An Introduction to Japan
For me, it was the roads.
I've wanted to go to Japan for years, ever since I became interested in anime and manga. I'd planned to study abroad from the time I entered college--one of my qualifications for picking a school was a good study abroad program--and I've been taking Japanese language classes since high school. Japan was most definitely where I wanted to study abroad. I'd structured my college schedule, restructured it when it became apparent that I was going to graduate a semester earlier than I'd planned, saved money, and took out far too many loans--and I was going to Japan.
The problem was, I didn't quite feel like I'd gone anywhere.
Traveling by airplane is always a disorienting experience. For other forms of travel, you have reference points to tell you that you're moving. In planes, there's nothing besides the clouds and the occasional scrap of some unfamiliar land below. I arrived in Japan at 4 pm on a Friday night; my body was convinced that it was some ungodly hour of the morning on Thursday, and I had been desperately flipping through textbooks for the past few hours, attempting to remind myself of the kanji I'd forgotten during my year off from Japanese class.
In short, I was not in the best condition.
All I remember of my first evening in Japan was wandering around the Aeon Narita mall in a daze, with people who mercifully didn't seem to hate me on sight, trying to get it through my mind that I was in Japan. The entire experience was very surreal. I was surrounded by Japanese people, with Japanese words fluttering around me like so many small butterflies...and yet, the mall was a mall. I might as well have been back home in Minnesota. We stayed in a hotel by the Narita airport the first night. I came back from the mall at 10 pm and collapsed onto the bed. I've never fallen asleep so early in my life.
We left for Takayama the next morning, which involved a seven-hour bus ride. Initially, I figured I could use the time to read, write, or study some more. I'd forgotten that I seem to be incapable of doing anything on a bus ride besides staring out the window and thinking.
Japan. I was in Japan.
The roads were narrow, winding through the mountains with sometimes terrifyingly short distances between the road and the sheer drop down. They were the sort I'd seen in the movies of Hayao Miyazaki, and had always assumed he was exaggerating for dramatic effect. Nope. Those are the roads. The twisty, mad, treacherous roads from Spirited Away and Ponyo actually existed. I was on them.
And looking out at the mountains, I finally felt like I had reached Japan.
-Kendra Leigh Speedling