Kofu is the capital city of Yamanashi Prefecture and home to some 200,000 residents, and the cityscape from afar seems to suggest that it is a pretty bustling place to be, with buildings sprawled from one end of the city to the other.
Yet, my increasingly distant walks paint a different picture — one of a quiet and peaceful rural city, where most shops bar izakaya and other small roadside businesses close by 9pm; even the main shopping mall by Kofu station closes at 8. Kofu basically sets with the sun, and the streets turn pitch-black silent, lit only by faltering streetlights spread far and way too thin.
Beyond narrow alleys and quiet lanes, Kofu is also surrounded by mountains; it is right in the centre of a basin that makes it colder in winter and much warmer in summer. Back in Singapore, I wondered how bad it could actually get, given that I was already stewing in an infernal tropical cauldron my entire life, but it’s only late April and my freshly washed laundry dries in two hours under the sun, if that’s an indication of things to come during the summer. I suspect a hasty escape to Hokkaido.
In all honesty, I’ve been doing most of my explorations with Amanda, a schoolmate and neighbour whom I’d known a few weeks before moving to Japan. It’s always more reassuring to have a companion, especially when one finds themselves in a new country with a seemingly endless list of procedures and customs to do and follow. Our Japanese proficiencies are at a potato level and we often find ourselves lost in translation, but we’re gradually adjusting, and that’s the only thing that matters. Our highlights include walking an hour to buy a used rice cooker that we haven’t used yet, and teaching her how to cycle again so we don’t have to walk an hour to get more junk.
If March represented the honeymoon phase of being in Japan, sakura blossoms and everything, April is the soggy, sometimes uncomfortable jolt back to reality, of mundane routines, money management, and remembering why I came here in the first place. It wasn’t to be a tourist, but to realise my aspirations of settling down here for the years to come. With 47 prefectures to explore, and millions of locals to write stories about, I’m but at the very beginning of my journey here. The sakura trees have returned to their annual slumber, and I sometimes struggle to keep awake in class, life here has only just begun.
Just begun /