It’s strange to think that I’ve been here for two weeks now. I look back on life before Tokyo and it seems like a millennium ago, not a mere matter of days, that I was sweating over final exams on Main Campus. Was there a time I wasn’t here? I think that now, but I know that at the end of the summer this experience will feel like an instant, not an eon. The carefully chaperoned tours and meetings of week one have given way to classes, an internship, and weekends filled with exploration. Though I’m only in two classes and an internship teaching English in a high school, I have plenty of homework to do and plenty of long commutes to do it in. It’s easy to study Japanese on the go here—all I have to do is look around me. I’m taking Japanese Elements I, and let me tell you, learning Japanese is no easy feat. The two hour class periods can be killer! Memorizing three writing systems is much harder than simply learning a different alphabet (Cyrillic in my case), and although I can now read at least some signs, I have absolutely no idea what they’re saying. I consider myself at least mildly adept at languages, but it’s a lot to process in a relatively short amount of time. Letters that were once mystical, magical symbols of enchantment, like きっさてん, now just spell out “cafe,” leaving a sense of the mundane rather than the mysterious in their wake. Despite the loss of that ridiculously Western “enchantment” with Japanese script, I need to learn more. It kills me that I can’t process, understand, or even respond to 98% of the people I talk to outside of TUJ, including my fellow morning commuters, clerks at the 100 yen store, and even the woman at Caffe Veloce who makes my matcha (green tea) lattes.
Green tea. Now, green tea itself is not generally my first choice of tea. Delicious once in a while, sure, but I’ve always been more of an English Breakfast (a little milk and a little sugar) kind of girl. However, drinking green tea is a far different, and in my opinion a much less exciting, activity than eating any and every green tea flavored food that I can get my hands on. I know what you might be thinking: “Green tea food? Really? How can that be any good?” You’d be surprised—it’s incredible. Green tea ice cream, green tea muffins, green tea donuts, Kit-Kats…the list goes on. I frequently have to stifle my touristy urge to buy something, even if I’m not hungry, simply because it says “matcha” on the package. While there are a lot of cultural and social norms here, many of which (like J-walking) I have yet to adjust to, I quickly learned to love green tea. I have to say though, there is no better exercise in patience than walking home from Mister Donut, green tea-flavored magic in hand, knowing that to give in to temptation and eat on the go is an egregious social offense. I can do nothing but take a deep breath, grip the bag a little tighter, and keep walking in order to avoid dirty looks from any and all passers-by. The donut will still be there in 5…4…3…2….