(Read Part One here!)
So where did we leave off? Oh, right! I was in my lovely bedroom at the Japan Foundation Japanese-Language Institute, Kansai (or just “the centre” to us), admiring the view, and realizing that I was finally in Japan. 🙂 I finally fell asleep at around 2 am (which was to be my sleeping time for the next couple of days). Still, I woke up fairly early at 7 am, enough time for me to have breakfast and attend orientation! 🙂
Thursday, August 20th
The first day proved what I had already suspected – as far as the centre was concerned, it was going to be all Japanese, all the time. Introductions were done entirely in Japanese, as was the briefing outlining the purpose of the program and a few rules (including our midnight curfew). We then had a tour of the centre and its facilities. Each odd-numbered resident floor at the centre has a laundry room with washing and drying machines and a few irons and a sink, and each even-numbered one has a lounge and mini-kitchen. And some lounges (like the one on the 8th floor) have a remote-controlled massage chair!! There’s also a karaoke room, a full kitchen, and an exercise room, as well as a cafeteria, library, and self-study room. We could also borrow bikes from the centre and cycle anywhere in the vicinity. Our hands down favourite destination came to be Rinku Pleasure Town – but more on that in a bit!
Later that day we had free time, and a bunch of us decided to head down to the beach, a few minutes’ walk from the centre. I didn’t know it then, but those were going to end up being my closest friends in Japan. 🙂 Federico from Uruguay, Kevin from Jamaica, Melissa from the Dominican Republic, Nadja from Slovenia, Nastya from Belarus, Timea from Hungary, Giang from Vietnam, Richie from Micronesia, and Xin Ying from Brunei. Hi guys!!! *waves frantically, sending hugs through the interwebs*
Before we knew it we’d walked all the way up the beach, past Rinku Premium Outlets (a mall) and all the way to Rinku Pleasure Town (also a mall, but way more fun than Premium Outlets). Despite its mildly X-rated name (and I know it’s not just me), Rinku Pleasure Town is the bomb dot com and was definitely our favourite place to hang out in Rinku! It had a ferris wheel, a bowling alley, a MacDonald’s and a Starbucks, a gaming arcade (where thousands of yen were spent trying to win all the prizes), Casual Outlet Shot, a clothing and shoes store with insane discounts (where I nearly went crazy the day before we left), a pet shop (which was way too expensive for anyone to afford), and my personal favourite, Seria, a 100円ショップ (hyaku en shoppu – hundred yen shop) were everything cost a standard price of (you guessed it) a hundred yen. Or, more accurately, 108 yen, with tax. 😀 Kenyans, that’s KSh. 94 with the current exchange rate. Crazy cheap, especially considering the sheer variety and good quality of products they stocked! Everything from kitchen utensils, cutlery, cosmetics and accessories, stationery, household goods, pet stuff…
Friday, August 21st
The following day we had our Osaka Tour! First stop was Osaka Castle, which we got to enter. It was completed in 1597 (tafakari hayo!) and is now a museum of sorts, home to interesting relics and carefully kept antiques from long ago.
Next, we went to Shinsaibashi, the shopping capital of Osaka. It was amazing, especially Shinsaibashi-suji, an enclosed street full of shop after shop after shop! It was here that I visited Book-Off, a manga and music store, and bought some manga – Bleach, Naruto, and D.Gray-man.
After this we had the option of either going back to the centre with the sensei-tachi at 6 pm, or staying on in Osaka and finding our own way home, provided we got there before the midnight curfew. No brainer! We toured Shinsaibashi some more, then went to Dotonbori (the food capital of Osaka – hello!). Then we went back to Shinsaibashi and ended up losing Melissa and Richie. 😀 No worries, we all ended up safe and sound at the centre. 🙂
Saturday, August 22nd
The next day, we had a home visit. All 61 of us were divided into two’s or three’s and visited different homes for the day. Our host family was an elderly couple who didn’t have children. They did, however, invite their neighbour to join us, together with her two adorable daughters who were three and five years old. Kawaii! My partner Xin Ying and I had a fun-filled day full of delicious food and interesting new experiences. For lunch, our host dad made us takoyaki (roast octopus in balls of pastry). We’d had takoyaki the previous day at Dotonbori, but it was great being part of the cooking process. Dinner was my favourite. The display was amazing – a big bowl of rice in the middle, surrounded by various “toppings” of fish, meat, and pickles. We used this to make what I call DIY sushi. We’d take a sheet of green seaweed, put a bit of rice on it, top it up with whatever toppings we so desired, roll up the seaweed, dip it in soy sauce and take a bite. Delicious! As a side dish, we had tenpura, which is seafood or vegetables that are dipped in a batter and then deep fried. Our tenpura was prawns, sweet potato, and capsicum. So good!
Sunday, August 23rd
We had free time all day Sunday. But of course when you’re in Japan for the first time, you can’t just sit around in the name of free time! We went off to Nara, a city about two hours by train from Rinku. Nara is famous for Nara Park, where some really friendly deer roam the streets. You can buy deer food at 50 yen for a small pack, and lure deer into taking selfies with you by bribing them with food. 😀 While touring one of Nara’s numerous temples, Federico, Nastya and I somehow got separated from everyone else and got lost, despite our precautions given that we’d lost people the on Friday too! Ah well, sometimes the best adventures begin with “Oh my god, where did everyone else go??” We got to bond which was so nice, and we found our way back home just fine. 🙂
Monday, August 24th
The following day, we had our first cultural activity. Before arriving in Japan, we’d ranked 5 cultural activities in order of preference: wearing yukata (summer kimono), calligraphy, taiko (Japanese drum), karate, and flower arrangement. I chose wearing yukata and calligraphy. Dressing up ended up being pretty fun. 🙂
So that’s it for Part Two! Stay tuned for Part Three, where I tell you all about our four-day study trip to Hiroshima and Kyoto. 🙂
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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.