I am writing this blog post from a Starbucks cafe in downtown Tokyo, stealing their Wi-Fi and sheltering myself away from the snow. The warmth and familiarity of Starbucks has come at the right time, after what has been the most stressful 24 hours of my life. I’m sure I will look back on this experience and laugh, but right now, my exchange so far has pushed me to the limit physically and psychologically.
I ﬂew into Narita airport around 6.45PM on a Tuesday night. The whole process from travelling from the airport into the city centre went relatively smoothly (I caught the Keisei Skyliner, which took about 40 minutes from Narita to Ueno – you can buy the ticket online too). From Ueno, I caught the train into Shinjuku, aka the epicentre of Tokyo because I had to pick up a sim card that was waiting for me at the post ofﬁce. Tokyo isn’t the easiest place to navigate on this planet and Shinjuku is characteristically known for its winding alleyways and crowds – two factors which aren’t exactly luggage-friendly (If you plan on travelling with luggage, shove everything into a coin locker. There should be lockers at every station). By now, my phone was at 30% charge and I was following a screenshot of a map trying to make my way from the station to the post ofﬁce. But that number jumped down to 6% and before I knew it, my phone died. My power bank also died.
Oh! And my phone had all the details on how to get to Nishi-Ogikubo, where I planned to stay the night with my boyfriend’s family for the night.
So here I was, stuck in the middle of Shinjuku, freezing to death with no map or phone to contact anyone. Panic started to set. The great thing about Tokyo though is that everyone is always trying to help you out. I frantically started asking around in Japanese where the post ofﬁce was, but soon gave up because it was getting late. If there is one tip I can give, it’s to practice a bit of Japanese or learn a couple of key phrases. Everyone here is so patient, even if there is a massive language barrier. I stumbled across another Starbucks in the middle of Shinjuku and decided to sit outside in the cold and charge my phone from my laptop for about an hour.
But still, it didn’t have enough power to turn on. By now, it was 10.30PM when I decided to catch the train from Shinjuku to Nishi-Ogikubo. The train was packed and throughout the whole entire trip, I was praying that his family were waiting for me at the station. But they weren’t there.
I wandered around for a bit, trying to ﬁnd a warm place to come up with a Plan B. I found McDonald’s just around the corner from the station – thank goodness McDonald’s in Japan is open for 24 hours too just like in Australia. The crispy apple pie was my ﬁrst meal in Tokyo – and it was a depressing one to say the least. At this point in time, I wanted to break down into tears and even pondered at the thought of sleeping in McDonald’s.
I managed to get in touch with my boyfriend’s cousin and she picked me up and drove me to her place in Nishi-Ogikubo. It’s a quaint and residential area, but the streets made no logical sense geographically speaking. To say the least, I was relieved to ﬁnd a warm roof over my head and a place to sleep after what was probably one of the worst nights of my life. The next morning, I ventured out into Shinjuku trying to ﬁnd the post ofﬁce to pick up my SIM Card. I then caught the train to Shimo-kitazawa, where I plan on living in a share house.
Shimo-kitazawa is a suburb in downtown Tokyo and is about a 10 minute train ride from Shinjuku (If I had to give a Sydney equivalent, it would be Newtown). It’s a trendsetting area for youth culture and the vintage shopping here is great too! But just when I thought things were going to run smoothly, it turns out that I can’t move into my share house until the 23rd of March, so I have to ﬁnd a place to sleep for another two nights.
But before we part ways, here are some tips:
– Don’t rely on technology, for it will most likely fail you in times when you need it most. – – Always write important details down, like phone numbers and addresses.
– Learn some Japanese before you get here. Don’t assume that all locals speak English, even though Tokyo is relatively tourist-friendly.
– Always have a Plan B. Book a hostel if you need to before you get to Tokyo! (If you are travelling in the Spring, note that you should book accommodation early because Tokyo will be ﬁlled with tourists admiring the cherry blossoms here).
– Try not to stress out! If you ﬁnd yourself panicking, ﬁnd a warm place to wind down to reevaluate your options.
Everyone who comes back from exchange says that it’s a massive learning curve and you’ll really learn how to be independent. I must say from the get-go that I was pushed into the deep end. But be open-minded as to what’s going to happen, even if it feels like the entire world is against you. You’ll come out of the experience, 1000 times stronger! It doesn’t exactly feel like that for me right now, but I have to keep telling myself that this is all part of the learning experience. You’ll never get to feel this way in the comfort of home.
It’s time for me to brace myself and walk into the cold to ﬁnd a roof over my head for the next two days so for now, じゅああね。
Bachelor of Communications (Journalism)
Australian Government New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant recipient.