Rules and Tours

The first day of orientation, I woke up at three in the morning because of jet lag. I could not fall back asleep, so I lay in bed until about five, wrote, went back to use the internet with Stephany, ate a buffet breakfast of veggies, miso soup and rice, and then went to the orientation. The orientation was held in a small meeting place close to where breakfast was. The morning was spent going over all the regulations one more time: not to have visits from family or friends, go anywhere alone, help out at your host family’s home as much as possible, etc etc.

After lunch, we – the seven exchange students- each gave a little introduction speech in Japanese of who we were and where we came from, and then we sat outside the little room in chairs and laughed and talked while we were called in, one by one, for an interview.

That night, we were told that there was going to be some fireworks near where we were, so Elina, Kuan Jen, Niina and I went outside to see them. Sadly, though, it turned out that the fireworks were blocked by a massive building. Then Kuan Jen decided that she was going to go meet her friend at the train station and ran off, so Elina, Niina and I were left to wander around in search of a place we could watch the fireworks. In the dark, we rustled around paths of grass and tried to go around the said building, but that was impossible, so we ended up riding the elevator up the the top floor to see if we could see them out a window. The top floor was a restaurant, so we went to the seventh floor, where we were able to find a balcony for emergency purposes. There, we could only view the top half of the fireworks, but I was still able to grab a couple photos and enjoy the show.

Fireworks from the balcony

As the night grew darker, I started to worry about Kuan Jen and her whereabouts. I remembered that the EIL staff members had asked us not to venture out of the Center and that  Kuan Jen had said she was heading to the train station to meet her friend, so I worried if she would be okay alone, in the dark. I told the other two girls my thoughts, and they too became worried, so Niina, Elina and I returned to our lodge to wait for Kuan Jen, though the fireworks were not over yet. We were soon joined by Stephany and Mike in the TV room. To pass the time, we watched TV and used Stephany’s laptop, but when the clock clicked ten and Kuan Jen had not yet returned, we all became antsy. Every time we heard a sound, we jumped up to see if it was her, but it never was. Being a worrier, I tried not to imagine Kuan Jen lost at the train station, abducted, raped, or worst of all, murdered- but that was quite difficult…

Stephany sugguested that we tell the EIL staff members about what had happened and we all agreed that this would be a great idea, so we all headed over to the D Lodge. We rode the elevator up to the seventh floor and headed to the room next to the exact balcony that we had watched the fireworks. When the door opened, Stephany explained the circumstances and the situation was discussed, and we finally decided that the only thing we could do was wait, since we did not know her cell phone number.

Before we headed back to our room, we searched the Center for Kuan Jen but she was nowhere to be found. Giving up, we decided to wait again in our room, but when we passed the D lodge I spotted a girl in a crowd that looked suspiciously like Kuan Jen, walking into the lodge. I started running towards her, calling her name and I was overjoyed to see that it was really her! Elina, who was also very worried, was right behind me and we both let out sighs of relief.

So it was back to the staff members’ room to tell them we had found her – they were very relieved and impressed that we had worried so much about her- and then we headed back, for the last time, to our lodge. All that energy I had for worrying about Kuan Jen was suddenly gone and I was as exhausted as ever and as soon as I lay down on my bed, I was out.

The next day, I again woke early because of jet lag. I took a shower, changed and watched TV until it was time for breakfast. After eating, we met the EIL guides and started our tour. First, we walked to the Meiji Shrine- built for the Meiji Emperor and Empress- which was located in a lush forest of age old, tall trees that I certainly did not expect to be found in the middle of the city. We washed our hands and mouth in the holy water and walked up to the shrine, where we threw in a coin offering, clapped our hands a few times, and held them together in prayer. I prayed for my family’s health.

Beautiful trees…
Meiji Shrine

After the prayer, we walked down to where there were wooden placks of written prayers hanging from a wall. Anyone could buy a plack to write their hopes on, so there was anything from wishes for world peace to wanting to become rich. Farther down, there was a shop where you could buy an ‘omamori’ – which literally means “honorable protection”. In the Shinto religion, there is the belief that these amulets will protect you from all kinds of disasters. For example, my favorite was an omamori for traffic safety. I will be in desperate need of that one when I get back to the States! Niina bought a pair for she and her boyfriend for loving bonds.

When we finished looking around the Shrine, we walked a bit further to exit the beautiful park. I started seeing signs that said ‘Harajuku’ on them but I could not believe that we had walked all the way to Harajuku from Shinjuku, since they are different wards. But we had, and we were soon shown the famous “Takeshita Doori” or Takeshita Street, where there seemed to be as many shops as people. We girls went off by ourselves and shopped around. Being a bargain hunter, even though I was not planning to buy anything, I could not help myself when I found clothes for 500 yen or 1000 yen! I ended up buying four items…

We are all very independent girls, so it was difficult to stay together and we kept losing and finding each other. Elina had disappeared by the time we were supposed to head back, but thankfully Niina had her number and texted her to find out that she had already returned to the meeting place, so we ran back to meet everyone. We then ate lunch at McDonalds and then walked to the train station to ride to Akihabara. The boys did not really find anything to do in the girl shopping paradise of Harajuku, so they were justly excited by the prospect of buying electronics in the electronics capital of the world. Akihabara is known for cheap, good, duty-free electronics and manga (comics). We were shown a large building- floors and floors of every single electronic thing you can think of- and were left there and told to meet up in a couple hours. Though I enjoy electronics, I was not in a particular need for anything, so I became bored after seeing all the floors, so after a while Niina, Elina and I went outside the crowded building to look for a place to sit. Since we found none, and also because my whole body, especially my feet, were heavy and hurt from all the walking, we decided to sit down by the wall outside the mall.

I was very relieved, but Elina kept noticing that people were staring at us. We wondered if we were doing something wrong and sure enough, a policeman came to tell us that we were not allowed to sit there. So we got up again and after taking some pictures, we found a bench to sit at. Since we were facing a street where everyone crossed after coming off the train, there were always about twenty to thirty people walking in front of us. Elina became a little creeped out that people seemed to be staring at us, so she started a count. Niina and I soon joined in on the “creepy starer game” and in the approximately fifteen minutes we were there, we counted one hundred people staring at us. What was strange was it was not just a glance, it was a stare, look back, stare back again, and again, kind of deal. One little boy, who was my favorite out of everyone, stared back at us all the way across the crossing and even tapped his mother on the shoulder to point at us. 🙂

We were laughing about the game all the way back to the train station and all through dinner.

Before I went to sleep, I thought about how I was going to meet my host family for the first time the next morning…

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