DOKool Destroys Tokyo Part 1: Prelude
Greetings, and welcome to the first of many articles that will chronicle my journeys in the Land of the Rising Sun.
For those of who who aren't aware, I will be spending my Junior year abroad in Tokyo, Japan as a student of Temple University Japan. My flight leaves on August 25th, I arrive on August 26th, and I won't touch foot again on American soil until April 19th, 2005. I've signed on as an official contributor to The Booty Project in an attempt to chronicle my journey and give somewhat of an insight into the country that most anime fans consider to be Mecca.
As a preview of this journey, I will briefly introduce Tokyo as a city and the steps it's taken me to get to this point. I hope that my insights will in some way help any of you who would like to go to Tokyo at some point in your life, either to stay for a long time or just to visit.
About The City
Calling Tokyo a 'city' is somewhat along the lines of calling the sun 'hot' or calling JTARI's cosplay and fanfiction articles 'somewhat inflammatory.' There's just no real way to add an exclamation point to a sprawling metropolis where 28 million people live, making it the largest city in the world. When one talks about Tokyo, however, one is most likely talking about the 23 wards (ku). West of the wards are 26 cities (shi), 3 towns (machi) and one village (mura) that comprise the Tama area. Known historically as Edo, Tokyo is an amalgam of both old and new. It houses the Imperial Palace, but is also home to architecture that is the inspiration for Blade Runner and other films. If New York is the City that Never Sleeps, then Tokyo has a caffeine IV plugged into its' spinal cord.
My profile says all this, but it helps to have some context as to why I'm taking this journey. I'm Dan, one of the first couple dozen people to sign up for OtakuBooty back in... whenever JB finally got this site together. I'm an Electronic Media and the Arts (that's scholastic-speak for 'we're too small a school to have a proper Film major') and Asian Studies major, the second rather by accident. I've been an anime fan for a little over two years, now, and have a bit of an introduction to the Japanese language (one semester's worth at the University of Pennsylvania).
About Studying Abroad
Roughly only 2% of American students study abroad, and when they do the most preferred destination is the United Kingdom, followed by Spain, Italy, and a handful of other countries, with Japan ranking 11th. Only about 3000 American students went to Japan in '02-'03, naturally with even fewer studying in Tokyo proper.
My journey has taken me to a rather unique location in Temple University Japan. TUJ, formed in 1982, is the oldest and largest American (and even foreign) university in Japan. If the name sounds familiar to those of you living in the tristate (PA/NJ/DE) area, that's because TUJ is a satellite campus of Temple University in Philadelphia. Japanese students studying at TUJ can transfer to Main Campus in Philly, and most likely vice versa. Classes at TUJ are taught in English, and TUJ allows Japanese college students to earn American undergraduate and graduate degrees (including an LL. M. degree, making Temple's law school the only such program in Japan).
The group travelling in the Fall with me includes 54 other American students, most of whom are enrolled at Temple but some of whom (like myself) attend other universities and colleges.
When I first found out about Temple University Japan, I immediately decided to apply. I dutifully filled out all the forms, got my recommendations, and mailed everything out Express just to be safe.
That was the easy part. After getting my acceptance letter and sending the first housing deposit, I then had to begin the process of applying for my visa. Unlike European countries where the visa application process is much more streamlined, obtaining a Japanese visa requires first applying for a Certificate of Eligibility, and only after recieving that can one apply for a visa to the Consulate General of Japan.
To apply for the CoE, I not only had to fill out an application form, but I had to send an academic resume, a letter of intent explaining why I wanted to go to Japan, a letter of intent explaining what I was going to do after the program ended (hint: they're generally looking for a variation of 'I'm going back home and not even thinking about staying past my visas' expiration date'), a list of the classes I planned to take, copies of my passport (valid through my stay, which required getting a new passport), and my mortal soul, along with two passport-sized photos. All of this was sent to Temple, which sent it to Temple University Japan, representatives from whom most likely sold their souls to the Japanese Government in return for getting the forms approved, and so on and so forth.
