30 Jan 10 Things I Learnt in Japan
1. Japanese are very well-organized people
When I reached the Kyoto International Airport, a rower from Kyoto University was already there waiting for me. When I had to leave, the same rower, Miyamoto Kohei, and a few other rowers, had already planned the time I should leave the boathouse, which train to catch so that I can reach the airport on time.
The transport system in Japan is so accurate, when the sign says it will reach at 11:31am, it will reach at 11:31am. No earlier, no later. When the rowers told me that I will reach the airport at 8:57am, I did reach the airport at 8:57am. Fooh, I loike it very much how reliable the system is.
When I reached my dorm, everything was already well-prepared for my stay. 3 layers of blankets on my bed, an empty cabinet, a boat, a pair of oars. Breakfast and dinner were always prepared on time ready for hungry athletes after training and sometimes mine were served in dishes and glad-wrapped with “Aisyah” written on it. If they were having pork, they would put aside a “non-pork version” for me. How sweet.
The Japan Machine Rowing Competition which I participated in had several hundred of participants but it was so well-organized and so well-planned. Everything was in order, it was so smooth sailing. I loved it. I love how much they take pride in organizing their events.
Kudos to the organizing team and the man in-charge, Taiji Uchida, from Seta Rowing Club for organizing such an amazing event. GOOD JOB! 🙂
2. Japanese are selfless people
On the first meeting with a graduate rower, Yuto Tashiro, we had lunch and he paid for lunch as a “welcome gift”. And I hardly knew him then! On one of the days, my Japanese coach’s friends brought us to eat exotic Japanese food and also to the most beautiful hot spring I’ve ever been to- all paid for!
Some of the female rowers, Yuka Yamamoto and Inagaki Kouru in particular, provided me some of their winter wear because I was still freezing despite having many layers on me. Such a noob I was!
When I went to Kyoto City on my own, some rowers insisted that they wanted to bring me around even though it was their resting time. Thank you Takashi Okura, Mami T and Chisako for bringing me to beautiful Gion and I finally got my dip-dip and slurp-slurp soba!
Seta Rowing Club reimbursed part of my flight tickets to participate in the event, as a reward for my SEA Games Gold. My stay in the Kyoto University Boat Club dorm and all the meals were sponsored by KURC, I didn’t had to pay for boat and oar rental too. On top of that, I received several gifts from Seta Rowing Club and KURC. There was also a goodbye gift where almost everyone in the team wrote a parting message which was super sweet -OMG.
The best had to be when the rowers taught me how to cook Okonomiyaki! Thank you Taka, Naoki, Junya and Mao for the Okonmiyaki Party! IT WAS SO GOOD.
THEY ARE SO NICE AND AMAZING PEOPLE I LOVE THEM ALL.
(Side note: I am so poor at remembering Japanese names I have to repeatedly use them if not I will forget their names 🙁 !!! )
3. Japanese are friendly
The best part about the KURC rowers is that even though some of them can’t speak English, the fact that everytime they see you, they bow their heads and smile at you, you know that they’re happy to see you, which in turn makes you happy. And I think, that is the beauty of friendship- that two people don’t have to speak the same language to be friends. 🙂
4. Winter in Japan is damn cold
Well said, Aisyah.
I did expect single digit temperatures but before Japan, I’ve never experienced a climate below 12 degrees so this was my first Winter experience and I’m a total noob when it comes to cold weather! My colleagues and brother had to lend me their winter wear, on top of that, more winter gear from the rowers at KURC. Every morning I had to wear 5 layers of clothings which makes me look like a popiah on the boat but I don’t care because it was freezing! And on some days when I feel like a hero and refuse to wear the pogies (rowing gloves) because they make my palms sweat and cause more blisters, my fingers will freeze and there’s the strange pins and needles sensation that freaking hurts!!!! :'(
But then again, it snowed on one of the days which the rowers said was a rare occasion for it to snow in Kyoto. So I was lucky. It was my first snow experience and it was so beautiful I loved it!
Depite feeling a little uncomfortable at times because it gets a little too cold, I love Winter. Change is always good. So I wanted to soak up as much coolness as I can before I went back to hot and sunny Singapore! Now I’m starting to miss Winter 🙁
5. Winter makes you hairy
Because you wear long sleeved tops and bottom all the time, even when you go to bed, who bothers about shaving your armpits and legs? HAHAHAHA! It’s too cold to spend too long a time shaving them in the shower anyway!
6. Japanese rowers are crazy
Crazy, in a good way. Like I think I’m crazy and obsessed over Rowing, but these KURC rowers are crazier! I mean, they’re not even national athletes but they train every single day, as much as what I am doing- even more! There was once I had to wake up at 4am because it was a long session and they had to start early because they had to rush to school after training. And to get to school, most of them cycle 20km over 2 hills after training and cycle back to the boathouse in the evening. There was another occasion where circuit training started at 8pm! And we had dinner at 10pm and there was training the next morning. These people are crazy, obsessed, dedicated, committed and so determined- it makes me feel at home. SO AWESOME- I can live like that forever.
7. Nothing can stop you from doing what you love
So there were 2 Olympians who were invited to participate in the Machine Rowing Championship and train with KURC as well. They were Mads and Juliane Rasmussen. Mads is an Olmypic Gold medalist in the Lightweight Men Double Scull in London 2012 while Juliane, his wife, came in 4th in the Lightweight Women Double Scull in 2012 as well. What’s amazing about this couple is that they have 2 daughters, aged 4 and 6 months, and yet they are still rowing professionally.
I’ve always had this thought that when you’re married and have children, there’s not much that you can do because you have other responsibilities to carry and chasing your own dreams is the least of your priority. But the Rasmussens have proven me otherwise. They have travelled to many competitions, with their children, and Juliane’s mum, who helps to take care of the kids while their parents are competing. Which is a beautiful thing because I truly believe that behind every successful athlete, there is an amazing support system. Noone can be successful on their own.
8. Japanese love seafood
Just last year I started to learn how to eat seafood and this year, I had to eat fish testicles. When I was invited to a semi-formal dinner with the KURC alumni board of directors, the dishes served were all seafood! I had to hide the uneaten seafood under the decorations on the plate because I really didn’t had the courage to try them- most of them raw. HAHAHA. I hope they didn’t notice what I did. I felt bad :/
But fish testes was a major Fear Factor for me and I ate 2 while I was in Japan! *beams with pride*
9. Natto is delicious
I fell in love with these fermented beans I bought like 15 packets home! YUMM!
10. Japan is a beautiful country with beautiful people
Especially the area where I stayed, Otsu, in the Shiga Prefecture. Lake Biwa is gorgeous. I loved cycling around the neighbourhood although I was never a fan of cycling.
Despite having a fever on the first day I was there and later on had an allergic reaction, despite not beating my personal best in the competition, I did had a beautiful stay in Kyoto. Came in Top 10 for my first water trials and 4th in the second trials, managed to row a 20km before 7am, survived training in freeing conditions, had the craziest circuit training session I’ve ever done in my life, braved myself to eat fish testes, had a chance to train in the same boat with an Olympian, personally know an Olympic Gold medalist and ate sushi next to him- wouldn’t want to replace these experiences with anything else in the world.