How does one summarise the most amazing two weeks of their life, into a couple of entries in a blog? Where does one even begin? How about the fateful interview at the Japanese embassy that decided whether or not I’d even go to Japan? No… we first have to talk about how I got to be interviewed in the first place. Winning the Speech Contest definitely played a part. But I’d never have even participated if I hadn’t seen the flyer announcing it on my desk back in December as I did the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) N5. But I wouldn’t have even done the test if anime and JPop hadn’t sparked an interest in me to learn Japanese in the first place…
Ok, I’m clearly getting a little carried away here. I’ll start with what I was doing in Japan. I was extremely privileged to be selected as a participant of the Study-Tour Award Program for Outstanding Students of Japanese at the Japan Foundation Japanese-Language Institute in Kansai, Japan. (If the name “Japan Foundation” sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because it’s the organization behind the JLPT.) I was the only Kenyan out of 61 other participants of different nationalities. Typically, those who have passed the JLPT or done well in the speech contest are considered. I think it also helps to participate in embassy events – it is, after all, the embassy that conducts the interviews on behalf of the Japan Foundation. Did I mention that the program is fully funded? Everything from flights to accommodation and meals are taken care of by the Japan Foundation! What a great opportunity!
So on Tuesday 18th August, I got on a Qatar Airways flight from JKIA to Kansai International Airport (KIX) via Hamad International Airport in Doha. I’d been waiting for this day for about four months, so I was pretty excited. It was my first time outside the continent, and I was a bit nervous as I was going to have to find my way alone from KIX to the centre by train then bus! However the centre was really organized and had sent us documents way in advance explaining how to buy the train ticket at the airport, which trains we could take, and a timetable showing the buses from the station to the centre. Besides, it was only a 7 minute train ride and a 5 minute bus ride from the airport to the centre.
Well, after flying a total of about 15 hours (5 hours 45 minutes to Hamad, and then 9 hours 50 minutes to KIX), I finally touched down on Japanese soil on Wednesday 19th August! KIX is built on an artificial island in the middle of Osaka Bay, which I think is pretty cool. Anyway, I was so excited and happy to finally be in Japan after all these years of wanting to go! It didn’t hurt that the flight to Japan had been virtually empty and I’d had the row to myself which is perfect for me as I hate small talk with strangers and tend to really like my space (introvert problems). Off to passport control… shock on me! That queue was loooong! And for some reason, mostly full of Chinese people (judging from the language they spoke and the colour of their passports). A little over an hour later I was finally off – now my trip could really begin. Yay!
First things first, change some of my money from USD to Yen. Check. Now to buy a train ticket from KIX to Rinku Town, where I’d get on a bus to the centre. It was a fairly easy process as there was an option for English and I wasn’t about to risk my money and time trying to figure out the Japanese on a machine I’d never seen before! Next I just followed what everyone else was doing. There are ticket gates at every train station in Japan. You drop your ticket in, it gets read then pops back out (takes about a second), and then you drop it again at the ticket gate at your destination. Well, I didn’t know that last part. I spent about 30 minutes at Rinku Town Station trying to figure out how to leave, and I was (for some reason) determined not to ask anyone! It finally hit me that the ticket gate wasn’t just for those getting on another train but also for those leaving the station – never felt so silly in my life! *hides* It was about 9 pm when I finally got to the bus stop where a free shuttle bus would take us to the centre.
So by this point I’d crossed paths with a few other participants of the program, but I’d pretty much deliberately ignored them. OK, wait. Lest you think I’m completely cold-hearted, let me explain. First, as we were getting off the plane at KIX, I saw a clearly non-Japanese girl about my age ask a flight attendant for a selfie in Japanese. Something in me just knew she had to be a participant, but I wasn’t certain. Either way I wasn’t feeling particularly social so I just went on my way. Second time… at customs, there was a non-Japanese guy right behind me holding what looked suspiciously like the Japan Foundation brochure. The customs official asked if we were together and I was like, “No!” I just wasn’t ready for any kind of social interaction. Introverts will understand. 😀
So (I realize I’m starting a lot of my paragraphs with “so”…) at the bus stop I met about 5 people who were acting like they’d known each other for about a century. Making jokes in Japanese, laughing. Turns out they were participants! Who’d just met! Clearly I was the only one choosing to be antisocial. 😀 The ride to the centre passed so fast, I can barely remember it. All I know is I was extremely glad to be in an air-conditioned bus because it was HOT!! And very humid. Did I mention it was hot? Anyway we got to the centre (which, if you haven’t figured out by now, is where we were to be accommodated) and headed to the reception, where a lady gave as a folder full of a few welcome materials and documents, told us how to use our ID cards to enter our rooms and access resident-only areas of the centre, how to get to the cafeteria, what time we could have meals, how to make phone calls home, and a bunch of other preliminary information. Did I mention this was entirely in Japanese? Normal-speed Japanese? Yup. No playing, this was real life. I’m happy to report that I understood most of what she said and guessed the rest. 😀
After that briefing, I went up to my room and fell instantly in love! Small, yet super cosy and comfortable, with a desk, fridge, kettle, and a bathroom en-suite. Not to mention a killer view, which kinda comes with the territory when you’re on the 17th floor. 😉 Jet lag meant I couldn’t fall asleep right away (Japan is 6 hours ahead of Kenya), so I unpacked, called my family and significant other, admired the view, and let the fact that I was finally in Japan sink in. 🙂
That’s it for Part One! I know, I know, I’ve used a lot of words to basically describe two flights, a train ride, and a bus ride, but what can I say? I can get pretty verbose. I’ll try to be more succinct in the next instalments! Until then, you can check out my Instagram for pics of my time in Japan. 🙂
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Mbithe’s ideal life would consist of an infinite loop of travelling to beautiful, idyllic locations with breathtaking views, amazing food, and nothing on her to-do list but relaxation and rejuvenation. Mbithe’s actual life involves a lot of proposals, research papers, and code, with just enough travel to make up for the rest of it.