Chapter 1: Another Foreigner in Japan

David Taylor

David Taylor is the creator of the Forever Foreign Podcast. He's been a full-time liver and Part-time lover of Japan for... possibly too long at this point.
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Welcome to the diary! Today is day one in Japan for Devon Glendenning. An exciting time. A nerve-wracking time. A time for rushing around, making mistakes, and getting a first impression of the country this young Canadian will be living in for the foreseeable future.

See the twists and turns that get him to the countryside of Japan in Chapter 1 of Forever Foreign.

Where and When to Listen to Forever Foreign, the Fictional Japan Podcast

Wanna start with the Forever Foreign trailer? <- Click here.

Looking for the second episode of this Japan adventure? <- Click here.

Episodes from season 1 of Forever Foreign drop every two weeks, and we would LOVE it if you’d subscribe and consider giving us feedback via a review or comment.

You can also find links to your favorite podcast feeds below:

Production Credits

Writing, producing – David Taylor
Sound design, original music – Brock Chrystian
Story Edits – Juan Olivares
Voice of Devon – David Taylor
Voice of Callum – Josh Leach

Sound Credits

Airplane ambiance:
Baggage claim ambiance:
Automatic door:
Bus idling:
Bus driving:
Hotel key card:

Chapter 1: Another Foreigner in Japan (Transcript)

DEVON: Hello, Diary. No, that’s not right… It’s “dear, diary” isn’t it? Hmmmm. Maybe I should just come up with my own signature. Orrrrr maybe I don’t even need one? After all, why do people greet their diaries as if they’re alive? I guess they’re trying to avoid feeling as though they’re talking to themselves? Which isssss pretty much what they’re doing.

Technically, I’m not talking to myself, though. This is for the next person who comes along, soooo maybe I should be addressing them. Okay, let me start from the top.

Greetings foreigner,

That’s a little better!

If I’m gonna start a new chapter in a set of diaries, I should introduce myself. My name is Devon Glendenning. It’s nice to meet you.

I found a stack of notebooks in the closet of my new apartment – which I guess is the former apartment of the English teachers whose names are on those books? They’re all the same kind of notebook; a cheap light brown scribbler with a navy blue binding along the spine.

I just have to say that I love the names of some of the people who came before me. There was a Jedidiah, a Mikael, a Devonte, and a Wayne, among others. There was even a guy named Avalanche, alllllthough now that I’m actually reading it out loud I get the feeling that maybe it wasn’t his real name.

Anyway, at the top of the stack of notebooks there was a post-it note telling the next tenant to start writing in the blank one as soon as they get in and to buy a new one when they leave. I could never refuse a request to create primary source material for the sake of history, but if you’re listening to this, foreigner, it’s obvious that I passed on the notebook. This is the 21st century. We’re not far from decent virtual reality games. Computer algorithms are suggesting additions to my social calendar. The perfect snack has long since been created – it’s the Bold BBQ Dorito, if you’re wondering. Hell, the next occupant of this apartment might be an English teaching robot for all I know. I’m not messin’ with a notebook!

Soooo I’ve decided to leave a USB stick instead. I’ve also decided on an audio diary instead of a written one. Might even throw a few sound effects in there. I hope that’s okay.

I got into the apartment today, but I’ve actually been in The country for almost a week, so I guess I’ll start from the beginning. The beginning of what could be a year or two as a foreigner in Japan. Really, it could be even longer. It could be the beginning of forever. Can you imagine that? Forever Foreign.

Chapter 1: Another Foreigner in Japan

POSTDATED Monday, August 5th, 2013

Greetings foreigner,

If you don’t mind, I’d like to tell you a little about where I’m from. I was born in a city called Edmonton in Canada where the summers are about as comfortable as you can imagine. Some people bust out the shorts and tank tops while others stick to jeans and t-shirts. I like to avoid wearing shorts wherever possible because of my dainty calf muscles, so I tend to fall into the latter category. My little sister insists that they’re not undersized, but I’ve told her a dozen times that no amount of insisting will ever get me into the Olympics for the high jump.

