First month reflections

I arrived in Japan exactly a month ago from today, but it simultaneously feels like I just got here AND that I have been here forever .  It’s weird… and I don’t know what to think about this, but whatever.  I am coping with living out of home for the first time, I am coping with living out of the country for the first time, and my room is still super presentable and not a total mess at all.

Major accomplishments, in my opinion.  I am coping, and I am surviving, and I am having one hell of a time doing it.

So… What have I learnt in this first month living in Japan?  What sort of life secrets have I discovered?

First of all, budgeting is nearly impossible.   Even though they sent me a form that listed all the expenses I would have to pay whilst I’m here, even though I had figured out previously weekly and monthly budgets and all, this DOES NOT help at all.  There are so many hidden expenses when you get here that I am crying at how fast my cash is going.  Examples: bedsheet costs, things that you need for your dorm like soap and bathmats and detergents, field trip costs, textbooks for Japanese class, student-organised welcome parties that will cost you ¥¥¥¥¥…

But all in all, it’s worth it.  All the money I have spent so far, I have not regretted at all.  A few tips that I’ve picked up from the older exchange students and other peoples are:

  • Write down all your expenses so you at least know where your money is going
  • Go to one big event a week. Unless the second event is something you promised to go to or else forfeit your first child, one big yen spending event a week will still get you heaps of funtimes and parties.  After all, everyone else you’re hanging out with are students living on budgets too.  So chances are you may be missing out on some massive party in town, but someone else is having a movie night in their room, and that’s fun and FREE.
  • Control your food money a week. In Fukuoka, food is cheaper to get than in the other big cities like Osaka and Tokyo, so it’s not hard to get a good feed for maybe 500 yen per main meal.  If you want to know what the standards for an expensive meal are…
    • Lunch: over ¥1000
    • Dinner: over ¥2000

This does not include snack money hehehehe

  • Alcohol is really cheap. Don’t go too crazy on building up your liquor cabinet.  EVEN IF THE ALCOHOL IS JUST STARING AT YOU AS YOU MAKE YOUR WAY FROM THE BREAD AISLE TO THE VEGETABLE SECTION, DON’T DO IT.
  • And if you like shopping, go on one trip a month. Everything is cheaper here, but that doesn’t mean you can afford to go out and impulse buy every time you walk past the store.  So dedicate one day where you know you have money to spend and then make it raaaaaaain.

Moving on away from money…

Japanese is hard.  Talking in Japanese is hard.  Unless you make time to go and speak to Japanese people on a day to day basis/have done exchange in Japan before and so you’re used to conversing in it, having Japanese thrown at you 24/7 is confronting.  Just watching anime or dramas all day is not enough, because being able to understand what they’re saying 100% does not equal to being able to respond to what they’re saying 100%.

I mean, I studied for three years before I came here (albeit not really studying as hard as I should have anyway…), and that was just enough for me to have enough vocab to be like ‘Where is ___?’ or ‘One ramen please’.  There are a lot of little phrases that you just don’t learn in class, and for you to pick up conversational every day Japanese, you’ll need to have lived here before.

What I think really helped me with my speaking confidence (which is still close to zero…) was that Kyudai has a tutor system where a local Japanese student is assigned as your tutor and is supposed to be your new best friend slash mother slash personal assistant slash Godsend, and for the first few days I was here my tutor was amazing and took me to all the places around the dorm and took me out to eat, and hearing what she was saying helped me kind of slide into conversing in Japanese.  Additionally, she went to high school in America, so it has been very easy for her to explain things to me so that I know what to do next time I need to deal with it.

Something else that also helped as well was that when I went on my #tokyolo trip, the friend that I was with most of the time did not speak Japanese at all.  Since I somewhat knew what I was doing, I ended up being the main speaker for the entire trip with no one to rely on to help me translate.  Especially because I had just gotten to Japan and was still like ‘What is Japanese can you eat it’, being forced to approach Japanese people to ask for directions, or to order food really made me think of how to communicate, and I think that made my brain transition into ‘YOU CAN JAPANESE’ faster than if I had not gone on the trip.

And in regards to keigo… no one cares.  They know you’re an exchange student the minute you open your mouth, and they don’t expect you to use it at all.  As long as you know enough keigo to understand what store people are saying to you when you buy things, it’s enough.  If you do use it, that’s just bonus brownie points for you, and you may or may not give off the impression that you’re fluent and so they stop speaking any English to you.  So unless your Japanese is actually somewhat fluent, don’t do it.

