Surviving the Intensive Japanese
for Science and Technology (IJST) Program
A program offered by the Kanazawa Institute of Technology
Things to do before leaving
What to expect from the KIT Program
The first day
During your stay
Things to do outside of Kanazawa
Surviving Kanazawa is not a big task at all, however this guide should assuage any worries and thoroughly prepare you for the trip. The key to a successful study abroad experience in this 500,000 (approx.) population metropolitan area of Kanazawa is willingness to step outside of your comfort zone and constantly analyze your surroundings to further understand the culture in which you will soon be immersed. Whether you have been out of the country before or not, the same steps should be taken in advance to assure that you have the right information to be confident in yourself while living in a very new and completely strange place.
This guide will serve as one student's collection of information pertinent to the Intensive Japanese Science and Technology program offered by the Kanazawa Institute of Technology in Kanazawa, Japan.--Andrew McAllister
List of Things to Pack:
Being prepared for the trip can first be accomplished by packing the right things. Here is a list, but always remember to "think light":
· Camera & film (Digital or film still camera? Video camera? Batteries?). (see Cameras below)
· Bath towel
· Clothes (see note on clothes below)
· Some food you like that is nonperishable
· Money in traveler's checks (see Money Considerations)
· Something for coins (optional)
· Key chain for Apartment key
· Fingernail Clippers - you will be there that long!
· CD/MD/MP3 Player (optional)
· Programs you may want (See "What to expect from KIT")
· 4' to 6' Ethernet cable (RJ-45 connectors on both ends)*
· Suntan lotion
· Beach clothes
· First aid kit
· Good walking shoes
· Suit or female equivalent
· Backpack / Daybag
· Gifts for your home stay family
· Water bottle (Nalgene bottles are great)
· Small book about things to do in Japan (AAA guide)
· Japanese-English Dictionary
· Credit Card
· Alarm clock (see note on Alarm Clock)
· A few pictures of your family and/or hometown
· Notebook for Journal (small)
· This Survival Guide!
Things not to bring:
· Too many clothes
· Too much junk
· Drugs or Guns = no.
*They give you a 2' cable that is a little inconvenient - this can be found at Best Buy.
Cameras: Consider your length of stay, and how many photos you want to snap per week in your purchasing of film. Film in the US is cheaper than in Japan. Also, consider the cost of developing each roll once you get back! I spent $50 on film developing, although I know another person on the trip spent $100 on developing film. Realize that there is only so much you can capture on film, and that you do not want to spend the whole trip behind a camera (unless that's your thing J). All of the cost of developing can be avoided with a digital camera, of course.
Clothes: The weather in Kanazawa is similar to the weather in Champaign. The major difference is that June is the rainy season in Kanazawa, so preparation for this is important. The temperature usually is warm enough for shorts, though jeans are more stylish there. You will be doing your laundry, so take that into consideration when you decide how many days of clothing you should pack. I took 6 day's worth and was very comfortable washing laundry once a week. By the end of the trip, no one will care that you're wearing the same clothes every week. Plus, you can buy cool clothes there. Bring shirts with the University of Illinois name or logo on it - there are stores that sell used American university shirts for tons of cash since they are in style. Clothes that have English writing are automatically cool, regardless of what it says. Go for comfort and flexibility (if you climb Mt. Fuji like I did, layer you clothes for warmth). One long sleeved shirt was enough for me, and two long pairs of pants were enough. The less you have to carry, the happier you will be.
Alarm Clock: I didn't bring an alarm clock - the sun comes up at 4:30 AM and shines right in your window waking you up every day. (See "what to expect from KIT") Some people might need an alarm clock, though, so pack accordingly.
Key to packing:
If you plan on doing any travel whatsoever beyond the Kanazawa trip (before or after), be certain to only have ONE BAG. I had two bags and traveled two weeks, and it was quite a burden - choose only the essentials and then leave out even more than that! It gets hot (90 degrees Fahrenheit) and you do not want to be stuck under useless weight.
Shipping Bags in Japan:
Note that you can ship bags to or from the airport, or to anywhere in Japan, for a very small fee - there is no equivalent service in the US. For example, if you travel after the trip, you can consolidate your essentials into one bag, and then ship the rest (including souvenirs, extra clothes, etc.) to the airport before you depart for your tour of Japan. One bag rated around $30 for when I used this service (called "Takkyubin" service).
