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Japan: Student Experience

Before You Go

The summer before you depart for Japan will undoubtedly be busy as you make preparations for your year abroad and say good-bye to friends and family. As students who have been in the very position you are now in, we have written about our personal experiences here in Japan to prepare you for your life as a student of Waseda University.

Before you leave, we urge you to spend some time studying Japanese. Learn to read hiragana and especially katakana, since English loan words pop up everywhere in Japan - on menus, product labels, directories, etc. Being able to read them will make your transition to life in Japan much easier. You should also learn a few simple phrases before you go (e.g. doozo yoroshiku, onegai shimasu, ohayoo gozaimasu, oyasumi nasai, ittekimasu, tadaima, and okaeri nasai), as you will be putting them to use immediately. Anything you can do to improve your Japanese before you go will definitely put you a step ahead and you will be glad you did! Several students in our group regretted not having kept up with their studies because it resulted in their being placed in lower level Japanese classes. Consequently, they spent the fall term reviewing material they had already studied in America.

Buy a guidebook for Tokyo and Kodansha International’s excellent Tokyo City Atlas: a Bilingual Guide. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the city you will be calling home. Reading the guidebook will give you a feel of the city's atmosphere and also shows ideas of what to see and do. The atlas has complete subway/train maps and also shows important sites on every page. At the very least, you should understand the following characteristics of Tokyo:

  1. It is BIG: Your new address does not translate as "Tokyo metropolis" for nothing. Be prepared for crowds everywhere you go. In particular, the trains you will be riding to and from school in will be packed to a comical extent, depending on the time of day and which line you take from which station.
  2. Tokyo is heavily urbanized: Do not expect to see too many broad, tree-lined boulevards in the downtown area. There are parks, but they can be crowded in good weather. That being said, Tokyo does have numerous small shrines and temples, many of which also have attached gardens. However, finding these little spots of nature will require some exploration on your part.
  3. Tokyo is expensive: To be fair, Tokyo is not as expensive as many tourists like to proclaim. Travelers seem to love recounting how they paid $10 for a glass of orange juice at some five star hotel in Ginza, but such situations are definitely the extreme cases. Still, Tokyo is more expensive than most American cities, so be prepared to spend more than you do in the States. Prices are comparable to, or even a bit more than, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Food can be cheaper than many places in California, depending on where you go, and cheap clothes are available, but you have to find them for yourself.
  4. Most people do not speak English: For students who have traveled in Europe, where it seems as if even gas station attendants can comfortably converse in three or four different languages, the lack of bilingual Tokyoites may come as a bit of a shock. However, this is a blessing in disguise, as you will be forced to practice your Japanese wherever you go, and this will translate into quicker improvement of your language skills. [Side note: While many do not speak English there are quite a few people who understand it—so be careful what you say. Do not be surprised that they will turn around to look at you when speaking to an American on a train. On the other hand, do not be offended when you overhear Japanese people talking about you because they assume you do not understand Japanese.]

All of these are inescapable, non-negotiable aspects of living in the city, so learn to accept them before you go. And hey, it is not all bad news! Certain problems usually associated with big cities are not as prevalent in Tokyo: it is safer than any other large city of its size, and while it is not spotless, it is certainly cleaner than New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles. But do not assume it is completely safe and drop your guard--better safe than sorry. You might keep in mind three major risk factors of personal safety: using drugs, being alone and being out at night. Most C.S.U. incidents have involved at least two of these factors.

Arrival and Orientation (Top)

Be sure to make your flight reservation early so that you can arrive on the same day as all other CSU students. This way, Kazaoka Takako, our Program Associate, can meet you at the airport along with the IP Resident Director, a CSU faculty member.  There will be a chartered bus waiting to take you to the hotel where you will be staying for a few days of orientation. Unless you are already familiar with the Tokyo transportation system, do not mind spending a significant amount of money and can manage to navigate with all your luggage during rush hour, it would likely be too much to attempt to find your own way from the airport to the Hotel. Orientation will include information about your living situation, alien registration card, nationalized health insurance, banking and other useful information. During orientation, you will have a chance to get to know the other CSU students, as well as some Waseda students. Kazaoka-sensei and the Resident Director will answer any questions you have.

During orientation, Kazaoka sensei will interview each student about their expectations for their living situation. Host families will already have been selected by the time you arrive in Japan. It is important to mention that there is a huge difference in the method of payment for those that choose to forgo the host-family experience and instead live in a dorm or other accommodations, and this decision needs to be made much earlier in the year (when you make your first payments to the program). PAY VERY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE PAPERWORK. Some students thought they could casually make housing changes after their arrival in Japan, only to significantly disappoint the prospective host families looking forward to boarding them. Be sure that you take note of deadlines and do not procrastinate.

What to Bring (Top)

Japan is a modern, industrialized nation, and there is little you might need that you cannot buy here. Bringing a year's supply of shampoo, for example, does not make sense and will only take up precious luggage space and make your bags heavier. Bring as much as you can in two suitcases that do not go over the current weight limitations for international flights. Bring as few books as possible--this includes textbooks because most of the textbooks you have used can be found in the SILS Library at Waseda. Cheap, used books in English are also available all over town. As security restrictions have changed greatly in recent years, check the list of permitted and prohibited items on the Transportation Security Administration’s website:

(http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/permitted-prohibited-items.shtm).

Japan has four distinct seasons, and you will be there for all of them; keep this in mind when you decide what to bring to wear. It will still be warm and humid when you first arrive, but the weather will begin to cool down quickly. A compact umbrella can come in use almost anytime year round. And gloves are useful in winter. Do not pack exclusively for one season, no matter how you plan to get all of your clothes here. You will probably be able to get away with dressing more casually, but bringing some of your nicer clothing is strongly recommended. Bring something formal, a suit or a nice dress, in case you need it, for instance at the graduation ceremony. Include a variety of outfits, so you are covered for all occasions.

Clothing and shoe sizes are on a different scale in Japan. For those who have a large frame, you should expect difficulty in finding clothes that fit. Sizes in Japan only go up to about 8 for women and 36-40 for men. Women's shoe sizes go up to 25.0 cm, which is about U.S. size 7.5, and men's sizes only seem to go up to size 10 or 27.5 cm. Larger sizes can be found at specialty shops, but these shops are often difficult to find and they are generally more expensive.

Your shoes should be comfortable for walking, as you will be doing a lot of that, for example, from the train station to the University or to nearby cities (Shinjuku, Ikebukuro et cetera). You should probably bring tennis shoes and waterproof boots for the heavy rain and occasional snow. Bear in mind that in all homes and many restaurants, you will be required to remove your shoes at the door so that shoe laces can be a bother. Fitness enthusiasts should be advised that most Japanese gyms require you to wear a pair of athletic "indoor shoes" to be used exclusively while in the gym. Waseda’s gym, however, does not have this requirement.

When packing, be sure to prepare a carry-on bag with a change of clothing, small towel, washcloth, toothbrush, and other essentials, just in case your main baggage catches a different flight. Of course, your carry-on is also the best place for your valuables. And, after arrival, you will want a smaller bag for short trips during your stay.

Handkerchiefs or hand-towels can come in handy, as restrooms rarely offer paper towels or hand dryers and restaurants often lack napkins. On the other hand, free tissues are handed out as advertising all over town, so you may never need to buy tissues the whole time you’re in Japan.

