The true orientation began on the 4th, which is in fact my birthday. Spending your 21st birthday overseas while stuck in a classroom going over rules and regulations with people you barely know is not exactly ideal, but in the end it turned out beautifully.
The day began in the orientation “hotel” cafeteria. We walked in and were encouraged along the line by the Japanese chefs. We were offered a choice between Japanese or Western fare, and the choice you made in the beginning actually affected what you were allowed to take later on. It was actually quite hilarious and an entertaining way to start the morning. I was hesitant to begin the morning with a fried, whole fish, so I always went for the Western breakfast. This meant eggs, ham, corn, spinach, salad, bread, soup and either French fries or buttered noodles.
The people who chose the Japanese breakfast were forced to get natto, a type of fermented soybean. I still haven’t had the courage to try it, but I did take pictures while several other people tried it for the first time!
Having lived with my parents and then in an apartment by myself, I was pleasantly surprised to find how much of a bonding experience this communal breakfast was. We all got there basically around the same time and sat at tables with six people. Each day it was the start to a day together, though we fluidly switched who were with at any given time.
In between some of the sessions we had enough time to go exploring, and at one point I trekked over to Starbucks in the nearby mall with a few IES students and several E-Pals. I had one of the most delicious drinks I have ever had—some sort of roasted almond frappaccino—even if it was quite over priced.
We went on a tour of the city, hitting many of the important places for study abroad students like the police station, post office, bank…. I really wonder what the residence think about our huge packs of foreigners wandering about the city! Maybe they are used to it because 1) Kanda hosts the IES students every semester and 2) Japanese people seem to move in herds anyway… Seriously, if you are out at the right time of day you will see a herd of salarymen (all of whom are wearing black pants and white or light colored formal shirts with ties) and/or students in uniforms.
We finished the night going to karaoke. I must admit, when I agreed to going I assumed I would just hide in the corner and observe the evening. After a few songs though, in that environment with 15 people it was very easy to slide right in and start singing a few songs myself.
It was a great bonding experience, and a great way to comfortably get to know how to use karaoke bars in Japan. Two of the Japanese girls who came with even secretly ordered a huge ice cream/cake/whipped cream/surprise Sunday for my birthday! ^_^
The second full day of orientation kicked off with feeling comfortable and confident. We had all gotten to know each other (even if I forgot many peoples names), knew more about the city, had more of a routine…
I will skip the boring classroom parts and skip to lunch! We split into groups to take the trains into different cities depending on where we would be living and ate lunch together. I was with a fun group of people and Karl, the director of the IES program, so everything went smoothly even though there was a group of 10 gaijin wandering around the trains and a new city for the first time. >.<
We returned to Makuhari and had a few more things to tie up before the day was over, but soon enough we were free to set off on our own. Having more confidence with the city, instead of wandering to the closest restaurant we decided to look for a particular sushi restaurant that one of the IES teachers recommended.
First of all, doing this with 15 people was a bit of a mistake, but it was a fun one! We literally wandered around the city looking for this particular restaurant before temporarily giving up and hanging out at the arcade for another hour or so. Once we were hungry enough we set out again and decided to just go to a random sushi place that we just kept passing for some reason. It ended up being a great idea, and the seemingly small restaurant had an entire back area where you take off your shoes and walk on a stone path to small, traditional Japanese booths where you sit on the floor.
We had to split up our group because we were so large, but this also turned out great and my table and I bonded quite a lot. It really was quite fun and we laughed almost non-stop for the 2 hours or so we were there.
Leaving the restaurant we ran into another group of IES students, and together we went to a different karaoke place. It was fun but a little more awkward than the night before, and better than that was returning to the orientation hotel and sitting with a group of 20 students or so in the lobby late at night to talk and use the internet together.
I can’t believe how easily we all get along. Even though there are still a few people I don’t know very well, everyone is friendly and I can quickly and easily have a conversation with anyone I end up in a group with. I could not have asked for more and I can’t wait to spend the next 4 months with these people!
Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions or comments let me know!