Comparisons between USA and Japan

Some things to watch out for if you plan on studying abroad in Japan.

Now, I come from a tiny town that revolves around its university, so most of these comparisons are biased towards my point of view.

Japan

Negatives

  • is rather difficult to navigate. If you’re not used to the train system, it takes a while to understand.
  • has A LOT of paperwork. There’s so much to do once you arrive, it’s not even funny.
  • doesn’t provide paper towels in public bathrooms. Toilet paper, yes, but nothing to wipe your hands on.
  • has like a sink connected to the toilet. When you flush, it dispenses [clean] water to wash hands with.
  • has a separate toilet and bathroom. So it’s kind of inconvenient in my opinion.
  • is not survivable (in Tokyo especially) at $100 a month. Or even $100 a week.
  • sells things expensive. As in groceries. Veggies, fruits, meats – everything not cheap. Surprisingly fish is expensive, too.
  • portions are as tiny as you thought. Mostly. A super tiny like pill bottle size of Minute Maid was ¥130.
  • is super crowded. Depending on the times you take the train, it can get bad.
  • requires a lot of walking. You need strong legs. Good exercise, though.
  • is expensive in general. Transportation omg. You need trains but they add up.
  • has mosquitoes that bite. Not that it hurts or anything, but you can’t see these mosquitoes so suddenly you end up with a ton of itchy spots and don’t know where they came from.
  • bread if expensive. 6 pieces for $0.65 at the lowest and those 6 pieces are about like, maybe less than half a loaf back home.
  • People don’t wear tanks often. They are very conservative, so spaghetti straps are absolutely out. Also, shorts are not that short and sunglasses make you look like a foreigner.
  • It gets dark super early – around 5 or 6 pm

Places especially crowded: Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro (all the like iconic places are SUPER crowded and hard to navigate. Easy to get lost in, too.)

Positives

  • Near closing time, grocery stores have half off of select products.
  • ¥100 shops which are much better and sell more useful things than our $1 shops. Got my soy sauce and canola oil from there.
  • Convenient stores has ¥100 onigiri which serves well as lunch.
  • You can take a train everywhere.
  • Super fashionable. They put us to shame. Even like New York and maybe on par with LA, but the styles are different.
  • Good bubble tea. Pearl Lady is good.
  • Amazing desserts and coffee shops.
  • Eating out can be cheaper than eating out in the States.

This can be taken as a positive or negative, but Japan also sells clothes in advance of a season. So it’s tough to find summer clothes in summer, for example.

I don’t understand how girls wear high heels like all the time. Also 80s style circle skirts are ‘in’ here. High waisted pants/jeans and, surprisingly, bold print pants are, too. Chiffon blouses and plain, one color tops are also popular. Usually girls wear high heels or flat, sneaker-like canvas shoes with ankle socks (like the lace tipped ones). Definitely not soffes (which I love) or athletic/free t-shirts.

Oh, and you know that tall feeling that foreigners have when they get to Japan? It didn’t last me too long, because some of the girls here are actually pretty tall or my height (although some of it can be contributed to high heels). Sometimes I do feel tall, though. Some of the guys here are shorter than me…and some girls are like a head shorter…

Advertisements

Advice Block

Just a few tidbits I forgot to put into previous blog entries:

Whenever you go out to do something official – opening a bank account, getting a cell phone, signing up at the city ward office – you NEED to bring your residence card, your student ID (if you have it), and your paperwork. It’s better to bring more than what you need than less than what you need. Especially if you don’t happen to have data or internet on a smartphone or any device.

It’s important to know your dorm’s phone number, address, and postal code. Sometimes you need to know Keio’s phone number, too.

Something I left off of one of the earlier posts is the Gakuwari – a commuter pass discounted for students. You need your student ID for that, and be prepared to dish out a lot of money. It was $400 for mine. And it only works within and at the two stations you specify. Any other place, and you need to pay for the ticket or add money to the gakuwari card. I got a Pasmo card, since it was recommended, but Suica also works.