Sorry, that was a tangent…

On THIS particular Monday afternoon I chose to wear my gray sweatpants and a long-sleeved waffle shirt for the trek over. I’m sure you’ll understand the need to prioritize comfort on a trans-pacific red-eye flight, right foreigner?

My itinerary had me landing in Tokyo at 1 PM local time, so with the connection in Vancouver included I would be in transit for… oh… 15 hours. It was about the cheapest ticket I could find.

Luckily, I made a friend along the way; a man named Tony from Burnaby who took up the window seat next to mine in the aisle. How to describe Tony… I guess he was what a North American would call large? He was also what a Japanese person would probably call super-sized. And as a big boy who’d been to Japan several times, Tony spotted a mistake I’d made before we even exchanged names.

“You’re gonna be boiling,” he said. “You know that, right?”

I can still see the fear in Tony’s eyes as he said it, as if he’d made the same error before.

“To be honest, I’m already kind of hot,” I told him. “But I’ll survive.”

The flight over was a breeze since the cabin was well air-conditioned, as predicted, but it turned out that the actual dilemma would reveal itself only after we were getting ready to land in Tokyo.

The captain’s voice came on over the intercom.

“We’re set to touch down in 28 minutes. Local time in Tokyo is… 12:18 PM. It’s currently 35 degrees on the ground.” 35 degrees Celsius, that is. I’ve already run into a few Americans, so I know I need to specify that for y’all.

That’s pretty hot, I remember thinking. But I figured it wasn’t the end of the world. What I hadn’t considered at the time was that not all heat is created equal. 35 degrees in Edmonton would quickly fry your skin, but it was dry and could be escaped to some extent by going indoors. The same number of degrees in Japan might mean something else entirely, similar to how $35 Canadian doesn’t equal 35 yen. It needs to be converted to get the proper value.

As if reading my mind, Tony turned to me and said, “That’s not the 35 degrees you know and love; the one that has you parked on a beach chair with a good book and breaks for cannonballing into glacier-fed lakes. That’s 35 degrees in a humid, concrete jungle… swamp… thing…”

Tony’s eloquence tended to run thing at times.

“Trust me, it’s hot,” he added for good measure before getting up from his seat.

“Didn’t you hear?” I said. “The plane is set to land in twenty minutes. The seat belt sign is gonna turn on any second now.”

“I’ve got this all timed out,” he said.

And he did. I assumed that what Tony was wearing were regular old track pants this whole time, but by god those were genuine tear-aways. Watching him step out and into the aisle made me feel like I was courtside at an NBA game.

“Check this out,” he said.

He gave me a wink before ripping on his waistband. There were several loud snaps like a burst from a machine gun and he narrowly missed hitting a flight attendants eye with one of the buttons. But maybe I shouldn’t mention that… Doesn’t really sound as cool…

Underneath, Tony was wearing purple gym shorts that stopped above his knees, and with the workout shirt on top he was climate-control personified.

I looked down at my gray sweatpants and long-sleeved waffle shirt and thought, My god, this guy is going way overboard.

Anyway, the wheels hit the runway and we taxied to one of the gates. Once the doors opened to make way for the passenger boarding bridge I had a better sense of the heat conversion rate. The beautiful, tepid, recycled air inside the cabin was flushed out immediately, only to be replaced by something much heavier. Something… thick.

What flowed inside covered my skin and worked its way into my sweatpants in an instant, turning them into a smothering, hot blanket. It was a humid horror, set on weighing me down until I was a puddle on the floor. Foreigner, I probably don’t need to tell you this since you’re already in the country if you’re listening, but I regretted every bit of clothing I wore that day. I don’t know if crude description is allowed in these diaries  if it isn’t, please ignore what I’m about to say  but my male sex organ dropped at least two inches and it hugged my leg so hard that it could’ve been in an R-rated commercial for Gorilla Glue.

