My O-Week Experience: Bryar

Hi all!

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;

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

 

Meiji Shrine in Tokyo with a recently arrived high school exchange student

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.

A shot of the street leading to Sophia University, lined with spring cherry blossoms

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.

izakaya
“Welcome to Japan from New Zealand! Please have a great time here!” A gift from the lovely Nee-san who served us at an izakaya

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!

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What I’m Packing: Bryar

Packing might be the trickiest part of any trip, let alone packing for an exchange – which means fitting a year’s worth of clothes and items into a suitcase weighing no more than twenty-three KG and a carry-on under seven. Where on earth to begin? Is among some thoughts that come to mind.

I’m considering one major thing before starting my list; when I arrive in Japan (mid-March) it will be the beginning of spring, which means still pretty freezing. Because I can’t realistically fit all of my clothes into my suitcase, most of it is going to have to be winter gear to deal with the cold when I arrive. In terms of summer clothes I’ll pack the ones I absolutely can’t live without, but for the most part I’ll be buying new clothes as the seasons come along (under the assumption that I’ll actually have money to spend).

So what exactly am I packing? The bare essentials, basically. Here’s a rough list:

Clothing:

  • My harem pants and sweatpants, because comfort is key and I would live in these if I could.
  • Wool-lined coat and gloves and woollen scarf – being from Auckland NZ I have to wrap up like an Eskimo to survive the snow in winter.
  • Slippers for wearing inside, because in Japanese houses you leave your outside shoes in the genkan (entrance way) and wear slippers inside the house for cleanliness.
  • Earrings, because I know for a fact that sterling silver earrings are hard to come by in Japan.

clothes

Electronics:

  • My earbuds. No Music. No Life.
  • An e-reader (that I have yet to buy) to avoid the temptation of buying 100 paperback books throughout the year.
  • My laptop for sensible things like study and emails and Netflix.
  • A camera? – I haven’t decided on this one yet because I could just rely on my phone for photos.
  • Plug adaptors (maybe two or three).

electronics

Misc:

  • A couple of posters and my pillow slip to make my room feel more like ‘home’ as soon as I get there.
  • My map of the Tokyo train system and my SUICA (one of the train passes used in Japan).
  • Enough cash to get me through a couple of days until I find the nearest ATM – cards are rarely used in stores in Japan; people prefer to carry large amounts of cash.
  • An agenda/diary/planner ie. life-saver.
  • New Zealand souvenirs.

misc

There are also some things I know I’m definitely not going to pack, including use-up-able things like shampoo, conditioner and soap, and bulky things like a hairdryer which I know are cheap enough to buy once I’ve arrived.

This list is likely to change before I leave in three months’ time, and it’s also likely that I’ll end up begging my parents to ship me things I’ve forgotten halfway through the year, but here we are for now!

If you’ve got any stellar suggestions for what I should be packing or questions about anything else, let me know in an email.

Until next time!

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Japan

University of Auckland students have the opportunity to study at seven partner universities in Japan: Hiroshima University, Keio University, Kyoto University, Sophia University, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, University of Tokyo, and Waseda University.

Let’s hear what our students have to say…

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Tokyo is a mix of new and old; they have kept many traditional aspects of their culture and old buildings while transforming their city into a high-tech mecca. This makes the city that much more exciting and there is something for everyone. As the majority of the population cannot speak English, it can be difficult for those with no background in their language. However, the people are very accommodating and always willing to help.

– Jennifer, Keio University

Kyoto is considered the cultural capital of Japan, and while there were several busy areas, I felt a tranquil air that seemed different from other cities like Tokyo. While riding on my bicycle around town I could see various temples tucked around regular houses and shops, while famous tourist destinations like Arashiyama and Ginkakuji were a simple bus or train ride away from the center of the city. I had plenty of opportunities to visit many wonderful places. My exchange took place during the autumn/winter seasons, and certainly it was colder than Auckland! But the changes in scenery, from the fire-red maple trees in autumn to snow in winter, were beautiful in their own right.

– Ariani, Kyoto University

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Campus locates at center of the city with Tokyo Tower coming into view. As its long history, Keio has a few old buildings as well as newly constructed ones surrounded by many greens. The combination of these gave a great environment to study in.

– Conny, Keio University

As we entered downtown Tokyo I was immediately captivated by the tall buildings, flashing signs, giant and busy crosswalks and the never-ending list of places to visit and things to see and do. Overall, I was excited about getting to know Tokyo more. The streets were clean, the people were extremely friendly, and the food was some of the best I have had in my entire life.

– Bobby, Sophia University

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There were a lot of student clubs to join and meet local students, and there were always some clubs you have never heard about. One of my goals was to learn Japanese culture so I joined the Tea Ceremony club. I was completely new to Tea Ceremony but the teacher and other members were very kind to teach me and explain the reasons behind each step. I appreciated the spirit of customer service, which is fully expressed in Tea Ceremony.

 – Conny, Keio University

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My favourite place on campus would be the student cafeteria! That is one of the reason why I think Japanese student life is wonderful. The food there was cheap, yummy and healthy! Outside the campus, several shops restaurants are there to explore. There are two stations nearby the campus with four different subway lines you can access to. That basically can take you to all the major places in heart of Tokyo, which is also the heart of Japan I would say. I usually hung out with friends after class as the train takes you everywhere until very late at night. That was why I always ended up being out late, having heaps of fun.

– Conny, Keio University

For me, the best part about Tokyo was their great attention to detail. This makes their food delicious and always of high quality. It is also extremely clean, possibly one of the cleanest places in the world. The cost of living is comparably cheaper than Auckland, especially because the university dorms are subsidized for students and the diverse range of food available that can fit every budget

– Jennifer, Keio University

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I found Tokyo to be an extremely easy place to live. The public transport is amazing, everything is very convenient and on time, food and drink is cheap, and my rent at the dorms was also very cheap, contrary to normal Tokyo prices.

– Erin, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies

Japanese people are generally extremely orderly and love to queue up flawlessly for everything from famous ramen shops to public transport. It is amazingly simple to get around Tokyo by public transport, and rarely is there any delay except for snow-related anarchy which makes sense in a city where it rarely snows. People are polite to a fault and generally very friendly. Tokyo citizens both interested in and welcoming of foreign people despite language barriers. Compared to New Zealand, food is amazingly affordable as well as being of a generally much higher standard- absolutely exceptional! The city is extremely clean, almost rubbish free and has an amazing recycling system in place. Also, Tokyo never sleeps but feels very safe.

– Lisa, Sophia University

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