So far, I have been to two sushi restaurants near the KUIS campus. The first one is called Sushiro, and the second one is called Kamehachizushi.
Sushiro is kaitenzushi—a conveyor belt sushi restaurant that's always bustling with people. They have an automated reception, and you order your sushi on little tablets on the tables that have an English option for everything. When your sushi is about to arrive on the conveyor belt, it informs you in a cute little voice. When you're done, a waiter shows you to the register, where you do a self-checkout. You can do the whole process without knowing a single word of Japanese.
Kamehachizushi is a small restaurant in the middle of a residential area. I almost couldn't even find the place because on the outside it looked just like a regular house. It's run by an old couple—the old man makes the sushi, and his wife waits and runs the cash register (which only accepts cash). The menus were written in marker on laminated sheets of paper. I enjoyed a nice conversation with them while I ate as the TV on the counter showed bits of news and a baseball game.
These restaurants are complete opposites in many ways. However, they do have some things in common. Both were delicious. Both were dirt cheap compared to sushi back in the states. And both were great experiences that I thoroughly enjoyed.
But I'll get back to that later. It's officially been a week since I arrived in Japan, and I've already knocked a bunch of stuff off my bucket list.
Arriving at KUIS
The first thing we did on our first full day in Japan was go to Kanda University of International Studies, the school in which our classes would be held. We have yet to take an actual class—our time there so far has been spent on various orientation lectures and placement tests, of which I will spare you the details. But we did get to meet our e-pals and get a tour of the campus, and the surrounding neighborhood of Makuhari.
The university has many dedicated areas and resources for language learning, which is amazing.
Though a lot of my time was spent on chores (see my last blog), I still had plenty of time for fun. The first thing I did once I set my stuff down in the hotel was go to a karaoke place and just sing. I went with a bunch of other people later in the week, too.
I've always wanted to see what kind of score I would get. At first, I thought I was really good since I kept getting around 85. However, when I went to karaoke with my new friends, the machine dished out 80-85 point results even for performances that were heavily butchered by a sudden burst of laughter or the occasional total brain fart. So, now I don't know what to think.
On the weekend, I went to a nearby summer festival at Shin-narashino station. I didn't think summer festivals would still be happening now that it's practically fall, but they were. I got some shaved ice and even won a little prize at this booth that was selling cute little trinkets.
Later, I also checked out a cat café, which I always wanted to try. They didn't seem to actually serve any drinks at the place I went to, I guess all you could really do was just play with the cats. But it was still a lot of fun. And the cats were very cute.
I didn't just goof off all day, though. When I had to run errands, I tried to make a day out of that, too.
On Thursday, I went to the kappa-bashi market to buy some cooking utensils. The had all kinds of shops, from industrial cookware to high-end personal utensils. Some even sold fake food. Pictured below is a fake giant curry with the sign saying, "go ahead and laugh!" (I did.)
All over the street and even in the shops were cute little images of kappa, the Japanese mythical creature from which the street gets its name.
It was fun walking through all the shops and seeing what they had to offer. I still had to get a rice cooker, though, so I asked a shopkeeper where I could find a cheap one. He said I would have better luck in nearby Akihabara.
Akihabara is a big tourist spot in Tokyo, famous for being the mecca for hardcore anime and manga fans. However it used to be—and still is—a big hub for all sorts of electronics shops. Although I'm not really a hardcore otaku, I've still put it on my bucket list, so I'll go back there another time when I have no errands to run. But for now, I was really only there to get a rice cooker.
When I returned to my apartment, I went down to the riverbank to tovel my new kitchenware. Sometimes, you can see people fishing down by the riverbank. I didn't see any on that night, but it was still a very nice and calm area.
Anyway, back to what I was trying to say in the beginning with the two restaurants. I've done a lot of things here, and not everything feels as authentic as Kamehachizushi. A lot of it feels like Sushiro. Something that seems so mundane that it feels like I could've just done it anywhere. It makes me question if I'm really spending my time here wisely, if I should be doing something more "authentic." It makes me feel bad for not going out every night, and for wanting to just stay in my room and go no further than the convenience store on some days.
But the reality is, both of those kinds of experiences are very authentic in their own ways. Whether I spend a whole day out or just take a day off, at the end of the day, I'm in Japan. And the signs are in Japanese and the ads are in Japanese and I talk to the cashiers in Japanese. And every day I spend here is a valuable experience.
I've met some people on this program who are only into Sushiro-type stuff, and I've met some who are only into Kamehachizushi-type stuff. But I'm here for all of it. And although I really do want to go off on a huge adventure every day, I won't beat myself up for not being able to make that happen.
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Hey, my name is Zev. I'm a current senior at Brandeis University from Oakland, California. This fall, I'll be spending a semester in Japan! I love drawing, playing games, web development, skiing, singing, and learning languages.