Tony had gotten started on the temperature regulation as well. Sweat trickled down his forehead in several small streams, and the armpits of his quick-dry t-shirt weren’t quick enough because they showed dark circles, ever expanding. His woeful little eyes underneath a furrowed brow made him out to be a man who knew he’d sinned, but was hoping for mercy. But I also saw pity in them. Pity for me in my gray sweatpants and long-sleeved waffle shirt that would soon be imprinted with a backpack-shaped sweat stain.

The two of us were at the back of the plane, which meant that the suffering had only begun. I fanned myself with my passport and pulled my shirt in and out for ventilation while Tony shook his head as if to say that it was futile.

“At least we don’t have to suffer too long through this,” I said. “A few minutes and we can hop into the air conditioned airport, change our clothes… We’ll be fine.”

Tony turned to me and shook his head again. As he did so several drops of sweat went flying from his nose and forehead.

“You can’t escape,” he said. “Try to run from it and you’ll see. It only gets hotter.”

That sort of pessimism wasn’t going to get us anywhere, so I took a spoonful of some advice my Grandpa used to give me and looked for the light at the end of the tunnel.

Putting my arm across the moist shoulder of the man who’d made the journey with me, I said, “Japan must really be something for you to put up with this every year.”

He nodded hesitantly.

“I don’t know if I can wait to start experiencing it myself,” I said. “Why don’t you tell me again about those Hokkaido melons you like so much.”

Let me tell you, foreigner, his eyes lit up like a child’s on Christmas morning. “They look just like the honeydew melons we get in Canada,” he said. “But they couldn’t taste more different. While juicy, they aren’t so juicy as to compromise the consistency of the flesh. And you’ll never find a more shrewd marriage of flavor to mouthfeel in nature.”

I’d got us on the right track – ya know, the one focused on that light at the end of the tunnel – but an announcement came over the intercom putting us back in the dark.

“We’re having difficulties with the boarding bridge folks,” the captain said. “Looks like it might be a while, so hang tight. Will update when the situation improves.”

“No,” Tony said. “No, I… I’ve never… This has never happened before. I don’t know if I can make it.”

Panic was setting in for me as well, but the river of sweat working its way toward my crack of doom was no longer the biggest concern. Part of that cheap red-eye flight package I was talking about before included a frantic transfer from Tokyo’s Narita airport to Haneda. My research told me I’d have just enough time to get there if everything lined up right, and already that wasn’t the case.

“I have to get out of here,” I said.

“Me too,” said Tony.

“No, I mean I have to get out of here. If I don’t make it out of Narita in time I’m going to miss my next flight.”

“Your next flight? Why would you want to leave Tokyo when you just got here? It’s the greatest city in the world! 5-star arcades, Michelin-star restaurants, maid cafes… I can recommend a few that you won’t find in the tourism magazines if ya know what I mean. Last time I was here there was this one really shy girl and–”

“I have to get to Okayama by tomorrow morning for the first day of training at– It doesn’t matter. Hey! Sumimasen!”

Over the dozen or so heads behind me I caught sight of a flight attendant in the service area at the back and started straight for her, apologizing for the sweaty sponge bath I gave the other passengers I brushed past. She pulled away behind the curtain, either not noticing the insane person or choosing to ignore him.

“Sumimasen!” I called again. By the way, sumimasen means excuse me, foreigner. Guess I should be adding subtitles.

Once I was in the back I tore the curtain open and panted, “I’m going to miss my flight.”

After showing her the connecting ticket that was given to me, the Japanese woman had a look on her face that said, “It’s too bad that you’re gonna miss your flight.”

“Please,” I said.

“We can get you to the front of the plane,” she said. “But you still have to wait for the bridge.”

It was about as much as I was hoping for. “Thank you,” I said.

She turned from me, calling out, “Sumimasen! Excuse us!”

The sea of people parted and she looked back at me, saying, “Come with me if you want to live.” I’m kidding. She said, “Follow me.”

