Before arriving in Japan as a student studying abroad, I didn’t fully know what to expect: I didn’t know what kinds of necessities I would buy for myself or my room, the types of shops that would be available in Tokyo, the food options I would have, the best ways of surviving a subway ride… There turned out to be more than a few things I wish I had known before stepping off the taxi and walking into my room at the Kitazono Women’s Dorm, and some insider info I wish I had heard before waltzing into TUJ for my first class in January. After more than a month in Japan, I found the answers to all of these questions, and the answers to new questions that arose as I adapted to life here. I’m sure there will be many more before my last day in Japan, but I’ve compiled a list of some things you might want to keep in mind before you study abroad at Temple’s Japan Campus.
1. The Subway
The subway system in Japan is very efficient and clean — nothing like the ones you’re used to in Philadelphia, but unlike in Philly it’s ok to push and nudge people around; in the early mornings and evenings the cars are literally packed with people heading to and from work. People turn around and give a little push to pack themselves in to catch the train. As there’s no “it’s full so I’ll get the next one,” I often times find myself wishing I had worn more layers because sometimes it does get stuffy and heated in the subway cars from all the people inside. Also, if you miss your train, there should be another heading in the same direction within five to seven minutes at most stations. This is helpful to know before you panic about getting somewhere on time — in Philly the subway trains can sometimes run pretty late and mess up your schedule, but for the most part its timing and the frequency of its trains are comparable to that of Tokyo’s subway system—Tokyo just does it cleaner!
If you’re an adventurous eater at home in America — or even if you’re just a typical consumer of the culturally diverse food “melting pot” of America — you’ll be able to find what you like upon arriving in Japan, for sure. There are a few things that I’ve noticed, however, about the food options here. Cereal doesn’t seem to be a big thing in grocery stores and in Japan in general, but you can find a few (usually five different styles of cereal) at your larger grocery stores and maybe a box or two in specialty/local snack shops. Pancakes and waffles that you can normally get at a diner in America are a little difficult to find and popular pancake/breakfast places like Eggs N Things are expensive (there’s not really a comparable Sabrina’s or Cafe Lift in Japan!). It is also true that if you’re American you will find that the portion sizes are smaller, and thus you might also argue that food here is a little pricier when considering the amount of food you get when it arrives at your table. If you are a picky eater, you’ll be able to find pizza places, lots of Italian restaurants and French bakeries, and you can always shop for meals at a grocery store, but if you often find yourself in the mood for American-style diners, you might run into some difficulties. Diners are a little on the expensive end, though they do exist (Jonathan’s and Denny’s), but their menus feature a lot of traditional Japanese dishes. Overall though, you should not have a problem with finding food you want to eat, but I would encourage you to try traditional Japanese meals as well!
Unlike in America, a lot of daily transactions are done with real cash. The only big difference is that coins are used more in Japan so everyone carries coin purses. If you purchase one thing when you set foot in Narita Airport, or as soon as you get a free day to explore after moving in, let it be a coin purse because you cannot function without one in Japan! Using cards to get money out of ATMs should not prove difficult, but it is true that certain convenience stores won’t accept foreign ATM/debit cards — 7 & I Holdings (7 Elevens) though usually always have machines that will take your card no problem.
4. Girl’s Dorm Necessities
For those staying in the Kitazono Women’s Dorm, after you settle in, you’ll need to buy toilet paper and cleaning supplies for your bathroom (toilet, bath, and mirror cleaner, etc). I recommend packing light and also leaving room for things to bring home, but there is a ton of space in your dorm room for storing clothes. The only thing I didn’t purchase that I could have at the 100 yen shops are hangers, because there is enough space for me to fold and store clothes on shelves. The dorm provides you with around four or five hangers, which are perfect for the few dresses I brought along with me, but if you need more things hung you can easily find hangers for cheap.
There are plenty of convenient places to get anything and everything you could possibly need while in Japan: convenience stores that have everything down to underwear and toothbrushes, Uniqlos (fashionable, bright simple clothing stores that are everywhere in Japan) for last minute coats or jeans and the like, niche stores and souvenir shops, trendy fashion boutiques, 100 yen shops (dollar stores that have everything under the sun), and more. Especially near the women’s dorm, you’ll never find yourself needing to run out to another station or area to find a 7 Eleven, a coffee shop, or a clothing store — it’s all right around you. Just budget and try not to buy too much stuff! One thing that is hard to find, however, is deodorant — the specific kinds you’re used to in America. You’ll find that most stores carry lightly scented spray deodorants, not so much the solid stick or gel types, and at that there aren’t many brands to choose from. Keep this in mind, and if you want to you can always bring a stick from home in your luggage; most sizes fit the maximum amount of liquids/gels/etc that you are permitted to pack! And don’t forget to pack light. Although you’ll have a lot of closet space, you’ll want to leave room in your bags for awesome Japanese fashion and souvenir stuff to bring back home!