Kansai Gaidai


During orientation there will not be many Japanese students on campus because their semester starts at a different date. Some of the programs I think would be good to participate in is the Speaking Partner Program and the Experience Japan Programs that some of the students run. 

The Speaking Partner Program is especially good because this allows you to interact with and become friends with a Japanese person right off the bat. The person you will correspond with will most likely be an English Major and want to learn about the language and interact with a Gaijin (foreigner). They will show you things and help explain things to you, but overall just treat them like you would a friend back home. 

The Experience Japan Programs and set up by students of Kansai Gaidai and will focus on the travelling, traditons, and food of Japan. This is a good way to meet people and try new and or different things. I remember one of the first programs was a trip to Kyoto, and another was making and eating sushi. 

Besides these actual programs set up or organized by Kansai Gaidai there are some other things that I highly recommend doing. 

Explore the area. Whether it is by walking, bike or some other method of transportation just take some time to explore. I will be mentioning several places in subsequent posts, as well as how to get there and the like. 

After you have made some Japanese friends there are some things that you should have them help you out with, one of those things is to buy a bike. There are several used bike shops where you can buy one, and you should be able to get one for under 10000 yen (about 100 dollars), some much cheaper, regardless it is really handy to have a bike.

Another good thing to have a Japanese friend around for is to get your Alien Registration Card. If you are staying in Japan for longer than 90 days you are required to obtain an Alien Registration Card, this replaces having to carry your passport with you for the most part, and by law you must have your card with you at all times. To obtain your Alien Registration card you have to go to the Hirakata City Hall.

Before you go to the City Hall, there are some documents you have to present to them before you can get your card. When you were applying to Kansai Gaidai they had you provide a number of photographs of yourself, two of them should be given back to you when you get your orientation packet. You will need these two photos. If you don’t have them there is a photobooth directly under Hirakata-shi Station where you can get them done. Besides that you will need take your passport with you.

The easiest way to do that is to go to the Hirakata-shi train station, and walk to the Starbucks that is near the AMPM. Walk past the Starbucks on your left and a small park on your right the following building will be the City Hall. Walk into the door on your right (you’ll walk up a slightly inclined ramp), and walk into the building, you will walk down a hall and take a left. You will see a machine strait ahead a little further. You push a button on the machine that will give you a number and then wait for your number to be called (the button will have English below it denoting what it is for).  

After your number is called you walk past the machine and go to the left all the way down the set of desks, the last two or three are for obtaining your Alien Registration Card. There you will have to fill out the application for the card, this is where it is handy to have a Japanese friend with you because if you have any questions they can ask the attendant for you (not many spoke English when I was there). Bring your application packet because it has the address for the Seminar Houses and other information you may need to fill out the application. After filling out the application and getting approved you will be given a piece of paper that acts as a temporary Alien Registration Card, and be told when to come back for your actual card. 

Because this is already long and I have more that I will write I’ll end this post and call it Part 1, following will be Part 2 and there could be a Part 3 depending on how long the second part will be. So until then!

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When arriving at the Seminar House the staff (volunteer and otherwise) look up your name to make certain that you are an incoming student, where you will be housed for orientation, and so forth. When you check in you will have to show your passport for verification. When they are satisfied that you are who you say you are they give you an “Orientation Manual” and show you to your room.

This Orientation Packet has a wealth of information for you to take in. I will provide the short version here, by what I recommend.

  1. Make sure you read through the entire packet at least once, from there you can take what is necessary for you from it.
  2. Examine the “Orientation Schedule”. It will have all of the events that will be going on throughout the week that are hosted by Kansai Gaidai. Make sure to note when you are assigned to take the “Language Lab Orientation” and the “Japanese Placement Test”. Some events on the schedule that I recommend that you attend are:
    • The Banking Session; this will walk you through opening a Japanese Banking account through Sumitomo-Mitsui Bank. If you already have an international bank account (such as Citibank) this is not entirely necessary, but it is handy to have as Kansai Gaidai prefers to do business with this bank (such as crediting you with your housing deposits for instance).
       
