Firstly, let me apologise for the delay on this post; I arrived in Japan on the 23rd of March but have only just made it through my orientation and first week of university classes. I say that like it was a real trial, but the truth is that these last couple of weeks have set me up for an awesome year ahead!
The semester here in Japan starts in April (spring), and I was only able to move into my dormitory on the 1st. For the week-or-so between arriving and moving in I stayed with a friend from my high school exchange, who also helped me to buy everything I needed to kit out my dorm room. I also used this time to settle back into Japanese life, adjust myself to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and shake the rust off my Japanese.
Having lived here before, the culture shock isn’t so much of an issue for me this time around, but anyone who is planning to make the move from New Zealand to Japan for the first time should be prepared for a few things;
- Japanese society is quite strict when it comes to how you are expected to act – respect your elders, be modest about your achievements, always give your all in everything you do.
- There are 1,001 unspoken rules for conducting yourself in public. Always stand to the left of an escalator in Toyko, but on the right in Osaka. Walk on the left side of the pathway, always give your seat to an elderly person, never eat while walking, and don’t be that loud obnoxious foreigner on the train.
- If you’re not Asian, you’ll stick out. Maybe not so much in the central city, but as soon as you get into the suburbs or less-touristy places, you’ll get stares. Depending on what kind of person you are you’ll either love it or hate it, but either way you’ll grow used to it eventually.
- On the positive side, there are convenience stores and/or vending machines around almost every corner, and the trains and busses are very rarely ever late (cough Auckland Transport). Also, the toilet seats are heated which is a godsend in winter.
It’s supposed to be spring, but you can see from the above photo that there’s still a chill in the air (understatement of the year – it snowed around the time this photo was taken). But in saying that, I sit here writing this in a t-shirt with my balcony door flung wide open, so in a matter of three weeks the temperature has gone from NZ winter to NZ summer.
My actual Sophia University orientation was quite a small affair. Two meetings were held for new exchange students over two days, during which we were given a tour of the (typically small) campus, shown how to enrol for classes and given a placement test to determine which Japanese stream we would be entered into. An international student welcome dinner was held in the cafeteria a couple of nights before classes started, which was basically an all-you-can-eat-buffet combined with a meet-and-greet.
The great thing about being a foreign exchange student in Japan (or, I’m sure, in any country) is that the feeling of being in the same boat tends to throw people together, and makes it very easy to find friends. I met an American girl on the first day of orientation who happens to live on the same train line as me, and we’ve done almost everything together since. And if my university orientation was slightly lacking, I can’t say that I haven’t been very effectively introduced to Japanese drinking culture. My host mum gravely informs me that Japanese university students are wild, uncontrollable alcoholics, and I nod my head and attempt to look concerned. Just like any country around the world, Japanese university students love to socialise and have fun, and the Japanese izakaya makes that all the more possible!
The izakaya is essentially a Japanese bar, usually decked out with traditional furnishings and a warm atmosphere. The staff are friendly and jovial, and if you’re early enough you might be in time for nomihoudai – “open bar” – pay a fixed amount and drink as much as you like for a certain time period. The food in these places is more like finger-food than actual meals, and it all adds to the fun, relaxed, social mood.
That basically sums up my few weeks of settling in here, please look forward to my submission to the accommodation awards, coming very soon! If you want to know anything else about what I’ve been up to, how I’m finding living here in Tokyo, more pro-tips about cultural differences in Japan, or any other thing you can think of, flick me an email! I’d love to hear from you guys.
Mata ne! Bye for now!