A Yaadie in love with Japan opens up about her time in the Land of the Rising Sun

Jamaicans have long been fascinated with Japan and many have gone to the Asian island to work or study. Sarita Chen and her twin sister Gabrielle recently participated in a study programme in Japan and seek to share their experience with BUZZ readers. Below is an account of Sarita’s experience in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Sarita at one of the many tourist attractions in Japan.

As a long time fan of manga and anime, one of my dreams was to go to Japan. I’m fairly sure that everyone that has a similar interest in Japanese media agrees that going to Japan is the ultimate achievement. Like a right of passage almost. So yeah, this year I did a study abroad programme in Japan for four months. I then stayed an extra month after the programme finished because, as you can imagine, I didn’t want to leave. If it were up to me I’d still be there.

Some things I didn’t know before I arrived:

  • They take your residence card photo at the airport. After a twelve-hour flight. Keep in mind I had to show that card to people.
  • How to speak Japanese. You can get by with English well enough, but you’re honestly better off with some understanding of the language. I do a minor in Japanese in college so I actually had no excuse for having a level below say, a toddler’s.
  • Train stations have elevators. Cue me trying to lug three suitcases down a flight of stairs among a crowd of people fresh off the train. Please research when you travel beforehand, or even just look around for more than two seconds. Don’t be like me.

I’ve definitely heard of one or two cases where non-white foreigners were treated oddly by locals.

Being a foreigner in a non-english speaking country isn’t an experience I’m all too familiar with. I’d only ever been to Ecuador and Panama several years before. I was a bit worried about how long it would take to settle in or if I’d get treated weirdly by strangers. I’ve definitely heard of one or two cases where non-white foreigners were treated oddly by locals, or even foreigners in general, but thankfully I didn’t have any bad experiences like that throughout my entire trip. (Well, except for this one time this drunk salaryman tried to touch my hair.) As it turns out, once I got over the initial jetlag and stopped getting lost every time I stepped outside, things were pretty easy going. 

For the next four months I’d be living in a student dorm in Musashi-Kosugi, roughly a fifteen minute walk away from the nearest train station (twenty for me, since I walk slower than the average human). There was a cafeteria, both a 7-eleven and a Lawson convenience store about two minutes away and a washing machine and dryer downstairs. 

The ward office is kind of like the tax office here at home, except ten times as efficient.

As much as I would’ve liked to do some exploring within my first week, I was there for a study abroad programme and not a vacation. Most of the time was spent doing a bunch of (mostly unnecessary) orientation activities and ward office visits. The ward office is kind of like the tax office here at home, except ten times as efficient, the only downside being that all of the forms are in Japanese. To be honest, I think that’s a fair trade. You can go there in the morning and still have a reasonable chunk of your day left.

I think that speaks a lot for Japan on a whole, actually. Of course, I only have a picture of Japan from the viewpoint of a tourist (or like, a super-tourist), so my experience is definitely rose-coloured. But still. You can buy hot drinks from vending machines. We should all be trying to live like that.