This is the first in a series of posts over the next four weeks about my language studies in Fukuoka, Japan.
Some eight months ago I decided that in order to really push forward my somewhat limited Japanese skills I needed to spend a few weeks in Nippon without my wife – she’s Japanese. Besides, giving each other a lot of room unconditionally is in our opinion a key ingredient to a healthy relationship. Nonetheless, as happy as my head felt on departure day as sad my heart was. After all, I’m not “just” married, but happily married to the core.
So, here I am again. Immersing myself in a culture that is so fundamentally different from what we westerns are familiar with.
As always, flying to Japan from Central Europe was a nightmare. Not only does it take painstakingly long, but worse, the jet lag really does kick in. Flights leave Europe in the early afternoon and arrive in Japan roughly 12 hours later with the time difference being eight hours in my case. So, when you get off in Japan in the morning hours your biological clock is a eight hours behind and your tired body aches for some rest. You have an entire day ahead of you, though. Of course, you cannot just crash down on some hotel bed and let the day pass as check-in usually is not before 2 p.m.
This time I arrived in Tokyo Narita just before 8 p.m. with my connecting flight to Fukuoka due to take off at 11:30 a.m. For the first time so far, the usually very efficient but inflexible way the Japanese deal with large masses of people had a negative impact on me. Dozens of foreigners lined up in front of the only two immigration booths that were occupied. Right in front of me was an American who looked an experienced traveler. After 30 minutes and only slow progress in the queue he called upon an official: “Sir, can’t you open some of the booths reserved to local residents for us? This is very sad, you show no respect for visitors. Very sad”. Then he added: “In Korea and even China this was much better”.
If you know the Japanese and their pride only a little you know that the American hit Bull’s Eye with that comment. Don’t ever tell a Japanese that a this or that be better in Korea or China. How can you overlook that Japan is the best country (if not in the world then at least in Asia) ;-)? They usually look down to those communist peasants in China.
Anyway, soon thereafter I was waved to an immigration both that said “Local residents” above the counter. Thank you anonymous American!
While waiting for my connecting flight I fell asleep at an airport for the first time. I set the alarm on my iPod touch, plugged the headphones in, and stretched out over three hard seats in front of the gate. It felt well deserved.
In Fukuoka I was picked up not only by my host family but also by an Asahi Nihongo school official. I was impressed.