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O Fim duma Viagem

Here we Go Again

JAPAN | Friday, 15 January 2016 | Views [346]

If I could do do things all over again, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to go directly from Paris to Japan, or at least not directly from finals in Paris to the start of my next program in Japan with only an extended weekend for a break. However, choosing to do things differently would have required there being other programs that fit my other criteria for quality and timing, which I’m pretty sure didn’t exist. And, although it made for a crazy last week in Paris, it was probably possible to do everything I needed to get done before going to Japan. (I’ll be able to tell you for sure once this semester is over.)

I got my Japanese visa. Minus some difficulty at the beginning of the semester with making sure they had the photos they needed, and the stress of giving away my passport one week before I was set to leave the country, this was a pretty painless process. Show up with the right forms (which really translates as a passport, photocopy of passport, certificate of acceptance, and photocopy of said certificate) at the Japanese embassy and waiting. No, you don’t need an appointment. And yes, within a week (actually, a mere two days later) the passport was ready to be picked up. Since I was a US citizen, I didn’t even need to pay anything.

And Japanese visas are beautiful. They’re all glossy and cherry-blossomy and have holographs saying things like “visa” and showing images of fans and diamonds and such. It's the prettiest visa I've ever had. (Maybe I'm just easily impressed by simple things. It makes dealing with bureaucracy more fun.)

Leaving Paris was harder than I was expecting it to be.

The flights to Amsterdam and then Osaka were pretty uneventful. At security for Charles de Gaulle, they went through every single pocket in my purse. They found the lotion I'd nearly forgotten about over the past four flights, gave me a bag for it, and let me through.

During immigration in Amsterdam, I blanked on where my final destination was. So I was just staring blankly at the official for a bit before blurting out “Osaka. KIX.” He stamped my passport and let me through. And with that, my semester in France ended without anyone ever looking at my visa.

The plane to Osaka was not full, so there was no one in the middle seat. Which was nice. I kept trying to speak to the person in the aisle in French, which wasn't terribly helpful seeing as he was Dutch. (“Excusez-moi, merci beaucoup” type speaking. Not “but then I have this other friend… no, trust me, it's a great story” type speaking.) I have a feeling that will continue to be a problem over the next few weeks.

Once I got off the plane in Japan, they looked at my visa. Well, specifically they looked at my disembarkation card, then they went “five months? You must be crazy if you think we'll let you in,” So I showed them my visa and the certificate of admission, and they directed me to a line. Where someone else looked at my visa. And looked at my visa some more. And entered information into a computer, and took my fingerprints, and looked back at my passport. And handed me a sheet of paper saying I needed to show up with my address. And handed me a residence card. It's even shinier than my visa.

(Side note: France with its borders closed is still a lot more open than Japan with its borders open. Being a nation of islands has its advantages. And, as I can confirm by looking out the window during landing and taxi, Osaka is on an island.)

At customs, the official wanted to know why I was flying via Amsterdam. It took me a bit to figure out what he was asking, and how to respond. (“I heard they had good brownies, so I wanted to pack some.”) I explained (in Japanese) that I'd been studying abroad in Paris last semester. And, for good measure, I showed him my French visa.

I finally got an airport official to look at my French visa!

And that was it. I was through everything and out to the arrivals area. (I seemed to recall the process being more laborious last time. Probably I was just better prepared with general knowledge and specific information, like my address.) Only one problem: there wasn't going to be anyone waiting for me for another five hours.

So I took advantage of the time I did have to wander around. I walked from the north end to the south end. I looked around at what was there.  (Starbucks, another coffee shop, several vending machines, and a computer and phone spot.) I rewalked it looking for an ATM, and succeeded in withdrawing cash. I noticed a sign saying there were shops on the second floor. So I went up, and realised the next five hours would not be completely miserable.

