Time’s up

Italian way, originally uploaded by bro-mark.

…and all of a sudden you find yourself thinking how strange it felt just a few months back, to have all those people adding you on facebook, people about whom you knew just the name from a stupid Vulcanus list.

People whose pictures, or informations didn’t mean anything at that time.

Way of talking (typing) which felt new, or maybe just not yet personal, familiar back then. Thinking back now, it was just them, already them, expressing their own way of being.
Noone knew each other, nevertheless in some way, it felt like if they were already a group. Acting friendly, naturally, spontaneously.

And now time’s up. They’ll soon be more far than my whole country’s length from tip to toes.

It hurts to realize that the good, peaceful feeling that you’ve been experiencing recently wasn’t because you were actually inserting in this new life, habits and everything. But just because you were in a big, comfortable, shiny and welcoming bubble…

Still, many things have passed, nothing was in vain, a lot has been learnt. Time will go by, as usual, new habits will rise, new friends made, new routines established.

Life goes on, but by killing and giving birth again endless times.


Embassy day

The cool guys, originally uploaded by bro-mark.

After our first week in Japan, most of us were requested to register their residence in Japan at our respective embassies, so we had a free afternoon to go there and fill the papers.
The italian embassy arranged a meeting with some of their high personnel, so we went in search of it.

The location was amazing: the building is immersed in a marvellous garden, in japanese style, with a pond and some traditional sculptures. The trees insides were humongous and it all felt very calm and neat.
To open us the doors, after 2 japanese staff people, an italian policeman with regular italian uniform came….it was so strange to see a carabiniere so far from home. He didn’t speak a word of japanese, so he was happy to take out his strong provincial accent, and I must admit, for once in my life, I was happy to hear it.

We proceeded with the registration procedures (merely filling a single page of paperwork), and then went upstairs to meet the embassy official personnel.

We started a meeting in a big fancy conference room with some sub-secretaries with various duties: commerce, industry, and so on.
They were very interested in our program and in our respective fields. We did a round of presentations, and shared some ideas and feelings.
A pefect italian coffee was served by two japanese ladies…maybe a bit sexist, but still a perfect service, and we left the meeting with the intent of coming back to report on this experience and possibly proposing future collaboration opportunities.

I have never been too much of a patriot, let’s not say nationalist. I always thought that my country had a great past, history, traditions and qualities, but that over the years we lost most of the respect we once deserved. I always called me more european than italian, and not to be complimentary.
But in some way, especially considering that some of our groups were not even contacted by their embassies, causing an understandable uselessness feeling, I think this was one of the few times in my life when I actually felt very proud of being ITALIAN. And not only for our heritage.

Hie Jinja and Diet building gardens

Inuyasha…anybody?, originally uploaded by bro-mark.

In the first week we had some good free time: we had some bureaucracy to fulfill, but still there was chance to go out and do some tourism.
I had an arranged meeting with Thea, the maltese girl, in Tokyo downtown: she had met some japanese friends in her female dormitory, and was going to visit a famous church, so I decided to join.

We had a meeting place and time, but we both ran late…we have been able to get mobile phones just in the last days, so there wasn’t any possible way to warn each other, or arrange a plan B. Both of us thought that the other waited some time and then just went on his own, instead we probably got there 10 minutes apart one from the other.

So there I was, walking the Chiyoda district in the steaming hot climate of those days. I took my pocked guide out, and looked what was worth seeing near me…this is what I saw.

Izakaya, first contact

Best vulcanus ever, IMHO…, originally uploaded by bro-mark.

Izakayas are the local pubs/taverns. They can be either divided in small “cells”, separated from the others by sliding wooden panels, like the traditional japanese houses (leaving shoes outside!), or like a normal tavern, with all the tables inside a big hall. We already tried both, but this are the pictures from the first night.
You can be served many kind of foods, generally tipically japanese, in small portions. The rule is quality, not quantity. With all the drinks and the buddies cheering, it really becomes a wonderful experience… of my favourite nights so far.

Electric town lights

Bar maids handing flyers, originally uploaded by bro-mark.

The streets are full of these young girls handing flyers: they are advertising places where you are served by manga-like maids, in pure japanese-fantasy costumes. I still have to try this thrill, but I can’t but wonder how this girls feel to be ignored all the time.

In fact someone catches a flyer every now and then, but not even stopping to say thank you. But most of them don’t, and catching these girls’ eyes sometimes makes you feel like this gets them someway, after all…

Link to album on Flickr

First pictures of Tokyo

, originally uploaded by bro-mark.

At last, cutting some time from my homework and hard studying (which I barely did today….just like yesterday), here is the first set of my photo practice in this amazing location…enjoy kudasai!

More photos on Flickr!

First days and back to school

Time really is a precious good here, as no matter where you live, there’s always not much left of it when you find yourself catching your breath. So many things have happened, but for a general description of the place and basic habits please check the blog of my friend Grega, one of the Vulcanus bunch, the first to open a blog (in my knowledge).

I agree very much with his observations, and the things he points out. Instead what really gets to me is that deep and strong sensation that gets your throat and your guts, that empty-inside feeling that suddenly brings you uneasiness.
The communication problems or, as someone more worthy than me said before, communication breakdown, can really make you feel very alone. We are strangers in an alien world, and not being able to truly interact with them just puts you in a parallel reality, as my friend Roberto said.

