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Murray Duke - Class of '97
 
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Preparing for Tokyo

by

Murry Duke (class of '97)

Just thought before you head on over I would give you some tips for survival in Japan, but mostly Tokyo. Its early April and your likely worrying a bit about finals as well as planning your trip over here. I know that you likely learned quite a bit in Lynnís prep class but I thought I could shine a bit more light on whatís ahead. Also you had better have read a guide book or two!!! Here's some stuff they may have missed.

First, let me say that I love it here. Tokyo is cool. Some of the stuff I may put in this e-mail may sound like Iím complaining a bit (well, maybe I am) but it is a pretty cool place to be.

So, where to start? Packing is a good place. Try to pack as light as you can. When you are hauling 3 suitcases from Narita to your place in the heat of the summer, youíll wish you had!!! The weather is going to be hot and humid, dress appropriately!!! But still toss in a sweater or light jacket just in case. Also bring clothes that donít need much ironing; the washing machines really wrinkle your clothes and not everywhere have dryers. Bring deodorant and anti-perspirant (the Japanese stuff sucks) and any other ďpersonal items" that you cant stand having a different brand of (Sunscreen would be good too) Girls, bring skirts. Guys, bring short-sleeved dress shirts. Trust me.

Donít panic about your Japanese language ability (or lack thereof) many gaijin live quite well in Japan without a word of Japanese. But it is nice being able to converse. So, what should you study as the panic of your upcoming trip sets in? Well you donít have much time, so there are really only 2 things to focus on; Katakana and Vocabulary. Katakana isnít used much in the classroom. But here, its everywhere! I really canít emphasize enough how important it is to have katakana mastered. You should be able to read it as fast as you do English, Iím serious!!! And for vocabulary, just learn as many words as you can. If you spit out some random words and point and wave your arms you can usually get your point across. But if you know perfect grammar but canít fill in the nouns and the verbs it doesnít much help you does it? Donít worry about polite and impolite Japanese. Youíre a foreigner; they realize that and are just bloody well happy that you can speak a bit of something!!!

Money, the other big issue; (check www.xe.com) I sent a few copies of Metropolis. Have a look through there to see what kind of prices things are. Itís a free weekly magazine thatís great to find out whatís going on. But here are a few examples (note Iím talking Tokyo here). Kochi would obviously be cheaper! To stay in a gaijin (dorm like apartment) a small room would be about 50000-70000 yen a month. Plus 2 weeks refundable deposit. Lunch; Iíve had a bowl of yummy ramen noodles for as little as 280 yen. It depends on where you are in the city I guess. I used to work in Takadanobaba and there was no shortage of places that had lunch deals for 500 yen. Now I work in Aoyama and its more like a 1000 for lunch. The key is to hunt around and not be afraid to try different places. p.s. for comparison sakes, a big Mac meal (bigu maku setto) here is about 550 yen. And yes you can always eat at McDonalds or Wendyís but I strongly encourage you to be adventurous!!!

Diner and going out; this is where Tokyo can break the bank! There is no shortage of places to go in Tokyo and if your are with other people, you may have little say in the matter. Generally, when you head out in a group you split the bill evenly regardless of how much you had or didn't have. So (and I learned this after getting burned a few times) go for broke and eat and drink more than your share!!!  Expect a decent night at an Izakaya to run 2000-4000 a person

Two important words Iíll bet Ohori sensei didnít teach you are ďnomihodaiĒ and ďtabehodaiĒ which are all you can drink and all you can eat respectively. There is a great shabu shabu place in Shinjuku that has tabehodai for 1800 yen. Thatís like 20 bucks for 1.5 hours of gorging on beef and vegetables not too bad. Iíll let you imagine the nomihodai !!!!!!

One more point about food. In Canada we are used to everything being in open view at ground floor. Not so here. Some of the best places to eat are down alleys, in basements, or on the upper floors of buildings. So keep you eyes peeled.

Transportation adds up fast too. You company should cover a train pass, but otherwise its pretty expensive. 160 yen for a short one way subway ride. Hit 2 or 3 places in one day and it quickly adds up to 10 bucks!!! Try walking, itís a great way to see things and Tokyo isnít as big as you think. You could walk from Tokyo station to Shinjuku in maybe 3 hours (it looks like much more on a map!) Or you can walk from Shinjuku to Shibuya in maybe 20 minutes (at a fast pace).

Convenience stores here are really convenient!! Lots of stuff, and they are on every street corner.  Good place to grab lunch too.

