The Madness of Month Two.

I've been in Japan for a little over two months.

What a crazy, crazy two months it has been. I honestly don't feel like I've slept since arriving. There have been numerous occasions I've spoken to friends back home that have been keen to hear how I'm doing and what I'm up to, and I'm still not sure how to explain this experience because I'm yet to know exactly what I think of it all. Life here is not something I feel like I'll ever be able to properly explain to someone who isn't here. And that's okay. So: to make up for all the long distance, broken WhatsApp calls and blurry Skype chats, here are the magical, moody and mundane moments of month two.

I think these last few weeks have been the busiest I've ever been in my life. I somehow churned out 10,000 words of essays in 10 days which in coffee alone, almost ruined me. I was also approached by a publishing company wanting me to contribute to the re-vamping of one of the national tourism websites of Japan, which I was incredibly shocked about. It amazes me to think someone other than my mum reads about all my goings- on. However, the project sadly fell through for deadline reasons which was devastating - but perhaps a relief to not add another 9,000 words and 11 articles to my already colossal workload. It has however, made me want to write more frequently and expand the kind of experiences I'm sharing. On that topic: something else mad happened and I was on an Okayama prefecture radio programme which you can listen to here. Being a foreigner in a place with few foreigners certainly has advantages! In between essay writing I've been visiting the local parks and enjoying Japan in all its autumnal glory.

I always thought the U.K did autumn well, but Japan takes the prize hands down. Miniature maple leaves turn from green to butter colour, then honey, ochre, and finally brilliant red. Autumn here is peaceful, colourful and exciting. The bright yellow trees lining my cycle to campus have almost all fallen, and there's a certain emptiness now. It feels like winter is truly on its way, and then we have a beautiful day of sunshine and summer seems to still be clinging to the final leaves on the trees.

While the weekdays have been for writing essays, the weekends have been for exploring. From mid-November to now, I've visited Hiroshima, Miyajima, Yakage, Osaka and Tokyo. While I cringe at how much travel winds up costing, I justify it because my rent per month here in Okayama is £160 - not much over what I pay in Edinburgh per week. Also, I'm in Japan, and that alone is enough reason to travel. That and Okayama is pretty dull on the weekends.

Itsukushima shrine from Miyajima Island

sunset from the Miyajima ferry

The Atomic Bomb Dome from the bridge, Hiroshima

We combined a trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima in one day, which didn't leave enough time to appreciate all Hiroshima has to offer. I didn't feel like I spent enough time in such an important place, so I plan to go back again soon. Hiroshima deserves a completely separate post, but I'll write it once I've been to the memorial museum.

Osaka was the first proper weekend I spent away from Okayama and it felt wonderful to be in a buzzing city. I'm not a city girl but it was magical and exciting. My friend Eloise and I visited the Hokusai exhibition, which was wonderful and also the worst exhibition experience of my life. In typical Asia fashion, there were far too many people - despite the allocated time slots - and we could do little more than shuffle past the pieces; dodging in between a sea of heads for a glimpse of Japan's most famous artist. It was wonderful and awful at the same time and we emerged feeling exhausted and frustrated at Japan in general, for having a thousand rules and yet failing to organise a simple exhibition. It is this contrast that makes describing Japanese culture so complicated.

Couldn't see the actual artwork, got shouted at for taking this picture.

I guess when you visit a sprawling city like Osaka or Tokyo, you have to expect crowds. However the way it is dealt with is like nothing you could ever imagine. I remember seeing this video about crowded trains in Tokyo and never really imagining it would be a daily occurance. While the Hokusai exhibition was my most stressful exhibition experience, my jam-packed Tokyo train experience was the most stressful in Japan so far. How my friends from Edinburgh who are living in Tokyo this year do it twice a day, I really don't know, but I don't need to ever do it again. In seemingly very un-Japanese fashion, people stampede onto the trains and there was a point where I was shoved so violently that my arm - holding my bag - was completely horizontal and my palm was right under some poor tiny man's chin. I know I'm quite short, but if I was as short as that man, I would fear for my life every. single. morning. In spite of all the train dramas, going to Tokyo was wonderful.

Catching up with my friends from Edinburgh who are studying abroad too was really valuable. We spoke a lot about how hard living in Japan can be, and how difficult learning Japanese is. I can't even express how infuriating it is that I have studied a language intensively for 4 years and yet am nowhere close to being fluent like you might be with French or Spanish. Sometimes understanding or expressing basic concepts is difficult, and combined with the cultural element of Japanese language which effectively requires you to omit the word 'no' in favour of softer phrases, makes the whole thing very challenging. Each day though, there are mini victories with language acquisition and I am starting to see improvements. Japanese is just one of those languages that what you learn in textbooks is pretty much redundant when it comes to actually speaking, so it's all taking quite a lot of getting used to. Making Japanese friends is certainly helping though. It's very reassuring to be going through the same experiences as my best friends and doing it without them would be considerably more challenging. 

In fact, this month I've thought about my friends a lot: the ones in Japan, the ones back home, and the ones all over the world that I've met on my travels in recent years. I'm a tough gal but I can't imagine what it would be like to be here in Japan without them all. I've spoken about it before in previous posts, but going through all that Japan throws at me with friends makes it all the more manageable. Thinking about some of my friends here in Okayama leaving at the end of the semester fills me with dread, but what a wonderful thing it is to chase new friends around the world.

It's got very cold lately, which makes it feel minutely more christmassy. Exams are done, essays are handed in, and in ten days, I'll be on a beach in the Philippines. It'll be very strange to me to have a hot Christmas, but this year has been full of new experiences so I figured I'd stick with the trend! 

Happy (early) Christmas to all those reading, and I'll catch you on the flip side for a run down of Christmas in the Philippines and New Year celebrations in Hong Kong!

Molly x


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