When you study abroad, you might feel like you’re going back to your childhood. As a foreign student who just moved to Tokyo, you’ll soon realize how much you need to learn again. Forget everything you think you know, because even simple things like reading food labels and taking the train will be hard at first.
But it’s these small, unexpected differences that make adjusting to a new way of life so rewarding, not to mention the great stories you’ll have to tell your friends back home.
If you’re interested in studying in Tokyo, Japan, here are some surprising and interesting things you can look forward to.
At first, buying food will be a matter of trying things out and seeing what works.
You might think you’re a seasoned traveler, but if you try to read a food label in a Japanese supermarket, you’ll quickly realize you’re wrong. Japanese characters, called kanji, are hard to figure out, but it’s not impossible with practice. If you have an allergy to something, you should carry a piece of paper with the name of the allergen written in kanji and how to say it.
Reading Japanese will get easier over time, but for the first few months when you travel around Japan, you might want to print out this vocabulary chart.
Tokyo is a very international city, so it’s common to see signs written in English. Not all store clerks speak English, but most of them are friendly and will do their best to meet your needs.
Both old and new Tokyo are great.
Hagoita-Ichi fair at Sensō-ji Temple
People often think of Tokyo as a very cool and modern place, but it’s also a city with a lot of differences. Asakusa, for example, is the oldest geisha district in the capital and has a very traditional feel. It has a lot of old theaters and ryokans, which are traditional Japanese inns with tatami mats and sliding rice paper screens.
It is also the location of Sens-ji, which is Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist Temple. It was built in the seventh century. Over 30 million people visit it every year, making it the most popular spiritual site in the world.
Harajuku, a district in Tokyo that is known around the world as the center of Japanese subculture and is the exact opposite of Asakusa, is a very cool place. Here, there are a lot of small, independent shops, and young people are dressing in very brave ways.
Your food will look great on Instagram. Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in the world. It is a foodie’s dream, with delicious dishes ranging from Japanese haute cuisine to creative street food. If you live in Tokyo, you’ll have a lot of options, but if you get homesick and want to eat a meal from your home country, you can take the train to Shinjuku, Shibuya, or Ikebukuro, where there are many student-friendly restaurants.
You’re going to love Tokyo’s “geek district.”
Akihabara, Tokyo’s “geek district,” is heaven on earth for otaku, who are usually young people who love certain niche parts of pop culture very much. Think of gamers, fans of pop idols, and people who like manga and anime.
There are also manga shops and game arcades in Akihabara, and it’s not unusual to see people cosplaying on the street. Don’t be surprised if you see people in Akihabara with blue, green, or pink hair.
The afternoons will be spent in Tokyo’s parks.
People often think of Tokyo as a concrete jungle with lots of people and tall buildings, but the city is surprisingly green, with many parks and gardens right in the middle of it.
The Meiji Shrine is a spiritual site and forest that covers 70 hectares and is right in the middle of Tokyo near Harajuku Station. Politicians from all over the world, such as George Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Guido Westerwelle, have been there. In the hot and humid Japanese summer, it’s a great place for students to hang out.
In the spring, when Hanami, an outdoor party to celebrate the start of cherry blossom season, is held, lanterns look especially pretty in Ueno Park.
You will be blown away by Tokyo’s subway system.
One of the best public transportation systems in the world can be found in Tokyo. Compared to subway or underground systems in other world capitals, Tokyo’s trains are always clean, run on time, and are quiet. Like Londoners, people in Tokyo don’t like it when people eat, talk loudly, or cut in line. This means that if you need to commute or go to another part of the city, you’ll travel in peace and quiet. Still, trains can get just as crowded as those in the West, so don’t always expect to find a seat.
If you want to travel outside of Japan or within Japan, Tokyo also has great ways to get there. It has two major international airports: Haneda Airport and Narita Airport. Both can be reached by express trains from Tokyo. Bullet trains run between Japan’s biggest cities and are a great, quick way to see the country.
Summers in Japan are really something.
Summers in Japan start in early June and last until August, with temperatures going up and down into the 30s. At this time of year, it’s not unusual to see people walking around with small towels to wipe their faces.
Tokyo’s rainy season, also called “tsuyu” or “plum rain” because it happens when plums are ripe, begins in early June when cold air from the north meets warm air from the south. It lasts until late July. Make sure you take an umbrella with you when you leave the house.
Choosing a college in Tokyo
Tokyo has some of the best universities in the world and is one of the most popular student cities in the world. Waseda University has more than 50 programs that are all taught in English. It is proud that more international students study there than at any other university in Japan.
Waseda University is in the middle of Tokyo, and students often walk to Takadanobaba, which is full of ramen restaurants, karaoke bars, and shops.