Weill in Japan Jason Weill Web Productions
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travel sick

weill in japan: day 02

12:23 PM

I'm not having any fun.

It has been 24 hours since I landed in Japan. After lugging my bags from the airport to my new home, I have been anxious. I have eaten nearly nothing, my Japanese skills are so bad that my host mother often pieces together sentences in English instead, and I'm not doing anything.

I went to sleep at about 11:15 PM last night after a very busy day in transit, but did not sleep well. Just as I did yesterday, I dreamt of being completely bewildered by the train system, spending what seemed like hours dwelling on simple concepts like transferring. I have boring bad dreams. I woke up with the sun, but was surprised since my alarm clock set for 7:00 AM hadn't rung. After a few minutes of confused silence, I got up to look at the clock. It was 4:30 AM. The sun was up at 4:30 AM! It hadn't really dawned on me why Japan is called the "land of the rising sun," but my experience this morning was definitive enough. When I woke from my nap last night at 7:00 PM, it was pitch black outside.

I took a shower downstairs at about 7:30 AM. The shower took about nine minutes. I opted not to soak in the tub afterwards, especially considering that the tub was empty and not likely to be used later in the morning. A morning bathing routine is not common in Japan according to the orientation materials provided by ICU. Hopefully either I can get used to an evening bathing routine, or my host family can get used to my taking showers in the morning. There was an uneasy silence after I turned off the water and my host mother told me to stay where I was. Orders are hard to understand through glass when I'm standing naked in a bathroom.

I've watched a little television while here. All the unintentionally hilarious commercials and variety shows are no longer all that entertaining to me. I watched the end of a Yomiuri Giants baseball game last night, but I couldn't get interested in what was going on. We only get seven broadcast channels, since my family has neither cable nor a satellite dish.

Carnegie Mellon's Office of International Education publishes a booklet on study abroad, with helpful tips for surviving the transition. I read through it earlier today. Seeing though I haven't even registered on campus yet -- I'll do that about an hour and a half after I write this -- not all of the withdrawal symptoms apply. These are the overall symptoms and withdrawal symptoms listed in the pamphlet.

  1. Anxiety - Yes.
  2. Homesickness - No.
  3. Helplessness - Probably.
  4. Boredom - Somewhat.
  5. Depression - Yes.
  6. Fatigue - Somewhat.
  7. Confusion - Yes.
  8. Self-doubt - Yes.
  9. Feelings of inadequacy - Yes.
  10. Unexplained fits of weeping - None yet.
  11. Paranoia - Not really.
  12. Physical ailments and psychosomatic illnesses - My appetite is gone. This will lead to more serious problems as time progresses.
  13. Physical and/or psychological withdrawal - Too soon to tell.
  14. Spending excessive amounts of time reading - I spent much of the late morning reading while my host mother taught a cooking class in the kitchen downstairs.
  15. Need for excessive amounts of sleep - Possibly.
  16. Only seeing other Americans or Westerners - Not applicable.
  17. Avoiding contact with host nationals - No.
  18. Short attention span - Yes.
  19. Diminished productivity - Definitely. I don't think that I'll be able to complete a pre-employment test for JP Morgan Chase's Japanese office in time, since I can't focus on it.
  20. Loss of ability to do work or study effectively - Possibly
  21. Quitting and returning to your home country early - I want to think that this isn't an option.

The handbook stresses that culture shock is perfectly normal. I see these symptoms also manifesting themselves as the result of adjusting rapidly to the new relationships that I will need to establish within my family. I have always been very bad at relationships, to the point where anxiety takes over, I lose my appetite, and I see other symptoms similar to those mentioned in the list above. The hot and humid weather outside makes conditions worse for me. I feel sick, detached, and alone. Calling home isn't an option for most of the afternoon: my parents are at work from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM Japan Standard Time, and go to sleep at around 11:30 AM Japan Standard Time.

My host father has a computer in his office, and is capable of dial-up Internet connectivity. I checked my e-mail today for the first time since Monday. Nothing too critical was in my e-mail, but at least I was able to check it. I did not send out any messages to friends or family, although I was able to fire up the Java applet version of AOL Instant Messenger to communicate with one of my buddies in Pittsburgh.

ICU seems like an oasis -- a spacious Western-styled campus that is not too far from here. I'm not thinking about the academics, but rather the culture. Being able to share my feelings and experiences firsthand with other students will be good for me. Maybe we can also get together to go into Tokyo. I still need to buy my brother a birthday present for next week.

I don't know how to feel.

5:57 PM

I'm back from my first trip to ICU to get registered. My bad mood went out the door with me this afternoon. I had a substantive lunch of noodle soup, but my host mother was once again upset that I didn't finish all of it.

The U.S. Air Force maintains an international radio and television network, and I happened to find their Tokyo affiliate, AM 810. It's pretty interesting listening: classic rock, teen pop, news, and public service announcements geared towards military personnel. Since today is Independence Day, I also heard the Star-Spangled Banner. Good stuff. The other AM station I found was AM 693 (the AM band goes in 9 kHz increments in Japan) which features a wide variety of international programming. Earlier today was a singing and dancing English instructional program, and now I'm hearing the news in Portuguese. There are a few FM stations as well, but I haven't found any that I like just yet. Kudos to my host family for providing this stereo setup.

Holy crap. Rush Limbaugh is on AM 810. Even going halfway around the world doesn't rid me of him.

I don't quite know what to make of ICU just yet. The workers there are nice, and all are bilingual. My commute includes a 20-minute walk to a train station, a brief train ride, and then a brief bus ride. All told, I will probably need to allocate an hour or more when factoring in my getting lost on the way to the station, waiting for buses, waiting for trains, and the infamous Tokyo rush hour traffic.

Really cool: many Japanese train stations have enormous shopping areas nearby, offering tons of food and many other products. After my host mother and I got back from ICU, we bought some take-out sushi and then ate at a nearby McDonald's. I'll need to check in to see what else I can buy in this shopping area. Sidenote: McDonald's is transliterated as makudonarudo in Japanese, but is abbreviated to makudo in Osaka and the nearby Kansai region and simply maku in fast-paced Tokyo.

Even though I've only been to ICU for all of 20 minutes, I've already met a couple of students there for the summer. While at JFK airport on July 2, I bumped into a recent Columbia grad who will be at ICU. While leaving the campus, I met an entering college sophomore who just arrived in the country today. Some bilingual conversation followed as my host mother and I guided him through the rail system. Interestingly, each of these two people has a hidden agenda concerning something they want to buy: the fellow I met in New York wants to buy some car parts to help customize his vehicle on the cheap, while the guy I was talking to on the bus and train wants to get some Japanese music CDs. Me, I want some electronic toys. A trip to Akihabara is definitely on the agenda sometime soon.

I've tried to explain to my host mother that my appetite is not very large, but she is insistent that I eat a lot. For example, after we returned from our trip to ICU and later to McDonald's, she was already asking me when I wanted to eat the sushi that we bought. I had just eaten, and wasn't planning on eating again any time soon; she prefers that I eat tonight. Effectively, I'm being made to eat four meals a day when I'm accustomed to only two meals a day while at school. During my Japanese courses at Carnegie Mellon, I have studied host families, and Japanese mothers have a reputation for being somewhat overbearing.

Cabin fever bad, adventures in city good.