You can use your own hair dryer or electric razor, but Tokyo has 50-cycle rather than 60-cycle current, and the voltage is 100 rather than 110. Most small accessories should work just fine, but anything that depends on electrical cycles to keep internal time (i.e. electric clocks) will run slow. Things like laptop computers usually have power supplies that automatically sense and adjust to the differences in current. Japanese plugs are generally two-prong (non-polarized) with plugs that accommodate polarized and grounded cables being only occasionally available. Most homes then will require a three- to two-prong adapter (available at most electronics stores).

You will likely be bringing a notebook computer with you, among other electronic devices. Disaster happens, so plan ahead with external hard drives, personal web space, and/or remote connections to computers back home so that you can back your data up as you go, as well as access it in case of emergency. Nothing is foolproof, so the more you plan ahead the less likely you are to be crippled by circumstance.

Almost any medicine you may need can be purchased in Japan. Be forewarned that some types of medication are illegal in Japan, namely some antibiotics and those that list “drowsiness” as a side effect. Medication will be more expensive than in America, but unless you are a particularly sickly type, bringing a year's supply of anything is overkill and will only take up unnecessary luggage space (your health coverage will help provide you with the proper medications as needed). A small first-aid kit consisting of a bottle of aspirin, a pack of cold tablets, anti-motion sickness medicine (such as Dramamine), Pepto Bismol (always a travel necessity), a few band-aids, and anti-biotic ointment should be sufficient. Sun-block and mosquito-repellant are available at drugstores. If you take prescription medication, contact your international studies advisor to make sure that you will be able to obtain your medication and that it is legal in Japan; some students have tried to have their families fill their prescriptions and mail the drugs, only to have them confiscated.

For those of you who wear glasses or contact lenses, we recommend that you bring spares with you. Bausch and Lomb contact lens supplies are available. Other brands, such as Hoya and Ciba Vision are available but can be different. Talk to your doctor and ask for your prescription. Solution is expensive! Non-brand solutions are cheaper, but make sure you know what you are buying.

For those who wish to bring more items than they can carry in their luggage, it is possible to send your extra belongings via surface mail from the U.S. after you know your address. See the “Mail” section for more details.

Again, pack wisely. You should try to keep your luggage down to what you can comfortably carry on your own. And remember: You will be bringing home even more than you brought to Japan.

Money and Banking (Top)

While in Tokyo, you should always have cash on you. The most important thing we can say is that you must know before you depart whether you will be able to access your bank accounts from Japan. Notifying your bank and any credit card companies that you will be overseas is absolutely essential since, because of a recent increase in Japan-based ATM and credit card fraud, many banks are now particularly suspicious of Japan-based transactions. Online banking potential is also important. Consider opening a joint account with someone who will be staying in the States and can handle deposits and other transactions. Since it is cheaper to buy yen in Japan than in the United States, we suggest you bring around $300 - $500 with you in cash or traveler’s checks and exchange them for yen at the airport upon arrival. This will cover expenses for your first few days. Thereafter, simply using your ATM card will give you access to your cash and the best exchange rate available.

Be careful how you spend your money when you first arrive. Because of unavoidable expenses, it will go very fast! As you are preparing your budget, allow for settling-in expenses for picking up those necessities you did not bring with you. Also, be sure to learn the implications of a fluctuating exchange rate. Changes in the exchange rate of the yen can affect your financial planning. In addition, the money for field trips and group meals that you paid to OIP may be diverted to other more pressing needs (e.g., housing), if there are drastic changes in the exchange rate. This has happened in the past.

Withdrawing Money from the US: If you have an ATM card that has a Visa or Master Card logo and has been issued by your U.S. bank, then you will be able to withdraw money from any Japanese Post Office using Cash Service. However, there is usually a foreign transaction surcharge that amounts to 1% of the withdrawal, plus an ATM charge that varies depending on your bank. At the time of this writing, Bank of America charges $5 for withdrawals, and Citibank charges $1.50. However, we recommend applying for a PayPal account (www.paypal.com). You can transfer money between your PayPal account and any American financial institution for free, and PayPal charges only $1 for ATM withdrawals with no foreign fees.

Japanese Bank Accounts: Generally, you will not need a Japanese bank account unless you plan on getting a job and need to deposit money. Shinsei Bank is the only bank that offers online banking in English, and you can withdraw money from Seven-Eleven and post office ATMs with no extra charge. However, it is often best to wait until you are placed with your host family so you can then ask them which banks are most convenient for you and your needs (i.e. branch locations and features). One convenient bank is the Sumitomo Mitsui bank which has an ATM located right next to the University Co-op building. The Japanese rarely use checks in conducting monetary transactions and you will never see anyone use a check for retail purchases. For conducting business with any U.S. organizations in dollars, however, you might want to keep your U.S. checking account open with a small balance. For example, if you are going to be signing up to take the GMAT before you return, you will need to include the fee when you send in your registration.

Credit Cards: In Japan, many stores do not take credit cards; most of your transactions will be in cash. However, the places that do allow you to use your credit card generally accept VISA and MasterCard. Be warned though that some American credit card companies also include a foreign use surcharge, and there is also a possibility that your credit card company will freeze your account because your overseas transactions will appear as suspicious activity. These issues often have to be dealt with over the telephone, which can become very expensive, so notify your credit card company that you will be overseas before you go.

Academic Live at Waseda University (Top)

Waseda University has over 54,000 students (68% male). SILS has an enrollment of about 2,000 students, only about 200 of whom are actually international students. Because of the small population of SILS, be prepared for "small village syndrome"—you will know many of your fellow students and all about their drama. Make your best effort to get along with everyone because, like it or not, you will be spending a lot of time together.

Your classes taught in English will consist of mixed international and Japanese students, Japanese students will work as volunteers in Japanese language classes, and class locations will be both inside the SILS building as well as the non-SILS buildings. This provides a wonderful opportunity to get to know many native Japanese students and thereby improve your grasp of the language and culture.

While SILS has made an effort to make their educational system more like Western universities, differences still exist. Be prepared to accept them and work with them. Classes operate a little differently and teacher-student relationships are more formal. As in America, classes vary from good to bad. And, unlike American universities, attendance is very important, being a larger factor in final grades than in the States.

Japanese Language Classes: All the international students take a language placement test before classes begin to determine proficiency. Based on your performance on this test, you will be placed in one of 8 levels that have 3 or 4 subdivisions within them. This is why it is important to keep your language skills up during your summer break, rather than cramming just before the test. Your score will be a truer reading of your real ability. Remember, this test is simply designed to determine what class is most appropriate for your current skill level. You are here to learn, so no one expects you to ace the test.

Japanese language courses are taught almost entirely in Japanese. In the beginning, this may seem frustrating and difficult. Bear with it—this is one of the best ways to improve your listening comprehension. Also, be prepared for the fact that although the course will present new vocabulary and grammar, you will spend little time applying it in class. In order to retain what you have learned, you will need to practice using it on your own.

You will not be fluent in Japanese when the program is over. This is not to say you will not learn a lot, but the path to fluency is a long one. So, be realistic in your linguistic expectations.

