At roughly 18:30 Tokyo time (09:30 London time) on Tuesday 6th January Phil and I finally touched down at Kansai Airport after a gruelling 24 hour long journey, including a delayed 3 hour+ flight from London Heathrow to Istanbul, a 2 hour stop-over at Istanbul Ataturk Airport and a further 10 hour+ flight to Kansai, Japan. Needless to say we were exhausted on arrival! I was particularly tired as, in an attempt to evade the dreaded jetlag I had decided not to sleep on either of our two flights but to ‘ride it out’ until bedtime in Japan. It didn’t work, but I did watch some good films on the plane!
With 3 plane loads of people before us in the queue it took Phil and I a long time to pass through passport control and to get our resident’s cards printed – so long in fact that our suitcases had been removed from their allocated belt and we had to wander around the airport in search of them. Thankfully they had been loaded onto a luggage trolley ready for us to wheel away. Our Japanese TRIAD coordinator Mori-san, who had kindly come to collect us from the airport, had begun to worry by this point and was just about to send out a search party for us! Mori-san treated us to a delicious meal of sushi and kitsune udon (udon noodles in flavoured dashi broth and topped with a generous slice of fried tofu) before driving us to the student halls of residence at Awaji Yumebutai on Awaji Island – about a 90 minute drive away. Both the sushi and the kitsune were delicious and whetted my appetite for further Japanese culinary delights.
Our first few days in Japan have mostly been spent in orientating ourselves at the university (Awaji Yumebutai) and in the local area – working out where laundry and recycling facilities are, locating the library, computer room and TRIAD office, trying on and ordering uniform (needless to say for anyone that knows me that it is not possible to get trousers long enough for my legs in this country!), finding the nearest supermarket, foreign-card-accepting ATM and Post Office, and attending driving school in preparation for our use of a hire car on the island. Driving school was pretty amazing and very different from learning to drive in the UK – we had to drive two different automatic cars around a condensed network of roads featuring every kind of junction, road sign, traffic light and crossing imaginable. There was even a railway crossing and a small bridge, and designated places to parallel and reverse park. Thankfully neither of us had any trouble learning to drive Japan-style, despite being used to driving manual cars and being unable to understand the writing on the road signs.
So, to introduce you to where we are staying in Japan…
Part of the University of Hyogo, the Awaji Landscape Planning and Horticulture Academy (ALPHA) provides students with an education in Landscape Horticulture with the aim of preserving regional heritage and creating a new cultural movement. ALPHA hopes that this will ‘contribute to the natural environment and successfully ensure that more flowers and greenery grow so that people can continue to live with the natural environment in an on going dialogue’ (http://www.awaji.ac.jp/english/education/). ALPHA are responsible for our educational programme whilst we are working in Japan, tailoring this to our individual horticultural interests. The 13-hectare campus is both beautiful and well-equipped, with sensitively landscaped grounds outside the main building, and excellent facilities and equipment inside and outside which support advanced lectures, practical training, research and creative work. Phil and I are staying in the student halls of residence (first picture, below) across the road from the main campus, each in our own little self-contained bedsits.
Awaji Island is considered by many Japanese people to be the cultural birthplace of Japan, as legend has it that two Gods began creating Japan from this very island. Part of the Hyogo prefecture, Awaji Island is a large island which connects the island of Shikoku to the south with the mainland to the north via two suspension bridges. At 3991 metres, the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, which connects northern Awaji to Kobe City, is the longest suspension bridge in the world. Awaji is known for iys natural bounty – its extravagant fields of flowers, delicious fresh vegetables and seafood, and the famous Awaji beef. The scenery is simply stunning, with field-strewn hills and meandering hills at its heart and beautiful sea views around the perimeter. And always there are glimpses of Japan’s glorious hazy-blue mountains in the background.