A Lorraine guy in Japan : To meet the faces you meet

After living for six months in Japan, here I am back in my good old France. When I think about it, this six-months stay there seemed so long and yet so short. If I went to Kyoto, it was to look for research material that could prove useful for my master’s thesis about Japanese railways. An interest that made my friends call me a « densha otaku ». But in the end, what I bring back from this semester is not a shit-ton of papers that I need to translate (although it’s also the case), but mostly ties that I made with people from everywhere and every country. People with whom I spent a lot of time and had a lot of fun as well. So, to close this Japanese chapter, I wanted to think back about our life together and all these times we laughed so much.

When you live in the same dormitory during six months together, there is a lot of ways to spend time. Usually, it was when we met in the shared kitchen for evening that we chatted about everything and nothing, mostly about linguistic since it was the primary reason we were there. But of course we liked to let off steam by playing some video games like Smash Bros Brawl. After hundreds of fights, we could still find new ways to play, be it with silly rules or by being amazed at the clumsiness of someone falling again and again. Nevertheless, I have to warn you to never play characters from The Legend of Zelda series like Toon Link or Zelda, because they quickly have a poor reputation!

Even on the campus, there were a lot of fun times. The Doshisha festival was a good display of the craziness that can inhabit Japanese people. Besides the regular haunted mansion and maid café, we could find the cross-dresser café whose name tells nothing about the absurdity you can find in it. Even during class, we had a good laugh as well. Every week, I was waiting for this class where the teacher would always digress, telling stories about her life or life in Kyoto. It was during that class that she handed us a paper with some examples of writing, be it Natsume Soseki’ writing or Akira Toriyama’writing. And we finished the semester with a bingo where the winners would have Pockys while the losers would have wasabi-flavored snacks.

Our days were pretty busy because of class, but as soon as we hit holidays, they felt pretty empty. Luckily, we would often do parties, especially in the dorm. First and foremost, I highly advise you to not do drinking games with people you’re not used to drink with. You could end up lying on the chairs in the kitchen at 10pm on New Year’s Eve. On the other hand, just change a bit the rules of Jenga to turn it into a drinking game and you’ll certainly have a crazy evening, going to knock at people’s door at 1 am or having to imitate animal noises, while hoping that the tower doesn’t collapse because you’d have to finish your glass.

But when you are living in a big city like Kyoto, you definitely can’t stay in the dorm every evening. You just have to go around the city centre to find the famous arcades. With Mario Kart, air-hockey or the usual whack-a-mole, darts and bowling, you can do a lot of things. But why go for something this normal when you can try the train driving simulator!? The « densha otaku » that I am got bored after 30 seconds though, so don’t try it unless you’re a really big fan.

Still in the city centre, you’d have to go to karaoke if you want to have fun in Japan. It’s becoming more and more popular in France in festivals about Japanese culture, but outside of these events, it hasn’t spread a lot. So if you want to sing j-pop or j-rock with all you’ve got, you would find pretty much the same thing in Japan as in France. In the karaoke’s playlist, you will find few foreign songs, a big chunk of English songs, but your ten fingers would be enough to count the few French songs you can sing there. Between two foreign songs where you will be amazed by the cantatrice ability of some of your friends, I would recommend to go for « Le poinçonneur des lilas » by Gainsbourg, because the « des petits trous » refrain will surely get the liking of the people listening to you.

Last, I can’t end this article without talking about izakayas, these all-you-can-drink bars where you can also order food. You can easily book a room for one or few dozen of people and you will be able to chat and laugh even until 3 am. At those times, I like to drink just enough to feel drunk, but while staying lucid to enjoy the behaviour of my drinking buddies on the way home. This little group of people trying to get home while drunk, losing half of them and going back to find them, it certainly was one of the funniest things I did. More importantly, it is at those times that you can see your friends getting drunker and drunker, then saying unexpected things like: « But why does your face look like a fish? ».

In the future, when I will think about this stay in Japan, it will surely be those kind of things that I will remember, as well as the people that were there at these times. For now, I don’t plan to go back to Japan once more, but I really hope that I will have the chance to meet everyone again. Until that day, a life full of baguette and cheese is waiting for me.

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