I mean, everyone is really friendly in Japan.  I apparently live in a sort of dangerous area in Fukuoka, but I am still perfectly safe if I go on a snack run by myself to the conbini down the road at 4am in the morning.  The other exchange students want to get to know you, local students may be shy because they can’t really English but they still want to get to know you… put yourself out there, and you’ll definitely make friends.

One friend once told me to ‘never say no’ when I’m on exchange.  If someone invites you to things, don’t say no.  This led me to a bar trivia the second night I was here, a comedy night followed by 飲み放題 (all you can drink) the third night I was here, movie nights with the older students, cooking parties with host mamas, drinks, dancing, karaoke…  You can say no, especially if you have an ICS assignment due soon, but it’s a lot easier to get to know people if you’re around and hanging out all the time.

And it’s fun.  If you think this violates my ‘one big event a week’ thing, it doesn’t, because errbody else be poor as well, especially because a lot of them are older exchange students who have been travelling it up and definitely have less money than you, the freshly arrived student, to spend, so I haven’t really missed out on any big events yet~

I’ve learnt this much in one month… let’s see if I still agree with anything I’ve said here in another month’s time.

#tokyolo: LaQua Spa

We were drained, we were tired, we were spent.  We had given all our energy to TVXQ and the red ocean.  And then… we were greeted with an oasis in the midst of the city for our distraught souls.

The night before, we had decided to go to check out LaQua Spa (next to Tokyo Dome) because supposedly they had so many therapeutic things in their waters, and because you could stay there overnight and we wanted to try staying overnight at an onsen once.

So we went forth into the rain, entering the lift, and when the doors open, a quiet lobby greeted us.  Shoes off, following the other silent people to the counter, we were greeted with friendly concierges who gave us a locker key and directed us to another counter inside the ‘women only’ area.  We had to choose between three designs, and having chosen an orange top-and-pants combo (sadly, they had no yukata option) in a bag with towels, we got changed and had a bit of an exploration.

The Spa complex had three levels; levels dedicated to onsen and bathing, levels dedicated to sleeping and resting and lounging about, levels with food, with massages, with treatments. It was all very modern and high-class hotel feeling, and people were polite and stayed quiet, not wanting to disturb their neighbours.  But since the whole point was soaking our souls away, we went back to the locker areas, stripped, showered, and got into the baths.

The water was gloriously hot.  The water was slightly salty from the minerals.  The steam made everything softer and more welcoming.

I never wanted to get out.

It wasn’t my first time in an onsen, but it never gets old, bathing naked with a whole bunch of other naked women in waters that are supposed to purify your skin and all that, with everyone just minding their own business and not intruding in anyone’s space. LaQua had an indoor and outdoor area so we tried both (the outdoor one had really hot water, so we went back inside pretty quickly), there were sauna with different temperatures from 45, to 70, to 90 (the 70 was the best, the 90 one was actually an oven), and little things like cold baths and mist showers and stuff made everything better.

And when we decided to get out and get dressed, the spa had hairdryers and lotions and moisturisers and heat-protective sprays.  There were even cotton buds and cotton pads to guarantee that you could look after your skin and hair after your bath to make sure you end up looking like perfection.

After we prettified ourselves up to 1000%, we made our way downstairs to the lounges and found ourselves comfortable armchairs in the women’s only room, and slowly, we drifted to sleep…

The next day, when we made our way out of LaQua, still half asleep and trying to figure out our next move, we realised that more people stayed overnight at the place than we thought.  A lot of office workers and middle-aged women were there, making their way out of the onsen with neat suits and cleaned-up hair.

Or maybe they got to LaQua early in the morning, and prepared for their day by soaking in the baths.

But who knows? If you ever feel like spending a night somewhere comfortable and relatively cheap, just go to LaQua.  They actually have everything you need, and it’s worth the experience.


#tokyolo: impressions
#tokyolo: Lockup
#tokyolo: TVXQ

#tokyolo: Lockup

The sign on the street is inconspicuous.  Black and red in the midst of other colourful signs.  ‘Lockup‘, it declares.  It doesn’t look at all scary, and it certainly does not invoke any sort of trepidation or anticipation for what you should expect upstairs.

So up you go.  The elevator dings, she presses ‘5’, it zooms up… and you’re there.