If your dream has been to experience a high-tech Japanese toilet, choose any other dorm besides Hiyoshi International House. Motosumiyoshi, for instance, has heated toilets and various buttons. Hiyoshi’s is a normal toilet, except for the sink above it. I forget that the toilet and shower area aren’t in the same room sometimes, too. They also don’t flush too well.

EAT ALL THE MEAT YOU CAN AT HOME. Meat is extremely expensive here, and I never buy any. You will miss meat, but at least your skin will be looking better.

Clubs, for the most part, are at Hiyoshi. JLP classes are all Hiyoshi and only KIP students have to worry about transferring. Most clubs are on a come-when-you-can basis. Only sports or dance clubs care about attendance. Be prepared to spend a lot of time on those, though.

 

Information about point cards: http://blog.gaijinpot.com/convenience-store-point-cards/

Alice in a Picture Book Theme Cafe

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

After class, I went to meet friends at Shinjuku to go to my first themed cafe! Tina and Emily had just arrived in Tokyo after a trip out to Laos, and were returning to Akita that night. As usual, I’m terrible at being on time and estimating travel times, so I was late. Which is still a no-no, especially in Japan.

We made a stop at Zara first (where I purchased my first shirt from! They’re always so expensive, I never though I could ever afford anything at Zara…). We went around to a couple of shops, but then decided to go to the cafe. Alice in a Picture Book was kind of a hard place to find. It’s in the basement of a building, but the advertisement for it wasn’t that prominent. You also cannot go straight down the stairs outside to get inside – you have to take the elevator in the back.

The “entrance”

A Card Knight!

Once inside, though, you’re greeted by a reception desk with a girl in uniform and a statue of one of the Red Queen’s card soldiers. The staff member asks if you’ve made a reservation, but it’s okay even if you don’t. She reads to you the instructions and rules for the cafe: there’s a two-hour time limit, a ¥500 charge per person, and each person must buy a drink and food item. She then led us through a “secret entrance” into the dining area, which was modeled to look like the Red Queen’s garden (the door into the area looks like the front of a book and is ginormous). The atmosphere was really cool, and there was even one waitress dressed as the White Rabbit – but most were Alices. There was one waiter as the Mad Hatter.

The interior (seating)

The ¥500 charge led to three sides + crackers. And all the dishes and drinks were quite expensive. You cannot leave without spending about ¥2000 at the very least.

The food really turned out to be more about looks than taste, though.

The 500 yen charge

I ended up buying the cheapest thing on the menu – the truffle fries. They were “appetizers,” and thus, sized accordingly (not enough to fill my stomach). They were decent, as all fried potatoes must strive to be at the very least. My companions ordered much more elaborate dishes. One ordered one of the most expensive entrees – the Red Wine Steak with Gnocchi. It sounds fantastical, yes, but the amount of food on the plate was so not worth the price.

Red Wine Steak with Gnocchi

The other ordered the Salmon Cream Pasta, which was actually quite tasty. Another rose presentation – this time, with the sparse amount of salmon on the plate.

Salmon Cream Pasta

For our last hoorah, we ordered the elaborate dessert tea set, which was beautifully presented and pretty fantastical, but, again, lacks in taste.

Alice Tea Set

There are two tiers to the platter, but I only posted a picture of the top-most, because that’s where presentation went into play. The Cheshire Cat and Caterpillar are featured with whipped cream smiles. The Cat, however, was literally a hard choux pastry, though. The first tier had a small assortment of cakes on it. And by small, I mean small. One person could finish this special set all by themselves and not be tired of sweets after.

Overall, the experience was, I suppose, what I expected. Theme cafes are really there just for the experience and not for the food.

The one that we went to was the Alice in a Picture Book store. Each Alice-themed restaurant is set in a different part of Wonderland, so I’m sure the decor and food change depending on which branch you visit. Unfortunately, because my experience here was so underwhelming, I don’t think I’ll pay a visit to the others.