Independent Study: In the event that you decide to do independent-study projects, be sure to prepare your study topic and all related paperwork before you come. In the past, many of the well-worked-out independent study applications have been accepted. Get your recommendation forms done before coming to Japan or know whom you are going to ask to get a recommendation from at your CSU campus. Waseda assigns you an advisor, and most of the projects are carried out in Tokyo. For those who want to enroll in an independent study course, a detailed description of the chosen topic must be handed in fairly soon after your arrival. We strongly suggest you question your home campus advisor about the feasibility of an independent research project. Remember that it should have something to do with Japan. While your topic does not necessarily have to have anything to do with your major studies area, it is a wise decision to discuss it with your advisor and to complete the necessary forms before leaving. These forms are available from OIP. Also, do not forget to take along the e-mail address of your home campus advisor.

Library: Although SILS has its own library, be advised that it is small and your classmates may be in need of many of the same resources that you are, so do not put off your research until the last minute. Using your home CSU campus library's search engine is a wise alternative for finding Internet sources. The main Waseda Library is also open to you, but resources in English are limited. This means you'll have to take more initiative in seeking out other information sources. Kinokuniya bookstores usually carry large selections of English books.

Computer Lab: While there is only one 24-hour computer lab in the SILS building, there are other computer labs located throughout the campus and wireless access is available in several locations. There is only one scanner (not at SILS) and no Macintosh computers. Because there are few computers and so many students, access is limited, especially during finals. The printers break down and jam frequently. You must also log on and off each time you sit down to use a computer, which takes time. If you forget your password, you must attend a 30-minute seminar to get a new one, so DON'T FORGET YOUR PASSWORD! The computer lab staff is usually available to assist you and some speak a little English. You must also supply your own paper to print. Students are in the lab concentrating on their work so make sure you show appropriate courtesy.

If you want to improve your Japanese skills, you will need to make the extra effort of not confining your social contacts only to other English speakers. Also, it is a Waseda University policy that exchange students can only study there for one year, so a second year is not possible. It is important to remember that Waseda University is one of the most prestigious universities in Japan and opens many interesting doors through social networking that might otherwise be closed.

Extracurricular Activities (Top)

Extracurricular activities are a great way to meet Waseda students, learn about Japanese culture and student life, and, of course, improve your Japanese language skills. There are over 1000 clubs and circles to join at Waseda. During orientation, you will meet a number of volunteers from Niji no Kai (The Rainbow Society) and W.I.C. (Waseda International Club), two of the international friendship circles. Other interests range from traditional Japanese arts to music and sports. You can even join the university gym, which gives you another opportunity to meet students. However, when you first arrive, it will be the middle of the school year and clubs will not be actively recruiting until the new school year begins in the spring. Therefore, you must be assertive and make the effort to contact the club members and let them know you want to join their group. To get a heads-up on most of the available clubs and their contact information, be sure to read the Wasekura magazine in Kazaoka’s office or buy one for your self at a bookstore near the University.

Nomikai: Clubs and circles often host large-scale drinking parties (nomikai). If you do not want to drink, just say so, as there are non-alcoholic beverages available.  Drinking is highly prevalent in Japanese culture, and it is assumed that you want to drink too, unless you say otherwise. For those who choose to drink, be aware of your own limits. Remember, when invited to nomikai, you will usually pay around ¥2000 to ¥3000. Nomikai serve as icebreakers and are an excuse to get together and socialize. It is impossible to go to them all (both physically and fiscally), but do not pass on them altogether.

Life with a Japanese Family (Top)

The best part of your year in Japan can be the experience of living with a Japanese family, but it can also turn into an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved if you do not manage the adjustment well. Living in a Japanese home will definitely be one of the biggest challenges you will face while you are in Japan, not only because of cultural differences and communication problems, but for the simple reason that it can be hard to live in such close contact with someone for such a long time.

If you apply for a host family, carefully consider your responses to the Housing Questionnaire and be honest. There will be a chance for you to discuss your preferences with Kazaoka-sensei during orientation before you are matched with a family and every effort will be made to match you with a compatible family. Do not be shy at this time, for the sake of yourself and your host-family. Families are screened and selected in advance, and most have housed foreign students through this same program in the past. However, these families are not "tailor-made" to meet your expectations and families may have expectations you will not be able to live up to. Remember that you will be as much of an experience for them as they are for you. A great deal of mutual love and affection can develop between you and your family, but do not expect them to adapt to you. You must be ready, willing and open to adapting to their lifestyle. Expect to do things at their convenience (i.e. laundry, bathing , meals) and not yours.

Some host families may ask you to be home by a certain time at night. Although this may come as a shock at first, these curfews will help you to show respect and tend to disappear after a few weeks. Our experience has been that the more Japanese you speak, the more freedom your host family is likely to give you. Just remember that host families usually set curfews because they are concerned about you. Show respect and obey the curfew from the start. This will build trust.

Do not regard questions such as, "What did you do with your friends last night?" as an invasion of your privacy. Your host family is just trying to make conversation and is curious as to how you are enjoying the Japanese lifestyle. Also, do not be offended by what you may see as "American stereotyping." Your host family, in concern for your comfort, will ask you such things as, "Can you use chopsticks?" Realize that you may come with a better understanding and appreciation of Japanese culture than the family's last host student did. If this is the case, you will be praised for knowing things that you feel are obvious. There are a lot of things that people will say that could be taken the wrong way; try to understand that 99% of the time, they are not trying to insult you.

Bear in mind that one can no more say, "Japanese families are/think/do ______" than one can make such generalizations about American families. Most facets of home life will be decided on a case-by-case basis, and what is and is not acceptable with your host family may be very different from how things are with another student's. As long as you are polite and use common sense, you will not have to worry about stepping on anyone's toes. A good rule of thumb is to treat your host parents as you would treat friends of your real parents. Try to spend time with your host family. You will be surprised how strong a bond you can form in a year's time. Above all, remember that the members of your host family are people first and Japanese second.

Your behavior when you first arrive will set precedents for the rest of the time you live with your host family. The relationship you will have with your host family will be determined in the first few months of living together. So it is important to exert effort to form a good relationship at this time. Honesty is always appreciated in host family situations. The more honest you are about yourself and what you are doing, the more your host family will trust you. Though this may seem hard at first, it establishes the groundwork for a good relationship that will make your life a lot easier as time goes by. Use English as little as possible from the start; get into the habit of speaking only Japanese when you are at home. Be open and friendly. Do not forget to bring lots of family photographs--one of the fastest ways to establish a rapport with your Japanese family is to let them know something about your own family and hometown through photographs and postcards. You can practice speaking Japanese when you tell them about all of the people and places in the photographs.

Living with a Japanese family is not always easy. In order to prevent or minimize any conflicts between you and your family, it is a good idea to keep in mind some characteristics of the Japanese and the concept of the Japanese family in general. They have been taught that it is very important to harmonize actions and thoughts to other people with whom they have a personal relationship, and to subordinate themselves to their family, school, and company. Therefore, many times they will feel it is better not to confront you with something you are doing which they feel is wrong or displeasing. Do not assume that just because they do not complain, everything is okay. Make sure there is some kind of communication. Do not take advantage of their silence (e.g., raiding the fridge whenever you feel like it). Try to iron out any problems you might have as soon as they occur. By all means, feel free to talk over any difficulties with Kazaoka-sensei, but try to communicate with your family first. Kazaoka-sensei can talk to your family for you to see how they feel about the problem (or if they feel there is a problem) and report back to you. Your family is also more likely to consult Kazaoka-sensei about any perceived problems than confront you directly about them. Notice the indirectness of this approach.

