Accommodation Awards: Rena

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My home for the next 5 months!

One of the biggest concerns that students have with looking into exchange programmes is finding a place to stay when they’re overseas. Luckily for me, Fukuoka Women’s University has a dormitory for first year, international and exchange students (It’s compulsory for first years to live in the dorm). When you’re accepted into the university as an exchange student, you’re accepted into the dorm as well.  At the International Student Friendship House (Nadeshiko), each student lives in an apartment unit which is described as ‘4DK’ (4 private rooms, shared dining area and kitchen, bathroom and toilet). Each international or exchange student will live with 3 local students. While this may seem to be an inconvenience to both parties because of the language barrier, it’s actually a very good way to utilise your language skills into everyday life. For example, not only are the electronic appliances in the unit incredibly high tech to use, but all the buttons are in Japanese. Thus, I have to pluck up the courage and ask my roommates whenever I’m stuck in the kitchen- which happens quite a lot, to be honest!

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There are 3 buildings at my dorm- A, B and C. A total of 340 girls live here.
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Dining and Kitchen area

Toilet: Let’s face it, a Japanese bidet toilet will probably be one of the most interesting and memorable experiences for a foreigner during their stay in Japan. Unfortunately, I haven’t tried out the functions yet, because there’s always toilet paper to use. However, one thing that stuck out to me was the ‘music’ button. Basically, to maintain maximum privacy of what happens in the toilet, pressing the ‘sound’ button usually plays a recording of a running water sound or music. I just thought it was such an interesting concept to share.

When you flush, water comes out from the tap above the toilet bowl, making it convenient to wash your hands in the toilet.

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The notorious and intimidating bidet toilet!

Rubbish:
Japanese people are very conscious of their ecosystem, and the harmonious relationship they have with nature, which explains why they have such a unique recycling system. While each city has its own rules with the rubbish, they’re all pretty similar in theory.  In my dorm, there are 3 main types: Burnable, non-burnable and PET bottles. Burnable rubbish would usually be food scraps and wrappers, non-burnable would be glass, ceramic ware and cans. Finally, PET bottles would be plastic drink bottles (with the number ‘1’ inside a triangle symbol) that you compress before throwing it in its respective bag.

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Red stands for burnable, yellow for PET bottles and blue for non-burnable rubbish. Make sure you don’t confuse the colours while you’re here!

My room: Each person has their own room at the International Student Friendship House and it comes with a bed, a wardrobe, a desk and chair, a little drawer with wheels on it and a balcony. As you can see from the picture below, we rent a futon and place it on the mattress. So it’s like getting the best of both worlds!

There’s a clothes line in the form of a pole in the balcony in which you can change the height and position of the pole by sliding it through the brackets and moving the brackets. This is great especially on rainy days when you want to hang your laundry outside without getting them wet.

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Welcome to my crib- tidied it just for this photo
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You can see the university’s infirmary from my room

 

またね!

Adobe Spark (13)

 

 

 

 

 

First Impressions: Rena

After a few delayed flights and overnight stays along the way, I finally made it to Fukuoka, Japan! I’ve been here for 5 days now and it’s been hectic with meeting new friends from other countries, trying to communicate with my roommates with the limited Japanese that I have, and generally setting in to the dorm life. Though I arrived at Fukuoka pretty late, everyone has been helping me catch up on the activities that I’ve missed. So far, I’ve got my residence card, opened up a bank account, and settled all my health insurance bills. So far, so good!

Pre-departure: Before coming to Japan, you must apply for a visa. For me, my host university sent me a Certificate of Eligibility along with an application form.  I then had to submit the certificate along with my passport to apply for a Visa at the Consulate-General of Japan (or Japan Embassy) which is in Auckland CBD. The Visa itself took around 3 days to issue, but once that’s done, all I have to do next was to submit a copy of it to FWU, and it was all sorted!

