I have officially made it through the first few days of my internship! I’ve also managed to get around the Tokyo metropolitan area without getting terribly lost (though I’ve come close a few times). Google Maps has honestly been a lifesaver. It’s great to use for train stations/times and in general walking around without getting completely lost. I would highly recommend downloading the app before any travel experience if you are like me and for some reason had never used it before.
I work Tuesday-Fridays in Akihabara, which for any manga and anime enthusiast is heaven on earth. I can safely say there is no other place on earth quite like Akihabara, and my friend describes it as a comic con in city form. It truly is quite an experience being in Akihabara. Even if you’re not a manga and anime fan, there are a vast amount of electronics retailers that make the Apple stores in the U.S. pale in comparison. Ian and I went into Yodobashi–a six floor electronics store–on our second day of work. The first five minutes were a truly terrifying experience. Every area has multiple employees lined up yelling out to people about the products they are selling. It was a little overwhelming being in a store filled to the sky with every kind of brand and electronic device imaginable, especially with sales people enthusiastically yelling at you in another language, but it got quieter the more floors we went up and was actually quite interesting.
I returned to Akihabara on Sunday to do more touristy things with my friend Rachel who is teaching English at Technos College. We went to a hedgehog/owl cafe where you can pay 1,500 yen (about $14) for unlimited drinks and half an hour holding little hedgehogs and petting the owls. Our hedgehogs were tired little guys, so we mostly chatted and watched them curl into little balls and nap. Naturally, our little hedgehog buddies and the owl (who was very suspicious of us) had to get names, so we ended up with Consuego and George the hedgehogs, and Bob the owl. After that, we went into a few manga/anime shops which were a little overwhelming and a little sketchy in their content at times. We ventured next to one of my favorite places thus far–Shimō-Kitazawa. It is a less tourist filled spot that is lined with local bars, cafes, restaurants, and boutiques. It’s a great place to shop and eat and has a very youthful vibe to it.
Working with a food bank has been an interesting experience thus far. Ian and I have mostly worked in the pantry and Kids Cafe where we have been sorting and handing out food, and playing games with and helping kids prepare meals. When we are working in the pantry, we mostly sort food that is either going to be delivered to families or available for people to pick up. Much of our time has been spent preparing for and helping people who come to pick up food. This part of our day it quite interesting as many of the people who come are not actually Japanese, but refugees who are currently living in Japan. We get a few interesting characters who come in, such as a French gentleman who claimed to have fled France’s ongoing civil war. The Kids Cafe is a place for children to come and play games and have snacks after school. It emphasizes social interaction and teaching kids how to be self-sufficient in terms of making meals. Despite the language barrier, Ian and I were still able to play a board game with two little girls and a British volunteer teaching English in the city.
On Saturdays we go all the way out to Saitama, which takes about one hour and forty minutes for me from my homestay. Despite the time it takes to get there, the trip is actually very easy because I only need to switch trains once. This is where the warehouse is located, and our work is very similar to the pantry in Akihabara. Ian and I helped to sort food and load boxes that were meant to be delivered to the other Second Harvest sites. There was another pick-up session for families, with mostly Japanese people coming to get food for their families this time. In order to qualify to get food from Second Harvest, an address and documentation from the local government displaying a need for food assistance is required. To reach needy people who cannot meet these requirements, Second Harvest provides food handouts in Ueno park on Saturdays. I found the differences between Akihabara and Saitama in people coming for food to be quite interesting. A much larger foreign population comes to Akihabara, while in Saitama it is much more local.
Overall, I am really liking working with Second Harvest! It’s very interesting to see how Japan’s first established food bank operates. I have also enjoyed exploring around the Tokyo area in both the touristy and more out-of-the-way places. I am excited to continue with my internship and experience more of the Japanese work culture, and to keep exploring around as much as possible.