Remember at all times that returning favors and fulfilling obligations are important in Japanese society. You may be expected to do favors for your family, such as bringing omiyage (small souvenirs of food or mementos from trips) home from time to time. Naturally, you will have difficulty adjusting to the many concepts of social conduct, but be aware of them, as they are very strong in Japanese human relationships. This fact is all the more reason why living with a family is so crucial to your gaining a true understanding of Japanese society. Since the fundamental unit in Japanese society is the family, what better way is there to come to understand that society than by actually taking an active role in their life style? Moreover, this living experience can do wonders to improve your spoken Japanese.

With regard to the food you will be eating at home, what you get will depend mainly on how Westernized the family is. In a traditional home, rice is the staple and is generally eaten at all meals. Noodles, soup, boiled vegetables, fish (broiled, fried, smoked, steamed, and raw), pork and chicken will be among the more frequent foods. Knives and forks are seldom used, but you will master the use of hashi (chopsticks) quickly if you do not already know how to use them. In a Westernized family, more beef and bread may be served. The large variety of breads and French pastries that are available is quite a surprise to the foreigner who comes here expecting to find only rice. Generally speaking, though, you probably will not get all the American food you are used to. That is all right—hopefully, you are not going to Japan to eat American food. Most importantly, remember that the families do not expect you to like everything but they would at least like you to try everything.

For those of you who enjoy cooking at home, some students have had the opportunity to cook for their families. While ingredients may be different or hard to find, there are several international stores that may have what you need, for a price. With this in mind, maybe you would like to bring some favorite recipes with you. But remember—measurements are in the metric system.

A few notes about living with the family: Remember to pay your personal bills (for phone, internet, subscriptions, etc.) promptly. It is best to ask your family if it is okay to have subscriptions sent to their address prior to subscribing. Also, do not expect your host family to do your laundry (though they might insist on it). Ask how to operate the washing machine. Dryers are a luxury in Japan (and are comparatively weak), so you may have to hang-dry your clothes or find a coin dryer near your house (expensive and inefficient). As for food, you are to eat the same things they do. It is best to learn to eat what is served. Eating dinner together with the family is strongly encouraged and is an excellent time to practice your Japanese. Remember—be flexible. If you have special dietary needs or restrictions, be absolutely sure to communicate these to Kazaoka-sensei, as well as the family with whom she places you. They will try to accommodate you, so please try not to take advantage. Sometimes, strict diets can make it difficult to place you with a host family at all.

Keep in mind that while the monthly fee you are paying for room and board might seem like a lot, it really is not. Your host family is doing you a favor by opening their home to you. Many CSU students might not be able to afford the real cost of living in Tokyo. Think of ways to show your appreciation. Also, try to place yourself in your host-family’s shoes. Be conscious of your decisions, and try to imagine how they must feel about your actions. This exercise in empathy might help you catch mistakes before they become bad habits.

When considering omiyage for your family, remember that it is the thought that counts. You do not have to buy expensive gifts. Fancy towels, California wine, chocolates, candies, American T-shirts, dried fruits, nuts, jams, whisky and brandy are some of the items most appreciated. It is also customary to wrap the gifts nicely. Since you will not know the make-up or preferences of your host family until you meet them, general family-type gifts are safest.

A lot of students have host families and are pretty happy with them. All the benefits of having someone take care of you and feed you, plus plenty of Japanese practice. One downside is that some host families live on the outskirts of Tokyo, which may mean a morning commute of about an hour or so. Also, some host parents are kinda strict, so just be careful. However, our super-cool resident director, Kazaoka-sensei, is very very understanding of this and will do everything in her power to match you up with the right family for you.

Life on Your Own (Top)

There are some students who opt to live in Japan in the comfort of their own privacy, either in studio apartments or in dormitories. There is nothing we can write to prepare you for dorm life, because of the variety of experiences amongst students who opt to live in the dorms. Waseda students stay in dormitories that are spread all over Tokyo. These dorms are mostly run by third parties, so you will be dealing directly with them instead of the university. Some dorms even have an application process, including an essay and interview.

I live at the Wakeijuku dorm. It's a men's dorm that's like a five-minute walk from the school. At Wakeijuku you get your own room, which is kinda small but good enough for one person. Monthly rent is about 800 bucks, which includes utilities, internet and two meals a day, breakfast and dinner (not the best food, but it’s okay). However, I can really only recommend Wakeijuku if you're a pretty outgoing person, are pretty good at speaking Japanese, and/or are really into sports. Right when you get here, there's like a sports week in September, and it's kinda mandatory that you participate. Also, there are a lot of drinking parties, so be ready for a few loud neighbors in the middle of the night. If this sounds like your thing – a lot of drinking, a lot of parties, a lot of dudes – go for it.

Also at Wakeijuku, there are five dormitory buildings that are all very similar except for the East Dormitory. The East Dormitory is built with larger halls in which dormmates can socialize. In this respect, you will be exposed to the Japanese language more heavily than you would living in the other four dorm buildings. Fraternization in this particular dorm is very important in that building a good relationship with your hallmates will help you settle in more easily and allow you to practice your Japanese more often. In my experience, my hallmates became my mentors, often teaching me about Japanese and Wakeijuku culture, the hierarchy system within the dorm, and even how to various everyday things in Japan, like how to cash a check at the post office. Living in the East Dormitory is like having a host family without any restrictions or rules. In essence, my hallmates have become my family and I always look forward to spending time with them.

If you want to live in a dorm, but prefer more of a mix of people, I'd recommend living at the one called Hoshien. It's an international student dorm that is also a five-minute walk from the school. You get your own room, and you're in the same building as students from all over the world. The monthly rent is a little more than Wakei, but I don't think it covers utilities. Moreover, no meals. You're completely on your own for food. Still, it's a nice dorm, really clean, good facilities.

Living entirely on your own is only recommended for those who already have a connection to Japan. This is because most Japanese apartments require a “Guarantor,” who is a permanent resident of Japan, to co-sign the contract. You also have to be fluent or have very good listening abilities in order to do all the paper work, deal with the utility companies, and work through any other issues you might run across. This is because there is most likely not going to be anyone in the offices who can speak English. There are companies who cater to short term housing for foreigners, but the apartments they offer are sometimes in poor condition, have less security, and can be very expensive Living on your own does allow you to have freedom to come and go as you wish, and eat what you wish, but you will also have increased responsibilities.

Also, if you live alone, you will have to actively seek out social interaction to get the daily practice that home-stay students will get naturally. This is an excellent route for someone who is already quite fluent in Japanese and very independent but it is definitely not recommended for someone living away from home for the first time and/or only beginning to study the language.

If you want an apartment, first of all, know that an apartment as the Japanese know it is basically one small bedroom, one small bathroom, and one very small kitchen. Not an apartment like Americans think. Still, it's good for very independent people. Everyone who got an apartment is very happy with that choice.

Living at the Temple (Top)

Every year, up to three students may have the chance to live in an annex dormitory on the property of a small Buddhist temple in northeastern Tokyo called Kayadera.  This opportunity is usually offered because of the students’ own special circumstances (i.e. above the age limit for the dorms, very strict diet and et cetera.), and it is ideal for those who are very mature and independent because there are few rules other than your own.

