Though we were originally dazzled by the fact that AirBnB #2 had actual furniture, we did ultimately have to admit that it lacked any charm… the furniture was pretty uncomfortable and the decor mostly consisted of “House Rules” signs. That said, it was unquestionably an improvement over the last place, especially because the wifi was obscenely fast.
Speaking Japanese (I Really Think So…)
Having failed at finding an in-person option for Japanese tutoring, I decided to try some Skype lessons via the website iTalki (which was recommended by someone I met at Roam Tokyo). You can choose between experienced conversation partners or professionally certified teachers for almost any language.
I first had some sessions with a conversation partner – a Japanese woman who teaches English professionally. She did a great job keeping the conversation flowing while correcting my grammar, and was also happy to role-play any day-to-day scenarios where I felt less confident (like making restaurant reservations over the phone). And as a bonus, she sent me a recommendation for a vegetarian restaurant in Tokyo.
I also had some sessions with a professional teacher. She paid close attention to my intonation (which is very important in Japanese) and had a number of exercises designed to help improve my speaking speed. Though both types of sessions were valuable, I could certainly tell the different between the two.
I took advantage of the great wifi and scheduled quite a few sessions. Just being forced to use Japanese daily has been great, but having this outlet for reviewing the situations I encountered and correcting my grammar has really helped.
Thanks to improved confidence with my Japanese, I was able to purchase prescription sunglasses from a local shop, enjoy a cat cafe where no one spoke English, ask strangers to help me identify onigiri that didn’t contain fish (because reading is still a challenge), and even successfully made restaurant reservations over the phone!
I hope I will keep these up after I leave Japan, too – I spent far too much time studying it in college to let it all fade away.
Seeing Old Friends
Our string of rendezvous continued with my college pal Erik. I hadn’t seen him since before his son was born:
It was like no time had passed! He & Stephanie looked just the same as when they left San Francisco 15 years ago. It was fun catching up with them and meeting their British friends over countless sushi rolls and glasses of sake.
Our next date was with our former colleague from Apple UK, James, and his girlfriend Lauren. We caught up with them over an elaborate tempura dinner:
It was fun to talk tech, catch up on mutual friends, and exchange travel tips. (And the tempura was exceptional.)
It’s easy to feel isolated in Japan… As the movie Lost in Translation highlighted, the cultural differences make it very difficult to meet locals. And until my rib is fully healed, I can’t go to Zumba, which was another way I connected with people during our travels. This means we especially valued having these encounters with various friends throughout our time in Kyoto.
Once the last of the sakura petals had fallen, I was able to focus on some other local highlights like Nishiki Market (full of local delicacies), Nijo Castle, green tea parfaits, and cat cafes.
We are spending the next 2 weeks in Japan with our very good friends, Beth & Todd. Since I haven’t seen them for 8 months, I would be excited to see them anywhere but it will be especially fun to explore Kyoto & Tokyo together. I’ve been saving all the major sights and activities for their arrival, so I anticipate every day will be jam-packed with adventure!