Opening Ceremony:

At the start of a new academic year, Japanese schools hold an Opening Ceremony for new students. This Ceremony marks the start of a new stage in each student’s life. Our Opening Ceremony was held last week and it was to encourage and allow students to feel welcome in Fukuoka, and to motivate them to study harder throughout the next few months.

At our Opening Ceremony, the head of each faculty was present, along with the co-ordinators of the exchange student programme (WJC) and our buddies (JD-mates). The Opening ceremony started with a speech given by Shoji Shinkai, who is the vice president of FWU, and is also in charge of international affairs of the university. His speech was a welcoming and inspiring one, and it truly motivated all of us to challenge ourselves and grow to be better people throughout this course and beyond.

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Vice President Shoji Shinkai welcoming us at the Opening Ceremony
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JD mates and Exchange students at the Opening Ceremony

Reception party:

The university also held a reception party for both international  and exchange students. There was a buffet and was catered by the university’s café staff. It was an amazing opportunity for students to mingle and have dinner together. Before we could eat, the director of the International Center, Rie Kawabe gave a warm message to all of us and raised the toast. It was a night of laughter and we made some great memories.

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Rie Kawabe starting the night off with some heartfelt words

JD mates:

Fukuoka Women’s University has also arranged a buddy programme for us since more than half of us haven’t learned Japanese before or haven’t even been to Japan before. The JD-mates had to go through interviews with teachers from the International Center to prove that they could be responsible and committed to help all of us settle in. They also had to show that they had a good command of English, in order to communicate with us better. They are very helpful and understanding and are always online on LINE. I don’t know where I’d be without them!

またね

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Thank you JD-mates, for everything you’ve done for us so far!

Adobe Spark (13)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bryar: Last Post!

Greetings from Japan!

I’ve just completed my first semester at Sophia University in Tokyo and am nearing the halfway point of my exchange; although my Auckland Abroad experience hasn’t yet come to an end, this will be my last post on the Auckland Abroad Blog. I’m going to write about my exchange so far – how it has differed from what I expected, things I’ve achieved and things I wish I’d done – then I’ll go on to describe my goals and aspirations for the second half of the year. I’ll throw in any helpful tips and advice that I can think of, and a couple of pictures to break up the monotony.

I had three major goals for this year when I started out; to improve my Japanese, to learn to live by myself, and to build on my business connections. Although my exchange is only halfway through, I’ve already made some significant progress on all of them. I recently participated in a Japanese Speech Contest through my university, open to non-native speakers of Japanese. I was placed in the intermediate/advanced category and therefore instructed to give a five-minute speech on a topic of my choice…from memory. I had about a month and a half to prepare, help from my host Mum and friends, and in the end I managed to come in second place within my category. I think if I’d been given the same assignment at the beginning of the year I wouldn’t have completed it with anywhere near as much confidence.

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My Japanese teacher and I, after the Speech Contest

For someone who has never lived outside a family-household environment, living in a dormitory has definitely been a new experience for me. It hasn’t been as sociable as I expected, probably due to the fact that each room is fully equipped with kitchen and bathroom (and that I’m a hermit anyway), but I think I’ve adapted well to the different lifestyle. Almost everything is relatively new to me; cooking and cleaning, paying bills, sorting trash and taking it out on the right day, doing my own washing (hey I know – spoilt only child here). The only thing that I’ve really needed a hand with was figuring out how to unblock my shower drain, but you don’t need to hear the details of that little adventure.

I’ve also made progress on building a business network both here and abroad, by making international friends at university and by developing friendships with teachers. Outside of the university bubble, I’ve also involved myself in the Tokyo chapter of AFS (the student exchange organisation I initially came to Japan with) and through those connections have met people from organisations including Sony Japan and Japan Airlines.