Kayadera has been providing housing to CSU students for a number of years, and they require only a very simple exchange.  Students contribute about an hour a week of light cleaning around the temple and an hour a week of English instruction, plus occasionally helping out at big temple functions. In addition, students pay a monthly flat rate of ¥20,000 for utilities and maintenance along with the cost of wireless internet, which is around ¥5700 split amongst the tenants; no other fees are charged.

Students are housed in a four-story building on the opposite end of the property from the temple family’s home and the temple itself.  Each of the first three floors is a completely private room; the first floor room (usually reserved for a female student) includes its own bathroom, while tenants of the second and third floor rooms have their own WCs and share the bathing room located on the fourth floor, where laundry facilities are also available for use by all three students. Bedding and limited furniture are provided, and each room also has its own kitchenette as the temple provides no food.  Students who accept the invitation to live at the temple are responsible for their own food, supplies, teiki (commuter’s train pass), studies, and temple chores.

The family at Kayadera is wonderful to live near; they are very supportive, but not overbearing.  The chief priestess of the temple lives on site with her mother, her sister and sister’s husband, their daughter, an elderly priest, the temple’s elderly servant, and two Shih-Tzu dogs. The immediate vicinity of the temple has most of the conveniences you might need for life in Tokyo; and Asakusa (big temple and great shopping), Ueno (site of various museums), and Akihabara (Electric Town) are all within a 15-minute ride on bicycles that the temple also provides. The commute to school from the station (right across the street from the temple!) is about half an hour, and most of Tokyo is no more than 45 minutes away by train.

While students who choose to live at Kayadera miss out on the daily interaction of living with a host family, they can get much of that practice by getting more involved in the local neighborhood. There are already a number of foreigners living in the neighborhood, so the locals will not be as hesitant to talk to you.  If you make an effort to get to know the local restaurant owners and shop owners, you will not be disappointed.

Students living at the temple have more freedom than if living with a host family, but since you have to pay for your own food it's a little bit more expensive.  However the area around the apartment is full of 24 hour convenience stores as well as markets and hyaku-en(100 Yen) stores. There are also a fair amount of restaurants you can walk to in a few minutes. 

The temple family is extremely caring.  They never hesitate to help you if you need to find a random store in the area or if you're having trouble understanding something in Japanese. The cleaning is done in the morning and usually lasts about half an hour.  The English lessons are also very easy and don't really have a set procedure.  Sometimes there are special days at the temple when they may need you to work; however the work is very light such as helping set up for lunch, welcoming guests, or sweeping around the temple and the graves.

All in all, living at the temple housing allows the student to be independent, like at the dorms, but you also have a helpful family nearby.  Also, don't be afraid to walk around the neighborhood and get lost a little because that's usually how you find the best places!

Health, Diet, and Exercise (Top)

When you first arrive, it will be hot and humid, so you will be sweating a lot. Drink plenty of fluids! Force yourself to drink a lot of water to fight off dehydration. Also, be sure to get plenty of rest—this will help combat jetlag and keep your immune system up and running. You will be exposed to a lot of new microbes, both on the flight over and on the ground in Japan, and it would not be much fun to get sick as soon as you arrive.

You can have U.S. prescriptions filled here, but they are expensive and can only be filled in Tokyo, at the American Pharmacy in Hibiya. It would be better to bring all prescription drugs you think you will need, or make arrangements with your family doctor before you leave the States. Please refer to the “What to Bring” section above for more details.

Kazaoka-sensei has lists of English-speaking doctors and hospitals located in the Tokyo area, but do not expect the open doctor/patient relationship you may have in the States. Japanese doctors, whose English may be quite limited, are not traditionally open with their patients; do not expect a detailed explanation of the illness or the nature of any prescription you are given. While not covered under the CSU program insurance, dental care can be obtained. But remember, dental care in Japan is of a curative, not preventive, nature, and some lab work is behind the U.S. in quality and aesthetics. The same holds true for some medical facilities here. If you get sick, you will be encouraged to visit the doctor and, as you are heavily covered by insurance, it is not a bad idea. You might find visiting the doctor a pleasant or a frustrating experience, but you should not completely ignore the warning signs of illness.

In addition, do not be surprised if your normal body rhythms go through some changes while you are in Japan. Sleep cycles, gastro-intestinal rhythms, and menstrual cycles can all be disrupted by environmental factors, weather, diet, and the psychological changes associated with culture shock and living with a new family. Get your rest when you can, drink plenty of water, eat a balanced diet, and take your vitamins.

Those of you with special dietary needs should be sure to mention them on your Housing Questionnaire. This will enable the program to help place you with a suitable family. Many of you will experience a diet of fish, rice, noodles, vegetables and little meat for the first time. Japanese foods are quite nutritious, but can be heavy in salt, fats, and starches. You might be surprised how good steamed white rice becomes after you eat it two or three times a day for a few months. There are numerous coffee shops and bakeries in which to spend your time, and this too can add to your kilos. Of course, each person is different. Some picky eaters have experienced significant weight loss. There are some American fast food chains here, but they tend to be expensive and you can eat that stuff at home. Enjoy the local cuisine while you have the opportunity.

Vegetarians are advised that, although vegetables are common, meat and fish-based broths, soups and sauces dominate the menu. Strict diets like Halal, Kosher, and vegan can be difficult (and sometimes costly) to maintain here, but are not impossible. The only way to guarantee a strict diet though is to do your own cooking and pay close attention to the ingredients.

For those cooking on their own and on a budget, it is notable that cooking with wheat flour can provide high protein and carbohydrate intake for your Yen. If one could live on wheat alone, one could have 2k calories and 35grams of protein per day for only ¥200. Not bad at all. Bags of wheat flour can be purchased inexpensively at the Odakyu Supermarket near the University and likely at many other grocery stores. Also near the University, be sure to check the big, yellow Donkihote building for the best deals on miscellaneous foods and other items. For your vegetables and fruit, which are considerably more expensive in Japan, small produce-only shops offer the best prices. So, keep an eye out for your local vegetable shop. V8 type drinks such as Kagome and Itoen are also available and very convenient for nutrition on the fly. You might also keep an eye out for the Caloriemate bars. By shopping smartly, one can eat for as little as ¥1,000 per day, when need be, while still having a few hundred Yen left over for snacks.

There is a gym at school that costs ¥2,000 for a year of unlimited use. It has treadmills, stationary bikes, Stairmasters, weight machines, free weights and some mats for stretching. A pool and showers are also available (with small per-use fees). The gym does not open until 10:00AM, however, so you might have to adjust your exercise schedule accordingly. There are also private health clubs such as the Shinjuku Sports Center, but they tend to be very expensive. Health clubs in Tokyo are much more limited in their facilities than the ones you are likely used to. The facilities at the Waseda student gym are the cheapest in town, and should meet most of your needs. For those who are interested, specialized gyms for things like rock climbing, boxing, tennis and ice skating are available as well.

One form of exercise you will find unavoidable in Tokyo is walking. Coming from an area where you may be accustomed to jumping into the car parked just outside your door, you will be surprised to find that after a month or two, a 10 to 20-minute walk from your home to the nearest train is not so long after all. Finding good jogging paths can be difficult in Tokyo, unless you are a really avid runner. Many Tokyoites run the path around the Imperial Garden or Meiji Shrine, but this entails a train or subway ride to reach the grounds. Some of you may be living in the suburbs or near parks and will find comfortable and satisfactory jogging routes, but for those living downtown this may be quite difficult unless you run in the very early morning or late at night.

