The Conveniences (And Inconveniences) Of Studying Abroad In Tokyo
Choosing to study abroad is easy, but deciding where exactly to study can be difficult. My love of sushi, Asian culture, city life, Hello Kitty, and well, my desire to learn Japanese, made picking Tokyo as my study abroad local an easy choice. Living in a city as big as Tokyo has its pros and cons. Luckily, Tokyo is known for being a city made to cater to people’s everyday, busy lifestyles. Here is what I learned about the city’s conveniences and inconveniences while studying abroad in Tokyo.
If the first thing you learn about Tokyo isn’t their convenient stores, then you must be looking in the wrong place. In Japanese, a “conbini”, known by name as 711, Lawsons, or Family Mart, is your one stop shop for all things snack and bento related. Besides snacks, you can pay your bills (like your national health insurance if you are on a student visa), buy event tickets, or even grab some cheap drinks before you head out for the night. The best part? You can spot these open-for-24-hour gems are on every corner of the city.
Clean, punctual, and the ability to take you almost anywhere you want to go, trains are the next best thing when it comes to convenience. As as student living on a student budget, sky high taxi fares were out of the question. Grab yourself a metro card, download a metro map app or use Google Maps, and you are set. Oh yeah, and sleeping on the metro is totally socially acceptable.
If you find yourself addicted to the ¥100 bottles of green tea at 711, do not fear. A bonus to the frequency of conbinis and train stations is the abundance of free, public toilets. Another, and quite popular, convenient quirk about Tokyo is the thousands of vending machines that sell everything from beer, cigarettes, and hot coffee, to cold milk tea and bananas.
Being the biggest metropolitan area in the world also means that Tokyo has some pretty awesome shopping. The most easily accessed shopping being located in train stations and department stores. Pharmacies, clothing stores, shoe stores, grocery stores, and restaurants are just some of the kinds of places that you can find. Pro tip: basement floors of department stores are where you can usually find grocery stores while restaurants are on the top.
The Not So Good
One thing I was reassured of when going to Tokyo was how much of an international city it was. I figured there would be plenty of people who would be able to speak English, but about a month into my studies I found that it wasn’t the case. While in the many touristy, high traffic areas of Tokyo you can find English speakers and menus, in the rest of the city, not so much. Luckily, road signs, trains, and directional information all had English translations. It’s best to brush up on some Japanese before you head over.
Even though Japan as a whole is known for their always-on-time public transportation, it has its downsides. You will quickly learn that getting crushed on the morning rush train isn’t ideal, and you might opt for those afternoon classes your next semester. Also, Tokyo subways close down around midnight. Yes, midnight. If you don’t feel like emptying your pockets for a taxi ride to your dorm, time your night right. Or, do as the locals do and party all night and grab yourself the first 5 AM train back home.
If you have a lot of diet restrictions, dining in Tokyo might not be the easiest thing. Luckily, Tokyo is such a large city that you can find some speciality restaurants that cater to your apatite. For the most part, modifying your order is not something that is commonly done. So if you try to order your one pump of caramel, half a pump of mocha, nonfat milk, no foam latte from Starbucks, don’t be surprised if you get a few strange looks.
Convenience is important to the local Tokyoite. You might be like me and find the idea of studying abroad in a city like Tokyo, a place filled with unusual vending machines and fast trains, appealing, or the idea of hopping on those morning rush trains might just make you chose otherwise. When it comes to picking your study abroad destination, don’t forget that doing your research can make your life easier when you are abroad.
Pictures: All mine!