Essay from last semester

Here's a short essay from last semester which basically looked at the difference between two similar Japanese words, 'fuwafuwa' and 'mofumofu', both of which basically mean something like 'fluffy' in English. It was really fun to write. I'm hoping someone (maybe someone planning on coming on a year abroad) finds this useful/interesting.

My essays are generally written in an academic(?) style with hard, formal vocabulary but you don't have to copy that. My Chinese classmate was writing really elegant, flowery prose for her essays which I thought was impressive. I wish I could show you an example but I'll respect her privacy. Anyways, enjoy:





(1) 無類のわんこ好きで、愛犬のポメラニアンを毎日もふもふすることが至福の時。
(2) 子猫よりメタボな猫をもふもふしたい気分です。


Month Five - Exams finally over!

Been super busy with exams and essays lately but they're finally all finished so I guess it's the Spring holidays now. The exams went fine I think (some were harder than others...) and the essays were good so I doubt there will be a problem with me passing this level. That will mean no Japanese language classes next semester and I can just take normal undergrad classes with the home students which I'm greatly looking forward to. As far as I'm aware, I am able to take pretty much any humanities and social science classes so I'd better start thinking about what to take. I fancy some philosophy and history in Japanese :D

As far as plans for the Spring holidays go, I'll definitely be visiting Fukuoka and Disneyland Tokyo. I'm also considering Odaiba and/or Hakone for a nice hot-spring retreat. There's also a games arcade near where I live which I've been meaning to go to. It's been designed faithfully in the image of Hong Kong's (now demolished) Kowloon Walled City using period photographs. To put it simply, the City was a crazy, overcrowded, lawless district and this arcade has reconstructed it in spectacular fashion.

Take a look at some of the photos around the middle of this page:

I'm kinda gutted I won't get to see much more of the teachers I had this semester because they were all such lovely people. One of them made an awesome, professional looking little book out of the essays we'd written for her this semester (pic below). I'll make a new blog entry and copy one of the essays into it in case anyone wants to have a look. Might be interesting for anyone considering/coming on a year abroad.

My Japanese has improved in a whole load of ways this last semester; more than I expected it would. While I've seen improvement all around, I've identified three areas where I've seen the most improvement:

  • Writing essays. I've learned more about the vocabulary and writing style etc used in different kinds of Japanese essays. But more than anything, I've just had the opportunity to write a lot more essays in Japanese than I normally would. Like they say, practice makes perfect.
  • Reading speed. This is another case of practice makes perfect considering we went though around 10 novels in one class this semester.
  • Writing kanji by hand. This still needs work but I've improved considerably this semester from having to take notes etc by hand rather than computer.
I'm looking forward to next semester were I can put these skills into practice in the "real world" so-to-speak of normal undergrad classes. Anyways, take a look at my next entry (I'll put it up right away) for an example of an essay I wrote for one of my classes :)


Month Four - Finally reached the Winter holidays

Okay so I've been drowning in homework, reports, presentations and tests for weeks so I don't have very much to write about. But the Winter holidays have finally begun and I spent an awesome Christmas here in Japan so let me put up some photos!

Christmas Illuminations in Roppongi.

Sometimes they turn red.

These ones are from Shinjuku. Super impressed with Japanese Christmas illuminations as a whole!

Roppongi Hills where I visited a modern art gallery before going to...

This bar on the highest floor. For some reason it was incredibly cheap, but the food and drink was great and we got these seats with the best view! 

Saw these New Years (not Christmas) decorations on the way home. There's people who work through the night to bring down the Christmas decorations and put up the New Years decorations as soon as Christmas is over.

In other news, I also visited the Moomin Cafe in Korakuen earlier this month. Because hey, who didn't used to love the Moomins?

Oh hello there.

I also visited a cat cafe in Ikebukuro. It was such a relaxing paradise; I didn't want to leave. All the seats are sofas or comfy chairs, you can get free refills of tea and coffee, choose something to read from their huge selection of comic books, and best of all you're doing this while surrounded by cute cats. Like this guy!

Meow. What could be better?

On a more serious note, I was really impressed by how well the cats were treated. They weren't forced to do anything they didn't want to do, and there was a spacious 'rest room' which they switched the cats in and out of so they didn't get fed up of humans.

Well, that's most of the interesting things I've done lately. Back to homework!


Month Three - Of Bikes and Clubs. And some photos...

Hey. I got woken up by an earthquake for the first time today. I feel so Japanese...

