Preparing for Tokyo
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
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
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
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
-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
-girls are very feminine here. and so are the boys.
-bathrooms usually donít have soap or hand towels and only have cold running
-during a meal it is customary to say ďoishii" about 200 times (umai for
-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
-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:
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.