Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

August 27th 2007

Leaving early in the morning, I got on the shinkansen heading towards my university, Kansai Gaidai. I arrived in Kyoto and waited for the pickup from the university and met a few others that were scheduled for the same time. We waited around the exit, for a while and a person holding a “Welcome incoming Kansai Gaidai Students” helped us load our luggage into the bus that would be taking us to Hirakata City.

Arriving at the place where I would be living for almost 5 months, I was greeted by some student volunteers and we were ushered to respective dormitories we would be staying in for the week long orientation. All study abroad students would be staying in the dorms, or seminar houses as they called them, for the duration of the orientation regardless if they were home-stay or not, this way we would be able to meet each other, develop friendships, etc. 

It was almost 5pm when I arrived so I put my bags in my room and immediately wanted to take a shower, it was a few degrees cooler in Hirakata City than it was in Tokyo but it was still very hot and humid. This gives me the opportunity to describe the seminar houses a bit. 

At Kansai Gaidai there are four seminar houses. Seminar houses I, II, and IV are dormitory style while seminar house III ( the one I would be living in ) was apartment style. Dormitory style meant that there were many rooms per floor, and the bathroom and cooking facilities were shared. Apartment style meant that there were four suites per floor, in each suite there were four rooms housing two students each (unless a person got a single room). Also in each suite there were two sets of sinks, refrigerators and freezers for the kitchen/dining area, the bathroom area had four shower stalls, four sinks, and two toilets. There is also a living area with a tv, really large couch, and two tables. I will describe living in the seminar house in a later post, but that is the general layout of the seminar house’s living space.

For the duration of the orientation because there were so many students, the double rooms had three people sleeping in them, and the singles had two people. At the end of the week the home-stay students would move out. 

At first I didn’t meet any of my roommates or suite-mates, so I took the opportunity to walk around a bit. Also of note, at this point I only had one of my carry-on pieces of luggage because the others I had sent by Yamato Shipping and I couldn’t pick them up yet, so I did not have any towels yet. I went out in search of a place to buy towels so that I could shower. Here’s the area around the seminar houses ( image provided by Kansai Gaidai ):

After taking my shower  I went on a tour of the area hosted by the volunteers at around 7pm, it was a good way to get to know the area and meet some of my fellow study abroad students before classes started. We went to a couple of the supermarkets, the East Gate, the Katahoko bus stop, and the park shown on the image above. I had a good time walking and talking and met some cool people. Finally I made it back to seminar house III and met some of my suite-mates for the orientation period, and turned in for the night. 

In the next post I will write about the orientation itself; the rules and regulations, some of the activities, and my suggestions on what to do and what not to do, until then!!


In previous posts I mentioned that Ryan and I bought JR East passes and that they allowed us to ride on the shinkansen and other JR services. Allow me to expound further on that information.

In Japan the public transportation systems, of which the train and subway I have the most experience, is one of the best in the world. The times posted are when things arrive, depart, etc. without, barring for accidents and other mishaps, being late and are dependable and overall the best way to get around, in my opinion. The rail system in Japan is mainly owned by JR ( The Japan Rail Group ) and the bigger cities and other provinces have their own systems as well, most notably the Tokyo Metro and Toei Metro systems. JR runs the shinkansen and has trains running all over Japan. 

Available to the public are discounts for riding the trains, my favorite resource for this is the Japan-guide entry for Rail Passes. It includes discounts by region and has very good descriptions for all of them. 

On our trip Ryan and I acquired JR East Passes which allowed us unlimited travel on all JR lines ( including the shinkansen ) in the Kanto, Koshinetsu and Tohoku Regions. We used it mostly for the shinkansen but it did see some use for local travel as well. If we so wished, we could have used it for any bus systems that JR runs, but we didn’t use any of the local ( or long distance for that matter ) buses. That gives a good background on the JR Pass I think, now before I get to the actual “How to use” part of this I have to preface it just a bit more.

While in Tokyo we bought something called a Tokyo Free Kippu, which actually costs 1,580 yen, which allowed for unlimited travel on all subway lines, JR Trains, streetcars, and buses in Tokyo for one day. It is extremely handy for those who want to travel to many places in one day. You purchase this by going to the station attendant, the guy who sits in the box near the turnstiles for entry to the train and say “Tokyo furii kippu o kudasai” ( there’s your Japanese phrase for the day ^^ ). After it is purchased to use the ticket you show it to the station attendant of the station that you are getting off from, he hits the buzzer and you walk on through. No additional hassle, real easy and quick. Now here’s where the confusion set in.

Initially when we were going to use the JR East Pass we thought it would operate in the same fashion; show it to the station attendant, walk through, get on shinkansen, get off at ending station, show it to that station attendant, and that would be that. This method actually worked, although it is not supposed to and we found out when we went on one of the longer rides, luckily there was not any penalty for not knowing how to use a JR Pass, however, so that you do not have to go through that embarrassment, I will share my knowledge gained from making the mistake first hand.

How to use a JR Pass to purchase a shinkansen ticket ( The Right Way )

1. Have your JR Pass with you at all times, you do not want to lose it because you will not be able to get a replacement without buying a new one. Here is what your Rail Pass will look like:
JR East Pass

2. When arriving at the station look for the area where you would normally purchase a shinkansen ticket, the JR Rail Pass allows you to obtain the shinkansen ticket without having to spend any extra money for it, in other words it serves as your method of payment for the ticket itself.

3. When reaching the attendant tell him or her where you want to go: ” <destination> mahday” 

4. The attendant will tell you the times when the trains are leaving. Because the shinkansen goes long distances there may be only one going out every hour or something like that. If you don’t know Japanese very well here’s your best strategy: look confused, they will bring out a timetable and point to the times. Point to the time you want to leave, and they will ask you if you want a reserved or non-reserved ticket. Get a reserved ticket, this means that you will have your own seat, as opposed to non-reserved where the seats are first come first serve. If you didn’t have the Rail Pass the non-reserved is cheaper, but you’re not spending money so you might as well get the better placement.

5. A ticket will be printed and then handed to you, bow slightly and thank them. Your ticket will designate the time of departure, arrival, what car you will ride on, and what seat you have. Here’s an example:

6. Take your ticket, go to the entrance to the tracks and insert it into the gate. Proceed to the place where your car is and wait for the train to arrive. During the train ride you may need to show your ticket to one of the attendants on the train as you are going towards your destination.

7. When you arrive, insert your ticket to exit the station. You will not get it back, don’t worry that’s normal.

Congratulation you now know the right way to use your JR Pass and you should be able to get around Japan on the shinkansen without too much of a problem.