As I passed by my old seat I quickly stuffed my belongings away in my bag and shook Tony’s hand.

“It’s been a pleasure,” I said. “I’ll eat one of those Hoh-kay-doh melons the second I get a chance.”

“Hokkaido,” he corrected my softly, sadly as I pulled my clammy hand away from his.

What follows from there is a bit of a whirlwind. I got to the front of the plane and was waiting for another twenty minutes for the problems outside to be resolved. When I was given the go ahead I bolted out and into the airport, feeling dry, conditioned air hit my skin. By the time I arrived at the immigration counter I was out of breath, but thankfully I was the only one there.

“Pasupo-to,” the young man sitting behind the counter said.

“Konnichiwa,” I said, rifling through my bag.

“Pasupo-to,” he said again. I guess it doesn’t matter where you go. Airport staff will be surly.

A few stamps later, he ordered me to pose for a picture and to press my fingers down on a sensor that registered my prints. Between that and the teacher’s visa in my passport he must’ve had enough information, because he never actually asked any questions. He waved me away without a word.

At his signal, I ran down the empty escalators as fast as I could, jumped over a railing that turned into stairs – probably the coolest thing I’ve done in the past month, by the way. Honestly, I’m lucky I didn’t break my ankle or get tackled by security. From there I sprinted all the way to the baggage carousel. It was already nearly full of luggage from our flight thanks to the long wait, the only positive to that situation that I can think of.

Grabbing my suitcase, I tore out through security as fast as I could, but on the other side I couldn’t help but stop for a second. Just to smell the roses.

Of the hundreds, if not thousands of people I saw in the airport that afternoon, none wore giant flags declaring their nationality. But I had a feeling that most countries around the globe had at least one representative. If I didn’t know it from the sights, I knew it from the sounds.

I should tell you, foreigner, I’m no linguistic genius, but I’ve seen enough movies and met enough people to recognize Spanish, French, Russian, and many other languages in between. Seeing them all in the same place was dizzying, even after coming from the multicultural paradise known as Canada. If I wasn’t already aware of the fact that I was traveling, I certainly was then.

I came to my senses eventually, but it didn’t take me long to get pulled out of them again. Not sure how to make the jump from one airport to the other, I scrambled to find a service counter. When I finally did track one down I forced myself to appreciate what was happening, even if it might make me miss a flight and anger my new bosses.

This was a big moment for me, and an equally big smile formed on my lips as I got ready to embrace it. I must’ve looked a little goofy to the airport staff as the realization that I was in Japan and was about to embark on a linguistic adventure hit me. 

The Japanese that I’d learned in my sole course at university darted around in my head. I knew the verb ‘to go’, but struggled to remember words like ‘how’ and which particles to use with directions.

I threw caution to the wind, still grinning ear-to-ear as I marched right up to the counter to speak Japanese in a real-world setting for the first time. I guess in English, my maiden sentence translates roughly to, “I go Haneda airport now?”

The middle-aged woman looked at me the same way a kindergarten teacher would at one of her 5-year-old students right before patting them on the head. “There are a few different options available,” she began in flawless English.

Right after jumping into the game I was back on the bench. I wasn’t upset, though, foreigner. It’s all about the little victories. And I found one in the fact that she understood me well enough to respond at all.

After hearing what my choices were, I bought a ticket for something called the ‘limousine bus’. In my head it was a swanky vehicle that offered champagne service, lazy boy seats, and butlers for the reasonable price of \2,000, which at the time of this recording is only a bit more than $20 Canadian. Which, I guess, is a little less than that in American dollars, if you’re wondering.

With the ticket in my hand, I leaned in and asked, “How was my Japanese? Be honest!”

She laughed and told me that it was a good try just before explaining the proper way to form the sentence I’d been struggling with. I put my hand up for a high five  which she hesitated to return  and lugged my giant suitcase away.