Transportation (Top)

The main mode of transport in and around Tokyo is the incredibly efficient subway and train network. There are maps available in both romaji and kanji and the signs at the stations are sometimes written in romaji. Although you will likely be confused at first when trying to use the train system, do not worry. Soon enough you will become proficient at reading the maps (especially as your knowledge of kanji increases). Students use the public transportation for commuting, and a commuter's pass (teiki, for use between school and home only) is included in your program costs if you are staying with a host family; students staying in dorms or in their own living arrangements will have to cover commuting costs on their own. Additional transportation fees (anything off your teiki route) are left up to the student. Even though the transportation system is remarkable, you can lose a great deal of time simply commuting; thus, it is important to schedule your time wisely. Make sure to budget time for commuting to and from school when you make your class schedule. One-hour trips (each way) to and from school are not uncommon—you will quickly learn to study or sleep on the train, just like the other commuters.

On nights when you will be out late, it is crucial that you know when the last train will be running. At your transfer stations, it is imperative to learn what time the last train departs and plan when you must leave for the station to make it home in time. There are websites, accessible via your keitai, which allow you to look up train schedules. One example is: http://mobile.ezweb.jp/portal/area/transit

If you do not have a curfew, and you are staying out later than your last train, you may have to stay out all night, which could be against your host-family’s rules. Taxis are always available, but quite expensive. You should know that buses also stop running during the night. Some students will have a curfew. However, families tend to be flexible for special occasions. No matter what, everyone should let their family know what their plans are. Kazaoka-sensei will give you a map and directions on how to get from school to home during orientation. Memorize your commute quickly; if it involves walking, use landmarks to navigate your neighborhood. Getting lost is a good opportunity to practice your survival Japanese.

Other ways of getting around Tokyo are taxis, buses and bicycles. International students in SILS are forbidden from driving, and once you see Tokyo traffic, you will know why (however, being the only CSU international program that permits drinking, it is a fair trade). Your host family will be able to help you find the most convenient ways to get from one place to another, and Kazaoka-sensei can draw maps of any part of Tokyo from memory, it seems. Since Waseda prohibits you from using any motorized vehicle, an international driver’s license will not be necessary. Also, therefore, do not plan to rent a car for travel during your breaks from school.

Getting around TYO is really easy. But first of all, let me just say that you will walk more here than you ever have in your life. So just bring some comfy shoes.

When not walking, 90% of the time you'll be on the trains and subways. There are maps at every station, often in both Japanese and English. Using the maps, you can easily see where to transfer to which lines, and how much each trip will cost (usually only like 1-2 dollars one-way). You should probably buy a Suica Card, which is basically like a convenient card that you put money on and just scan every time you enter the station. That way, you won't have to purchase a ticket every time you wanna take the train.

Other than the trains and subway, you could take a taxi around the city, but those are usually like 10 bucks a trip, minimum. I actually bought myself a bicycle from Picasso (kinda like a Target) for about 130 bucks. If you live near the campus, it's so worth it, since you can get around town a lot quicker than walking, plus save some money by not taking the train everywhere.

Travel (Top)

Though Tokyo is a world in itself, there is a whole world outside of Tokyo that is within immediate reach during your year in Japan, and it is a good idea to plan some sort of travel outside of those trips provided by the CSU program. During winter break and spring break, JR (Japan Rail ) offers a special ticket called the “Seishun 18 kippu,” which costs just a little over ¥10,000 and allows each recipient five days of unlimited use of JR lines, with the exception of the Shinkansen. With proper planning, it is possible to reach Kyoto from Tokyo on regular JR train lines in a day. In addition, ANA offers discounts for young travelers, and you can even withdraw up to 10 student discount coupons for free from vending machines on campus, which give you 40% off certain travel expenses.

If you plan on flying overseas, be sure to go by the Immigration Office in Shinagawa to sign up for re-entry permits, which allow you to keep your student visa valid when you return to Japan. Permits can be purchased for either a single re-entry or for multiple re-entries, so if you plan on flying back and forth between Japan and other countries more than twice, purchasing the multiple re-entry permit will be more cost-effective. When purchasing air flight tickets on-line, most travel agencies will only list the price before the tax and fuel surcharge are added in. Expect the final price to be anywhere between 50% to 100% more than the price listed. If you need help with ticket purchases and any other questions you may have about overseas travel, Kazaoka-sensei will be more than willing to help you. There is also a travel agency at school, in the Co-op building above the University book store, that can offer assistance in planning trips, often times for less Yen than big ticket stations which might treat you as a tourist rather than as a student.

Employment (Top)

Most students of the School of International Liberal Studies find it desirable to work part-time in Tokyo even if just for the experience. Job listings appear in the English language newspapers’ classified sections, or bulletin boards. If your aim in working is to make money (as opposed to gaining experience or making contacts in a field you are interested in), teach English. It pays well and is so easy that, economically speaking, doing anything else is a waste of time. The work includes teaching English to businessmen or students, proofreading or copy editing English, working as a receptionist, or working in a restaurant or bar. The hourly wages are usually good, but unless you work at least two hours in succession, it is quite possible to consume so much time traveling to and from work that the wages would not be worth the effort.

If you want to work, you will need to apply for a work permit from the Immigration Office located in Shinagawa. Prior to visiting the office, you will need to receive a document called the fukushinsho and fill out a work permit application form from the University. You will need to have your Alien Registration Card, Passport, and Student ID card on hand as well. Upon submission of the required documents to the Shinagawa Immigration Office, expect to wait around two to three weeks to receive a postcard stating that your work permit is ready to be picked up at the Immigration Office.

SILS currently permits students to work up to 14 hours a week, and English teaching is by far the most common type of job. Hourly wages for teaching are commonly ¥2,000 to ¥3,500 per hour, plus a transportation allowance. Most of the best paying jobs are not advertised; rather, they are learned about through interpersonal networks that you can begin to plug into once you arrive and meet people. Due to the recession, English teaching jobs have been harder to find and also wages have dropped compared to previous years, but they are still relatively easy to come by.

Social Life and Activities (Top)

If you want to function normally in Japan, you will need a keitai (cellular phone). There is just no way of getting around it. You may be living far from school, so using your home telephone as a base is out of the question, and inconsiderate to your family. Since so many people have keitai, people most often make somewhat fluid plans, so you will want to make yourself easy to get hold of. Plus, since cellular phones are so common in Japan, it is getting harder and harder to find pay phones in Tokyo.

College students usually meet their friends at a known meeting point, like a particular train station, and generally spend their time together at sporting events, coffee shops, clubs, movies, concerts, or bars. Rarely do Japanese young people visit one another in their homes.

Dating is also quite different. Couples usually meet outside their homes and their parents may not know whom their son or daughter is dating. Public displays of affection are rare. When Japanese young people enter into a relationship, often only after a few dates, they can become quite serious. Thus, a word of caution is necessary for both men and women. It is often a great novelty and a status symbol for Japanese to have an American girlfriend or boyfriend, and any approaches should be taken quite seriously. Make not just your feelings, but also your study situation and plans for afterward, known early to prevent misunderstandings.

