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New beginnings in Tokyo during Hanami Matsuri season

As the Mills school year draws to a close, mine is just beginning. The Japanese school year begins in early April. Here at Sophia University in Tokyo, I’ve only recently registered for and  started classes.

Despite popular belief, the Tokyo Metropolis is still standing, and life has more or less normalized for its citizens. There are some subtle differences, though.

I’ve actually heard from a few people Japan is “different” this semester. I can’t tell the difference myself, but those who were here before the earthquake in March say that it’s because electricity is being conserved. There are some restrictions in place as to how much electricity certain household appliances can use (like the heater/ air conditioner in my dorm room), and a lot of unnecessary things are simply turned off (like a lot of lights around the city and the hand dryers at school).

I’ve also heard that Hanami (cherry blossom) Season is really subdued this year. There are usually huge parties in the streets with loads of food and festivities, but this year that hasn’t happened. The nation is in mourning, and parties in the streets would be seen as disrespectful. I’ve still enjoyed the season, though.

I live in a dorm building in Warabi, a suburb of Saitama, just north of Tokyo.

I wake up around 6:30 (read: my alarm goes off at 6:30), and I try to get out the door by 7:45. My boyfriend and I walk about 15 minutes to the station, and we commute about 1 hour to Yotsuya Station in Tokyo (with a transfer at Akihabara). From there, Sophia University is basically across the street, but my first class of the day is on the far end of the campus.

Once classes are over we usually head home or find something to do around town.

Back at the dorm, I work on my homework, and then my boyfriend and I usually get dinner together. My favorite restaurant at the moment is Yoshinoya in Warabi. It’s a little “Japanese fast food” chain near the station where I can get a full sized beef bowl (with miso soup and complimentary tea) for 500 yen—which is about 6 US dollars. That’s actually the most expensive thing there. It’s great.

I try to get to sleep by 11, but that’s not always possible.

The people here have been so nice and polite.  It might be because Sophia University has a long history of international students learning alongside Japanese students, and the Faculty of Liberal Arts (FLA; the department I’m in, where all the classes are in English) is considered a full-fledged part of the community. As one professor put it, there’s no “Gaijin ghetto” (“gaijin” means foreigner).

In most international programs, there’s one little area where the foreign students live, eat, sleep and take classes. They’re separated from the larger student body, and the classes they take may as well be in their home country.

Here at Sophia, though, it’s all mingled. You have Japanese natives and foreigners in the same classroom. I’m actually a fully enrolled Sophia student with access to the same classes and resources as degree-seeking students. Students come to Sophia for the international atmosphere.

In Japan, the Hanami season signifies a beginning. The cherry blossoms are the first sign of spring, and that’s why so many things begin in early April: school years, new jobs, fiscal years, etc. Hanami Matsuri marks a beginning; it’s a season of new life and bright new prospects.

So I guess it’s significant that I arrived in Japan during this time. The fact that the celebrations have been quieted subtly marks the change in the atmosphere following national tragedy.

Although the blossoms have mostly faded by now, my adventures here are just beginning. With only one semester in this amazing place, I intend to enjoy everything.

Read Christina Macias’ other related posts:

1. Student headed to study abroad is not deterred by earthquake in Sendai, Japan
2. New beginnings in Tokyo during Hanami Matsuri season
3. Golden Week signals springtime in Japan