    • If you are participating in the homestay program you should probably go to the Homestay Students’ Meeting, I assume they will give program specific information to you. In similar fashion, if you are going to be staying in a Seminar House for the semester you should attend the Seminar House Residents’ Meeting. You will be introduced to your Seminar House “Otoo-san” and “Okaa-san”, as well as your Resident Advisor and the other people that you will be living with for the rest of the semester. I recommend going to this to meet and talk with people, if you have already read the Orientation Manual then the information they provide will just be repetitive.
       
    • Student Loan Session and Payment of Fees; If you are taking out loans or need to make payments to the university while in Japan. This is mandatory if you have any money that is owed to Kansai Gaidai because they will not let you register for classes unless these are payed beforehand (common-sense).
       
    • Opening Ceremony and Welcome Luncheon; this is a nice ceremony and free food where you can meet people and explore the campus more.
       
    • Registration; Registering for classes is extremely important because you will go through a lengthly process where you will first get a number taken from a lottery of accepted students. You will then have to show up at the Center for International Education at Kansai Gaidai and stand in a line until it is your turn to register. When it is your turn you will have to show proof of payment for all fees (General Deposit, Liability Insurance Fee, Tuition, and Housing), proof of your insurance policy, signature on the Standards of Conduct Agreement and the Privacy Consent Form. After they are satisfied you will then present the courses that you wish to register for, because this is a “first come, first serve” kind of system having a favorable position in the registration lottery helps you get the courses you want. Because the maximum enrollment number for each course is 30 students, and there are over 400 international students, it pays not to be near the end of the line. NOTE: Make sure you have all of your insurance papers in order because this is what most students had problems with.
       
    • Besides these things the other events were not very necessary in my mind, however if there is something that looks interesting to go to, attend it. Otherwise I think your time would be best spent doing other things (of which I will recommend a few in a following post).
       
  3. Take out and post somewhere noticeable the Academic Calendar, because this tells you what the national holidays and when you have no classes, as well as deadlines, etc.
     
  4. Orientation Period Rules; During Orientation there are more strict rules that are put into effect that are lifted, or lessen, after the period comes to a close. 

  • There is a curfew of 10:00pm during the Orientation Period after which the outside gates are locked as well as the door into the Seminar House itself. If you come after the curfew you will have to ring the buzzer because you are not given a key to the outside gate or door until after you move into the Seminar House to begin the semester. This is especially annoying because this will wake Okaa-san and Otoo-san, more times that not hindering a less than favorable relationship between you and them.
     
  • During the Orientation Period there are no visitors allowed past the central lounge (for Seminar Houses I, II, and IV) or the lobby (Seminar House III). Also the visitors are not allowed to use any of the kitchen utensils, computer labs, or pretty much anything except the couch or common area. After orientation this is loosened up a bit, but they will check every now and then. 
     
  • No alcohol is allowed inside the dorms. There are plenty of bars and other places to drink around the area (in a later post I will mention a few of my favorites), just for harmony’s sake adhere to this rule. Also, this rule does not lift after the orientation period.
     
  • Quiet Hours at 10:00pm, you will get yelled at (in Japanese) if you are too loud after quiet hours begin. They say it is to harbor a good relationship with the neighbors. Seriously though, Japanese walls are not thick and sound travels farther than you think it would. Just try to be courteous, it goes a long way. This rule does not get lifted as well, although they will be a little more lenient with you.

Now that covers all of the official business I believe, so the next post will cover my personal “Orientation Dos and Don’ts,” until then!

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!!

So I leave for Japan in 5 days and I haven’t written in a while, that’s my fault. A lot has been going on and I have been neglecting the site, but no more! In the next 5 days, until I leave on the plane for Japan, I will be posting each day something for you to read. To start off; getting your visa.