In other news, I gave into temptation and bought a cheap bike. It's making my life much easier. So easy now to get to and from the station, go shopping, go sightseeing, etc etc. I also managed to prove the old maxim ("once you learn how to ride a bike you never forget") true since it must have been 10 years or so since I last rode a bike. I thought it would cost a lot more than it does as well so I would absolutely recommend it if you can find a cheap bike (¥10000 or less). They come with a lock already. In my case the bike itself was about ¥10000 plus ¥120 every time I want to park my bike at the station which would be about 4 times a week...

¥10000 + (¥120 x 4 x 4 weeks in a month x 9 months) =  ¥27280 = £172

Not bad at all I think!

I want to talk a little about clubs (サークル) at Japanese universities and why you should definitely join one regardless of your Japanese level. First of all, there are clubs for everything. Multiple clubs for every kind of sport you could think of; everything like photography, film, hiking, walking, anime, manga; niche clubs for fans of certain bands; clubs without a particular theme just for people to hang out and make friends... everything! Of course, there's also the typical clubs for foreign exchange students like language exchange or "cultural exchange" clubs.

I've been thinking about clubs and exchange students a little lately and I can only recommend joining a normal club full of Japanese people if you have even a basic level of Japanese where you can have basic conversations. I think it would enhance anybody's experience in Japan so much as well as push up their Japanese level leaps and bounds. Of course everyone in the club will be super nice and welcoming to the new foreign guy, and it's such a great opportunity to make genuine Japanese friends based off a common interest.

Perhaps if I talk a little about my experiences so far with the Keio Chess Club you'll get what I mean a bit better. We generally meet up a few times a week and chat about random stuff while playing/studying chess for a few hours. Everyone's super laid-back and up for a laugh so it's a nice atmosphere. We also tend to go for dinner at a restaurant afterwards which is nice and provides more opportunity to chat. From the start, everybody was really welcoming and inclusive, and by now I've made some proper friends who will invite me to stuff outside of club activities.

I doubt many people reading this care about chess (World Championship just started!!!!) so I won't bore you with any more info about what we do (if you want more details leave a comment^^;). I just wanted to say I think people are missing out on an great opportunity when they just join the typical "exchange student" clubs, and people shouldn't be afraid to join a "real" club. I seriously feel people will try to accommodate you and include you no matter what your level of Japanese is.

Hmm. Let's end this post with some photos!

Tokyo Tower, as seen from the observatory deck of the Trade Center.

Kyari Pamyu Pamyu concert yesterday was fantastic. I now know the dance moves to go with four of her songs(^^;)

Mt. Fuji. From a local festival.


From the nabe (hot pot?) party at my dorm.

Miyazaki's last film was awesome.

Shinagawa station, Yokosuka line.


Week Three - Placement test results & classes

So after a Japanese Language placement test and lots of orientation sessions, classes are finally under way. I'm not sure how I managed it but I got placed in level 12, the highest level. No-one was more surprised than me (I must have checked my student number at least 5 times to make sure), but it's basically the best thing that could have happened to me because now I can take loads of interesting classes. I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to write about the contents of the placement test but I can say I think it's a good test, as far as tests go. It will test you in grammar, reading and listening, and with most questions requiring a written answer rather than multiple-choice, you should have plenty of opportunity to show what you can do.

The three core classes for level 12 seem to provide a good balance of different types of Japanese. One class deals with serious pieces of academic writing and non-fiction (reading『文明開化 失われた風俗』right now), while in another we look at modern Japanese literature (now reading 『博士の愛した数式』). The last class deals with listening comprehension and it looks like we'll be watching a lot of documentaries. Home work is mostly reading and vocab-building.

There's also a wide range of optional classes, from skill-focused classes which focus on a specific aspect of Japanese such as reading, writing, or kanji, to International Centre classes which look at different aspects of Japan and East Asia. Being above level 8, I can also take regular classes with the native Japanese students which should be good for my Japanese and also serve as an opportunity to make Japanese friends. I'm going to take the highest level writing class, the aim of which is supposedly to achieve a level of writing ability on par with that of Japanese graduate students. It looks like we're going to analyse a wide range of academic texts and do an hour long piece of writing every class which we will get individual feedback on.

I only have one classmate for the my regular language classes -- a Chinese girl who's also just started at Keio -- so I'm experiencing the best teacher/student ratios of my life. Luckily my classmate is an awesome person so it should be a fun semester. Japanese is by far our best common language so we speak in Japanese the whole time which I'm enjoying. In fact, I've made a few Chinese friends here through the common language of Japanese. I've never had the opportunity to have a good conversation with somebody from mainland China before so I've learned a lot. We've already talked about "controversial" topics such as the internet censorship, visits from the police, teachers disappearing, Tiananmen Square, the Cultural Revolution under Mao, food safety and air quality, etc etc., and it's been really interesting to hear a normal Chinese person's perspective.