Snoopy and Hello Kitty Cafe in Shibuya

Hey guys, this is totally out of order, since I forgot to publish this WAY sooner! So, as ya’ll have probably been seeing, I haven’t really been updating this blog anymore. My adventures ended a year ago and I realized blogging is super tough to keep up with! I’ll be posting up the rest of my drafts, just to complete everything, and then this blog will probably be put on a permanent hiatus – though I, myself will be moving over a a yet unnamed and unfinished new site! Anyways, without further ado —

16 December 2014, Tuesday

I had classes until 2:30, but I thought I could make it back to Hiyoshi and then to Shibuya at 4, but boy, was I mistaken. I was more than 30 minutes late to meeting Erika, a friend from America, who had come to Tokyo for Winter Break. I felt so bad and I was freaking out, since I couldn’t reach her cell phone. Luckily, she managed to find a spot with free wifi and so we got in contact through LINE and met near the Hachiko exit inside the station. Erika led the way to the Snoopy Cafe. I was surprised she knew where she was going and everything, since the last time she was in Tokyo was back in August. She was a lot more knowledgeable than I am.

It was a super cold and dreary, rainy day, though – not exactly the best time to go out and have fun. It was the first time I’ve seen such a crowded Shibuya, too, since I’ve never been in the afternoon.

Snoopy decor!

The Snoopy Cafe is actually just the Tower Record Cafe in their building. It had a short wait, and the food was all pretty expensive – especially the Snoopy themed stuff. So I bought a regular meal: the taco salad. BUT IT DID NOT DISAPPOINT. It is so hard to find Mexican food in Japan and this reminded so much of American-Mexican restaurants to me. It was more of a chilli than taco beef, but it was still so good and had so much more spice than regular Japanese food. We just chatted and ate.

My delish taco salad

And, unfortunately, you cannot split the bill at that restaurant.

The special Snoopy-themed hamburg steak

Then we headed to Parco for the Hello Kitty Cafe, which is a temporary establishment until Christmas. The line wasn’t too long, but when we left, it went down the stairs. So we came at a very good time. At the Hello Kitty Cafe, you have to order in line and you cannot order more once you area seated. You can also stay there for up to 1-2 hours (forget which). The food sets this time were cuter, but even more expensive than the Snoopy Cafe, so I just got the Hello Kitty latte. Erika ordered an apple pie set and the cocoa. Before we entered, there was a popup poster you could take a picture with. The waitress even asks if you want a picture with it, so I just had to take the opportunity. Then we were seated, and our drinks came first. When the pie set came up (much, much, much later), the only male staff member brought it over. I asked him if the mug was take-homeable, but it wasn’t, unfortunately. He said something about “cute” and lingered, left the receipt, then went on his merry way. I totally though he was calling Erika cute, but she thought he was talking about the mug. But she did think he was awkwardly there for a long time. When I said I thought he was complimenting her, she said he was looking at me LOL. So then we wondered if he was flirting or if he was just calling the cup cute since I wanted to take it home. As Erika said, if only we could replay that moment. (*´艸`*)ァハ♪

Iced Hello Kitty Latte

Hot Hello Kitty Latte

 

 

 

 

 

The apple pie set came with a super cute, tiny apple that was actually edible. And a real apple. I didn’t know such tiny ones existed. And on the way out, the same male staff member handed me rubber bands for the place mat I took with me. I had no idea what it was for when he gave it to me, though lol.

Hello Kitty Apple Pie

And we looked around the Hello Kitty goods. The pass cases were only ¥980 or so! So cheap (in comparison to others)! But Hello Kitty is not my favorite character, so I didn’t buy it, though I could really use a pass case.