Now, Temple gave us specific instructions as to what and even how to write all this stuff out. For example, we were told to include more Asian-related courses than just the Japanese-language course, because otherwise we would be told to go to a language school in America and be denied. We were told to not put work experience or mention working in the letters of intent (Work visas are another story in Japan), and several other similar things. The Japanese government takes this seriously, so whatever your sponsoring school tells you to do when you're applying for your visa, do it.
To make a long story short, my Certificate of Eligibility arrived in about mid-July, roughly two months after the application had been sent out. But, of course, a CoE is not a visa. To get my visa, I had to fill out another application form, and mail that (as well as the CoE, a copy of the CoE, another passport photo, and my passport itself) to the Consulate General of Japan in New York (you may have to send your application to another Consulate General depending on where you live). 4 days later, my passport was mailed back to me with a year-long visa inside.
Slightly secondary in importance to making sure that Japan would let me into their country was the matter of getting myself there. While yes, you are flying halfway across the world, there are affordable options. Organizations like STA Travel provide students with large discounts and cheap fares. I saw some round-trips as low as the mid-$900s, but for $1300 we booked a round-trip flight on Japan Airlines (JAL), Japan's national carrier. I will depart from JFK International Airport in New York City to Narita International Airport in Chiba (actually about 60km from Tokyo proper). The flight itself will be a little under 14 hours long, and since Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of EST I'll lose a day, leaving at 1:30PM on a Wednesday and arriving at 4:20PM on a Thursday.
So what exactly have I done to get ready for this? Reading. Lots... and lots of reading. Some DDR thrown in to help me lose weight before I go, but besides that I've been trying to learn everything I can about the culture I'm about to dive into for a year. I found the Culture Shock! Tokyo book incredibly helpful as far as learning stuff about the culture. In addition I've posted asking questions to every decent online forum I can find, including JapanToday, LJ's tokyojapan community, the Everything Japanese Encyclopedia on Everything2.com, and more. When attending the orientation at Temple, the former students (those whom had just spent a semester over the past year in Tokyo) pretty much summed things up as to great ways to prepare:
1. Have a very open mind. If you don't have an open mind, get one. This culture is as far different from ours as it can be. You will see things that will totally throw you off no matter how much anime you've watched.
2. Learn some customs. Understanding a little about Japanese society will go a long way into helping you understand why they do certain things. You'll also gain more respect as a gaijin (literally, 'outsider') if you automatically do things like take your shoes off when you come inside, pour your friend's beer (the custom is that friends pour each other's drinks), and not play games with chopsticks (especially not leaving them sticking in food, which is a Buddhist funeral rite).
3. Learn the language. Japan is different from European countries in that you cannot expect most people you meet to speak English. This has to do with many things (I could write a seperate article on that, and probably will at some point), but for now just trust me. Learning some basic phrases like '_______ wa doko/nani desu ka?' (Where/what is _______), 'Sumimasen' or 'Gomen-nasai' (variations of 'excuse me/I'm sorry), will again get you respect points. If you're going to be in Japan for a while and there's a community college nearby that offers Japanese over the summer beforehand, by all means do it! If you know your kana (hiragana and katakana) when you step foot in Narita, that puts you far more ahead of the game than most other Americans.
That's all I can really say for now, mainly because this is a prelude to chapters that can't be written yet. I'm very interested to hear (serious) suggestions as to aspects of Japanese life/society/culture/etc you'd all like me to write about when I'm in Japan, so please leave comments of that nature on the forum thread for this article or drop me a PM/email/IM/whatever.
In addition, because I'm not sure if 'DOKool Destroys Tokyo' is the best name for this column that I can use, let's make it a mini-contest. If you give me a title I end up liking more and decide to use it, you get a postcard from Tokyo.
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