The doors open.

And all you see is a dark dungeon space with blood red floors.  There are two doorways.  The one on the right has a door. Wooden, light-filled, laughter drifting through the doors as people enter and exit.  The other, on the left.  No door blocks your view of a long, dark corridor.

You look at your friend.  She looks at you.  This is more than you anticipated.

“It looks fun! Let’s go!”  Her eyes are gleaming.  She said earlier she has wanted to come here for a long time.  And you swallow a gulp and smile tightly.

“Sure.”

And off you go, two girls linked arm in arm, down an unknown passage with empty jail cells along the side.  You know it’s fake, but chills still creep up your spine as you stride past all these half open iron doors.

The corridor seems to be unending.  Your friend clutches your arm a little tighter.

“This is getting creepy.”

BANG!  You both jump, you scream, you clutch at each other, and you start exclaiming as rattling chains start to sound.  You reach a door that looks like a sci-fi electronic door, and you both push it open, hoping that you have finally reached the bar.

But no.  That would not be enough of a thrill now, would it?

Instead of being greeted by the sight of a restaurant, you see nothing.  It is completely pitch-black.  You clutch at your friend, making sure she is still there, and the door swings shut behind you completely.  Sudden lights blink on and off, flashing just enough to show you the way.  Dark empty spaces are all around you.  Mirrors deceive your way.  You cannot see anything except what is revealed by the flashing lights.

Your grip on your friend gets tighter, and she is practically hugging you to her.  The only other way to tell that she is there is because you are both screaming over the groaning, creaking noises of the maze.

You both turn a corner, hoping that it is finally over, and it is! The door is right ahead.  You both start to hurry towards it, squeezing through a one-man passageway together so you are never separated, getting back out into a more open space, when a light flashes beside your friend.

A white, bloody head stares at you, before the light blinks off, and blinks on again.

You both practically burst through the door, exclaiming loudly, laughing in relief, that it is all over.  You have made it to the bar, and upbeat J-Pop music is playing loudly and cheerfully, helping calm your still-beating heart.  But it is quiet, and you cannot really see any waiters around, no customers around.

You both wander around, hoping to find another living soul, and finally, a stray waiter walks past with empty glasses.  She asks if you’re going home, and you try to say that you just got here, but you can’t.  All your Japanese has left you, and you cannot for the life of you remember how to even say anything coherent in English, let alone in Japanese.

Thankfully, another waiter comes, and somehow they figure it out, and lead you back to the exit of the mirror-maze, where another waiter, this time cosplaying a police woman, comes out and handcuffs you before leading the two of you to your table.  Your friend is laughing, she takes a picture, the police-waitress half closes the door to your ‘cell’, and all seems to be well.

You have survived.

And so you both look through the themed menu with drinks that seem like they were created from failed high school Chemistry experiments.  You both choose, you both order, and just as the drinks arrive and you have both taken pictures, the lights go out.  You scream.

And you KNOW this is not a power-outage.

They aren’t stopping with just a terrifyingly terrifying entry.  They are going to scare the shizz out of you whilst you eat your meal.

A siren begins to sound.  Chains rattle, doors grate open, and more cosplaying workers come out, shouting warnings through megaphones.

“Prisoners have escaped!  Be careful and stay in your cells!”

UV lights come on, and you look at your friend in terror across the table.

And the door to your table opens.

You scream, thinking that it is a monster, but no.  It is a waiter, bringing your two other friends to your table because they want the key back to the hostel room.  And they are exclaiming about the bar, and complaining about the whole thing, and they cut through the terror and bring back some normalcy.

They are also sitting between you and the door, and therefore protecting you from anything that may come through the door.

Because things do come through the door.  Workers in long white robes come in, leering at you in masks.  They peer through the door, peer through the window, and every time they do so, one of the newcomers starts exclaiming really loudly.

“You really look good in that mask! You are so handsome!”  And that makes you laugh, and slowly your terror subsides.

Soon, but not soon enough, the lights come back on, and the J-Pop starts again.  Your drinks are mediocre, but you and your friend don’t really care anymore.  Maybe you get scared too easily.  Maybe other people come here and think it’s fun.  But regardless, you down your drinks, you all get up to leave, and you escape from that place, quickly walking through one last red-lit corridor as you follow the pair that came late back to the lifts.