There were a lot of shops, selling mostly the kinds of things you'd expect a shop in an airport to sell. There was a bookstore that nearly made me coo aloud with delight when I recognized my pens. .3 mm pens that I'd fallen in love with when I was in Tokyo, and spent the last four years looking for. And I found them, online and in a Japanese market. But that had required a lot of active looking. Turns out all I'd needed to do was fly back to Japan. (Actually, I'd known that.) There was a “Kyoto Crafts Market,” a konbini, and several generic, duty-free stores. And, possibly the best part about spending hours on my way into the country instead of on my way out is that it didn’t make me sad for all the things I was about to leave. It made me happy that I was going to be able to spend four months with these things.

By this point, I was getting hungry, so I wandered around a bit before choosing a restaurant nearly at random and sitting down there. The waiter brought over tea and I ordered (tempura udon) and enjoyed non-airplane food. The food was decent enough, and the waiter was way more attentive than French waiters generally are. I’d no sooner looked up to try and figure  a was then he was there, refilling my tea or asking if I was ready to order. The food was not super great and relatively expensive, but, again, airport.

After that, I wandered around the airport for a bit before deciding that I wanted to check out the lounge. They had one in the area that I was in (before security) that was roughly 100 yen/hour and came with wifi (so, technically, did the airport.) So I entered, got a clipboard with the wifi password (the lounge wifi was much better. Didn’t make me keep resigning in) and a cappucino and sat down in comfier seating. It was a nice area, though it was reminding me that I no longer had Coworkshop.

After about an hour there I headed back downstairs to see if there was anyone who looked obviously like a student studying abroad for a semester with an early plane. Several people were, but no one looked like that, so I ended up waiting alone for another hour. Then at 3 I found the CET representive, and some of the other students.

At 3:50 we got on a bus, rode that for about 70 minutes, then were met by a different CET representative (the first had stayed at the airport) and she helped us get onto a train. We rode that for a few stops, (it’s no metro. I have to say that) and then got off and walked for a few blocks to get to the university and the international building there.

There, we got a housing contract in Japanese and had to check several boxes and sign our names (at some point, hopefully not until after my death, they can duke it out with LCL to see which of them get my soul) and a packet of general information about housing and the first week. And then roommates (not ours, precisely) let us to the dorms.

The housing preference I marked was living in a room with a Japanese roommate separated by a partition. Which is more or less what I got.

Mayuka, (my roommate) myself, Sarah (American) and Yuki (Sarah’s roommate) all have the third floor apartment. This leads to an overall shared area of a laundry machine, fridge, microwave, toaster oven, hallway, and possibly bathroom. (Sarah and Yuki have a bathroom in their room, so I think that defaults to being mine and Mayuka’s).

My bed and windowsillThe rest of my room

The “room” I share with Mayuka has two doors leading to each part and a curtain separating the two. Each room has a bed, table, dresser, TV, bookshelf, and kitchenette, so they’re self-contained, but easy to communicate through.

Sarah’s room is through Yuki’s and does not contain a separate kitchenette. Just a bathroom and a folding wood partition that seems traditional Japanese.

It’s a very nice place, but the insulation is terrible, so it’s hard to stay warm, especially wehn you’re walking about on the floors. Plus, the bathroom is traditional Japanese (toilet separated from actual bathing area, and the bathing area has a bath taking up half the room and a doorless, curtainless shower and sink crammed together in the other half) which will definitely take some getting used to.

At 20:00, we went down to the first floor for a pizza party that included over half the students in the program and their roommates. It was kind of overwhelming, especially after a very long day. Mayuko kept talking to me in rapid Japanese, and it was hard to stay focused and understand what she was saying. Hoping I didn’t miss anything too important, and that she’d repeat some of this information later, I smiled and nodded, and went to sleep shortly after that.

A lot of this semester is going to take some getting used to. I’m out of the habit of speaking Japanese, meaning that when I try, I find myself thinking in French. I’ve gone from an apartment by myself to an apartment that has three other people, including one of them near enough that I can see and hear everything she does. And, more generally, I’m going from Paris to Osaka. Osaka is not Paris, and I’m trying really, really hard not to hold that against it. But it will take some getting used to.

Tags: airplane, airport, housing, japan, moving, passport, visa

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