As a normal passport will allow you to stay in Japan for 90 days without a visa, if you are going to Japan for vacation or just not staying there for long this post is not for you, but if you plan to stay longer read on. This post is also for obtaining a student visa and nothing else. I have no experience with acquiring a work visa or a visa of any other type so I will not pretend that I know otherwise. With that said let’s go through the process of getting your student visa!

The first step is to find your local Japanese embassy or consulate because that is the only location where your student visa to Japan can be processed and then given to you. There 18 Japanese consulates scattered across the US and this page I found has a list as well as a map showing their positions. For me, because I live in New York, I had to apply at the Consulate-General of Japan in New York which also services Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, The U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia, and Fairfield County of Connecticut. After you have visited the regional Japanese consulate’s website look for a link to their “visa” page, which should detail how to obtain a visa through them. I’m not sure if the application process is different in other states but I will describe my activities.

To apply for my visa through the NY consulate I had the option of doing it in person or sending the application in by mail. I chose to do it person because I prefer to handle any problems that might come up as soon as possible, also if I had any questions I could ask them to someone with knowledge on the subject. Before you attempt either methods of submitting your application there are a few things that you must have:

  1. Valid passport with at least one full empty visa page.
  2. A two inch square photograph taken within six months of the application. (you can get them done in almost all photo shops, I did mine in Wal-Mart just because of ease, ask to do a passport photo)
  3. Certificate of Eligibility (which you should have received from your university in Japan)

If you want to know how to do the mail in process you can find the application process here for the New York Consulate, likewise your local consulate should have a similar page. Make sure you include complete documentation and fill out everything, you wouldn’t want to receive back your unprocessed application because you didn’t fill something in. I recommend that even if you are going to do the process in person to download and take a look at the application to know everything that you have to take with you.

After I found the consulate, I was directed to the area to submit visa applications. I told the attendant that I was going to be studying abroad in Japan and was handed a form to fill out. I filled out all areas, including the date I am departing from the US to Japan and returning, and by what airline. I then handed them the two-by-two photo of myself, my certificate of eligibility, and payed any fee that was required of me. Because I didn’t plan on staying in NYC while they processed my application (about four business days) I also gave them a U.S. Express Mail self-addressed stamped envelope with completed express mailing label and the postage that I purchased at my local US Postal Office. The following week I received my visa, now all that is left is to prepare to travel to Japan, which will be covered in the next four posts.

If you are in one of the areas serviced by the New York Consulate of Japan and you decide to travel to NYC to do the same process I described, let me recommend a hotel to stay at: The Pod Hotel New York (formerly the Pickwick Arms). It was cheap ($106 with tax), especially for a hotel in Manhattan, and the staff were very nice. Overall I had a very good experience in the hotel and would suggest that anyone who is planning to go to New York City on a budget take this into consideration. It was also in a very good location being at 230 E 51st St. it was only a few blocks away from the consulate.

After you have your visa, you have done all of the required material for you to leave the US, that’s a big step. Next time I will be talking about getting ready to actually leave on your plane, until then!

I just received my Certificate of Eligibility in the mail yesterday from Kansai Gaidai so I thought it would be a good idea to talk about what you should do before you go to get your visa. I have little idiosyncrasies, one of them being if I am going on a trip; to a major city, to another state, to a different country, to a country I haven’t been to in a separate continent, etc. I do a lot of research on where I am going to have a feel of where I am going before I actually get there. Japan is no different.

I have been to Japan once before in spring of 2005 for spring break visiting Tokyo for eight days. I did about a month of research on Tokyo before my flight touched down. I do more research if I am only going to a place for a limited amount of time because I want to make the most of the time that I am there. I still haven’t changed but because I will be in Osaka for five months I am doing a little less research because I figure that I can explore and do most things first hand. However, and I recommend that you do this as well, I scheduled my flight so that it is about 10 days before I have to arrive in Osaka to Kansai Gaidai for their orientation so that I can explore Japan a little before I have to buckle down for university. Here’s what happened:

A good friend of mine named Ryan who I’ve known for a couple of years now, was planning to visit a friend of his that teaches English in Japan outside of the Tokyo area. He found out that I was going to do study abroad and that I was leaving about the same time he was going to visit his friend. We talked a bit and this is when I decided to go a little early to sight see, which is why I’ll talk a little about researching where you’re going because I did exactly that for our little trip.

