Traveling in Japan, especially in the first week I was here, I was quickly able to appreciate and experience the reality of being completely and utterly alone. I was a stranger in a country that knew nothing of me, without a cell phone, Internet access, and with only a shallow understanding of the language, transportation system, and everyday unreported customs. The unique feeling of being in minority wasn’t an issue for me, nor were the looks—or, not looks, perhaps, but slightly long glances. Even in the first early hours that I was here, it didn’t take much crowd watching to learn some of the apparent, common habits and customs among the Japanese. I soon realized, however, how much of Japan is unseen and, as stated before, unreported. After learning and becoming able to act on these customs, I am able to act more like a part of the commuter-culture crowd, and not a helpless foreigner like some act and feel.
The solitary feeling—of knowing no one in an entire country—is a sobering and somewhat enlightening one. I now believe that only when one is completely separated from everything that they know and depend on will one discover just how resourceful they are. Relying on oneself completely is not an occurrence that all people encounter, even in college, so this trip has been illuminating in that respect. However, traveling is not for those who have a tendency to rely on others for support, mentally or otherwise. Living and studying abroad requires a certain flexibility and willingness to adapt and come to terms with the drawbacks of all known things—restaurants, shops, friends and family—being some thousands of unbridgeable miles away. Although this may sound pessimistic and grim, it really is and has been an illuminating experience. It has the tendency to show you just how adult you thought you were. I believe that these are the types of experiences that bring us into adulthood, really.
Even now, the despair of living in a foreign country creeps up in stressful situations. With only acquaintances that are fluent in Japanese, there are not many that I can turn to in need when there is a problem that I am unable to solve by my primarily English-speaking lonesome. The first week of term, we were brought to the municipal office in our city in order to apply for the required foreigner registration card and national health insurance. The forms had been collected by and filled out for the most part by our university’s student affairs office. If I had come to live in Japan on my own and had to apply, I would have been completely and utterly lost. Thrown into a new university, country, and city with different customs and modes of operation is overwhelming, mostly compounded by the language barrier (even though, by now, it has become a bit smaller). However, it does offer the ability to try new things, meet new, different kinds of people, encounter new things, and perhaps learn a few things about yourself in the process.