Phones; Iím sure the guide book talks about phone cards, and you should get one. But its hard to live here without a cell phone. You can buy a pre-pay phone with just your passport for about 10,000yen which would last you the summer. Iíll let you decide if its worth it. Also, call Telus and ask about their ďCanada direct" its an easy way to call home from here. And fortunately internet cafťs have finally caught on here; about 480yen an hour.

Night clubs and concerts; crazyÖcrazy expensive, 3000yen cover charge is considered a deal!!! Much better to go to Anizakaya and karaoke (karaoke is different here, its actually fun!!), but on that note: the Fuji rock fest is the last weekend in July I think. Its definitely worth going to. Expensive but way worth it. I went a few years ago and in one day saw Bjork, Garbage, Beck, and Shonnen Knife. But its worth it!!!

Bring (or buy here) a small folding umbrella, never can tell when it may suddenly turn ugly.

Everyone panics about bringing gifts. Donít sweat it too much. If youíre doing a home stay bring something nice for the family. If your boss is Japanese, bring something for him too. Otherwise just some small trinkets in case you need them. But hereís a good idea. Bring a box of Canadian cookies or something to share with the entire office. On your 2nd or 3rdday bring them to the office and walk around offering everyone a cookie from Canada. Trust me on this one! Bring pictures of family and of you home city. People will want to see them, especial if your doing a home stay

Donít bring too many books on Japan. They just add weight to your luggage and the array of guide books and language books here blows away anything you find back home. Just one guidebook and one dictionary are good enough.

Culture shock; Yep itíll hit you, but not at first. Youíve spent the last 2 years working towards this, youíve prepared for most of the big culture shocks and all the things in the guide books. But after you settle in, itíll be the little things that will grate on your nerves. Allow me to mention a few:

-Japanese donít blow their noses, they just sniffle and snort. Very annoying on a crowded train.

-In public people are quite rude, you will get shoved and pushed especially during the morning commute.

-When youíre talking to a Japanese person (in English) and they say yes a lot, it doesnít mean ďyes I agreeĒ or ďI understandĒ it means ďyesĒ Iím listening.

-girls are very feminine here. and so are the boys.

-bathrooms usually donít have soap or hand towels and only have cold running water.

-during a meal it is customary to say ďoishii" about 200 times (umai for guys)

-the concept of a constant room temperature is lost here. The hotter it is outside the lower the inside temperature. For example if its 25 outside the air-conditioned will be at 21, if it goes up to 28 outside they will lower the inside temp to18. It doesnít hurt to have a sweater at the office in the summer and a short shirt in the winter. Wacky.

-bikes on the sidewalk

-eating with your mouth open

-a great subway system that stops running at about midnight?!?!?!

-Anything that involves the government or bureaucracy.

-going to the gym / toilet / shower and have to wear communal slippers because your shoes are ďdirtyĒ (when you see the number of foot fungus/athletes foot medications on sale here, youíll understand why this bugs me).

-there is no such thing as a guideline. There are only ironclad rules that can never be broken or changed.

Hereís a brief intro to the layout of Tokyo. First draw circle then add six dots kind of evenly around it should look like this:

           Ikebukuro            Ueno

 

    Shinjuku                              Tokyo

 

            Shibuya          Shinagawa

Yep Tokyo is a circle and thatís the Yamanote train line. Every train and subway in Tokyo hooks up with the Yamanote at some point, so it pays to memorize the main stations. The subway maps look like crazy spaghetti but in fact are really easy to navigate and soon youíll be able to go anywhere.

So what am I doing? Well when I left my job at Grant MacEwan in October, I came over looking for a job and found that the economy had gotten even worse from when I was here on my internship. But I got a job as an English teacher (easy to get, easy to do, and decent pay) and spent 4 months looking for a job. About a month ago I got a full-time real job!!! I am a financial controller for a furniture company. So far its pretty good. The president is the only other foreigner, the staffs are all Japanese. We have 4 retail outlets in Tokyo and 10 through out Japan with some pretty bold plans to expand. So it looks like a good potential. I must say that I really lucked out in getting such a high position. At the moment I live in a gaijin house in Kawasaki city, about 20 minutes from Shibuya by train. In about a month or two me and a friend are going to find an apartment of our own. Itíll be nice not having to share the showers and kitchen! So things are looking good for me, I am happy to say!

Well Iím sure I could continue to ramble on a lot longer, but Iíll let you guys discover it on your own!!!

You guys are going to have a great time no doubt about it. Japan is cool. Make sure you make it to Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and try to do something different every weekend!!! Of course there are some past grads still here. Thereís me of course. But also Ron, Trevor, Nagisa, and Caleb. So there will always be someone here to show you about.

 

 

 


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