Things would be very different from then on, I realized. I would have to get used to seeing funny Japanese letters and occasionally drowning in a new culture. But each time I managed to claw my way up for air would be a momentous occasion. It was one of the reasons I signed up in the first place, and I’m sure you can relate, foreigner. I wanted to be uncomfortable. Wanted to be… I dunno… foreign?

Outside, I waited in line for my high-class chariot and was a little disappointed when it arrived. Apparently limousine means something different in Japanese than it does in English, because what was parked in front of me looked an awful lot like a simple coach bus. Sure, it was well maintained and clean inside, but it was a far-cry from the rap music video backdrop that I was hoping for. I shouldn’t complain after spending the equivalent of $20, though.

The bus took us through Tokyo all the way to Haneda airport, but it was hard to see much along the way. High walls to either side  which I guess are there to mitigate sound?  obstructed the view. Every once in a while the barrier would open up, providing glimpses of the great metropolis, but the little I did manage to see wasn’t really enough to form an opinion by.

I’ve seen pictures of Tokyo’s skyline… but now that I think about it, they must’ve been taken at night. In the light of day, through fleeting breaks in the freeway’s walls, the scene could hardly be called picturesque. As we approached Haneda airport after the hour-long ride I remember thinking it would’ve been nice to arrive a few nights earlier to see the city in its element. Oh well, something for a future diary entry, I guess.

Stepping off the bus at the domestic departure area, I snatched my suitcase and checked it inside, getting a stern look from the lady at the counter at how late I was running.

Afterward, when I was in the security line I looked up at a big clock on the wall and felt like I was about to throw up. I distinctly remember there being 37 minutes until my flight was set to take off. 37 minutes and a long way to my gate.

So I ‘sumimasened’ my way up the line, showing people my ticked along the way and feeling terrible about it. On the other side, I checked the clock again. Twenty minutes to go.

Clutching the straps of my backpack tight so it wouldn’t flop around, I ran. In the duty-free lounge I dodged my way through a swarm of people. On the moving walkway I got caught in a human traffic jam and had to jump over my second railing of the day, once again sticking the landing. Man, I was on fire that day.

I wasn’t far from my gate when I heard over the intercom, “Last boarding call for ANA flight 0655 bound for Okayama.”

“Crap, crap, crap,” I said to myself, picking up the pace.

Turning the corner, I finally saw gate 66. The last few passengers had trickled past the counter and the flight attendants were starting to pack up. I waved to get their attention. Shouted. And when they finally saw me they looked away.

“Oh god,” I said when I was at the counter, sucking as much air as I could. “I’m too late…”

“Yes,” one of them said. My heart stopped.

“But it’s fine,” she added. “Boarding pass, please.”

I didn’t have the oxygen in my blood to waste on telling her she could’ve started with “It’s fine” rather than ending with it, so I handed her my ticket and passport, clutching my knees.

“Have a nice flight.”

The last plane was curiously empty, with most of the few passengers being businessmen judging by their suits. It seemed like a big vessel for a 1-hour domestic flight. There were three columns of seats, and I had an entire row to myself, as did many others. Not that I’m complaining.

By that point I was equal parts exhausted and enthused at the thought that once I got off this plane I would be on my new home turf. Eyelids drooping, I waxed poetic in my head, thinking about the road that got me there. The university degree… The research into job possibilities… The savings… The good-byes. I thought about that for at most 30 seconds, passing out in the middle of the safety instruction video and dreaming dreams of a flight attendant demonstrating the proper way to inflate a flotation vest.

When I woke up, I was in the sunny prefecture. That’s what one of the posters at the airport said, anyway: “Welcome to Okayama, the sunny prefecture”. The images that accompanied it were of lush mountains, ripe peaches, and grapes the size of ping pong balls.

Another poster showed scenic photographs of popular spots in the area. There were smaller posters in a sleeve attached to the wall, so I folded one up and stuffed it in my pocket. I actually have it in front of me, so I’ll describe it. An outdoor hot spring is decorating one corner with beautiful autumn foliage crowding around the pools of steaming water. Another picture shows snowboarders flying off jumps amid trees caked in snow. Very naturey!