I brought about $100 in food on the trip in a separate cardboard box that I checked onto the plane. I packed soup, Minute Rice, Ramen noodles, cookies, and other food that would not perish. The goal was to save money, but I'm not sure that bringing this much food is that necessary. Bring your favorite cookies or something small though, as it is fun to share with the Japanese students. I made two guys "Chicken Helper" with some canned chicken that I packed!
In no particular order, as they are all necessary:
· Get that Passport
· Talk to someone who has gone - this is invaluable because you can see 1st person that they not only survived, but can share their stories. You'll have your own stories in no time.
· Don't worry.
· Confirm your plane ticket 72 hours in advance.
· Pack - double check that everything is there.
· Put contact information for KIT in your carry-on, along with everything you'd need in case your bags got lost (you'd hate to have only one pair of boxers in an entirely different hemisphere).
· Let your friends at home know you're going. Get them to email you since you'll have email at KIT. You can even sign up for a free email account on Yahoo or Hotmail and give out that address. They can call, too - there is a phone in the IJST student lounge.
· Make name cards (Meishi) with your name and home email. Put your picture on it if you know how - this is Japanese custom. Don't put them in your back pocket or sit on them in any way. Put them in your backpack to be safe (it might be insulting if you sit on them, or sit on other people's Meishi).
· Meet at LEAST one other person going to KIT from your University beforehand. Just have dinner or something and make sure you haven't forgotten something they've thought of, and vice versa. It takes a specific type of person to study abroad, so chances are the other people are going to be interesting, and you'll get along with them.
· Brush up on Japanese, if you need to. Don't worry too much about this though; you will be in peak condition (whatever level you are) within a week or two weeks of being there.
· Brush up on 80's popular music - this is key for a quality Karaoke experience since most of the music is in Japanese.
· Get a picture of yourself at the airport on your way out. That's always cool.
· Know the laws of Japan - drinking and smoking age is 20, but they are not heavily enforced. Controlled substances and guns of ANY kind are totally illegal, and these can get you into big trouble. Remember to look right, BEFORE looking left, when crossing a street - it's the opposite in America, and I almost got hit a few times not thinking this way!
· Learn about Kanazawa - search for Kanazawa on the web.
· Figure out your height and weight in metric. Get used to metric units, and know a little about your hometown for some easy conversation. How fast do you drive on the highway in Km/hour?
· Set goals to accomplish while you are in Japan. Think about why you are going. Think about how you got into Japanese. The goals I set ranged from getting a haircut to climbing Mt. Fuji at night. (see "Things to do outside of Kanazawa")
· Think about traveling after the program is over, or before the program starts. I would suggest traveling before the program starts, personally. I traveled 2 weeks after completing the program, but found myself wishing I were back in Kanazawa with my friends. Of course, traveling before the trip, you might not be as well prepared to rely on your language skills. Do some research in this document (See "Things to do outside of Kanazawa"), on websites online, ask friends, and contact IJST alumni about things to see and do. I found out about climbing Mt. Fuji by a website in English.
· If you do decide to travel, look into getting a JR Rail Pass. This will guarantee fast train access to the majority of Japan - and you can save some big money. The JR Rail Pass has to be secured by a foreign travel agent, and is not available to Japanese citizens.
For the six-week IJST Program and the two weeks of travel afterwards, I spent a grand total of $3,549.13. This includes train tickets, hotels, food, CD's, clothes, shoes I bought there, souvenirs, tuition, books for class, notebooks for class (buy these in Japan, they're pretty cool), pencils for class, extra film, bus fare - the list goes on.
Think: Traveler's Checks (abbreviated in Japan "T/C" on bank documents). I brought $1500 worth plus some extra US cash and brought $40 back with me.
The exchange rate was often 1%-2% higher for the exchange of Traveler's Checks than converting cash. Also, Traveler's Checks are secure, and credit cards are inconvenient to use in Japan.
I would still recommend bringing some US cash ($50), and also a credit card. The credit card is convenient for hotel reservations if you chose to travel, and also good for train tickets. You will be purchasing a train ticket immediately after you arrive in Japan to go to Kanazawa. In 2001, I paid $80 for this ticket without getting a reserve seat. You will also want to change your T/C to Japanese Yen at the airport for the first time - exchanging for Yen in the United States was expensive, and also unnecessary. More on this in the "The first day" section.
While you are in Japan, don't forget to keep track of what you are spending. After a week, check to see how much dough you still have - see how much you've spent. Multiply that amount by the number of weeks you have left - do you have enough cash to cover the rest of the trip? If not, don't wait until you get too low - have money sent to you from the home. Money is important, but don't let it consume your fun!
