My passport and certificate of eligibility for my visa are somewhere within the United States postal system (or perhaps at the Japanese embassy) and I am going to be participating in some online orientation sessions throughout the next few weeks.
But ultimately, what am I worried about most? Well, packing of course!
Ahh yes, the favorite activity of every traveler! Packing your livelihood into two pieces of beat up luggage, cramming as much stuff as possible without going over the designated weight limit.
Normally, I would take a minimal amount of clothing and just buy clothes as the year goes on. However, those of you familiar with Asia may realize that this is not as easy as it sounds. First of all, a size XL in Japan is about a size medium in American sizing. Second, Asian girls do not have as much "curve" as I do, in either hemisphere of the human body. In America, all the pants are wide enough but too tall, in Japan, all the pants are just the right height but my butt won't fit. Then, there is the matter of shoes. For a person so short my feet are huge. I wear a size 9 womens, but the largest shoe size in Japan is about a size 8, labeled LL. I tried buying a pair of socks once in Japan and my toes ripped a hole in them within an hour. Three strikes, I'm out.
Also, I have a list of books that I still need to read. I am going to plow through the library books if I can, but most of these I am going to have to take with me, adding even more weight to my luggage. Here is a list, because I feel like talking books.
China Road - Rob Gifford. Currently reading this, and it's quite interesting. I am making a lot of comparisons between this book and Hitching Rides with Buddha by Will Ferguson. In China Road, Gifford travels down Route 312 in China, taking him from Shanghai to the far western border of China. In Hitching Rides with Buddha, Ferguson hitchhikes the entire length of Japan from Kyushu to Hokkaido. It is really interesting to compare the two journeys and the two countries. I could go on and on here, but most likely you don't want to hear it. ;) (But if you do, I wouldn't be adverse to a fun conversation on the topic!!!)
Rape of Nanking - Iris Chang. So why didn't I read this book sooner? It's only one of the most well known books in the Western World that deals with a topic in Asian history. I figured this was a must read. I have had a lot of exposure to Chinese history and culture through my Asian Studies curriculum at Naz, but I have also had a HUGE amount of exposure to World War II from Japan's point of view through my own experience in Japan, research and reading. It is imperative that I read more about the Chinese point of view (or the Korean POV, for that matter). It's interesting that I have been spending a lot more time lately reading about China than Japan though.
Samurai William, the Englishman Who Opened Japan - Giles Milton. Okay, so anyone familiar with recent Japanese history knows that in 1868 Commodore Perry came with his famous black ships and forced Japan to open its borders to the West. But way before that, Europeans had already made their way to the Land of the Rising Sun. This book is a lot about early European exploration in Asia, and the little known history of these men and their interaction with Japan. I actually started to read this one awhile ago, but put it down in favor of reading the excellent book, River Town, by Peter Hessler. Speaking of Peter Hessler....
Oracle Bones - Peter Hessler. I haven't picked up this book yet, and I admit, I can't really remember much about what the book is about. All I know is that I found Hessler's River Town to be a fantastic read, and I wanted to read more about his take on China. So I bought it.
Japanland, a Year in Search of Wa - Karin Muller. So I admit, I am biased against Western women writing about Japan. Strange, because I am a woman and I also plan to one day write about Japan quite frequently. This bias stems from the fact that every book I read about a Western woman encountering Asia focuses way too much on geisha, discrimination and prostitutes. Hellllllloo, Orientalism! I especially detested Leslie Downer's book, Women of the Pleasure Quarters, and I spent many a class in Women in Asia (Sociology) bashing it to pieces. (Apparently, all Japanese women are incapable of love, and are perfectly fine with their husbands having affairs! Who knew?!) While Japan is a bit behind on the worldwide gender equality train (I know, I spent an entire semester researching and writing a paper about it), it is about time that these Western women get a new topic of interest besides geisha and drunk salarymen on commuter trains and write about something I haven't already heard a million times. I am hoping Karin Muller breaks this stereotype. I have heard the book is quite good, and it was recommended to me by the people at Aeon Amity. Then again, Amity also sent me a book on Japanese culture that claimed the baseball field Koshien was in Kyushu (it's totally not) and that there were two Nara's in the Kansai area ,one which is apparently located north of Kyoto.
Confucius Lives Next Door, What Living in the East Teaches Us About Living in the West - T.R. Reid. Alright! A book that makes the comparison between East and West FOR me! No longer will I have to make my own conclusions about the differences between Western and Eastern cultures! And best of all, it was written by someone with my last name! Ok, seriously though, this book does sound really interesting. I haven't come across many books that actually use Confucianism to explain Japanese culture and point of view, since Confucianism is often seen as more Chinese than anything else. I am really looking forward to this.
I know there is at least one more book I am planning to bring with me, but I am too lazy to go upstairs right now and check my bookshelf.
Perhaps I will add more to this entry later...