Students oftentimes go out in groups (with club or organization members) to clubs, pubs and restaurants. During the Waseda Festival, Waseda/Keio baseball games, and graduation period, many groups have drinking parties, as previously mentioned in the “Extracurricular Activities” section.

Roppongi is a district well- known for its clubs and cosmopolitan atmosphere, and it is usually full of foreigners, especially Americans. Shinjuku is also known for its lively nightlife.  Although many young people go to Shibuya as well for its various offerings, you would do well to be somewhat wary of Kabuki-cho.

Some important sources of information concerning activities occurring in and around Tokyo are the Tokyo Journal, Tour Companion, and Weekender, in addition to the English-language daily newspapers. These news and feature papers are invaluable guides, and can be found at major hotels, bookstores and train stations. You can even arrange to have some sent to your home.

Your attitude toward the social customs of the Japanese is important. As long as you keep an open mind and an adventurous spirit, you will come to enjoy your new activities so much that, just like students in the past, you may not find enough time in the year to do all the things you want and attend classes!

Postal Services (Top)

Post Offices in Japan offer far more services than they do in America; in addition to handling postage and mail, they also often provide banking services , bill payment services, and ATMs (as mentioned in the “Money and Banking” section). Post offices are subdivided into main offices and branch offices, where the smaller branch offices are easier to find but are slightly less equipped than the main offices.

Try to avoid mailing any packages home, as it is very expensive. But if you have to, shipping through the post office will generally be the cheapest option. Airmail takes about a week, but if you are sending large packages, surface mail will be a far more inexpensive alternative. However, plan ahead, because it could take at least 4-6 weeks for your package to be delivered.

If you are having your belongings shipped to you from the United States, it is a good idea to label the package as "Used Personal Effects" to avoid customs charges. However, if you use private carriers such as DHL, EMS or FedEx, be prepared to pay customs charges when your package arrives, usually around ¥4,000. If you have already sent your belongings by mail before you arrive in Japan, when you fill out the customs form on the plane make sure to include these items as "unaccompanied baggage," which will help you avoid any tax problems.

Telephone Communication (Top)

It is advisable to buy a cell phone (keitai) from AU because they are the most affordable. There are AU stores close to campus and all over town. Make sure to show your Student ID card so that you receive a student discount (gakuwari) on your phone bill. However, students under 20 may not be able to purchase a cell phone because in Japan 20 is the legal age, and some cell phone shops require sponsors for minors. Some shops in smaller neighborhoods may be more lenient with this policy.

The cheapest plan with the student discount is about ¥2,200 a month. With AU, you can purchase 10,000 packets for ¥1,000 extra per month, which gives you much more flexibility in terms of sending e-mails and using AU’s on-line features, such as web browsing and GPS. The price and quality of cell phones range from free to about ¥20,000. Older models are available for free whereas newer models with games, television reception and other features are more expensive. Depending on what is important, students may decide to buy cheap or expensive phones. Think wisely because you will only use them for 10 months. Also, keep in mind that since the AU contract is for one year, there will be a ¥3,000 early cancellation charge to close your keitai account when you leave. So, remember to set that money aside.

When you sign up for a keitai plan, you will be required to have at least a receipt of your application for an Alien Registration Card, so it will usually be impossible to sign up for a keitai until after orientation when you know where you will be living and therefore will be capable of applying for an Alien Registration Card.

Keitai bills can be paid either directly from your credit card, or by bringing your monthly bill to the local convenience store and paying at the cash register.

There are quite a few differences between cell phones in America and cell phones in Japan. First of all, you are charged for outgoing calls only; incoming calls are free. Per-minute charges are quite high. So, most people communicate by c-mail and e-mail through their keitai. C-mail can only be sent between AU customers’ cell phones (equivalent to SMS in the States). E-mails can be much longer, may contain attachments and links to web sites, and can be sent from both keitai-to-keitai and keitai-to-PC. Ultimately, c-mail and e-mail will likely be your main methods of communication.

Depending on your plan, you may or may not be able to dial overseas. Certain plans require a prepaid card while others deduct international phone charges on a bill separate from your regular monthly expenses. If possible, have your family and friends call you from America. If the need to make a call to the States arises, dial 0061-1, 0051-1, or 0041-1 and then the area code and phone number (e.g. when calling Los Angeles, dial 0061-1-213-555-5555). Don’t forget the time difference ! A more cost-effective alternative to dialing internationally is VOIP (voice over internet protocol). Programs like Skype (www.skype.com) allow you to talk computer-to-computer for free and to dial landline phone numbers from your computer, at a fraction of the per-minute costs incurred by dialing from your keitai.

Shopping (Top)

Shopping in Tokyo is an experience in itself. Department stores average six to eight stories high, and carry everything, but are usually the most expensive places to shop. The basement floors are usually prepared food/groceries (both Japanese and Western), while the top floor is usually the bargain center. Recently, since the collapse of the Japanese economic "bubble", discount stores have gained popularity, carrying everything from electronics to clothing. Both American and European brands are available, but check into the Japanese counterparts. The quality is about the same, and you will find the prices lower. There are lots of discount sources that you can ask your Japanese friends about.

The more traditional small shops are also worth exploring. Because of their size, they specialize in certain goods, e.g., rice, ceramics, books, or vegetables. The shopkeepers are much more interesting than the department store clerks are, and the service is more personalized. You will also find the smaller shops are cheaper than department stores. New cameras and equipment are expensive, so check stores carrying factory reconditioned, guaranteed goods, especially Nikon and Canon, since the price is about 50% off new prices.

A convenient place to obtain books and school supplies is the Waseda University Co-op Plaza, located on the main campus. This student store, in addition to selling supplies, clothing, electrical appliances and snacks at discount prices, houses its own travel agency and one-night film developing center. The school’s martial arts gym shares the grounds and a student cafeteria is nearby.

In Tokyo you can buy practically anything. However you will feel you are paying almost twice as much as you are used to when you compare it to America. It is usually unavoidable so be prepared for it.

The Gaijin Syndrome (Top)

99% of the population is ethnically Japanese, so if you look like a foreigner, people (especially children) will stare at you. Tokyoites are more used to foreigners and it might not be such a problem there, but when it happens, there is not much you can do about it. Drunks you encounter on the trains in the evening can be especially annoying. Females will probably be more aggravated by this than males (more about this later). And you might notice “reserved seating for gaijin”, meaning people may not want to sit next to you on trains. Whether they are being rude or just worrying that you may speak to them in English is a matter of debate, but this is likely to happen. Getting angry will not help. So, just relax and enjoy the fact that at least you are not being crushed against the walls like everyone else. Because you are a gaijin, the Japanese will likely presume you to be less than proficient with proper social behavior. And so, the Japanese give foreigners leeway rarely afforded their own countrymen. This "gaijin license" is exhibited commonly on trains where a foreigner’s loud nature is taken for granted and contrasts with the general quietness of the surrounding Japanese. Other activities that are generally frowned upon include eating in public, putting on make-up in public, and kissing in public. Of course, you will encounter others not listed but if you approach these situations with an open, inquisitive mind you may appreciate the Japanese social customs even more. Please don't abuse this license, though, because the Japanese are already wary of foreigners. Also, realize that many Japanese understand a great deal of English despite their difficulties in speaking it.