Like I said a little earlier his friend lives outside of Tokyo, about 45 minutes to be exact, for his job. I’ve also been to Tokyo before so I know some good places to visit so we are going to plan most of that trip the first day that we get there, we land August 15th at Narita Airport. I’ll outline our trip:

  • August 15th – 16th : On plane to Narita
  • August 16th – 20th : Traveling inside of Tokyo.
  • August 21st : Going to Mt. Fuji and Hakone
  • August 22nd – 26th : Northern Japan trip

Organizing your time is the most important part. Deciding where you will go and when is also the hardest thing to plan. In planning you should also divide your research into two parts; what you plan to do/activites, and where you will sleep/lodging. Luckily I have some experience in the area of planning and I can give some pointers of what I have done in the past years to make it a little easier for you.

When planning a trip around Japan one of the best resources is to search the internet, it is one of the best resources and one you should consult frequently because it is ever changing. For this trip we are going to be around Tokyo then taking a five day journey around Northern Japan, mainly the Tohoku Region and the Southern tip of Hokkaido. There are a few websites that are really good for finding information so that you can plan your trip.

The first is the Japan Travel Bureau that I mentioned in the Your flight, now there’s a task. post, they have a wealth of information that will help you in planning things to do while you’re in Japan. If you are going to be around the Tokyo area I highly recommend visiting the Ghibli Museum, it makes for a fun day trip. For this upcoming trip I will be purchasing the 5 consecutive day JR East Pass and the Full Day Mt. Fuji and Hakone tour from JTB.

There are three other websites that I found particularly helpful in the planning process: Yokoso! Japan, VirtualTourist, and Japan-guide. I suggest you look through each of these websites when looking for things to do in Japan, I know they gave me a good bunch of suggestions. One of my favorite pages on each of these websites are the events calendars that list festivals and such, like one of these for example. You should definitely go to japan-guide’s forums, there are a lot of very nice people that will help you with whatever questions you might have.

After you have had your fill of those websites looking for things to do (they aren’t designed that well but they do have a good amount of information), you should stop at your local bookstore megamart or amazon, whichever you prefer for some books. At the top of my list of travel books are Rough Guides and Lonely Planet. I prefer Rough Guides because of the writing style and the layout, but Lonely Planet is a close second. Don’t bother with the others as they basically just list things in a boring fashion. If you are traveling to a specific city and they have a book about it, say Tokyo, then pick up that book not the general guide to Japan book. These books have a wealth of information that are probably located on websites somewhere but nowhere near as well laid out for you. Another plus of the book is that you can take it with you on your travels and it fits neatly in your pack, unlike printouts from websites. I suggest you take a high lighter to these books and mark anything that looks interesting to you so that you can better plan your trip, both also help you with finding a place to stay while you are exploring which brings me to my next topic: finding a place to stay.

In Japan you have several options; you have western style hotels that are what you are used to, but why stay in something that you are used to and can find anywhere in your home country? Isn’t that why you chose Japan? So you can try something different? I suggest you go strait for the ryokans. Ryokans are Japanese style inns, you know with the tatami mats, low tables, and sleeping on futons (real futons not what you would buy in a store). First look in the books that you purchased for possible places, but I have found two websites that have a very good selection of ryokans for your viewing pleasure: Japanese Guest Houses and Welcome Inns. I suggest looking through each thoroughly and if possible reserve your night at a ryokan before you leave for Japan.

Well I have gone on longer than I meant to with this post but I guess this might make up for not posting in a long time. Next time I will talk about getting your visa and other things relating to that topic, so until then!