One thing I was not prepared for in coming to Japan was the method of study at Japanese university. While at UoA we’re given assignments, tests and papers that are difficult to complete but only pile on at specific times of the year, in Japan it’s almost the opposite. The work itself is reasonably easy to complete, but the sheer amount that they give you every day – quizzes, tests, homework sheets, short essays, presentations – means that if you don’t have exceptional time management skills, then it’s very likely you’ll simply run out of time to get all of it done. This “study hard not smart” system meant that I often felt like I was literally drowning in work, and the worst part was, I had to struggle through it for the entire semester, rather than being able to look forward to the end of an ‘exam period’ or the like. My ideas of getting a part-time job quickly went out the window, as did my plans for joining a club, hanging out with my friends or sightseeing around Tokyo. So if there’s one piece of advice I can give you for studying at a Japanese university, especially if it’s Sophia, it’s this: consider lightening your course-load (and think very hard before deciding to take Intensive Japanese – ‘intensive’ is an understatement).

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I suppose I wouldn’t have met these amazing people if I hadn’t chosen Intensive Japanese

Now that the first semester is finished with, my plans for the two-month summer vacation basically consist of travelling with my parents (who are coming over from New Zealand) and relaxing. Going into next semester, I plan to learn from my mistakes of the one just passed, namely taking the regular Japanese course as opposed to the intensive one. I also hope to use the extra time gained by this to join a club and hang out with the Japanese friends that I’ll hopefully make there. And of course my goals from the beginning of the year still stand; my method for measuring whether my Japanese has improved as much as I’d like will be to see if I pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, level N2 at the end of the year. I also aim to keep getting used to what it means to live by myself – I could use some practice when it comes to keeping to my budget – and make more business connections.

I can say that it’s been a real honour to be one of the first student writers for the Auckland Abroad blog and I’ve really enjoyed contributing my thoughts and experiences. I hope some of the things I’ve written about will be able to help you guys with your decisions and preparations, and don’t forget that you’re always welcome to send me an email (even after I’m no longer writing) with your own questions.

これからも、頑張りましょう!

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Bryar: Day Trip to Shimokita

When you’re an exchange student in a city like Tokyo it seems like the number of things to do and see are endless. However, once you’ve been to Shibuya, Harajuku and Akihabara multiple times each and checked out other major recommended tourist spots, it takes a little more imagination to find new places to spend a day in. Often these places are little known by the tourist blogs, and It’ll be your Japanese or other exchange student friends who show you the gems that Tokyo has to offer.

Shimokitazawa is Tokyo’s hub of everything vintage, bohemian and/or second-hand, along with a collection of quirky coffee shops. You won’t see many tourist faces here, but it’s still a bustling and lively district popular among the youth of Tokyo. I spent a day here recently with a couple of university friends, and this is what we discovered:

The Food

We started the day off with a late-morning coffee (well, my friends did) at one of the small coffee shops tucked away on the narrow streets. The coffee was served vintage-style in a jar and was, according to my friend, exquisite.

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As we meandered around the streets afterwards we passed a corner store that had multiple layers of customers queueing up outside its doors; the aforementioned friend (and guide) explained to us that it’s a pancake shop, and that he line can sometimes reach up to two hours long (!!). I asked who on earth would wait that long for pancakes, but he said that he’d tried them and apparently they merited the wait.

We took a break mid-afternoon for some lunch; we found a quaint little Italian restaurant that felt (to someone who has admittedly never been to Italy) like stepping right into the real deal – the pizza was delicious, and surprisingly affordable seeing as it came with a salad and drink.

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We ended our day trip with some home-made gelato from a store that had pastel pink walls and a chandelier hanging from the ceiling but still somehow managed to feel vintage. How?

The Shopping

Shimokitazawa is packed full of little stores selling everything that someone riding the bohemian trend could ever wish for. Clothes, accessories, knick knacks – even the stores themselves give a boho vibe with the uneven wooden floors and artistically peeling wall paint.

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This district is also a haven for those who love everything second-hand. Everything from little upcycled boutiques, to entire warehouses with rack upon rack of second hand clothes. We could have been lost these places for the entire day.

