Humans are creatures of habit. We have patterns – things we like to repeat, or schedules we go out of our way to stick to. You might have a morning tradition, like coffee (or if you’re an eternal child like me, cocoa) and breakfast, or listening to music with homework, or hanging out with a friend after class. Here in Japan, my habits aren’t the same as at home; but they’re also not entirely foreign, either. (Have I mentioned my propensity for puns yet? Still getting there in Japanese, though.)
Weekday mornings are relatively simple; wake up around 7:30, painful as that is, and turn on the heater if necessary. I’m a night owl by nature, so I may or may not rely on a set of four alarms set five minutes apart to make sure I’m up on time. After setting the room on track to warm up a bit, I set to making cocoa and breakfast – which is usually leftovers from the fridge. (What can I say? Cooking takes more energy than a sleepy college student can muster at 8 am). Right now, my roommate れいあさん (Reia-san) is on spring break (lucky her!) so I try not to be too loud when she’s still asleep. After cocoa and breakfast are ready I usually curl back up under my blankets – the heater, effective though it is, usually takes some time to make the room (and the floor!) suitably not-freezing.
After I’ve read for a bit, eaten, and waited for the room to be mostly warmed up, I make sure all my books are in my bag and head for school. Most of the time I walk with my friend Kathryn or other housemates who leave at the same time. My housing, called Arabesque, is close enough to school that we don’t need to take a train – although we do need to account for them, since train crossings in the morning are intimidating at best and traffic-worthy slowdowns at worst. But once I get to the international center, things are pretty simple; go to class (which is two to three hours, with 10-minute breaks every hour), eat lunch (either a packed bentou box or something from the convenience store), and hang out with everyone in the “J-chat lounge” for homework and Japanese chatting purposes. Everyone has different patterns, but I tend to stay in the lounge until I’ve finished my homework for the day – it’s a relatively quiet place, and I can focus more easily than I can at home. Better yet, there are usually Japanese students around to ask for help, and you don’t have to pay for the heating!
(Three guesses where I’m sitting while I write this.)
The really fun stuff, though, comes after homework or on the weekends. There’s any number of things a group of students can go do, from evening trips to Umeda (downtown Osaka – don’t ask me how much I’ve spent there. My wallet is probably crying) to karaoke by the train station. On the weekends, everyone tends to form little herds and go out adventuring, or we go on the occasional CET sponsored group trip – like we did this past weekend! Everyone went to Gifu, a region Northeast of Osaka with a lot more mountains that we usually see. We stopped at a ryokan (Japanese-style inn) the first night, and everyone took a dip in the onsen there – think big group hot tubs, both indoor and outdoor. It was pretty embarrassing at the start, but I can’t remember the last time I had a hot bath and it was a lot of fun to let my classmates ooh and ahh over my tattoos. (Thankfully, this onsen allowed tattoos. Many onsen don’t because of Japan’s history with Yakuza and tattoos, but there wasn’t an issue this time!) We also wandered around a historical Edo period government building, which included everything from offices to torture chambers and an internal garden. We even went to an outdoor market and a workshop to dye our own fabric using natural indigo! (Think tie-dye, but cooler and less associated with the hippies.)
But one of the important parts of going out and trying so many different things, though, is having a sense for when to take a break. I enjoy the different trips and activities I get to try while I’m here, and I’m looking forward to going on even more of them; but I also spend a good bit of time relaxing with a game or reading for some quiet time. It’s important to balance the fun, adventurous stuff with the time taken to recharge and calm down. Take this weekend – I developed a headache near the end of our adventures, so once we got back I took some kusuri (medicine!) and relaxed. Fun stuff is only fun so long as you have the energy to participate and enjoy it; if your batteries start to get low, it’s important to step back and recharge, so you can be ready for the next chance to go try something new.
Feature photo caption: An outlook overlooking Shirawaka-go in the Gifu region. The houses down below are well known for their steep roofs, meant to let the snow slide off — which is important, if you’ve got a couple feet of snow up there!