Well, here we are. After many years of grad school, the first day of my “fieldwork year” of PhD dissertation research. This will vary considerably from person to person, and field to field, and so forth, depending on personal circumstances, funding, the character of one’s research topic, and so forth, but stereotypically, we PhD students typically spend a year or so, in the 4th or 5th year of our programs, to poke around in the archives, perform ethnographic interviews, and/or conduct research in some other fashion.
Arrived in Tokyo a few hours ago after a long but not-too-bad flight. I’m back in Japan for the first time in two years, and will be staying here for my longest stay yet: 11 months, divided between Okinawa and Tokyo. So, expect lots of upcoming posts about my exploration of historical sites, maybe museum exhibits, maybe research discoveries or experiences, and other such Japan-based adventures. Either that, or I’ll just get really busy, and won’t end up posting so much. We’ll have to see.
In the meantime, it’s just nice to be back. First impressions – feelings on that first night coming (back) to a place – can be really powerful, and really interesting. I’m not sure I have /too/ much to say tonight, but, just to record my feelings at the moment, before I get too settled in and start thinking differently about it again.
It’s nice to be back in Tokyo – and it’s nice in a very chill, relaxed kind of way. Maybe this is because I’m just so tired from my travels, and because it was already dark out by the time I even left the airport, but as of this moment right now, Tokyo just doesn’t hold the kind of excitement it once did for me, back when it was all so new, and when I was embarking on an adventure – undergrad study abroad – of a scale and type unlike anything I’d ever done before, traveling to a more exotic locale than anyone in my family had ever been, and thinking it just might be my one and only time in my life doing such a thing. Since then, I’ve been back here, what, six times? And it only feels more normal, more familiar, less exciting, each time. But that’s okay. It’s exciting in new ways. Where Tokyo was once (for me) a place to explore and discover, with brand new awesome wonders around every corner, now it’s a place to come back to – an excitement for the things I’ve missed. For sights and sounds and smells. And it’s become a place to keep up with – what’s changed since I was last here? I’ll check in with the latest museum exhibits, see what might be new in terms of famous major popular sites (e.g. train stations) that might have gotten remodeled or something… I’ll be heading to Harajuku tomorrow to meet up with some friends and to do some clothes shopping…
I think I’ll feel differently tomorrow, once it’s a fresh new day. Waking up in Tokyo, ready for a real new adventure.
In the meantime, a few things I learned tonight:
1) While Japanese baggage delivery services are amazing, and super crazy convenient if you fit into certain normal circumstances (e.g. shipping your luggage from the airport to the hotel, so you don’t have to lug it on public transportation across the city..), as with so much in Japan’s wonderful world of services, if you don’t fit into such normal circumstances, you’re pretty much out of luck.
(I do want to be clear, though, that I’m not ragging on Japan specifically. It can certainly feel to an outsider like a particular flavor of sources of frustration, but I’ve had similar experiences in the UK, as well.)
My dorm in Okinawa won’t accept luggage deliveries, apparently, so that’s ugh number one. But, I figured (and several friends suggested) that it should be fine to have the bags shipped from Narita to Okinawa Airport, and I could just pick them up at the Okinawa airport on Thursday. Guess what? Nope. I don’t know if it’s because it’s too many days out, and they don’t want to have to hold (store) my bags at the other end, or if it’s the reverse, and they don’t want to have to guarantee that my bags will make it there by Thursday, but whatever the reason, they wouldn’t do it. Which leads me to point number 2:
2) There’s nothing like awkwardly trying to wheel two wheelie suitcases (one of which keeps tipping sideways and refuses to just roll straight) through the second- or third-busiest train station in the world to make you feel like an obnoxious doofus.
Especially when most of the Japanese people coming out of the airport have normal real home addresses and thus can and did ship their bags home from the airport, leaving the foreigners looking like people who just don’t get it – don’t know how to do things in a smoother, more efficient, less obtrusive manner.
3) Similarly, with the cellphones. Thankfully, this is getting easier all the time. Now that we get our zairyû card (“temporary residency card”) at immigration at the airport, instead of having to apply through the city office for a “resident alien registration card” (gaikokujin tôrokushômeisho) and waiting weeks, that’s at least one step that’s so much easier. But, you still have to register your address with the local city office or town hall (市役所、町役場, etc.) before you can get any sort of cellphone plan other than the most basic pay-as-you-go, so if you’re like me and spent a good few days in Tokyo before traveling out to whatever region you’re going to be living in, you haven’t had a chance to do that yet. And, further, since I can’t move into the dorms for another two weeks, I don’t have an official residence / address to register with the town hall yet either, so I guess I won’t be getting a phone or a bank account for another two weeks still…
And even if I did know my exact address, what kind of proof, exactly, are they expecting me to have on me? … Plus, what if I didn’t have a place to stay yet? What if I was apartment hunting? Can’t get a phone without an address, but it’s also much harder to get an address (that is, to find an apartment to rent) without a phone. … Can’t I please just get a phone, for godsakes?
(To be fair, admittedly, I’m talking about a very particular set of types of plans. For all I know, it may in fact be quite easy to just do it some slightly different way. If anyone has info on this, I’d be happy to hear about it. Even in English, the intricacies of cellphone plans make my head hurt, so I don’t doubt at all that there are other possibilities, other slightly different ways to go about this, that may work out better, and I just didn’t know to ask for them – or that the staff at the electronics store failed to suggest such alternatives to me. I think one of my friends got this kakuyasu plan thing without providing an address, but then when I tried, I was refused. So, who knows?)
On the plus side, though, it looks like it’s getting easier and easier to get temporary SIM cards, and other sort of tourist-aimed plans. After being given the run-around several times (at Narita, DoCoMo is based on the 4th floor, by departures, quite a ways away from where I’d arrived, but actually that desk is closed and they’ve relocated some distance away; but once they couldn’t help me, it turns out SoftBank – another major Japanese phone carrier – has their counter on the 1st floor, back where I started to begin with. Oh, but this is an express elevator, and it doesn’t stop at the 1st floor….), I decided enough with dealing with people, and I bought a temporary SIM card from a vending machine. I don’t know if 1.5 Gb of data for a week for 3500 yen (roughly US$35) is a good deal, really, monetarily, but, it’ll do me for now. For now, for the first time in my Japan-traveling life, I have a smart phone and a data plan, and can look things up as I go, use Google Maps, post to Facebook, and all the rest. Pretty sweet.
Still, while companies are now offering kakuyasu plans that function like the temporary, quick-and-easy, SIM cards, just over a lengthier period, without quite as fully extensive a contract, even in these cases I discovered you still have to have a formal registered address. Seriously? What.
I can’t wait to be properly situated and settled – unpacked in the dorm room I’ll be keeping for a good number of months; with a proper cellphone, a bank account, and all of that. A library card. Hopefully maybe a desk in the history department, though I’m not sure that’s going to be happening… In the meantime, just one foot in front of the other. One step at a time.