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!!

Before you leave on the plane for Japan there are a few things that you should do. First thing is that you will need money when you are in Japan. I recommend going to your bank and getting $500 to $1000 in travelers checks. This will enable you to do anything without having to worry about money for a while. Travelers checks are the best solution for money since you can go to any bank to cash them and they will calculate the exchange rate and give you the correct amount of yen back.

I know there are a lot of things that I am forgetting to write, please forgive me. I am going to board the plane in a few hours and as with big decisions, large doubts enter your mind and you start thinking more about what could go wrong. Thankfully when you step on the plane this feeling of pressure lessens and you start to flow with renewed energy, at least that is how it has worked for me in the past, and I am hoping the same thing happens this time as well.

You go through a couple phases when you are traveling to Japan: you feel exited, scared, overwhelmed, awed, exited, and finally bummed out that you have to leave. As you can tell I am firmly in the scared stage, not because I am scared of leaving or of flying but because I am scared that things won’t go ideally, that something will just go wrong. Here’s to hoping things go well, right?

So here we are on the final segment of my first multi-part series on Corbin in Japan, to be honest I kind of write things with only an idea in mind and then going from there. Doing this website and subsequently describing how I pack has been a good mental and writing exercise for me and I hope it has been at least semi-informative (and perhaps a little entertaining) to those who have been reading it.

I really do appreciate any feedback so please don’t hesitate to email or leave me a comment. I have some plans for the future of the website, including starting a podcast, which would only exist for the five months that I will be in Japan. I’ve already purchased the hardware and downloaded the software to make it a reality. After I land in Japan on August 16th, we’ll see how it works out. I’m hoping it comes out decent. In any case without further ado lets get started on Part III, shall we?

“How long will I be staying?”
I will be staying in Japan for a total of five months so like I mentioned in Part II, I will be packing about two weeks worth of clothes. When I pack clothes for traveling or moving I tend to think of the purposes they will serve so I tend to group them in categories.

  • Dress or formal wear
  • Casual wear
  • Sports wear
  • Shoes

I plan to take one suit with me, and several dress shirts, two blazers, as well as a good pair of khaki pants which can double for casual wear as well. That’s just usually the style of clothes that I wear. As far as strictly casual wear, I plan to take several polo shirts and t-shirts, three pairs of shorts, and two pairs of jeans. To go along with these categories I am taking one track jacket, one pull-over hoodie, one zip-up hoodie, and a leather jacket for when it gets colder. As far as sports wear I will be taking three pairs of basketball shorts, and a few t-shirts that I’m not afraid of getting sweat on ^_^ .

For shoes I will be taking three pairs of casual shoes, one pair of basketball shoes, and one pair of dress shoes. And of course pack enough underwear and socks for two weeks time. I try to pack minimally but I also like to be prepared, this is a little more than I would usually pack but that is mainly because I have never been to a foreign country for more than a week and a half, not to mention taking into account the answer to the next question.

“How available are replacement items?”
I’m 5’11” (180cm) tall, wear a men’s size 11 shoe, and am an overall large dude. Which translates in Japanese to we don’t have clothes for you, at least not easily to find. If it would be easier to find clothes while I’m in Japan I probably wouldn’t pack quite as much just to save on shipping charges (which I will mention in tomorrow’s post).

I plan on taking a few good sized English language books with just so I have something to read if I want to, as well as several American movies. Bringing American movies with you is a good idea on many levels. First, you will have movies that you can watch without subtitles (which I don’t mind); and second, Japanese people like American movies (at least the ones I have talked to) so they will want to watch them with you as well, making it a good way to meet people. Besides a few books and movies I don’t plan on taking too many English language things with me.

“What will I need?”
I’ve already mentioned the clothes end of what I will be packing which is probably the largest part. Now that I have that set aside I can go one to other things that I will need. For me, I need a computer. I am going to be bringing along both my laptop (1.5Ghz Powerbook G4) and my desktop (Intel single core Mac Mini) as well as my 19″ LCD monitor and a slim line set of speakers. Luckily the Mac Mini et al fit in my 29″ stand up rolling luggage quite well.

A note on all electronics, Japan does not have a grounding prong on their sockets, for whatever reason. If you plan to bring any electronics with you I would recommend bringing two power-strips and buy two Three-Prong Grounded Plug Adapters for a Two-Prong Wall Outlet, that way you will be able to plug in just about any electrical item you bring with you.

Here is a tip for packing electronics and other things, do not pack them in the boxes-wrap clothes around them. It saves room because you are not using any extra packing material (styrofoam or packing peanuts), and serves the same purpose: to insulate so that things are not damaged. I am also taking an English-Japanese dictionary with me. You should also pack toiletries: shampoo, deodorant, a towel, electric shaver, etc. Whatever you think you will need.

