There’s nothing like having your parents and siblings send you off with their best wishes, while tears are flowing all around… except my own. I was a little angry with myself for not crying at that time, but once I got on the plane, the fact that I was leaving my familiar surroundings to study in Japan for a whole year started to sink in.
Following mum’s advice, I watched Coco on the plane, which was a massive emotional trigger for my Mexican roots. That’s when the crying started. It was too much, too late. Thankfully, my girlfriend lent me a shoulder to cry on — and to lean away from that not-so-well-mannered, restless Pakistani passenger to my left. (He might also have been Indian. He was watching Bollywood movies.) Coughing right at my face? Check. Not happy with the available meals? Check. But he seemed to love the plane cookies: at one point, a flight attendant seemed to give him all the cookies that were still on board. When I moved up my eye mask after an uncomfortable nap, I counted at least four empty cookie bags.
On top of that, his wife or girlfriend came to talk to him a couple of times — and quite loudly. It also just had to be right in front of my girlfriend, blocking the in-seat screen with some ostensible arm movements. I should also probably mention the excessively talkative Brazilians behind our backs, for good measure. A big thanks to the man to my girlfriend’s right side though, who unconsciously taught us how to adjust our headrests into fairly comfortable sleeping cocoons. Little did we know!
After a layover at Dubai Airport (which is massive!) and another flight, we finally arrived in Japan. The end of our suffering, you’d think! Obviously, I had lost my wallet. It was so cliché that it almost felt reassuring, that everything was going as it was supposed to. This was also the first time where we had the honour of witnessing true Japanese efficiency: in a matter of minutes, my wallet was retrieved from below my plane seat.
There were so many forms which we had to fill in and hand over, so obviously I had to live up to my highly chaotic standards and forget where I put those. This was a chance for my girlfriend to show that she knows where I put my stuff better than I do myself. Way to go for a good impression!
We looked for a bus to the bustling heart of Osaka, close to our hotel. Japan impressed us again with its very efficient highways and public transport. We’re not lying when we say that the bus did not stand still a single time during the roughly one-hour trip to Namba. For someone who’s used to Belgian or Mexican (city) traffic, that’s just incredible.
Stepping out of the bus, we were greeted with more surprises. We saw Japanese jaywalk! We were still on time to witness the beauty of sakura! Our hotel is a love hotel! Wait, a love hotel? As in, the slightly scandalous kind? Yup! But luckily, staying there as guests with less dubious intentions was no trouble — almost. The good news was that an elderly lady from the hotel staff welcomed us with deliciously sweet green tea and a Japanese snack filled with red been paste, and that our room’s decoration was fairly neutral. We were looking forward to trying out the karaoke system that came included with our room, but instantly regretted trying it out. After finally figuring out how to fire the thing up, the speakers started blasting out music and before long, what first still sounded as a song quickly became an ugly, alarm-like sound that pierced through all that life holds dear.
I had to rush out of our room dressed in a (hotel-provided) robe and with my slippers still on, breaking at least two important rules along the way and probably several others as well, frantically trying to explain this disaster to a staff member. Eventually, a friendly repairman in his fifties or sixties was able to trace the issue down to one of the two microphones, and assured us that we could still use the other one, but we wisely chose not to take the risk.
Sitting here now, writing down these odd experiences we had upon our arrival, I kind of feel like an idiot abroad in a funny way, like the British comedy show. But this will be a year full of such things — so brace yourselves for what’s to come!