There are a few things that you will need to take care of before you leave for your Study abroad trip. You will have to organize what will happen when you are abroad with your home campus. The first step you should take is to discuss your decision with your adviser, that person you should be seeing every semester or so to make sure you are taking the correct courses to advance your major. When you go to talk with him/her you should bring a couple of things with you.

  • Information about the study abroad program (if your home campus is the one offering the study abroad that makes things a little easier)
  • The course listing for the semester you are studying abroad of your home campus, if available.
  • The course listing for the semester you are studying abroad of the study abroad university, if available.

Some advisers require you to make an appointment while others don’t mind walk-ins. When you do go to discuss your plans with your advisor, with the above things in hand, here’s what you should discuss (this is just a basic outline, so feel free to add or subtract topics as you see fit):

  • What courses are left that you need to take to complete your major
  • What forms you will have to fill out to get credit for courses taken while you are studying abroad

After talking with your adviser your next stop will probably the registrars office, or the study abroad office of your university to talk about how your courses will be handled for the semester(s) that you are in Japan. You will need to register for courses for the first semester you will be in Japan with the home campus so that you are still an active student and can continue to receive any scholarships and financial aid that you have had in previous semesters. That leads you to your next stop, the financial aid office of your college.

While at the financial aid office, make sure you discuss how to continue receiving the financial aid that you currently have. Also see if there are any other financial aid programs that you are eligible for because you are studying abroad, you may be pleasently surprised. The financial aid office should be your last stop, although they may tell you that you need to see another office, just follow their directions and you should be fine.

Your finances and your enrollment are the most important things that you will have to deal with at your home campus so that is a good weight to get off your back as soon as possible. Next time I’ll be discussing some things you should do before you receive your Certificate of Eligibility from your study abroad campus, which then allows you to get your visa, so until then!

A few months before you leave, consequently starting your study abroad experience, the campus you are doing the study abroad program through will hold an orientation giving general information, and possibly having some people that have done the program in past semesters and academic years. Although it is probably not mandatory I recommend going to this orientation, at the very least to meet some of the other students that will be joining you on your trip to Japan.

The first part will most likely be a general orientation, some kind of presentation with all of the study abroad students going to all of the countries offered by that university (the general orientation I attended at SUNY at Albany was held in a big auditorium/lecture hall with students going to Spain, Germany, the UK, Japan, and many other countries). This presentation will contain the most generalized information regarding things such as financial planning, organizing your time, dealing with culture shock and jet lag, and reverse culture shock to name a few topics. Because it is such general, broad sweeping information a lot of it will be generic and common sense, however you should pay attention because a couple of gems of information may be given. Also, because it is held before a large group you probably won’t be able to ask questions, so write down or keep in mind questions that you want to ask. They should also give you a packet of information, read it over at the very least, taking notes probably isn’t necessary but if that’s how you remember things better feel free to do so.

After the general orientation, they should separate you into smaller groups by regional program. Depending on how big the university’s study abroad program they may put you into a group of study abroad students going to Japan or, if they have a smaller amount of students, all the students going to Eastern Asian countries (the former was true with my experience, rather than the latter). Regardless you will be grouped with students going to the same general area as yourself, as well as the adviser or program coordinator for your area of travel. My recommendation is to not be shy, don’t be afraid to talk to the other people in the room. Be sure to ask questions that you have, the adviser will know the answer, or if he/she doesn’t they will find out the information for you. A lot of the information provided to you will be different from university to university. For me, there was a student that had gone to Kansai Gaidai the ’06-’07 academic year, so I asked all of my questions directly to her, the answers to which I will be providing in subsequent posts to this blog in due course.

So that should take you through to your orientation, next time I will go through what you should discuss and organize with your home campus (in my case I don’t go to SUNY at Albany so I will describe what needs to go on if you go to a college that isn’t directly providing the study abroad program to you, but it should be very similar for any campus, although significantly easier if you go to a university that provides that program directly), so until then!

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