In effect we are not that alone, as we are a big group, and for dispersed we can be, all around Tokyo and its suburbs, when we meet we stick close together and have so many things to catch up with one with the others that we’re basically talking all the time and reassuring, supporting each other.  BUT this is where the parallel reality comes into play. It’s like we took our lives and transplanted them to this place for now. Yeah we did sightseeing, shopping, eating and drinking…but the feeling still is that of a sudden teleportation to a different dimension.

That’s where I hoped (and I still do) that the school could help us. Surely speaking some japanese would enable us to connect to the local population, so kind even when there’ s no shared language in between.
So today I was very motivated when I listened to Suzuki-sensei, the principal of the school, making his introduction. But as soon as classes started, I think we all realised that there was no joke intended, no fun and no games: this is real stuff.

Lessons are held completely in japanese, with teachers who allow just a few english word every now and then to let us make clarifying questions. An english which they definitely don’t master, as their pronunciation is bad and the pronunciation…let’s not talk about that.
Probably this is intended, or just a roleplay, but if this is not the case, I’m sure as hell those teacher were chosen because of this.

So, change of plans. No more games, no more free hanging out. The vacation’s over, back to schooldesks. As if our years of high school and university studies meant nothing. Or so it seems to our friend Roberto who, sure of the fact that during his traineeship english will be the only language used (the company told him and Diego so),  came here completely blank on nipponic notions.
By now I think he has starting coping with it, as we all are, and now, everyday, the schedule will probably run as follows:

~9.00 – 9.50 free study (optional, but actually necessary)
9-55 – 12.30 classes
12.30 – 13.30 lunch break
13.30 – 16.00 classes
16.00 – ~19.00 free study (again, unmissable…whether at home or at school)

Classes include conversation, vocabulary, calligraphy and sometimes other activities (outdoor trips, and so on)

So we were just starting to feel a bit lost and lonely, and we found ourselves already busy in a japanese work-like daily schedule.
I got home dead tired, and I’m mad I still have tons of pictures from last week which need conversion and definitely publication on the e-world…

So good bye hanging out at evening (never night, as the trains stop very early, in between 22.00 and 0.00…only weekends are left for us to hit the streets.

We’d better put ourselves strongly into studying this totally different language, as to get the included reward as soon as possible: as everybody is telling me, and obviously they’re right, as soon as we will be able to speak some words to the locals, we will be overwhelmed by their openness, curiosity and gentle nature, and every effort will be rewarded.

But still, it’s a long way to go…and a climb more than a walk.

Here we go…

This is the first post on my first blog. Never thought I’d actually do something like this for real.

But the importance of what me and my friends are going through deserves more than a bedtime story for my relatives.

A few words about myself and what is involved here: I’m 26, I have an bachelor degree (undergrad, call it as you want) in mechanical engineering, awarded in Rome where I was born and have always lived. I’m almost through my postgraduate degree (2 exams left), and my specialisation field is energetics, that is everything concerning plants, energy processing and transformation.

Enough of this crap: at the end of last december (2009) a friend of mine (who’s engaged to one of my best friends, Diego) sent to both of us an interesting link: a EU program for scientific-field university/college students for a 1 year experience in Japan, including language and culture course and a 8 month traineeship. Since it was advertising placement for students of engineering (me), physics (my friend Diego) and architecture (Diego’s girlfriend, Federica) she thought funny that it seemed cut right on our shape. Probably she did not mean anything serious.

I did though, so I almost forced them to apply: long story short, me and Diego were accepted, unluckily she wasn’t. Economic crisis brought to a drastic cut in placements (45 to 29) with just one architecture firm…awarded to another guy (obviously italian ;] )

So here we are (or were….august 31st), saying goodbye to parents and friends before leaving them for quite a long time.

The first impressions are hyping: the travel started as a huge schooltrip, backpacks and friends, flying to Moscow and then to Tokyo. No worries so far…in Moscow we meet 4 others participants from eastern europe, joining us on the same flight: the group gets bigger, and the hyping not so much as probably everyone hasn’t slept that much the night before, and we’ve been already tripping for 8 hours now. And somebody from Poland even more.

Despite what everybody was saying, the Aeroflot flight was great. Huge Airbus for intercontinental flight, movies, games and music on the plane (yes it was my first 6+ hrs flight, ok?)…we got kind of tired but sleeping wasn’t easy.

Since our arrival in Moscow, the number of Japanese people around us had been increasing rapidly: this is naturally obvious, but I think this is when I started to realise what I was going towards. While in Moscow we could still talk some english to the bartenders and so on, to be among so many different people on the same flight, with japanese characters on newspapers and magazines, made me aware of the out-of-place sensation I was going to feel in a few hours.

As the flight took off, and the movies and games became available, we tried to distract ourselves from thinking, and a few hours flew by, again in schooltime-hyping. We ate, we talked, we joked, and -sometimes in funny positions- we slept a couple of hours.

The flight was smooth (a free suggestion: USE MELATONIN when you travel long distances: it’s no sleeping pill, it’s a natural compound produced by the body to regulate sleep/wake cycle, increasing it artificially with a pill just relaxes you, makes you more prone to sleep when you want to, and using it even a few days after landing many time zones away, helps you cope with jet lag in no time), but anyway tiring for everybody.

We were all awake in the last 2 hours, and prepared to land at Narita airport….we were really beyond the point of no return, and what seemed just a crazy adventure until a few weeks earlier was now a fascinating but, honestly, scaring truth.

Some pictures