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The day that we visited Shimokitazawa, it also featured a small market of hand-made goods set up near the exit off the station. An array of different kinds of jewellery, trinkets, leatherwork and even jackets for handbag dogs were on sale; it made for a lively and up-beat atmosphere and complimented the overall vibe of the district.

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If you ever find yourself in Tokyo as an exchange student or a tourist, I would definitely recommend taking a day out of your schedule to visit this treasure trove and discover everything that it has to offer!

 

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Food, glorious food: Bryar

Food, food, glorious food!

Now, I don’t claim to be a foodie myself (can’t cook for my life either) so I’m not an authority – but believe me when I say that Japanese food is seriously amazing. Maybe because it’s so different to most food you can find in New Zealand, yet still similar enough to be familiar. I think the only thing I look forward to and savour in NZ as much as the food here, is probably a burger from Burger Fuel (I told you, I have pretty simple tastes). So, this blog post is going to be dedicated to convincing you of the same thing! Here we go…

First off, here’s some examples.

It would take me forever to list off all of the Japanese dishes that I love, so I’ll settle for describing a few. Firstly, tonkatsu. Literally ‘pork cutlet’, deep fried in bread crumbs with sweet sauce, rice and salad. It’s simple, but the combination of the tender pork and the crunchy bread crumb is perfection itself. Udon, soba, and ramen…all are noodle dishes of different types, can be eaten hot or cold, and can be made with an infinite array of soups, meats, toppings and seasonings. Sukiyaki is a Japanese classic; beef slices, vegetables and basically anything you like slow cooked in a hot pot at your table. Once it’s cooked, take a slice of beef and dip it in raw egg (my mouth is watering just imagining it).

You can get a feed for next to nothing.

There’s a lot of crazy expensive restaurants in Tokyo, but they’re pretty well balanced out by the number of places you can get a meal for really cheap. Take Yoshinoya for example; a chain restaurant that can be found pretty much anywhere, specialising in gyudon (beef bowl). You can get a medium sized bowl for 380yen (that’s just under five bucks), and don’t go thinking that price indicates quality – this might be one of my favourite dishes of all time.

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And it’s super convenient.

With a convenience store, row of vending machines or fast food chain around almost every corner, one thing Japan could never be accused of is being inconvenient. You never have to worry about getting thirsty when you’re out and about, because I can (almost) guarantee you that no matter where you are, there will be at least one vending machine in sight offering everything from water to iced coffee and occasionally ice cream on a cone. Convenience stores (of which there are a lot) are also your best friend when you’re heading home after your 7pm lecture and really can’t be bothered trying to scrounge something up. A vast array of pre-made meals are on offer, which the person behind the counter will kindly offer to heat up for you, and a complimentary plastic fork is even included in the deal.

The snacks and desserts are to die for.

Last but not least, let’s quickly talk about Japanese desserts and snacks. If you’re a fan of delicate cakes, pastries and cute sweet treats then Japan is the place for you. I personally am in love with the ice creams here, especially yukimi-daifuku; a little ball of vanilla ice cream wrapped in a thin layer of soft mochi (rice cake). I could eat them every day and I don’t think I would ever get sick of them.

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There’s only one let down…

And that’s natto – fermented soy beans. It’s brown, it’s sticky, it smells strange and, well, it’s fermented. Japanese people love it, but I’m yet to meet a foreigner who will say the same. I’m thinking it’s like vegemite or marmite in New Zealand; if you grow up with it then you probably love it, but if you think about it it does taste a little weird. Needless to say, I won’t be converting any time soon.

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That’s all for today guys! I hope you’re not too hungry now (I definitely am).

Until next time, happy food-ing!

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Accommodation Awards: Bryar

What’s this folks? It seems we have a late entry! Nominated by Miss B. C. Renshaw, AZALEA HOUSE in Tokyo, Japan for the Accommodation Award “Most Deceptive Outward Appearance”! (Applause all around).

