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University Life in Japan

Filed in: lists, travel, Thu, Apr 24 2003 15:47 PT

From: Shonan Fujisawa, Japan

The Shonan Fujisawa campus of Keio University is two trains and a bus ride away from Tokyo (This passes for “remote” in Japan.) I’ve been here for two days, and I’m taken with the design of the buildings on campus. Clearly, many of these angular modernist creations were designed in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and at times, they provide dramatic contrasts: namely, against the verdant landscape during the day, and in the interplay of light and shadows in the evening. I’m in the Keio Guest House, which doesn’t disappoint in this department: it’s a two-story box with features that suggest to me that it was built more recently than many of the other buildings.

I’m in a double room, which is only a touch larger than my room at home, and I feel like a man of infinite space. My room in Tokyo tomorrow night will be a quarter the size of this one, and twice the price.

I’ve kept myself entertained. Today, I went to the golf driving range. For 2100 yen, you buy a smart card which gets you 120 balls, automatically teed up as the target of your 300 yen rental club. I wrote a paper in high school 13 years ago(!) about the phenomenon of the city driving range in Japan, so I feel like I can finally check that off my to-do list. It’s good to close action items every so often. If at all possible, I’d like to watch a baseball game in the 60 hours I have before flying home.

The lessons I’ve learned so far while in Japan:

  • If you take the train from Narita, don’t buy anything but the trip to Tokyo Station. I bought a connection to Shinagawa for 1400 yen which wasn’t worth more than 230.
  • Do not pour your own beer or sake. It makes you look impatient. Wait for someone traveling with you to pour it for you. (You can speed up this process by pouring a drink for someone else.)
  • Some restaurants will serve you a seafood salad or something like it when you ask for an alcoholic beverage. It costs between 300 and 500 yen. Think of it as sin tax. Or Pay-Per-Tapas.
  • Japan is by and large a cash economy. Do not expect to pay for any given meal or hotel bill with a credit card. Check for the logo first.
  • Even if the ATM has your card’s logo, it may not work with your foreign card. Try the ones at the post office, or any machine that speaks English.
  • If you’re worried about whether the cashier will let you pay with a 10000 yen bill, and you’re used to getting hassled if you use anything bigger than $20 at home, don’t sweat it. Just about anywhere you go, they’ll take it.
  • Do not try to outwait a Japanese person as you come to a door. It will not happen. Thank them, and pass through.
  • If your shower won’t get warm, look for a switch somewhere in your room to turn the water heater on.
  • The stores in Ginza don’t open until 11am on Sunday.
  • The stores in Akihabara close by 9pm.
  • The masks people wear in the city are to protect against hay fever. The masks they wear in the airport are to protect against SARS.
  • Natto, which are fermented soybeans, can actually taste good.

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