Hello there, reader!
James Bergeron, here. I'll be staying in Otaru, Hokkaido at the Emina Backpacker's Hostel for the next month. While I'm here, I'll be updating this blog regularly to talk about my adventures.
I arrived in Otaru yesterday after almost thirty hours of travel time - Japan is further from New England than I thought! A plane ride from Boston to San Francisco takes six hours...from San Francisco to Osaka is another ten hours. From Osaka to Shin Chitose airport in Hokkaido is another three hour flight. From Shin Chitose, an hour train ride will get you to Otaru. Of course, between each little trip there was an hour and a half to two hour wait between boarding the next ride. By the time I got to Otaru, it was well past midnight, so the buses had stopped running; I had to walk to Emina Backpacker's. Luckily, it's a very short walk from the train station (about ten minutes). Unluckily, I'm terrible at following directions, so even though I called Motoko-san and Chad-san (the friendly couple running the hostel) to ask for help, I ended up wandering around for a good forty minutes. I'm glad I got lost, though - getting lost showed me just how nice the people are Japan are.
Some of the first people I met were a young Chinese couple living in Japan. Zhu-san sat next to me on the flight from Osaka to Hokkaido, and I couldn't help but notice that the article he was reading was written in very difficult English. Since I hadn't spoken to anyone in fluent English in almost twenty-four hours, I had to ask, "excuse me, but do you speak English?" He answered that he did, along with Chinese and Japanese. I made sure he understood how impressive I thought that was and we ended up chatting for half the flight. The topic ended up turning to getting from Shin-Chitose to Otaru via the train, and he told me that he was actually going to be using the same train to get to the next town over from Otaru. He invited me to tag along with him and his girlfriend, and showed me how to use the train system. We caused a small scene when I fed my ticket into the machine too slowly. I apologized to everyone present for the traffic jam I was causing, while the Japanese woman working at the terminal laughed and assured me it was alright. Zhu and his girlfriend found the situation very amusing. On the train, we talked about Otaru and the surrounding cities and towns. Zhu and his girlfriend told me to make sure I visited Otaru canal while I was in the area. Neither of them could stop laughing at my New Englander's pronunciation of Otaru, so the rest of our time together was spent trying to make my Japanese sound less embarrasingly American. We ended up exchanging email addresses in the end, so hopefully we'll meet again before I leave the country - my Japanese still needs a lot of work!
The second group of people who helped me were a group of vacationing international Osaka University students. After I got off the train in Otaru, I realized I had no idea how to get to Momoko-san and Chad-san's hostel, and I had no phone to call them with. They talked amongst themselves for awhile, trying to decide where the address I gave them was on my map, and when they reached a consensus, one of them bolted off around the block to the bus station to see if I could still take a bus. I couldn't, so the only option left was to walk. One of them found a pay-phone for me, and Momoko-san and Chad-san gave me very easy directions for finding their place. I'm horrible with directions, though, so I ended up getting lost again, even though it was only about a ten minute walk. I wandered around a bit, and bumped into a pair of middle school students, who spent about fifteen minutes with me - they gave me good directions, and then even walked me halfway to my destination! Amazingly, I got turned around somewhere again (I hadn't slept in almost forty hours - I'm not usually so stupid!), and ended up lost for another ten minutes or so, until I walked by a Japanese woman smoking by her car. When I waved to her and asked how to get to Emina Backpacker's on my map in broken Japanese, she laughed and told me she spoke English in an obviously Australian accent, which surpirsed me. I was even more surprised when she pointed to her car and told me to hop in. "Just throw your bags in the boot...or 'trunk,' I guess, since you're American." It turns out she lived in Australia for three years, which doesn't seem too long, considering how impressively fluent her English was. Natsuko ("call me Natty, though!") ended up driving me around for almost half an hour (she thought I was at a different hostel, and ended up driving all the way across town to the wrong place) before we got to Emina. She told me to make sure to visit her at City Hall if I ever needed anything before leaving me with Momoko-san, who was waiting outside for me.
It was a long, exhausting trip, but I had a great amount of fun along the way, thanks to the incredibly nice people I met. I spent today with Momoko-san, Chad-san, and Tomo-chan (Momoko-san's five year old son). They're just as nice as everyone else I've met so far. I'll write about today in the next blog post, though. This one's long enough already! Suffice to say, Japan has been great so far. The land is very pretty, and I'm amazed at how kind the people are.