Your arms are linked firmly with your friend’s, and you don’t let go until you step back out of the lift into the well-lit streets of Ikebukuro.


#tokyolo: impressions
#tokyolo: TVXQ
#tokyolo: LaQua Spa

Once in Japan…

Five first day observations in Japan:

  1. People really don’t jay walk across roads. Unless they’re foreign.  The only two instances of jay walking I’ve seen today were both committed by white people
  2. Japan is not crowded unless you’re in Tokyo or Osaka. I was travelling on the subway at peak hour, and I managed to score a seat, despite the obviously roaring crowds pushing and shoving their way onto the train.
  3. Traffic lights in Japan sound a tune or a rhythm of sounds for blind people when they turn green.
  4. For all its advanced technology and such, Japan really has no wifi or Internet anywhere.
  5. All stores and department stores seem to have loyalty cards for points. At every place I’ve been to today, I’ve been asked everywhere if I had a card.  (answer: mottenaidesu 持ってないです [I don’t have one]).

At the moment, I have no wifi at the dorms or Internet of my own to connect to, and so I’m writing this on a Word document… by the time I’ve actually posted this, I would have already been in Japan for a few days at least.

But whatever.  Posts are posts, belatedly or no hahaha

Regardless of my Internet situation, I’m not as excited as I thought I was.  Breathing that first breath of Japanese air, feeling the blast of refreshingly chilly wind from the still-cold weather as I stepped out of the plane, seeing the mountains that look like any other mountains but different… those did make me excited, and I caught myself grinning and getting slightly emotional (no single tear happened, unfortunately.  Would’ve made for a good story. ‘That time, when a single tear was shed as I stepped off the plane into Japan for the first time…’).

But once that was over, and the mundane reality of going through Immigration and Customs and Baggage Claim took over, my excitement kind of got killed off.  Even when I found out that because I’m special part of the International program and not some other thing, I got a personal taxi ride to the dorms, and the taxi driver and I had a successful, albeit slightly broken and stilted, conversation in Japanese, nothing really made me go OMGSH I’M ACTUALLY IN JAPAN I’MA GO PEE MY PANTS IN EXCITEMENT NOW.

I mean, meeting my ‘tutor’, or ‘buddy’ and having her help me navigate restaurants, shopping centres, cafés, the subway system, and the streets surrounding my dorm was pretty amazing (her name is Haruna, she studied in New Jersey, U.S.A during her middle and high school years and so has an American-Japanese accent, she does Education and is super nice), having one of the senior JTW students come down and introduce himself and welcome me and give me ice-cream was heart-warming, but still… at the moment, Japan is feeling just like any other Asian country, just with cleaner roads and super polite people.

Doesn’t help that I still feel a bit nauseous from the plane ride (CURSE YOU, TRAVEL SICKNESS) and unpacking is a massive chore that I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy.

Maybe once I get to know more people and I really get into the swing of studies and exchange life, the excitement will start building and I’ll be like, ‘I’m so amazed I’m actually here and I’m so blessed and thankful and yay’.

But for now, I’ll just quietly go through the days, enjoying the stillness and peace, slowly getting to know everyone, and keep observing, so that I can start writing posts about life in Japan to prepare for all the nugus who want to come hahaha.

On the Road to Japan, Pt. IV

Packing is such a chore.

How do I decide just how much I should bring of everything?  When do I decide that too much, is too much?  Where do I say stop to bringing little things that don’t really amount to much, until I’ve brought too many and it’s taken over half of my suitcase?  What do I bring, and what do I buy when I get there?

I mean, for camps and short term trips, it’s easy to pack for.  After all, it’s over in a week, and things aren’t essential when you can return to it in five days.  I used to laugh at how much my mum always wanted to pack when I left for these things, but now I wonder how my mum has packed for all those long extended family trips and known just how much we needed for each trip.

Especially since she had to pack for three people.  I’m only packing for one, and I’m struggling.

This just makes me realise how much I don’t ever want children or any sort of dependents.  Or they can pack their own things (nekminnit the kids pack an entire suitcase of candy and toys and there’s nothing practical whatsoever inside the case.  Worse, they bring toy guns and warfare toys and we all get detained at the airport).

And how do I pack away the things that are intangible? In-jokes and impromptu DnMs? Those Looks between friends? Meeting gazes across a crowded room and making faces at each other before bursting into laughter?  The warmth from a multitude of hugs?  I know I’ll meet new friends and these will happen anyway, but it’s not the same.

