Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Seeing Shiki (Reid Knight)

During my first week in Japan, I spent most of my time outside of my place of residence,  the Rikkyo University International Dorm in Shiki, as I took advantage of the time before my university’s orientation started to do some sightseeing. I managed to travel to many of the major tourist areas in Tokyo, yet still I found that Shiki, a comparatively suburban area located in Saitama prefecture, just outside of Tokyo, was the place I most enjoyed.

My first encounter with Shiki was arriving after a harrowing 2 hours of train travel from Narita Airport. I was surprised by how the streets seemed crammed full of different shops and restaurants, yet there were relatively few cars and people. This meant I could meander about alongside my giant suitcase with relative ease, a stark contrast from crowded Tokyo. I was pleased to find that my dormitory was a straight 3-minute walk from the station, ensuring I wouldn’t get lost. However, this meant that for the first couple of days after my arrival, all I knew of Shiki was the road between my dorm and Shiki Station.

The road I travel at least once a day. Anything I could possibly need is located on this road: a supermarket, a department store, and more food options that I can count. While this is convenient, it also means that I have no need to explore the rest of Shiki, outside of for curiosity's sake.
A lot of what I know about Shiki so far, I found out from other people. I tend to get nervous exploring new places on my own, so having dorm mates who were willing to guide me along has been especially helpful as I get acclimated to my surroundings. One of these experiences came when I followed a friend to a nearby dollar store, next door to yet another department store. She went through Shiki Station and out the other side to get there; somehow I had not noticed until then that there was another side to the station at all. The open area that we emerged in housed the bus stops and “town square” of Shiki, and as far as I can tell is meant to be the “center” of the city.

The Shiki "town square" at night. It is much too expansive to be captured in one photo. It is also guaranteed to have at least one person advertising for the NHK at any given moment.
Another event that expanded my horizons occurred partially because of convenience stores. For those of you that have been to Japan (and probably a few that haven’t), you’ll know that convenience stores (or ‘conbini’) are ubiquitous in Japan. When I was first mapping my surroundings, I used conbini as my landmarks. In fact, on my first full day in Japan, I visited each of the 3 different conbini chains on the street between my dorm and the station to figure out which I liked the most. So when I was talking to another friend towards the end of my first week in Japan and she mentioned the supermarket near 7/11, it took us a moment to realize she was referring to a different 7/11, and thus a different supermarket, than the one I knew. This led to an adventure to said supermarket, in which time I also found the post office, a hotel, an awesome used video game store, and realized there was much more to Shiki than what surrounded the station.

Having drawn new maps and visualized how my knowledge of Shiki has at least doubled since my arrival makes me feel like I am slowly becoming a true “resident” of the area. However, it also illustrates how many roads I haven’t traveled down. Yesterday, I heard that a group of my dorm-mates wandered far enough into Shiki that they found a ginger farm. It hadn’t even occurred to me that there would be farmland in an area like this. I’m looking forward to making the trip myself and seeing what other surprises I find.

The most recent map of Shiki that I drew, which still has too many questions for my liking.

1 comment:

Jonah Shlaes said...

Hey Reid,

It's really interesting to look back and see your first impression of Shiki/your Rikkyo digs as well. I talk a lot in my big paper about how despite doing a lot of great sightseeing in the beginning of our arrival in Tokyo, Shiinamachi is where I felt the most comfortable. Tokyo is so overwhelming as it is, maybe we cling more to the little bit of calm and reliability we have in our little dorms and the area around it. Curious to see how this mindset has changed for you though!