The floor below the cafe was full of anime goods. There was a Rejet Shop, a One Piece store (with photo ops!), a Danganronpa Store, and a Village Vanguard. We looked around the Village Vanguard store. I was so tempted to buy the ¥300 cocoa Country Ma’am cookies I found, but I’m going to try to look at a cheaper store for the same thing. We then stopped at the Disney Store, where Erika bought a Pooh Bear Tsum Tsum iPhone cover. I took a bunch of pictures, as usual. Shibuya’s Disney Store is the fanciest I’ve seen, though.

I still wanted to do Purikura, so we headed to an arcade and used the Mew machine, which was much different from the booth I used with Chou at Ikebukuro. The time was much shorter and it started taking pictures immediately. There was even a video. But this time, I found that you could put on makeup in the stamps section (like apply fake eyelashes to your photo) and tried it out. It’s tough drawing with that stylus. The pictures were also a lot less at this booth. But I managed to get a Club Sega point card and stamp (10 purikura, one purikura free!).

Then I accompanied Erika to Yokohama Station, where she transfers lines, and then I headed back to Hiyoshi and home. Made the last stop to Mister Donut (the 16th was the last day of the sale) and then went home and slept.

Late Shopping at Harajuku and Ikebukuro

2 January 2015, Friday

Went to Meiji Jinguu Shrine with a couple of friends who wanted to attend Hatsumoude. I had already gone the day before, but was interested in going again. Surprisingly, the crowds were still quite large and the police had to herd us in groups into the shrine.

Lots of people buying omamori

Lots of people buying omamori

After praying for the new year, we headed over to the food area, and tried a few street foods. I got a matcha manju, which I don’t remember tasting like green tea at all. It was just the coloring.

What we were most looking forward to doing, though, was shopping. Hoping that any good fukubukuro were still left, we headed to Takeshita Street. Ultimately, I bought the one from Paris Kids, although many other stores still had theirs. I was not a huge fan of any of the brand enough to spend more than a couple of yen on them. We ended up not buying much and going to the Italian place right at the entrance of Takeshitadori and eating pizza. That, at least, was not a disappointment. It looked and tasted really good! For a relatively decent price, as well. DSC_0097We then took a train to Shibuya to check out Village Vanguard and get melon pan ice cream! It’s still one of the best melon pan I’ve eaten – although it is way too calorific.

3 January 2015, Saturday

On Saturday, one of the same friends who joined me at Harajuku also went with me to Ikebukuro. And where else but Sunshine City? There was still a Pokemon Center campaign going on (the opening of Mega Tokyo), so we did manage to make a stop at a cream puff store so I could buy the special dish for a Pikachu sticker. The choux puff was too hard for me. It wasn’t the soft, slightly chewy consistency I expected. It was more baked and crunchy. Found a couple of fukubukuro laying around, but didn’t buy any. I was also introduced to Axes Femme, a lolita-esque brand which I absolutely fell in love with (not so much with their prices, though). If I knew about it earlier, I would have made an investment in one of 20150103_182343their fukubukuro. I hear they sell out really quickly. But, well, we ended up spending a lot

An Axes Femme Winter Coat

An Axes Femme Winter Coat

of time and didn’t really buy anything. But it was still fun to walk around and see all the fukubukuro still left and the shopping atmosphere all around.

A little note from the writer

Hey everyone!

It’s been nearly half a year since I’ve last posted any blog posts, so I have a BUNCH to catch up on! Sorry for the long wait, but I’ll try to post everything that has happened since New Year’s. I’ve already returned home, and wrote a bunch of tips for those hoping to study abroad in Japan, but that will have to come later (me and my procrastination…) >.<

Since I am currently back at my university and working hard studying, I won’t be able to be very frequent on my updates, but my goal is at least a post every….two weeks – low expectations, I know. But look forward to it! And thank you all for your support 🙂

New Year’s Eve and Hatsumoude/Hatsuhinode

31 December 2014, Wednesday

Partyyyy at Shimoda Student Village, which is the dorm where most of my friends live.

