On January 7th, 2016 I landed in Japan with two suitcases, a carry on and a backpack. It was early in the morning and after making it through immigration the first challenge I had was getting from the International terminal to the Domestic for a connecting flight. Tokyo Haneda Airport is very foreigner friendly, making it easy to get to my connecting flight. However, I did wish I packed less.
When I finally landed in Nagoya, I was ready to take a nap. Unfortunately, I couldn’t check into my room until 3pm, so I had some time to kill. Leaving my bags with the hotel, I set out to explore Nagoya a bit and that’s when it hit me. I couldn’t read, understand or speak Japanese, how the was I going to survive. The airport had lulled me into a false sense of security and now all I could to do was wander around in awe trying to avoid sensory overload. With so much Japanese everywhere I overlooked almost all the fine print English that could be found. So I relied on the point at the picture and smile method of ordering food.
After a full day of traveling, I was exhausted, overwhelmed and I thought I made a mistake moving to Japan. But I didn’t want to leave without at least giving it a shot, so I made plans to explore the area before starting my job training. First spot I decided to go was to a Japanese Castle. About an hour outside of Nagoya is one of twelve remaining original castles. Inuyama Castle (犬山城) was amazing and the walk from the station was beautiful.
The old castle town was interesting to walk through and I couldn’t believe how stunning the buildings were. The castle itself was amazing and surprisingly there was a tour guide available to give a free tour in English. The story of the castle was fascinating and I couldn’t believe that there were only 12 remaining original castles. During the Meji Restoration the castles that had survived the wars were viewed as symbols of the previous ruling elite and were ordered to be destroyed and dismantled, others were abandoned and fell into disrepair.
The trip to Inuyama Castle (犬山城) convinced me to stay and explore more of Japan and learn more about the culture. In the next few days I met other new teachers and explore other areas of Nagoya before the two week training started. One of the coolest places that we went was the Nagoya City Science Museum. It was completely interactive and so much fun to explore, a new friend took this video for me.
After completing training in Nagoya and Osaka, my next journey was to travel to Okayama Prefecture and then up to Tsuyama City, where I would be living. It was a snowy morning and both the local trains and Shinkansen were delayed, thankfully being early to the train station paid off and I was able to get to Okayama on time and make the local train to Tsuyama. I learned that the Tsuyama Line runs about 1 train and hour, with either a local (about 100 mins) or a rapid (about 60 mins). A long ride, but beautiful scenery through the country and mountains.
Tsuyama is in the northern part of the Okayama Prefecture and it’s known for the Sakura Festival (さくらまつり)that is held at the Tsuyama Castle ruins, Kakuzan Park. I couldn’t wait to be able to see what it would look like. The train station was about a 20 min walk away from my apartment and crossed the Yoshiikawa (吉井川). During summer, the Gongo Festival (ごんごまつり) is held along the river banks. It is a small town, but there are several things to do and small neighborhood places to find if you’re up for immersing yourself in Japanese culture.
Once moved in and settled, I met other expats that had been living in the area for a time and they showed the secrets of Tsuyama. One of the places that many of the expats would visit weekly was Hijiri (ひじり), a small local restaurant with an amazing atmosphere that made everyone feel welcome.
I may have been nervous moving to Japan and starting a new life, but it was a wonderful decision. I adapted to Japanese culture, learned the language (well only a bit) and traveled all over, all while teaching.