but you’ve gotta fake it to you make it right?
Nowadays I find myself trying to settle back into actually doing schoolwork. I sometimes forget that one, if not the main reason I am here is to, well, study. There so much fun to be had here, it’s easy to get distracted. Overall, my first month in Tokyo was a wild one. I feel like experienced every emotion possible but have ultimately had a great time and grown more and more confident in my ability to well, survive. I now feel settled in and ready to really immerse myself in my Tokyo life, and hope that the remaining months of my exchange are just as fruitful.