At night, we had a New Year’s Eve Party, in which we consumed sushi, dumplings (handmade!), choux pastries, nabe, and watched Kohaku Uta Gassen!

Some of the lovely food that night

Some of the lovely food that night

Back in high school Japanese class, my teacher would show us clips of Kohaku for fun, and I aspired to be able to watch it live someday. So it was nice that Shimoda had a TV and I was able to. However, I barely knew anyone who showed up! BoA and Ayumi Hamasaki just aren’t that popular anymore…But I was super surprised to see Idina Menzel! Frozen’s popularity is just way to high in Japan. I also ended up missing Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, but I saw a ton of AKB and the spin-off editions. Sadly, I am not a fan. The only person I was really okay with was Nana Mizuki and TM Revolution. And alongside Kohaku, Juu put on Taiwan’s version of the show, since they were also celebrating new year’s there. Every year, Taipei 101 is lit up with fireworks. There was a ton of food and it was all delicious, but the most interesting part of the “day” came after everything….

...and the men win, as usual

…and the men win, as usual

1 January 2015, Thursday

On the 1st! Hatsumoude! The first shrine visit. Trains ran throughout the night for the first shrine visit of the year. It was really weird to see trains at 2am, but Ching, Kyuu, George, and I made the trip to Meiji Jinguu. Though it was so early in the morning, the trains were full of people. Before we went out of Meiji Jinguu Mae Station, though, we made a stop of Starbucks (which was already selling fukubukuro – lucky bags of the new year) and bought drinks. I got to try the special limited edition Orange Mocha Latte that way. It had a really nice orange-chocolate flavor that I liked.

It might not look nice, but this Orange Mocha was delish

It might not look nice, but this Orange Mocha was delish

Meiji Jinguu, which is a super popular place for Hatsumoude, also had a lot of traffic. But properly handled traffic. There were police that sectioned off crowds and told you when to move and stop, so it was quite organized. We still had to wait a while before we got to the area where you throw your ¥5 and make a wish, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Afterwards, we went to the area with mamori and kuji for sale. As it was the first shrine of the new year, I decided to purchase an omamori. The kuji at Meiji Jinguu, however, seem to be unique, as they don’t tell you what level of luck you receive – they basically give you a motto for the new year. I guess it’s up to interpretation, because most people ended up tying up their fortunes (not us – we were the foreigners who wanted to keep them).

People at Meiji Jinguu at 2am

People at Meiji Jinguu at 2am

There was also a section of Meiji Jinguu by the souvenirs that sold a bunch of food. It was really like a festival.

Festival-like area of Meiji Jinguu - tons of people and food

Festival-like area of Meiji Jinguu – tons of people and food

Since we still “had time” and were out anyways, we decided to find a place to see Hatsuhinode, which is the tradition of seeing the first sunrise. Kyuu searched up places to go to, and we settled on Haneda Airport’s roof. So we made the rather expensive trip there on the train. There was already a line and the place didn’t open up until like 6am. The roof itself was SUPER cold. I did not wear enough for that. Bring a hat, gloves, mask, anything to cover up everything – it was that cold. And the roof got crowded the more time that passed. You can also see a nice view of Mount Fuji from the roof – which was basically all we got to see, since we stayed there ’til sunrise and never actually got to see the sun. There were too many clouds that day.

Sun was supposed to be seen from here

Sun was supposed to be seen from here

Egg and Susauge McMuffin

Egg and Susauge McMuffin

So we went back to Hiyoshi tired and disappointed. Got a quick breakfast at McDonald’s, then went home. I ended up sleeping until 4pm that day, but considering I came back at 10am, I guess that’s to be expected. The unfortunate thing was that it actually snowed that day, but I was fast asleep, so when I woke up, it had stopped already. It would’ve been nice to see a snowy January 1st…

 

At least Haneda was pretty at night...

At least Haneda was pretty at night…