A New Beginning: The Journey East

There are no direct flights to Narita International Aiport, Tokyo or to any other major international airport like Kansai in Osaka or Komatsu in Ishikawa Prefecture. To fly to Japan, the best airlines to use are those with the home country in the Middle East, where they make a stopover (for five hours or so) before flying to Japan. You can also fly to Europe, then start the journey East, if you pick a European airline. I will be flying Emirates.

The other airlines popular for flights to Japan from Kenya are Qatar airways with a stopover in Doha, and Etihad which I think also stops over at Dubai. It takes 5 hours to Dubai, and then 9 hours from Dubai to Kansai Aiport in Japan. If you fly KLM for example, you will have a stopover in Amsterdam, then fly for like 19 hours to Japan. Turkish Airlines will take you to Instanbul, before taking a journey just as long as if you flew KLM. So Etihad/Emirates are your most efficient flights. Return tickets from Nairobi cost anywhere between 100-150 thousand shillings.

On Tuesday afternoon, my luggage checked in and my backpack containing my most precious documents and some money (in American dollars), I shall board an Emirates flight heading to Dubai. It will take about 5 hours to Dubai. ETA 9:30pm Kenyan time, which will be 10:30PM in Dubai. The stopover is just 5 hours, meaning we will not leave the airport. I will alight with my fellow scholars, there are 3 of us sharing the same itinerary. I will get out dazed, ready to search for wifi signal, to check up on my family via whatsapp. My son will probably have gone to bed, these days his bedtime is at 9PM.

After confirming our next flight and the boarding gate, I will probably persuade my colleagues that we ought to try out Starbucks at the airport. Coffee & croissants. Paid for in strange green bills. Most bureaus in Kenya are just like banks, only dealing with major currencies: the American dollar, British Pound or Euro. So you find yourself changing your shillings to dollars, then changing the dollars to the Japanese Yen on arrival.

Starbucks Coffee in Dubai. Mambo ya Artcaffe tumewacha

Starbucks Coffee in Dubai. Mambo ya Artcaffe tumewacha

And so we will while our time at the Dubai airport, sipping coffee, walking around and waiting for the next flight. I hope I will find some sleep in the long flight to Japan. Arrival time at Kansai Airport will be 5:30PM local time, which will be 11:30AM back here.

From Kansai I need to make my way to Kanazawa City, some 4 hours away by train or 5 hours by bus. Sure, there was a chartered bus for the foreigners by the university, but it leaves the airport at 11:30AM, some six hours before I land. I will need to take a Japan Railway (JR) train, transferring at Shin-Osaka. I have all these detailed directions printed out in both English and Japanese, so I am not anxious about getting on the wrong train.

On arrival at Kanazawa Station, I will probably hail a taxi to the hotel where I will spend the night before checking into the university hostel the following day. I have already booked the hotel online. I have printed out the address in both English & Japanese. Hailing a taxi is easy, taxi in Japanese is “takushi”. I hope not to oversleep.

The following day (Thursday) 9am I will report at the Kanazawa International House (Morinosato), to get my assigned room. From there, I will attend the international students opening ceremony. We are to wear appropriate clothing, but I am not sure what that is. In case they mean national dress for each student’s country, I am armed with a couple of kitenge dresses. In the afternoon, I am to register as a foreign resident and get a resident card with which I will use to open a bank account (for the monthly scholarship stipend 😀 ), and also obtain my student ID. I have already sent the picture they will use. When they asked for a picture, I sent one of my better looking ones, the only one I have makeup on 😉

For once, I will look good in an identification card

For once, I will look good in an identification card

Just when you think I can now relax, I have my first class on Friday at 9:30AM, Introduction to Japanese. And on Friday evening, I will attend the orientation for International Students. I will probably spend all of Saturday sleeping! And thus my Adventures from the Land of the Rising Sun will begin.

Moving Out? OLX is Your Friend

It’s one thing to pack for a week away from home, or perhaps for a month. What do you take when you are relocating altogether? And you have a 30Kg luggage limit! How do you pack your entire life into 30Kgs of luggage? If I don’t get a nervous breakdown this current week, I shall get through any other period. I am even yet to buy a suitcase, and I don’t want one of those generic ones found in supermarkets that break apart after a single journey. Then I decided to try online, went to olx and oh gosh, people are posting weird, dark and blurry pictures of suitcases with no descriptions. And only one picture to give you an idea of the suitcase. I think I have no option but to go back to the supermarket and hope for a good find within my budget.