As far as organization with your luggage goes, remember that you will have three pieces of luggage (if you are using American Airlines, keep in mind the limits for whatever airlines you decide to use), don’t be afraid to distribute your items between the bags, be sure to keep each individual bag below the weight limit as well. You will want to keep the most immediately needed items in your carry-on piece of luggage, as well as an extra set of clothing, just in case your checked luggage gets lost by the airlines.

“What else can I fit that I want?”
Now that the essentials are packed I have extra room for anything else I want to bring with me. I plan on bringing my Wii and my Nintendo DS Lite with me to Japan. I have room for both, the Wii I will pack with the checked luggage that will be sent on ahead to Kansai Gaidai before I arrive there. The DS I will pack in my carry-on so I will have some short term amusement both on the plane and in Japan. I will also be packing the podcasting equipment that I bought so I will have to find room for that as well. With that I am pretty much fully packed.

After you have finished packing, weigh your luggage to make sure that everything is according to the limits set by the airlines. If something is over the weight limit redistribute some into your other luggage to meet the requirements. After you have everything all packed and meeting all conditions made by the airlines you are all set. Next post, which will be the final post outside of Japan (!!!), I will cover money, and other last minute things before you board the plane, so until then!

The Art of Packing, Part I
The Art of Packing, Part II
The Art of Packing, Part III

Last we left off I outlined the four key points of developing your packing plan; “How long will I be staying?”, “How available are replacement items?”, “What will I need?”, “What else can I fit that I want?”. I will expound on them further in the following paragraphs.

We’ll take the first question to begin with, “How long will I be staying?”. This question is the most important one and for good reason, it will determine how much you will need to take with you. There is really only three main answers for this question; less than a week, about a week, and two weeks or more. If you are packing for less than a week more often than not you will only need about three day’s worth of clothes, which can be fit in a piece of luggage quite easily. If it is about a week, just bring a week’s worth of clothing, it will pay off in the long run.

If you are going to be in Japan for two weeks or more, which is what I would expect if you plan on doing study abroad in Japan, then pack at least two week’s worth of clothing. The types of clothing depend on the person of course, but bring enough where you won’t have to do laundry every 4 or 5 days. Also if you are staying for more than two weeks you should also make space for other things besides clothing, such as any electronics you plan on taking with you (I will detail this choice a little more in Part III of this series). A quick note, I am a 21 year old male so I make my recommendations on clothing and shoes from that point of view, I realize that those of the female persuasion may require a larger amount of both. ^_^

The next question, “How available are replacement items?” is an especially important one as it will be the deciding factor on the amount of anything that you plan to bring with you. For instance, if you wear shoes that are size 9 (mens) or larger you should bring several pairs of shoes with you simply because you will have a hard time finding any replacements if you wear yours out. The same goes for clothing, the average Japanese person is not that large so if you are a larger person (horizontally or vertically) you will naturally have a harder time finding replacement clothing, so plan accordingly. The same goes with English language books, dvds, etc. Japan does not have a very large English speaking population so finding entertainment in English may be difficult, take what you think will suffice for the length of time you will be overseas.

The third key question is, “What will I need?”. I know it seems like common sense but seriously it is easier to pack with the bare essentials and then whatever else you want, than the other way around. Having too much to begin with then narrowing it down will be harder on you than starting with what you need then expanding from there. Obviously clothing is a necessity, I would also recommend at least three pairs of shoes. Do not, however, bring an electric alarm clock over to Japan. There are two reasons why I say this; first, you can easily purchase an alarm clock once you get to Japan; and second, it will not keep time correctly because Japan runs on a different electrical frequency (which is what clocks use to keep time) although other two pronged electriacl items should be fine. Other than that, like I said, keep it simple the need stuff first.

After you have covered what you need, you should have space left for what you want, which leads us to the final key question, “What else can I fit that I want?” The key piece of information is how much space do you have left? It is easy to fill that space once you have it, but making the room first is the hard part. Obviously you can only pack what you want into your luggage if it will fit, keep that in mind, although it is okay to overstuff a little bit. ~_^

After you have finished packing it is time to make sure that everything still meets the size and weight limits set by the airlines, just measure you luggage with a yardstick and weigh it on a household scale. It may not be perfectly accurate but close is good enough as long as it is under the limits. If one of your bags is over the limit (most likely weight wise) just re-distribute the contained items until everything is under the limit. It is a lot easier to do this at home rather then at the airport creating a bottleneck for people wanting to get on.

So this time I went through, in detail, my strategy on planning to pack. Next time I will give you direct examples of what I plan on taking with me on my flight to Japan, until then!

The Art of Packing, Part I
The Art of Packing, Part II
The Art of Packing, Part III

A friend of mine who has travelled to Japan (she’s Japanese) recommended two websites that she knows of that offer extremely low prices for airfare to Japan. They were so low in fact that I felt the need to post them up here so that everyone who reads my site would know about them. Seriously though you can get airfare for really low prices on these websites.

In fact I will probably be using one of those websites the next time I decide to travel to Japan. Anyway that was kind of an emergency bulletin message, later today I will resume the three part special on packing, until then!