KIT was unimaginably accommodating to the IJST program members. They honestly care about how your stay is, and they constantly adjust the program to assure that you are maximizing your time in Japan in a nice balance of fun and study.
Laptops, email, and Internet access
Every student at KIT is required to have a laptop, and you, as an IJST student, are included! So KIT will provide you with a laptop computer. You can bring software to install on the computer if you want, and I recommend it. Especially since you do projects on the computer, including presentations, some software would be helpful, i.e., to edit photos, etc. They give you MS-Word (Japanese version) and also PowerPoint, and a handful of other basic software. You can bring a digital camera, download the pictures to your laptop, and then email them home to Mom and Dad. The laptops loaned to us had CD Rom drives and a floppy disk drive. The keyboard is a Japanese keyboard, and the operating system was Windows 98-Japanese version. They do a handful of lectures on how to use the Japanese OS, including vocabulary to help you navigate through Kanji menus. One assignment is to train a user how to perform an action of your choice on the computer, using only Japanese and a slideshow. My project was how to upload a journal onto a website, for example.
Apartment - Nishikawa Haitsu (Nishikawa Heights)
The apartments are about 5 minutes from the building where classes are held. I was surprised by the size of the apartments we were given - there are three bedrooms. Since we were given only one roommate, that left a third room completely unused. The apartments have a toilet, a shower room, and a kitchen with a stovetop to cook things, a pot, dishes, silverware, cups, and a kitchen table. The bedrooms have tatami (woven straw) mats and you will sleep on the floor on a futon. You have air-conditioning, so the room can always be a pleasant temperature. Don't expect to spend much time in your room, however. Much of your time should be OUT of your room either studying in the lounge, or having fun. Don't be an ignorant gaijin - take off the shoes always! This may be a consideration when thinking about what shoes to bring.
Friends and S.G.E. - Students for Global Exchange
The biggest and most pleasant surprise was the S.G.E. Club. SGE is comprised of students attending KIT who are all about meeting foreign students, and just hanging out. Even from the first day (See "the first day") they were there talking to me and introducing themselves. They'll help you with your homework, and you can help them with their homework. They have tons of free time too, so they hang out a lot - the convenient store sells beer down the street, and they'd love to show you this. SGE is really a great way to make friends - without them it might be tough to penetrate the culture and meet people, but they really try to make bonds that last beyond the IJST program. Think about it: if you meet people on this trip and stay in touch, these students will graduate in a couple of years and move all over Japan with their jobs. You will do the same, and soon enough, you know people all over Japan, and they know people all over the U.S. It is truly a beautiful thing.
This is right in the apartment, and free. The dryers are not so great, but I deal with that here at the University, too. Wait to get laundry detergent in Japan. Instructions to use the machines are there, but you can just push buttons until water starts coming out.
The staff was truly a great team, and largely the source of my enjoyment of the trip. They planned good outings, interesting homework assignments, and also gave advice for things having nothing to do with the classes. One professor took students out for sushi, and when I lost my apartment keys, they helped me get them back.
Homework and Class time
With 9 credit hours and the word "Intensive" in the title, you can expect work almost nightly, but the homework is not difficult, per se. My professor asked "What is it that you want to say in Japanese that you can't say right now?" and that was the subject of the class. The curriculum is dynamic to fit the level of Japanese knowledge that the IJST students possess. If you ever have problems with the homework or classes, just talk to the professors.
The plane ride takes about 13 hours from Chicago to Japan. I flew into Osaka Kansai International Airport, but you are just as likely to fly into Narita International Airport in Tokyo. Kansai is closer to Kanazawa, however both are a considerable distance to Kanazawa. While you are in the plane, I recommend sleeping as much as possible - the pleasure derived from the in-flight movies does not compare to avoiding jet lag as much as possible. The good news is that jet lag is much worse coming back than going to Japan.
While on the plane and trying to sleep, just run through the situational Japanese you will need to know when you step off the airplane. For example, go through numbers for currency exchange, go through the colloquialisms, and think about getting directions, saying addresses (Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa-ken), and buying a train ticket.
After you arrive, change money immediately after going through customs. If you smile at customs, and let them know you are a student, you will have no problems. Unless you are comfortable with Japanese, English is okay, and maybe preferred.