Aside from these few problems, you will be impressed by the kindness, helpfulness, and honesty of the Japanese. If you lose something, every possible attempt is made to return it to you, provided you go through the right channels. There is little theft in Japan. However, you still need to watch your things! Tokyo is probably the safest large city in the world, and it is relatively safe to walk down city streets at night. But it will still be good to keep your guard up for any rare criminals which have been seen for instance in dense, touristy shopping areas such as Harajuku.

At one time or another during your stay in Japan, you may encounter some form of special treatment, either good or bad, which may result in embarrassment or discomfort. People may praise you for the smallest of things, like knowing how to use chopsticks, buy a train ticket, or use a Japanese-style toilet. This is an unfortunate side effect of American travelers having historically been terrible at adapting to local customs. Try not to be offended, and take comfort in the fact that your behavior is an improvement over those who came before you.

The Japanese can be a very race-conscious people. They may have certain ideas about you, just as you may have certain ideas about them. Both you and they could easily be wrong, so be open-minded and flexible. Remember that you have to adapt to Japan because the entire populous of Japan is certainly not going to adapt to you. If you are of Asian ancestry and coming to Japan for the first time, you will be hit with a dual problem. On one hand, you may be expected to speak fluent Japanese and know all the correct behavior. On the other hand, you may be perceived and treated as gaijin by the Japanese and they will be surprised that you know how to use chopsticks. Be prepared to deal with some confusion and frustration because of mistaken identity. At the same time, you will experience a kind of anonymity you may never have experienced before. Usually, however, as soon as they hear you speak they will know you are not native Japanese.

Do not underestimate the potential challenges that you will be faced with, especially if you have never lived away from home. You will be confronted with communication and cultural problems that, particularly during that first month, could leave you feeling lonely and depressed. But all this is normal and to be expected. Do not despair--later, you will look back and wonder how you got yourself into such a state. Many students fall in love with Japan and decide to remain after the end of their time at Waseda University.

Being Female in Japan (Top)

There are a few things that females should pay extra attention to as they pack and prepare for Japan. First, it is a good idea that you bring a supply of cosmetics since prices are approximately three times higher than in the States. Also, taller women and those who wear larger sizes have experienced difficulty finding stockings and underwear that fit well. It is also advisable that you bring a sufficient supply of whatever form of contraception you choose. The birth control pill was only recently legalized in Japan, so it is not a common method of contraception and is more difficult to obtain. Tampons and pads are of the same quality as home, although the variety of tampons is slightly less and you may not be able to find your preferred brand.

Be aware of the differences in the social roles of men and women in Japan. Although many Japanese may not be consciously aware of it, due to the patriarchal structure of Japanese society, women are still sometimes viewed as subordinate. Such tacit understandings may affect your treatment by either sex of older generations, but with your Japanese peers you will most likely be treated the same way you are in the States. At home, do not be surprised if you are expected to help with chores such as housecleaning and dishes. Some host families may expect more help from girls than boys. Men may flirt with you inappropriately. If you're not interested, ignore them completely. If they persist, the shock of being told, "Quit bothering me!" in Japanese by a foreigner is usually enough of a shock to scare them off (yet another reason to brush up on your colloquialisms). On the other hand, some women have found that if they respond in Japanese, the offending man will only press harder, now knowing that the foreign woman can understand them. We cannot offer an easy answer to how you should react. However, feel free to talk to Kazaoka-sensei who will likely be able to give some advice. Men groping women on crowded trains has become a large enough issue that, during rush hours, the front cars of many major subway lines are for women’s use only. These cars can to become severely crowded, but to many the discomfort is preferable to being pressed against men in a slightly less crowded car. Although there is a growing awareness of this problem, you cannot always expect others to come to your rescue. It is important to be strong and speak out to stop what is happening to you. The suggested reaction is to grab the offender’s hand, raise it high in the air and yell “chikan!” which will identify him as a molester. For girls who are unable to yell out themselves, you can buy a small device that does so for you, shouting phrases such as “tasukete!” (Help me!). Furthermore, research has found that those who appear shy, timid, or weak are most likely to be targeted. When dealing with a pervert on a train, one piece of advice given by Japanese students is to speak angrily in English. A barrage of unintelligible threats in a foreign language is enough to both surprise and/or frighten many Japanese.

Japan may be safe, but just as in America you should be careful and aware of your surroundings. Some neighborhoods and districts of the city are safer than others. Again, keep in mind three major risk factors of personal safety: being alone, using drugs and being out at night.

All this is just a part of the experience of living in a different culture that may treat women differently than men. If you use common sense and take precautions, you will be able to enjoy the public security for which Japan is well known.

Summary (Top)

We can not possibly share every lesson we have learned here with you, but we do have some general advice that we hope you will keep in mind. You are responsible for making or breaking your experience in Japan; how you perceive situations has a huge impact on how you deal with them. Always remember to be flexible and humble. Keep your chin up, but your head down.  Many things are different from America and getting upset because “that’s not how we do it at home” will only hurt you and those with whom you interact; you are in their country so do not behave like you own the place.  The Japanese tend to treat all foreigners differently than they treat other Japanese, but that does not necessarily mean you are above or outside of their social hierarchy.  You will be there to learn, and you can learn something from every person you meet, even the other international students. 

Play safe and have fun!

The following is a list of various items and their prices in Japan in yen. To know the current cost in U.S. dollars, compare with the current exchange rate for best accuracy:

Miscellaneous Items:
Japan Times newspaper (one issue) ¥160
Package of Gum for fresh breath on the train ¥120-150
Postage for one letter to USA ¥110
Can of Soda (vending machine) ¥110 - ¥150
Soda (restaurant) ¥250 - ¥350
Coffee (restaurant) ¥250 - ¥300
Espresso Drinks (Cafe) ¥500
Movie (student price) ¥1,500; Wednesdays for women ¥1000
Newsweek (International Edition) ¥650
Club Entrance Fees:  ¥1,500 - ¥4,500
Hanes T-shirt (l00% cotton) ¥850
Converse Hi-tops ¥5,000
Nike (basic style) ¥15,000
CD's ¥1,900 - ¥ 4,000
Coin-op Washer ¥200
Coin-op Dryer ¥100/10 min.

Not-so-expensive places to go, food to eat and things to buy in Tokyo:
¥100 Store (known as hyaku-en or hyakkin)
¥100~¥200 Vending machine between Takadanobaba and Waseda
¥250 All you can drink “American” coffee at Mister Donuts
Waseda Cafeterias
Free haircuts for Waseda students near Takadanobaba Station
Free cell phones available with year-long service agreement

Hub’s happy hour
Cheap bento around campus
Roppongi clubs (some waive the entrance fee before 11pm)
Cheap clothing stores in Harajuku and Ikebukuro
BLDY, family restaurant near Takadanobaba: All- you- can- drink for ¥540, as long as you’re eating.
Korea Plaza in Shinokubo. One stop from Takadanobaba on the Yamanote line. Phone cards to America--90 min. ¥1000, 270 min. ¥3000, 450 min. ¥5000 (Be aware of which phone you're calling from.)
"3 Minutes Happiness" - cheap make-up store in Shibuya
Book off - Bookstore chain carrying used CDs, books (all over Japan)
Virgin Megastore in Shinjuku with a coffee shop--when you buy a drink you can use the internet free for as long as you want.
Yoshinoya and Denny’s restaurants in Japan are much better than in America
Jeans Mate – 24-hour street clothing store chain
Uniqlo – similar to Old Navy or Gap, but less expensive