I’ve now been in Japan for about two and a half weeks. There’s been a lot of good experiences, a little bit of bad, and a lot of randomness.
The first full week here included orientation after orientation, as well as a very large amount of paperwork. To everyone who complains about government bureaucracy in America, I have to say to try living as a foreigner in Japan. I lost track of how many forms I had to fill out in total, but as an example, some of the forms I had to fill out (and I’m still not done):
- Foreigner registration card
- Foreign resident registration
- Health care
- Commuter train pass
- Bank account
- Dormitory subsidy
- About 8 more for the school specifically
Oh, and all of these forms are in Japanese.
After the massive amount of orientations/forms/testing, I was able to register for my classes. Some of them are required to be taken in Japanese, while others are available in English. What I decided on taking were:
- International Economics
- Intercultural Communication
- International Communication
- Globalization and Emerging Countries
- Theory and Practice of Debate
- Global Business
- Japanese Culture and Society
- Japanese Studies
- Japanese Language A, B, C, and D.
This put me at a total of 6 classes in Japanese, and 6 classes in English. My schedule is subject to change as the first week of classes is a trial period which you can add or drop classes afterward. The class that I’m enjoying the most is actually Global Business. The class is on Saturdays and the teacher’s main job is actually as the Chief Economist for the European Union in Japan. His classes have been extremely interesting and it’s nice to be able to hear from an Irish guy for a nice change of pace in this country.
The other exchange students at my dorm have been great and we all became friends very fast. The girls and guys have completely different dorms in different parts of the city so the girls have all become friends with each other and us guys have become friends with each other as well. We have five guys from America (Portland, Salem, Florida, and 2 from Seattle), one from Australia, one from Mexico, and one from Germany. There are other exchange students that don’t live in the dorms as well.
One of the more interesting details of Japanese school life is the intense competition of clubs and circles as they try to get students to join. Clubs take more of a time commitment and tend to be along the lines of sports or music, whereas circles are more casual and tend to fit into categories like cultural exchange or camping. I’ve joined one circle so far, and we will be having an all you can eat and all you can drink meetup this coming Friday
A few things that have surprised me about this country even after all my research:
You really do need to know Japanese to have a good time here, or at least have a friend who speaks Japanese and doesn’t mind hanging out with you almost every day. I had been told that in Tokyo nearly everyone speaks English to some degree. This may or may not be true, but it certainly doesn’t mean that they are going to use their knowledge. They may be too insecure to actually try using it, or they may simply not want to use it on their home turf. Whatever the reason, I have witnessed very very few Japanese people using English even when dealing with English speaking foreigners. In addition, menus for eating out use a lot of kanji, so even someone who can read Japanese at a very basic level (me!) frequently can’t read many of the menu items. There’s a lot of pointing at the pictures and saying “this, please”. All of the other exchange students have at least 2 more years of Japanese experience than me, and some have 5+ more years of experience, so sometimes while sitting in class I find myself thinking “wow, I am an idiot!” I will definitely have to study harder than everyone else for my Japanese classes.
Tokyo is EXPENSIVE. I know, I know, I should have expected this, with everyone telling me that Tokyo is the most expensive city in the world. The magnitude of how expensive everything is definitely surprised me though. For starters, the portion sizing for nearly everything is super small. You might be paying the same price here for a coke as you would back in the US, but you’re only getting 1/3rd of the amount. Going out for beers is definitely expensive, with the exception of the wonderful place we found that had 40 yen beers (1 yen is about equal to 1 penny right now). However, even that place required a seating fee and a food order to be allowed to stay. Every activity you might want to do costs money. Appliances cost a LOT of money. Taking the train everywhere costs money. Fruit tends to be very expensive. I’ve resorted to cooking eggs a lot in the dorm, but butter is also expensive and I haven’t been able to find non-stick spray as of yet. Luckily breakfast and dinner are free for exchange students at the dorm, so I’m not completely broke already.
To help broker the expenses of lunch, I got a (very) part time job on campus. I am a chat leader at the Aoyama Gakuin chat room. The chat room is a place where Japanese students can come to practice their English in small groups (there are also different chat sessions for Chinese, Korean, and Japanese practicing). For the first two weeks I have 5 chat sessions that I will be leading, four of which are for college/junior college students, and one of which is with elementary school kids. The session I had so far was immediately after orientation and I had a blast, so I’m looking forward to each of these sessions.
I’ve done some exploring around Tokyo as well. I’ll talk more about that next week, but here’s a picture to whet your appetites.