Okayama Momotaro Airport was quite small, and as I went through security I got the feeling that they don’t typically get white people coming through. I got that feeling because more than a few of the staff members did double-takes as I waited for my bags. Some of the travelers did, too.

I didn’t notice them on the flight  probably because I was unconscious  but there was a family of four waiting at the same baggage carousel as me. A mother and father leaned on each other, clearly weary after travelling with the two little tykes glued to their hips. Both kids looked to be elementary school-aged; one boy in shorts, red-striped white baseball jersey and cap. One girl wearing the same.

After three flights and the accompanying lack of sleep, my head was vibrating. It was all I could do not to fall down right there. I don’t know if it would be anything to be proud of… but I could’ve had the distinction of not only being the first Canadian to visit the airport in weeks, but also the first one to give two small children PTSD after collapsing on the ground.

It might’ve just been the delirium, but I’m pretty positive those kids were taking turns staring at me and pointing as I fought off sleep. The boy nudged and whispered something into the ear of his sister and she looked around before locking eyes with me. Her mouth fell open and she continued to stare for several seconds before realizing what she was doing.

They took turns doing this… oh… four times each before I got my bag? I waved at them as I left, earning a couple of sheepish grins in return before they buried their faces in their parents’ midsections.

On the other side of the security gate I didn’t seem to draw as much attention. Actually, it wasn’t until I’d paced back and forth five or six times that I earned any at all. This time it came from behind the information counter.

The woman standing there was quite young, maybe even as young as my twenty-four years. She had slightly chubby cheeks and short black hair that stopped above her shoulders, and her face was glowing with a cheer that spread all the way to her eyes. The most welcoming eyes I’d ever seen.

I composed myself, trying to remember the Japanese lesson I’d received from the lady in Tokyo. When I stepped forward, the woman’s smile only grew brighter, and I couldn’t help but smile back.

“Konnichiwa,” she said.

A gust of hot and heavy air from the entrance hit me. That, combined with pre-emptive embarrassment for the Japanese I was about to botch, was enough to leave my skin itchy.

Another moment of drowning in the language, I thought. Time to test my mettle.

After reading the nametag on her shirt, I said, “Konnichiwa, Miss Takei. How I go Okayama City?”

Miss Takei’s smile deepened, as did the pool collecting in my shoes. She hurled a barrage of Japanese my way in response. The only word I caught was ‘bus’, this time with no ‘limousine’ prefix attached. I think Miss Takei was wise to the fact that I didn’t understand much of what I’d heard, though, because she quickly opened a half-door and stepped out.

We walked together to a little ticket vending machine on the outside of the building. After pointing to the one that I needed she held out her hand as if to take my cash and perform the transaction for me.

I waved her away with a sarcastic grin and confidently said, “Makasete,” which I just double-checked in my Japanese dictionary and I’m happy to say that I almost certainly used it properly. It means “Leave it to me.”

Miss Takei put her hands up and took a step back to watch. Once I had the ticket in my hand I held it up triumphantly and she actually clapped. Somewhat patronizing, maybe, but I’ll take what I can get.

She pointed to a signpost 10 feet away and said in English, “You can get on the bus right there.”

Her grammar was flawless and her pronunciation was more than adequate. The only thing that was a little strange was her rhythm. It was as if she’d learned English from a textbook and CDs all her life and was using it on a real human being for the first time.

“You can speak English,” I said.

“Only a bit,” she lied through her charming little teeth.

“Awh, you’re being modest. I wish I could speak Japanese that well.”

“Just keep practising and you will,” she said.

“Do you really mean it?”

Judging by the surprised look on her face, she wasn’t often asked to reinforce her fibs. Making for the building’s entrance, she repeated it. “Just keep practising!”

