“Sumimasen*, could you tell me what the name of this station is?”
The man looks up at me from his phone.
My heart skips a beat, and I immediately grab my luggage and run back into the train. I realized I forgot to thank the man only after I found a new seat. I push down my urge to run back out to the train to thank him, knowing that I will miss the train if I do. Next time, I will be more careful.
My flight to Japan landed in Tokyo two days before the start of the program. From the time I set foot in Japan, I stayed with a friend who showed me around Tokyo until I left for Osaka on the shinkansen*. Not soon after the shinkansen departed for Tokyo, the fact that I was alone in a country I barely knew sank in. But the further I traveled away from Tokyo, I felt like I could get a glimpse of all aspects of Japan out the shinkansen window. Not just the cities, but the rice patties, countryside, and rural areas. This was the Japan I wanted to see, filling me with excitement. Allowing myself to relax, I fell asleep to the changing scenery as we traveled across prefectures.
I awoke to the halt of the train and the skyscrapers covering the setting sun out the window. Just by looking at the bright signs, it was obvious that this was a large city. Still waking from my sleep, I quickly grabbed my suitcases and hurried to the exit. Re-entering my destination, Aikawa Station, on Google Maps, I saw an hour and twenty minutes remaining. Strange… I asked someone nearby on the platform, “Sumimasen…” and hearing one word, Nagoya, I realized that Shin-Osaka Station was still far away.
After another hour, I heard the announcement of the train’s arrival at Shin-Osaka Station and released a sigh of relief. Worst comes to worst, if I got lost here, I could contact the CET staff, and it wouldn’t be as bad as getting stuck in Nagoya. But this was not the end of my seemingly simple route to my apartment. From figuring out which station I had to go to (difficult because it is written in kanji such as 淡路), getting to the correct platform, and making sure I rode the right train, everything felt complicated, to say the least.
With the help of a station attendant, I navigated to the Shin-Osaka Station and rode the JR line to get on the right train. But with two suitcases, I had to go extra distances to move up and down platforms using elevators. Additionally, a distance that would usually take an average person one minute took me at least double the time. I reached JR Awaji Station to transfer trains, but where do I go? Unknown to me at the time, there are two stations in Awaji, JR Awaji Station (for JR trains) and Awaji Station (for Hankyu trains). To get home, I found (with the help of another station attendant) that I had to go out of one station and into another and ride a different railway line, Hankyu.
Once I reached Awaji station, I bought a ticket to Aikawa Station and headed to the train platform, where I found two identical trains on the right and left of me, filled with people rushing in and out. One will get me home, and another will take me in the opposite direction. Which one do I ride? Taking my suitcases, I lifted them onto one train, doubting myself, got off, then got back on, asking the man next to me if the train was headed for Aikawa, was told otherwise, and barely got on the other train as the door closed behind me. Only then was I able to let out another sigh of relief.
By the time I reached Aikawa Station, the sun had already set, and a cool night breeze set in. I couldn’t believe a whole afternoon passed by already. One of the students, my housemate from Osaka Graduate University, greeted me and helped me to my apartment near the station. I’m not sure if it was because I could finally relax at the thought of being home or if it was my new housemates that I was with, but the ramen was めっちゃうまい(very delicious in Kansai Dialect).
I guess this confirms the fact that in order to get accustomed to a new environment, you really need to be thrown into it. At the beginning of the day, I couldn’t even find the I platform to ride the shinkansen on my own. But now, I feel pretty comfortable getting around Osaka using the train system. Some days, even I end up running around in the stations along with the bustling crowd, each hustling to their respective destinations. Is this what it feels like to live in Japan? It’s only a taste of it, but I’m excited for the adventures to come from here on out.
*Sumimasen – すみません – Excuse me, sorry for bothering you in Japanese
*Shinkansen – 新幹線 – Bullet Train