Japan! From Saitama to Nishinomiya

Almost exactly a week ago, I wrote my first blog post talking about leaving Scotland for Japan. At the time I was probably more stressed than excited, but now, sitting in my host family’s house in Nishinomiya I really can’t wait until my exchange university’s orientation starts on Tuesday.

It’s taken me a while to get to Nishinomiya, the city where my exchange university is, but it was nice to take some time in Saitama (one of Tokyo’s surrounding prefectures) to catch up with friends and generally adjust to being in Japan.

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View of Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture

One of the great things about meeting up with friends here is you can do things that would be horrendously expensive back in Edinburgh for not much money at all. For instance, I went to one izakaya (a kind of bar/restaurant) where all dishes and drinks cost only ¥240. At the moment that’s about £1.40 – and we’re not talking stingy servings here. My friends and I ate and drank pretty much to our hearts’ content izakaya and the bill came to about ¥1000 each – under £6. Japan may be expensive for some things (compulsory insurance for exchange students, I’m looking at you!), but if you like food there’s quite possibly no better place to be!

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¥150 – about 85p

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Eating and drinking aside, the one bit of sightseeing I did was in Kawagoe (川越), a town in Saitama which is apparently also known as 小京都 (Little Kyōto).

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Like Kyōto, it has not only traditional buildings and temples but also a lot of really nice food. The restaurant we ended up going to for lunch was quite interesting, with loads of laminated signs stuck up around the place announcing that various idols had come to eat there. Idols (aidoru) in Japan are media personalities admired more for their looksThe closest comparison to an idol group in the UK would probably be One Direction, which to my mind explains why pretty much all my (female) Japanese friends love One Direction and can’t understand why they’re not so big a hit with most people over the age of 12.

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Matsumoto Jun visited this     restaurant (^o^)

Anyway, back to Kawagoe. The restaurant we went to was also remarkable for having its own patented gyōza: Sweet Potato Gyōza. To be honest, since it was
only the outside which was made of sweet potato the taste wasn’t that different, but still, they were purple which was pretty exciting!

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Unfortunately, my friend felt ill after our day out and so we both took a nap rather than going to meet friends in Shinjuku as planned, but since I was getting a bus to Osaka at quarter past midnight I didn’t mind at all.

The bus itself was very basic and didn’t have special seats like others I’ve seen, but it was so much cheaper than getting the train that I couldn’t complain. The best part of the journey was when I woke up at about 5am to see we’d driven into a thickly forested area up in the mountains (or maybe hills – I need to brush up on my Japanese geography). It was honestly like something out of the Studio Ghibli film もののけ姫 (Princess Mononoke), and felt about as far away from the deforested mountains of Scotland as you could get. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo, but I think it’s one of those moments that will stick with me for a long time.

Another good if less awe-inspiring moment was when we were about to pull into the bus station in Osaka and I saw two men sleeping inside a giant octopus in a children’s playpark. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of that either, but it amused me that that was the first thing I saw in Osaka.

Thanks to my friend’s family, I knew exactly how to get from the bus station to Kwansei Gakuin (my university), where I was meant to be by 10:30 at the latest. Since it was only 7:30 I wasn’t worried at all, but getting myself plus my suitcase there was quite an undertaking. As happy as I am that the airline I flew with didn’t care about me exceeding the 20kg luggage allowance by 7kg, I kind of regretted not packing lighter by the time when, about halfway up the hill between the university and the station, I realised one of my suitcase’s wheels had broken. Still, I made it there and had plenty of time to cool down and rest before anyone else arrived so I suppose I can forget about it till whenever I next have to use that suitcase…

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Kwansei Gakuin

Since the majority of students had been staying together in a hotel in Osaka the night before we were meant to meet at the university, those of us who were there early had to wait for them. For some reason they were delayed, but all that meant was we had extra time to chat and get to each other a bit. It’s not just for fear of people stumbling across this blog that I’m saying everyone seemed really nice, and I’m really looking forwards to meeting more people during the coming week’s orientation. Since there are over a hundred exchange students I doubt we’ll all get to know each other, but it’s nice to have an international community along with the Japanese community here to be part of. Although Kangaku has a lot of partner universities, there are only two other students from another UK university (SOAS), so it should also be a good opportunity to meet people from all sorts of places round the world.

Since it’s getting late and since this is already quite a long post, I’m going to call it a day now, but there’s so much to write about I’ll definitely be posting again soon. For now, I will leave you with some pictures of animals made out of styrofoam, which I came across in the traditional town of Kawagoe. Enjoy!

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