Just one more bake-off till Japan 

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That’s right, I measure time in Bake-Offs now.

As you may have guessed from the title, I am not yet in Japan. I’m still sat at home jealous of all the Australia year-abroaders who jetted off forever ago. But my departure is just a few tiny days away and now it’s definitely far more real! For the past eight months I’ve actually doubted that I would even get to Tokyo, dreaming up every ridiculous scenario ever that could possibly ruin my year abroad plan. I guess it felt too good to be true? Well, now everything is actually completely 100% sorted. I’ve even paid my first two months’ rent (to the detriment of my bank account lol). Anyway, since I’m not there yet, this is a blog entry dedicated to those little pre-departure things. 

Forms and money and registrations and transport and AHH 

I should let anyone interested in doing a year abroad at Tokyo U (AND IT’S TOKYO U SO LIKE YOU ALL ARE RIGHT) that although communication has sometimes been confusing, the staff are so sweet, lovely, apologetic and thankful, and they want nothing more than for you to not worry. They call me Sara-san by email, and my first payment was actually greeted with a ‘THANK YOU!’ (like a capital letters exclamation mark thank you). The Japanese are obsessed with good service, and they’re really REALLY polite. This made the whole process a lot less stressful.

Tokyo University seem to leave everything till the last minute (my Durham friends secured third year accommodation in October, and I secured mine A MONTH AGO), which for me, someone who just wants everything to be perfectly organised as soon as is humanly possible, is an absolute mare. Having said this, nothing is left too late. For example, they know how long it takes for you to get a visa, and they will not send you the forms and certificates necessary to get a visa too late for you to actually get one (which was inevitably the scenario I imagined every waking moment of my life for a month). I’m not going to talk in detail about every form ever, because that would be really boring (and if you need to know you can contact me separately). This is just a heads up that although you might want to commit seppuku numerous times during this process of forms, money, registrations, transport and AHHH, you don’t have to, because Tokyo have it down and disappointing you is probably one of the worst things they could think of doing ever.

Oh and my new visa is really pretty and pink and covered in cherry blossom. Go to Japan because they have the cutest visas.

PACKING (aka fitting your entire life into a 30kg suitcase and hand luggage bag)

So packing is hard, and to illustrate here are just a few precious belongings which I’ve had to sacrifice:

MY UNICORN SLIPPERS (rip fantastical feet, I’m sure my Japanese house slippers will be sufficiently dull and boring)

  MY NAIL VARNISH *sheds tear* I have had to select just six favourites to take to Tokyo. Luckily I’ll be in one of the fashion capitals of the world, so I can probably buy more when I arrive.

 MY PINK BABY ALPACA DRESSED AS A PIRATE Am I really anything without you Momo? We’ve been through so much together.

So choosing what to take and leave was basically a thoroughly awful, extremely traumatic experience.

It was a bit like choosing what to wear for a date with a person you’ve been in love with for like ever. ‘Do I take my “Tokyo Love” jumper or is that too full on?’ ‘Do I take my garish 70s shirt? Because I want Tokyo to know I’m weird, but not think I’m TOO weird…’ ‘Do I take my cosplay, or is that just trying way too hard?’ ‘I JUST WANT THIS TO BE PERFECT!’

Anyway, I’m not taking any cosplay, in the end. But I am taking my cat ears. You never know when you might need cat ears. Especially in Tokyo.

Packing is also MORE confuzzling for Japan than many other destinations for loads of reasons. Firstly, the weather. Snow but also high humidity. From freezing to thirties. My way of tackling the weather problem was to just pack everything. All kinds of clothes matter! The second issue was sizes. I think I’m just about okay with size six feet, but if you’re above that I’ve heard it’s a struggle to find shoes in Japan. I also bought more jeans to cater to my large butt and raided the Ann Summers summer sale (just for bras and knickers I swear). If you’re not that tall and not that curvy, shopping in Japan is probably fine. I expect to struggle a little, which is why I bought and packed lots of the things I knew would be especially hard to find in my size! Oh yeah, and the Japanese don’t produce BO so they don’t wear deoderant (this is actually scientifically true, something to do with the types of sweat glands we genetically have). This means it’s hard to find and expensive so I’ve been advised to take lots. I’m looking forward to all the sweet-smelling people I’ll meet.

A newfound sense of Britishness

I’ve always lusted after other cultures. When I applied to study abroad, my mindset was something along the lines of ‘where is the most different from the U.K.’ I’ve always found Britain boring, on the whole. But for the past week I’ve found myself savouring little British things! I’ve been relishing our lovely countrysides, our cuisines, cream tea, and even stupid things like BBC News and Harry Potter.

 (This is a snap of the ‘Pre-Japan England Party’ I threw yesterday. Pimms, scones, finger sandwiches, cakes, you name it. We got a bit carried away. I’ve eaten four scones today and I’m still nowherer near rid of all our leftovers…)

The reality of my departure has made me see Britain from the perspective of an outsider, and there are lots of things that you don’t appreciate when you’re so rooted in them that you can’t really see them. It’s like looking at a painting instead of being in it. From here, I like Britain a lot more! And it’s made me realise that abroad in Asia, I will be (maybe not ‘proud’, but) pleased to be British, and I know that explaining British customs to my new friends will be something I enjoy.

I hadn’t realised, living in the UK, that I actually have a national identity. In Japan I will be a British person, instead of just a person like I am here. Your country or origin becomes part of the way you define yourself when you leave. It’s all been very interesting to think about.

I’m still WAY more crazy about Japan than the UK, mind. And I’m definitely going to be wanting to embrace Japanese culture tightly and leave England behind for a year. The only thing I’ll be a little imperial about is GBBO: JAPAN YOUR WEDNESDAY NIGHT EIGHT PM TELEVISION IS WRONG AND YOU WILL EMBRACE THE WAY OF THE BAKE-OFF.

In other news, I’m leaving so soon that I feel like a human party popper.

See you in Tokyo,

Sarah

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