Foreigner, I hope I can reach the same level with Japanese eventually, but who knows if that day will ever come. It’s probably just as likely that I’ll stumble my way through Japan, one broken sentence after another, constantly relying upon the kindness of strangers. If I can continue to do that I guess there are worse scenarios. But I have to wonder if my luck with meeting nice people will run out.

Miss Takei disappeared inside just as a shuttle bus arrived, and after loading my suitcase into the bottom carriage I handed my ticket to the white-gloved driver who was also the baggage handler. With the other passenger’s bags stowed, we left Okayama Momotaro Airport.

I was still ignorant to what the ‘Momotaro’ part of the airport’s title meant, so I added it to the growing list of things that needed to be cleared up. It’s an actual physical piece of paper titled ‘Things I Need to Clear Up’. Until then it mostly consisted of different foods that Tony had spoken about.

Putting the piece of paper back in my pocket as we slowly rolled out of the parking lot, I noticed my surroundings for the first time since landing. The same thickly forested mountains as the ones on the travel poster from before rolled along outside the window. The airport wasn’t actually in Okayama city, rather it was separated by close to an hour drive; a much more scenic hour than the one I’d had while changing airports in Tokyo.

At times, the road followed a course that seemed to accommodate the mountains and rivers. It bobbed up and down with the peaks and valleys. Winded this way and that. Just as often, the road smashed through those obstacles with the help of tunnels and bridges. This prairie boy can probably count the number of mountain tunnels he’s driven through on one hand, so the drive to the prefecture’s capital made an impression.

To be honest with you, foreigner, I never did much research on Japan before leaving Canada. I figured I’d receive my education by actually getting in the weeds. What I did know about the country was that it was small but had a large population, so I imagined buildings would be squeezed into every square meter of the land. While the truth wasn’t far off, there was a good deal more untamed nature than I thought. Sure, every section of horizontal dirt was occupied either by rice fields or houses, but the actual mountains were largely unmolested. Somehow I thought they would all be stripped bare to make way for the 127 million inhabitants.

Over time, the landscape flattened out, giving way to more and more rice fields first, and then to the suburban homes of Okayama city. Those homes changed, too, as we worked our way toward the center.

At first, they were mostly constructed with an Asian aesthetic, some of them with tiled roofs curving toward the corners like little ski jumps. The walls of these houses were often eggshell in color with the dark timber of delicate carpentry visible. Most of the gardens contained meticulously pruned pine and juniper trees, their branches looking at times like collections of clouds floating in the air.

The farther we drove, the more the spacious traditional homes became western. It took me by surprise. Sloping roofs and well pruned gardens were replaced with compact 2-story cubes jammed into tight spaces with backyards no bigger than a living room.

I eyed the stores that we passed, wondering what kind of goods they were selling and how different they must be from anything back home. Even after nearly a week here I still don’t recognize many brands, but I have occasionally seen the golden arches or colonel Sanders’ face raised up high. I’ll have to find out how those familiar restaurants are different, too.

It was 6 PM on a Monday as the bus made its way through the city, so there were plenty of people rushing to get home for dinner. Students rode on their bicycles wearing their school’s uniforms  short sleeved dress shirts with pleated skirts for the girls and long pants for the boys.

By the way, I’ve come to learn that students are on “summer vacation”. But they’re still out in their uniforms, seemingly going to school. It’s something that’s on my list of things I need to clear up, but I haven’t managed to work it out yet.

Anyway, back to the scene. A nearby train clacked along next to the road as the sun got ready to retire for the evening. Men and women carrying briefcases crossed the street, wiping their brows with handkerchiefs produced from their pockets – oh yeah that’s another thing. People carry handkerchiefs here! Sorry, I’m getting sidetracked…

We arrived at Okayama station’s west bus terminal shortly thereafter, concluding my travel for the day at last. I breathed a sigh of relief before stepping outside where I breathed a sigh of exasperation; Japan’s humidity problem doesn’t really get much better throughout the day.