Alright, now that I’ve pretended to be a game show announcer, let me explain to you why I think that my dormitory would hands-down win this (somewhat questionable) award.

The saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” has never been more appropriate. My dormitory in Japan looks from the outside, and I’ll say it bluntly, like an abandoned prison block. It’s got the whole works – flickering fluorescent lights, barbed wire to prevent access to the roof, water stains down the walls, security cameras watching our every move, and that general prison-y appearance. Here’s a little collage I made for your viewing pleasure;

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This couldn’t be more of a contrast to the cosy, clean interior of my dorm room itself. This place is fully carpeted and equipped with its own air conditioning unit, kitchenette, bathroom, and a sliding door leading to a small private balcony, featuring a bug screen for the summer time. Thanks to administration and the room’s previous tenant my place is also fully furnished; bed, desk, chair, bookshelf, wardrobe and even a full-length mirror were already in place when I arrived. The bathroom boasts a toilet, sink and mirror, shower (with amazing water pressure) and bath, and the kitchen is fully functional with electric element (which works surprisingly well), sink, cupboards, and a refrigerator.

My room has become my sanctuary since arriving in Japan; it’s a place I can relax and feel at home, somewhere study in peace, a place I can return to at the end of every day that is familiar and comfortable. I’ve made my room feel more like home by personalising it; I put up a couple of posters on the walls, bought a scent diffuser, put down mats on the floor, and decided on designated places for things to go.

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Two different views of my cozy room

The drawbacks, aside from the slightly dodgy initial impression (which we can look past because we don’t judge based on appearance), are few and far between. This place isn’t your cheapest option, although most are more expensive there are a few which are cheaper. On top of this, utility fees and washing/drying expenses are not included in monthly rent. There is around a 45-minute commute into Sophia university, and seeing as we’re on the north-western outskirts of Tokyo, getting into the central city will take around the same amount of time. Dormitory rules are also quite strict regarding having guests over, and especially having guests sleep over, but these rules are quite typical to Japan and you’ll pay a lot more to stay in a share-house with more freedom. In saying this, there were dormitories that I looked into that were far stricter, to the point of segregating female and male living areas by the use of locked doors and key-cards, and Azalea house is nowhere near as controlled.

These drawbacks however are far outweighed by the overall advantages of living in Azalea House. The surrounding neighbourhood is quiet and safe, with a kindergarten and primary school just down the road. The main street of the district (Heiwadai) is within easy walking distance, and offers multiple supermarkets, convenience stores, a post office, fast food, the local station and more. Although the train ride into Tokyo proper can take the better part of an hour, Shibuya and Harajuku (pop-culture centrals) are on the same line as Heiwadai, so it’s a simple direct commute. Azalea House might be home to 80 young university exchange students from around the world, but I’m often surprised by the fact that I can hear hardly anything from the rooms either side of me. Ahh, peace and quiet! Last but not least, if you’re new to living by yourself in Tokyo then the lady who works in the office on the ground floor during the day is an absolute angel and will help you with everything from paying your bills, to directing you to around the neighbourhood, to alerting you when the care packages from your mother stuffed full of chocolate arrive on the doorstep.

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The view from the balcony, down into the little zen garden of the next-door-neighbour, in my room on the fourth floor

This is my first time living by myself at all let alone in a foreign country. So far I’m absolutely loving it. I’m learning how to better manage my time, how to stick to a routine, and I’m finding that I’m really enjoying the independence of having to cook and clean for myself and pay my own bills. My situation is by no means a definitive view into student accommodation in Japan, and is very independent compared other options like share-houses and dormitories with communal facilities. I think that’s one of the things I love most about it, but if you’re a very social person then something like this might not be quite to your taste. If you’re considering coming to Japan on a student exchange then I encourage you to check out all your options, and find one that suits you best!

Jya, mata! See ya!

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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.

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“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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