Having said that though, it will be great to be away from everyone familiar for a year.  People are going to change, relationships are going to change, I’m going to change, and all these changes will make something new and something fresh and it will all be very exciting to reacquaint myself with the familiar and be pleasantly (hopefully) surprised at how fresh everything has become.

And now I’m going to stop, because I’m starting to sound like a twelvie on tumblr philosophising on life.  Let’s see what I say when I look back on all this when I come back in a year’s time.

Three more days to go!

On the Road to Japan, Pt. III

I was expecting more at our pre-departure briefing a couple of days ago, to be honest.  I mean, even though I knew it was probably all filled with information that I knew or I could find out myself on documents they posted online, but really, they are sending students off for a year into an unknown land.  And being part of the Japan major, they’ve already sent off thirteen (I think) other sets of students off in similar meetings, and this is hardly the first year that they’ve run the program, sooooooo you would think they’d have more pertinent information or whatever.

But no.  The only thing we learnt, or got, was our airplane tickets.  The insurance stuff, they had covered in a previous meeting last year.  The things about the airplane things, they could’ve covered in five minutes, since the information is all typed up really neatly on a sheet.  The information about our actual major, all online in the subject folder thing on the uni system.

Ah well.  It’s obligatory, and it’s a chance for them to make sure they’ve said and covered everything, so that if we have any questions or mess up, they can be all like WE TOLD YOU SO and laugh in our faces.

It was also great to see and meet up with everyone that’s going on exchange with me, because it’s probably the last time I’ll see them before I either see them in Japan, or when we come back, or… never… XD

Anyways, I guess the meeting kinda made it a bit more real, because seeing the actual ticket makes it a bit more substantial in my head, and it’s kinda hitting me not really, but definitely, I’m feeling it more than this time last year.

Being able to finally get my visa also helps.  I’ve heard the photo turns out really ugly.  Hopefully it’s not too bad, but I’m not expecting much… especially since photos for these official things never turn up nice anyway so ah well! Whatever! Once I get it next week, I’ll know!

On the Road to Japan, Pt II

There’s now officially twenty-one days until my departure for the Land of the Rising Sun.  I thought I would find out when I left a lot later, but somehow or other they told me early.  So here we are.

Twenty-one days to go.

And on hearing that, EVERYONE ups their compulsion to ask me the same questions:

‘Are you excited?’ (No.  And then they tell me they’re excited for me.  Why, thank you.  Please continue to be excited for me, because then I’ll start feeling somewhat excited too).

‘Have you packed yet?’ (No.  And I doubt I will be until right before I leave for the airport.  Three weeks is so far awayyyyyy.)

‘Are you ready?’ (Probably not.  But I’m not sure what I need to be ready for anyway, so I’m going to say yes.)

Although I have started moving things I want to bring into the lounge room so that I don’t forget to pack it later, because it’s okay for me to spread my belongings all around the house, since it’ll be gone in three weeks anyway.  And I have started making lists of what I want to bring.  People who just came back from the exchange all tell me, ‘Don’t bring too much!’ But what is too much? I’m packing for a year… where is the line between too little, and too much?

I suspect buying a $5 fleece blanket throw thing is probably considered ‘too much’.  But it’s comfortable.  And it’s red.  I can suffer how to bring it back once I get to it, this time next year.

Anyway, not much is still yet happening.  I feel like I’ve just been waiting it out, these last few weeks, because I don’t really know what to do to prepare except quietly catch up with friends and buy essential things like cameras and laptops (because tech is obviously the most essential thing to my life hahaha).  I’m not feeling any sort of excitement yet, because it still hasn’t really sunk in that I’m leaving in three weeks.  And I have no schedule to follow. There are no classes to fill up my days, work is sporadic, and there are no events to plan, no meetings to go to.

This freedom is what I imagine retirement to be like.  Nothing to do, just waiting my days out.  Except the journey at the end of the waiting is different.

The only things that I have been planning are the holidays and trips that I plan to go on, which shows exactly where my priorities are, when I don’t even know what the academic calendar looks like.

Ah well.  The pre-departure briefing is in a week, and I hope that gives me more of a framework to base my excitement on.  If not… I’ll just keep lazing around living the phetlyf until I realise there’s only ten hours till my flight and my suitcases are still empty.