Anyway, in my packing and sorting out my stuff, I have come across several items I need to get rid of, things I don’t need any more but I could make some money if I put them up on olx. There is this set of baby cots, a bigger cot and a Moses-like smaller cot. Note: if you have a baby, don’t be in a hurry to buy those Chinese-made metal baby cots no matter how cute they may look. The baby outgrows them really fast, so if you buy them, just know it’s for a short period. It’s better to get a good wooden cot made for you that the baby can use till they are 2 or 3 years old, and can then transfer to those smaller beds. Anyway, I shall be selling the set below on olx, any takers?

Baby cot set that Jeremy has outgrown

Baby cot set that Jeremy has outgrown. Click to see larger image.

There are many more items I would love to give away, or sell and not just shoes or clothes. If you’re moving places, this could be a chance to upgrade your furniture, electronics etc. Get some cash to start afresh. If you are selling something online, please for the love of the Internet and all that is holy, take pictures in good lighting (take them outside if you live in one of those flats that never receive natural light), take many of those pictures, and write a good description. It doesn’t have to be long, make it like a mini skirt. Long enough to cover the essentials, short enough to entice. People like me who are looking for deals online are relying on sellers to put up a good & comprehensive database of affordable items in all categories. If you’re moving out and there’s stuff you don’t want to leave behind for your nasty caretaker, neighbours or landlord, sell it on olx.

Some 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Japan

Sometime last year, I learned that I was one of the four recipients of a scholarship by the Japanese government, to go to Japan and study whatever I wanted, in whichever institution I preferred. I have always wanted to travel and this was one chance I couldn’t let go, so here we are now. My travel date is 30th September (see countdown on top right).

After getting the scholarship, and of course during the interview process, I tried to familiarize myself with Japan, gathering as much information as I could over the internet. My geography lessons from high school were a bit hazy, only thing I could remember (like most of you) is that Japan is made up of a series of islands.  Fact: Japan is a stratovolcanic archipelago of 6,852 islands.

Regions and prefectures of Japan

Regions and prefectures of Japan. Image from wikipedia

Here is a few facts:

  1. Japan is the third richest country by GDP (nominal – don’t ask me what this means). The USA has the largest GDP, by far (it’s really a sub-continent), followed by China, then Japan.
  2. Even if both countries, China and Japan, are rich by GDP, there is a fundamental difference between China and Japan. China is a third world (or second world if you look at its industralization) country; there are people living in extremely poor conditions in that country. Japan on the other hand, has very high standards of living for all her citizens, which makes her a first world country. I hear Japanese citizens who go to work in the USA demand a hardship allowance. They don’t have automated toilets in the US of A like in Japan.

    A Japanese toilet

    A Japanese toilet

  3. Japan is also known as the land of the rising sun. That’s what the red dot on the white flag means.

    Japan Flag

    Japan Flag

  4. Japanese is the main language used in Japan (obviously). Speaking it should be easy for a Kiswahili speaker like me. However, writing is another matter. The language uses 3 sets of characters, Kanji being one of them, as well as 2 sets of kana (hiragana & katakana). Kanji (Chinese characters) is mostly used for nouns (places & names). It is quite complex as a Kanji character could mean a whole concept. Hiragana is simpler as there are symbols to represent basic sounds, so you just combine these to make up the word, just like you do in Katakana. However, Katakana is mostly used to translate words from other languages. If I had to write my name, Savvy Kenya,  I would write it in Katakana as なケニア or something close to that. (Confession: I used Google translate!)

    Kanji words

    Kanji words

  5. The Japanese prime minister is Shinzō Abe.  He is 59, tough and conservative. Read more about him in this guardian article

    Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe

    Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe

  6. Japan’s population is decreasing. There is an increase in older people and a decrease in the younger people. The country is purported to have the highest proportion of elderly citizens; more than 24% are aged 65 or above, as of 2012. Japan has the lowest birth rate. The Economist set to find out why the Japanese are having so few babies.
  7. Japan is still a conservative nation. For example, to quote the Economist: Only around 2% of babies are born outside marriage (compared with 30-50% in most of the rich world).  On a related note, they have a strict sense of timing, I hear. I definitely need to up my game, when it comes to keeping time. However, they are very friendly and hardworking people, and I look forward to enjoying the hospitality 😉
  8. Japan experiences the four seasons: Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring. The country is beautiful, stunningly so, in all the seasons.

    Springtime in Japan

    Springtime in Japan

  9. The car in front is always a Toyota, and it’s made in Japan. Okay, its owned by Japanese but manufacturing has probably been outsourced to China. You probably know this already.
  10. Tokyo is the capital city – this you already know. To be honest I ran out of facts you didn’t know and got tired of googling hehe.. so bear with me, I will write more about the country while I am there. I will probably change the title of this blog to “Adventures From the East” or “Tales From the Land of the Rising Sun”. Which do you like better?