Life in Tokyo

So…. it’s been almost 2 months since I’ve arrived in Tokyo (I can’t believe it’s been that long!!). If I wasn’t blogging dutifully, then what the heck was I doing?

A lot of stuff!! I’ve visited Kamakura, Yokohama, Nagoya, Ise, and of course many different areas of Tokyo. I’ve made traditional Japanese paper, seen a Sumo match, eaten shark, and gone to an onsen. My Japanese has already improved so much it’s insane.

But when I first stepped off the plane, I was terrified. And in the moments before I met my host family, I was ready to run right out of the building and all the way back to America. I remember I could barely eat dinner that night, I was so nervous. It’s been a rollercoaster ride, and it would take me a while to record it all here, so I’m just gonna talk about the highlights.

For my first blog post, I’m going to cover some stuff like home life, school life, and major cultural differences.

As I mentioned above, I was really nervous to meet my host family. On my program you can opt for a dorm or a homestay but I immediately decided on a homestay, because what better way to be immersed in a culture? But that’s not to say it’s not scary. I mean, you’re essentially living in a stranger’s house, you don’t know any of the cultural norms, or how anything works, and you can only kind of communicate with them.

But my host family is AMAZING. I have a host mom, dad, and younger sister (15). They’ve welcomed me so warmly and have done so much for me already. They’re completely understanding of my mediocre Japanese abilities and help me all the time.

My host mom, me, and my host sister on my first night in Japan

Living with a host family has allowed me to improve at speaking Japanese very quickly and has also let me see what daily life is like in Japan. It’s crazy how so many things are different here. For example, toilets are separate from the bathroom. You sit down when you shower. People rarely drink water (tea is key here!). Yet even with all these differences, there is still a lot that is similar, even though I’m halfway around the world from home.

As for school, well, it’s pretty similar to Whitman, besides the fact that most of the classes are way bigger here. I attend Sophia University which is a Jesuit school here in Tokyo. Most of the students are Japanese, but there is an English division of the school, which is what I take classes in (besides my Japanese class).

One big difference from American colleges though is how club activities are run here. The hardcore, serious clubs are called clubs and the more relaxed clubs are called circles. You must pay an entry fee in order to join any of the clubs/circles, and some also have a monthly fee. Clubs expect mandatory attendance unless you have a class, while circles usually do not. And you must join clubs/circles during Freshmen week here, which is the first week on the Spring semester.

Needless to say, it’s a little intimidating, especially for someone only attending class here for a semester. I went to the club fair and it was madness. There’s so many cool clubs/circles and I would’ve loved to join many but alas… it’s EXPENSIVE! Most entry fees are at least $30 and for sports clubs, it’s usually over $100! But it is the best way to meet Japanese students here, and there are quite a few clubs dedicated to helping foreign students make Japanese friends.

Another big thing here is the trains. They are super convenient and clean, but many have heard of the notorious “rush hour” and let me tell you it’s just as bad as you see in youtube videos. Yes, train attendants DO help squeeze as many people into a train by pushing them in. A lesson I quickly learned was to make absolutely sure you have something to hold onto when the train starts moving. At first I thought I’d gotten the hang of not needing to hold onto anything (as many people don’t) but one day the train stopped especially abruptly and the next thing I knew I was falling to the ground. In my panic I grabbed the arm of the poor man next to me and used him to stand back up. Needless to say, I was mortified and lesson learned!

So those are some of my general thoughts on Tokyo so far. I have a lot more to write about so stay tuned for more (next time with way more pictures!). Thanks for reading! ありがとうございます!