Okay so week one had to be dedicated to Harajuku, but this week I’m actually going to tell you about my immediate surroundings here in my Tokyo pad. There’s quite a lot to say. …It’s quite different.
So the dorm is made up of about forty students. Forty girls, that is; there’s a partner dorm for guys just opposite. Most of the girls are Japanese home-students, and they’re mostly Tokyo-U students apart from a few who are Waseda or Keio (Japan’s other renowned universities…) which is cute because it means lots of student friends to have lots in common with! The catch is that English really isn’t very widely spoken, so be prepared to have to make an effort to make Japanese friends! Right now I’m getting along okay with some people’s English and my limited Japanese. This being said, the girls are really sweet and friendly so if you show that you want to make friends they’ll usually be just as keen. 🙂
We learnt after meeting other Tokyo U exchange students that actually not all dorms are like this at all. The university offers lots of different types of accommodation: some are staying in apartments, some with host-families, some in huge blocks of hundreds of people and some with just international students. This is good – it means that you can choose what sort of accommodation suits you best! (Although I’m positive that if you want to learn Japanese fast this is the best option!)
Dorm mom and dorm dad
Some of our friends in other forms are literally just left to themselves, for cooking, for cleaning, for everything. In OUR dorm, we have dorm parents! And they seriously are just like parents. They’re an older couple (although I’m not sure if they’re actually a couple couple), probably about the age of our actual parents, and they do everything from cooking and cleaning (hoovering at 7am lol), to running the bath, to taking care of us when we’re ill or sad, to greeting us when we come home and making sure we take an umbrella when we go out. It’s so nice to have people you know you can immediately go to if there’s something wrong without even having to venture out for university services. They’re so adorable. They even take pictures of us all together like proud parents. It’s very easy to feel at home here. Again though, the catch is that they barely speak any English! I’ll say again: seriously, you need to pre-learn or be prepared to immediately learn Japanese if you apply to a university in Tokyo. I can communicate a bit with our dorm parents with my level 1, but I’m often just really confused! Not that there’s anything that can’t be eventually put across with a bit of pointing and charades.
In our dorm we’re lucky enough to be given two meals a day along with our rent (which is still way cheaper than rent in Durham hahahaha) and maaan we have seen things. The food is actually really good – our bemusement stems from the content of the meals themselves, specifically breakfast. We all knew that a traditional Japanese breakfast wasn’t going to consist of cereal or pastries. Our breakfast constants (options every day) are rice and miso soup, and usually bread for anyone who just can’t take it. Aside from these staples, we’ve had everything for breakfast. Literally everything. Fish, omlette, chicken, ham, dumplings, spaghetti. SPAGHETTI. I think the deal is that breakfast here is just another meal rather than BREAKFAST.
But as I say, the food is really tasty, and quite traditionally Japanese most of the time. We’ve had katsu and udon and loads of other yummy Japanese dishes for dinner so far. It also seems very healthy – we don’t get desserts, and I usually crave sweets but the Japanese diet seems to leave me very fulfilled. In fact, Japan seems to have us all hooked on rice. RICE. Imagine just looking forward to a bowl of rice? Well, that’s my life now.
Another thing I should mention with regard to food is that although when I applied for accommodation the company stated that they wouldn’t be catering for vegetarians (vegetarianism really is not a thing here), when I told my dorm parents about my new pescetarian situation they really didn’t want to make me have to pick meat out of dishes etc, and now when meat is on the menu they label me a special fish or vegetarian dish. 🙂 I made the decision to be a pescetarian this year because I knew that avoiding fish would be hard in Japan (REALLY hard, like you need to really love Japan and be a really dedicated veggie to come here and remain vegetarian). If I didn’t eat fish, I’m sure that dorm mom would have absolutely no idea what to put in my meals. For real. So bear that in mind and make the right choice for yourself if you’re thinking of coming.
Bathrooms and Toilets
So I’ll start off with this:
The rumours were true! We have Panasonic loos. And they wash your butt in all kinds of ways, as well as having heated seats for the winter. You can say it’s weird, but when it’s snowing and I have a warm toasty butt you’ll all be asking yoursleves why you still live in the dark ages without electronic toilets.
Slipper etiquette is important when using a bathroom in Japan. Usually you have house slippers that you have to change into when you come indoors, and you have to change slippers once again when entering the toilet. There are special bathroom slippers for this occasion. When you come out you put your normal house slippers back on. Everyone looks very distressed when I forget to do this, so I suppose it’s an important point of hygiene. I’ve quickly learnt to remember the right slippers because it’s pretty embarrassing to get it wrong and have somebody see you (even though they’re too polite to proclaim disgust).
And then the showers… Well, the showers are public. Surprise! The procedure is that you go into a sort of shower purgatory room (public) where you get naked, then you put all of your clothes and your towel in a basket folded neatly. After this, you go into the shower/bath room, grab a stool and take it to a shower booth where you sit on it and use the shower head and the tap to shower wash yourself. I say booth, but these things are open at the back while you face the wall (it’s still pretty public). But you do get to sit down while you shower which is super relaxing. Then you get in the bath (optional)! This too is public. One big public bath.
It’s not weird unless you make it weird. This is a Japanese custom, and if you embrace it you’ll feel better than if you try to hide yourself and people sense your awkwardness. We Brits are like Adam and Eve having suddenly realised their nakedness in the garden of Eden, and we need to somehow get back to that pre-embarrassment age. I’m definitely getting there. Which is a good thing, because the British perspective on nakedness sucks.
If all this is still too much for you, there is one private shower.
Inokashira and Kichijouji
Our surrounding area consists of Inokashira and, more widely, Kochijouji. It is literally one of the most idyllic and perfect locations, probably in the whole of Tokyo. The train lines are easy to walk to and go everywhere in the city. The shops are so extensive that I feel like I have everything I could ever need just within a couple of square miles, there are restaurants all over the place, we are FIVE MINUTES AWAY FROM THE STUDIO GHIBLI MUSEUM *dies again*, karaoke is easy to find, there are multiple shrines, multiple zoos, and there’s a huge park right next to our building. It’s basically paradise and I’ve already decided that I want to live here forever. We actually realised after a bit of research that Kichijouji was voted one of the best places to live for young people in Tokyo (it’s SUPER stylish – everyone is so well-dressed that I could shed tears).
The streets around our accommodation are really quaint, quiet and cosy. This is our walk into town/to the station:
On your way into Kichijouji, you walk through Inokashira Koen (Inokashira Park), a really popular date/day out destination for Tokyo-dwellers. You can ride in a swan boat, and people jam and dance by the side of the pond in the evenings. This is the view from the bridge I cross every day:
I wish could show you pictures of ever corner of the area because it’s so pretty and awesome and every word ever. AND THIS IS ONLY A TINY PART OF WEST TOKYO. I’ll tell you about somewhere else as crazy and amazing next time.