Day 5 - Life in Japan so far

In short, living in Japan so far has been great. Every day has been fun and productive.

Street I take every day to the local train station.

To sum up my days so far really quickly...
Day 1: Move into accommodation and explore shops and such in the surrounding area. 3 convenience stores and a supermarket!

Day 2: Get bus to ward office and register residence and national health insurance. Much easier than I thought it would be.

Day 3: Get train to Tamachi, Tokyo and meet my friend. Explore area around my university, buy some bathroom stuff in shops, catch a bit of a festival, and finish off with a nice salad, chips and all-you-can-drink for only 450 yen (£2.90) each at a really nice, relaxed restaurant.

Day 4: Get a train to Shimbashi, Tokyo and buy all the electronic goods I need from a couple of stores there - Rice cooker, shaver, and mobile phone (went for the SoftBank prepaid phone in the end).
The train in SL Plaza just outside Shimbashi stn. If you can see デジタル館 behind it, that's where I got my phone.

Day 5: Get a train to Tamachi and sort out bank account. Get another train from there to Harajuku to meet a friend and explore a few major streets and do some shopping.
 Takeshita Street in Harajuku, nice and crowded.

Some... interesting t-shirts.

It's been easy but really fun to get used to all the little things like the way Japanese people queue up to board the train, or how, when the train is really crowded, people stood by the door get off then back on again at stops to let the people behind them off easily. All the little rules that make life here run smoothly.

Using Japanese as my main language everyday has been great. I can already feel myself improving and I haven't been here a week. Having a good level of Japanese just makes life here easier and a lot more fun as well. I've asked for directions, made friends with old women from the bus, cracked jokes with sales staff, managed official stuff (registering residence, bank etc) all in Japanese; not to mention all the times knowing Japanese has come in useful just reading signs, notice boards, listening to announcements etc. I'm fully confident in my ability to handle whatever situations arise here (at least as much as I would be back in the UK) and that's a good feeling.

Tomorrow will be my first proper day at uni. It looks like I'll be in from 10:00 till 17:15 with various orientation meetings and a campus tour. Wish me luck. It's the start of what I predict is going to be an incredibly fun and rewarding year abroad :)


Day 2 - Regarding Accommodation - Plume IS

So after my 14 and a half hour journey, here I am on my second day in Japan. A bus from Narita to Tokyo Station, and a train from there to Shin Kawasaki brought me to my new home for the year: Plume IS. The accommodation is great. It's basically a normal one-person flat with its own kitchen area and everything - for the same price I was paying for student halls with flatmates in the U.K.

Hallway and kitchen area. Note the lower area by the door (genkan) to take off shoes like in a proper Japanese home. Also note the nice new washing machine. Having your own free washing machine with all utility bills being included in rent is pretty amazing.

Cute little bathroom. Not much to say here except that it has a bath as well as a shower which I thought was pretty cool for student accommodation.

My room. Comes with bedding and internet cable and everything. 4 large drawers under the bed, a decent size cupboard for hanging clothes, a huge set of shelves I'm making good use of already, air conditioning, a telephone only for receiving calls, and a rather large balcony which is great for drying clothes.

The only downside would be the fact that its a 40 min journey from the campus I will be studying at, but that's the same for all Keio dorms, otherwise we would be paying Tokyo prices like my friend who is paying more money a month than me in rent for accommodation where he must live with a roommate. You might think the money saved is lost again in commuting expenses, but in Japan students can get a cheap pass which will allow them to travel between their home station and university station without buying a ticket. According to the documents we were given when we moved in, this will cost 29,540 Yen (£190) for 6 months, where as using normal tickets would cost 420 Yen (£2.70) everyday. Not only are my commuting costs more than halved, I can use the pass to just get into the centre of Tokyo too. Definitely recommended for anyone coming here.

For anyone applying for Keio - there's 2 dorms which have a private kitchen (=no flatmates). Both are fairly cheap; one incredibly so. You will be able to pick 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices for accommodation, and also 3 factors like distance from uni, price, having a private kitchen, etc. which are important for you so you fill it in right you should end up with what you want.

So yeah, this was just about accommodation, but life in Japan in general has been simply awesome so far as well. Gonna write about that tommorrow~