Update research methodology, Rewrite concept paper, Study for Japanese Language Proficiency Test, Part-time job AM, Part-time job PM, Cook tamagoyaki, Join friends tonight? … , ‒ my mind was occupied by twenty to-do things all at once.
The song Ue wo Muite Arukou from a YouTube ad that I forgot to press skip on was playing in the background. Since the pandemic has started, I have come to love working from home. But when the room I use to sleep in has now become altogether a work station, a gym and an izakaya bar, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed by the number of things I have to accomplish in the same space, only to end up motionless like a frozen Zoom meeting with a bad internet connection. It is now April and a line from the ancient Japanese poetic collection Manʼyoshu ‒ the choice month of early spring; the weather is fine, the wind is soft ‒ floated over my head like dangling ema prayers written in small wooden plaques. As much as I would like Reiwa 3 (Japanese era year from April 2021) to be symbolic for a new start, I am clearly distracted by the sheer number of tasks carried over from the previous fiscal year. I thought about taking a walk and amusing myself outside of my seven-tatami-mat room, but opted to stay in instead. Although it has been seven years since I started a new life as an international student in Japan, sometimes, I cannot help but feel that everything and everyone outside of my room are still as foreign as those I had encountered when I first arrived in this country.
My plane approached touchdown on a Friday night. I landed in Osaka at Kansai Airport, a five-hour air travel from Manila. I intended to enter Tokyo Techʼs Young Scientist Exchange Program in spring of 2014. Many months prior, to save a buck, I booked the cheapest one-way ticket from Manila to anywhere in Japan. I had no idea Osaka is five hundred kilometers away from Tokyo, but frankly, I did not care. It is an adventure of a lifetime so why not start the adventure on the first day, I told myself. I googled beforehand that spring in Japan should be warm, and so I arrived wearing a red hoodie from Uniqlo and a pair of short, brown pants. Much later I learned that spring is indeed warm but not during its earlier months, and some minutes after my plane landed, in the airport restroom, I scrambled for the thickest pair of jeans in my luggage. Also, in the restroom, I remember seeing so many buttons, and naturally tried to press each one of them. My first made-in-Japan meal was a sandwich from Subway. I do not remember the cost, but I remember the feeling of guilt after buying something so expensive using my parentsʼ money. I slept overnight at the airport lounge, waiting for my bus for an eight-hour ride to Tokyo the next morning.
I was sitting on a bench at an Osaka bus terminal at around 5AM as the announcer paged the vehicle code of each departing and arriving bus, on and on. I listened attentively so as to not miss the one that will take me to Tokyo, but my Japanese language preparation limited to konnichiwa (“Hello”), ogenki desuka (“How are you?”) and omizu kudasai (“Can I have a cup of water?”) proved to be futile at this particular situation. I remember being inside the waiting room and being blinded by its bright fluorescent lighting. I remember the room was packed with elderly gentlemen reading newspaper and college students eating onigiri (Japanese rice balls). Even now, I can still smell the pungent odor of nori (dried edible seaweed) in that room. The walls of the bus terminal were all made of clear glass, and from the inside you could see the headlights of the departing bus casting shadows onto the queuing passengers outside ‒ the shadows grew bigger and bigger then smaller and smaller until they all faded away into the 5AM darkness.
Eight hours of bus ride later, I arrived at Shinjuku station. A few days after, I started my exchange program at Tokyo Tech. In August of that year, I climbed and reached the summit of Mount Fuji. Three years since then, I ascended the stage of Tokyo Tech in completion of my masterʼs degree. Fast forward in 2021, I am living the best days of my life as a PhD student.
In a bustling city like Tokyo where everybody is in a constant state of hurry, it feels as if seven years just passed by like a breeze. Living alone in a foreign country as a student with limited means in the middle of a pandemic, sometimes it pays to stay still, close my eyes and look back at the most important lessons that seven years have taught me. Every time the gentle air of spring kisses the back of my neck, I will now always recall that boy who left home, packed his suitcase, flew to the land of the rising sun and began this caravan of adulthood. Every time I feel overwhelmed by twenty to-do tasks in a day, I will always remember that one night in spring at Kansai airport ‒ cold but burning with excitement, lost yet looking forward to the next ‒ where I felt the most powerful simply because I trusted myself.
If you want your Tokyo Tech journey to start through its Young Scientist Exchange Program (YSEP) just like mine, visit this link for more information.