Hokkaido: First Day

The first trip I went on after I arrived in Japan was a trip to Hokkaido, the north island of  Japan.  At the end of September we had a Monday off of school for “Respect for the Aged Day,”  so a big group of us headed out on Thursday night to see the sights.  The trip was completely student organized–a Czech graduate student who lived here last year had the idea to bring some new students on trip similar to one that he had already done.  I heard about the trip later than a lot of people so I decided to go only 24 hours before we left.  Even though it was a last minute decision, it was probably on of the single best decisions I’ve made since I got here.  It was a great weekend.

A group of 15 of us set out from AIU on a Thursday night.  My good friend Titus from the US was going too, a few of the others I knew from classes or the dorms, but I didn’t know anyone else very well.   For the long leg of our journey we had made a group reservation on a ferry.  The only problem is the ferry starts boarding at 6:40 and leaves at 7 am.  Which meant that we had an entire night to kill in Akita city and had to find some way to entertain ourselves.

It turned into a memorable night.  Our trip leader J. walked us through the rain to an all night bar that he knew of.  We shared umbrellas in the rain as we walked and talked about what we wanted to do in Japan.  Unfortunately, J.’s friends’ bar was busy and didn’t have enough room for 15 dripping gaijin.  However, they gave us directions to a karaoke place and an extra umbrella.  In Japan, lots of karaoke parlors are open all night (in this country, groups rent small rooms to do karaoke in privacy with their friends) and they usually have a discount for those unbusy hours.  So we rented a room and stayed up singing till 5 am.

We walked a little way, looking for some breakfast, and ended up taking taxis to the ferry landing.  It took us half an hour to write down all our names and addresses.  Some students had only been learning Japanese for a couple weeks, and I can vividly remember having people sound out their names so I could write them down phonetically.  Then I sat with Cat, who was tallying up prices, while everyone else ran off to get food before the boat departed.  It was my first time spending much time with her, even though we lived only two rooms from each other, and we were both realizing that we had a good chance of gettting along well.

There was a small panic at about 6:45 when the other students still hadn’t returned from the convenience store.  Cat shoved all the papers and tickets at me, left her bag at my feet, and ran after everyone else.  I got watch all of them run to the building just in time to make the ferry.

We had a shared room with cubbies and floor space for sleeping (actually we had two rooms, but our Japanese wasn’t good enough to understand that until the return trip).  We settled our things and then made our way up the deck of the ship.  Standing at the back, we watched the dock pull away and the city sprawl under the early sun.  It was great feeling, and despite the earlier rain, and the tiredness, it was a perfect start to our journey.

After the boat left port, most everyone went back to sleep.  I was too restless.  I stayed up and talked with Cat for while, until she too needed to sleep.  Then I wandered indoors and watched the scenary.  Japan is absolutely beautiful from the sea.  Full of mountains and some mist, sailing in a boat surrounded by bright blue water.

After a confusing conversation with an old Japanese man (who wanted to know where I was from and then proceded to explain how much he loved skiing (I didn’t really understand that part)), I headed to bed myself.  I only slept about three hours (we had a ten hour journey on the ship) before I was too restless to sleep anymore.  I went back up to the ship and wandered around some more.

Things I remember from that trip:

The water was so blue–I didn’t want to look away!

The conversation with the old man, one of my first real connections to regular people in Japan.

A man who moved from place to with his guitar, playing as he went.

Wandering, bumming into one of the other students, talking a little, and then just looking out at the waves.

Seeing the very first view of the north island as we came around the edge of it.  For no real reason, it was so exciting and so beautiful.

The water was so blue.  The sun was so warm.  The sound of the water. It was a perfect day.

Knowing everyone else was sleeping and missing it.

Japanese word of the day:  fune /ふね  (foo-nay)  noun: boat, ship


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