Then, unless someone from KIT is meeting you (unnecessary - it will cost whoever is meeting you, $150 to come pick you up), find your way to the luggage and get your luggage. Decide if they are too heavy to carry the length of a football field (100 yards or meters, whatever), and if so, ship them. Shipping is done through the "takkyubin", or shipping service. Expect to pay $25-30 to ship one item to Kanazawa, and give it two days to arrive. Have that address handy so your bags get to the right place. REALIZE THAT THERE ARE TWO KANAZAWA'S. You want Kanazawa-Shi, Ishikawa-Ken, Japan.
After your baggage is taken care of, find the JR Train Ticket Office (there are green signs) for the trains. As of this writing, you cannot take a bullet train to Kanazawa, but you can take a Limited Express called the "Thunderbird" as of this year. When you use Shinkansen and Limited Express trains, both a normal ticket and a Limited Express ticket is required. There are two types: tickets for reserved seats and those for non-reserved seats. This ticket is valid to just one train, one time; stopover is not allowed. Do not go to the green cars - but do get a reserved seat. Otherwise, you may be sitting on the floor. For approximately $5.00 difference between reserved and non-reserved, it is worth it. The ride is about 4 hours. Use this time to chat with your fellow IJST members if they are with you - otherwise just think more in Japanese. You will be worn out by this point in the voyage. Keep your wits about you, and keep track of your luggage, passport, and money.
Finally, you will get to the Kanazawa train station where a KIT professor or faculty member will meet you to take you to the apartments. I was certainly not in a "chatty" mood, but if you are, more power to you. I arrived at the apartment somewhat late at night, however the SGE students (See "What to expect from the KIT Program") were waiting to meet me and show me my apartment. It was quite a shock trying to pick out Japanese, however I think they really know that you'll be pretty rough around the edges after such a long trip. Try to remember names, as with any social situation. It will get easier as you try harder.
Get your key to your apartment on the key chain soon, as losing the key will cost you $200 US.
Then, get some sleep.
Perhaps your arrival in Japan will require a night of sleep in Tokyo or another city - most of the above information is still applicable. Just realize that you have the whole trip to check out the town, and that it is okay to just crash the first night. Adjusting to the new time zone is critical.
Pay attention to cultural differences
You can study Kanji all day when you're in the U.S., but you cannot analyze Japanese culture from the inside. Be sure to get out on the town - go to the tourist places (Castle, Kenrokuen, Ninja Deira), but also go to the normal places. Be sure to go to Hyakuman Boruto (10,000 Volts), an electronics store. Don't ask your host family to take you to the big tourist places - tell them what you enjoy doing here. I told my host family that I liked mountain climbing, so they took me to a couple of lookout points over Kanazawa in the mountains. We also went to their son's elementary school basketball game which was a lot of fun.
As mentioned before, the opportunity to make friends while in Japan is just too great to miss. You can make friends at this one University, and in two years, they will disperse across Japan after graduating, and you will know people all over Japan, just as they will know people all over the United States. If you ever want to go back to Japan, or if they ever come to the U.S., you can hang out again and have an even better time. Japan really seems less foreign and more accessible if you have friends there.
Keep a good attitude
The best way to ruin a trip abroad is to get in a bad mood. There just isn't enough time to be upset! Just take life day by day and be sure to do things you think are fun. Everyone gets depressed or stressed out, but make a conscious effort to think positively. Call home, or email a friend to talk about it. I talked often with the other students on the trip about life abroad and life at home, and ended up with some good friends even among our group.
Reach your goals
Since you are already in Japan, that means you must have already set your goals. (See "Things to do before leaving") Do what it takes to reach them, be it getting straight "A"s, or getting your Japanese haircut. If your goal is to travel around after the trip, be sure to get reservations set early before the Youth Hostels fill up. I had four weeks remaining in the program when I started planning my trip to Mt. Fuji.
Represent your country
Americans get the reputation of being
noisy and self-centered in Japan; please don't reinforce this reputation. Use
common sense, and be considerate of others.
Safety in Japan is essentially not a concern at all. Kanazawa especially is a very safe place. The downtown area, Katamachi, tends to be the most dangerous area you will visit. The first day of classes the head professor will probably mention a park that is dangerous by the apartment, however I know that others and myself actually met some pretty interesting people there over the course of the trip.
I still recommend being conscious of where your Passport and Traveler's Checks are at ALL times. Travel with the same safety precautions you would take on campus - walk with a friend, etc.
If you ever get lost just ask someone for directions. Everyone knows the University by its name or nickname: "Kanazawa Kougyou Daigaku" or "Koudai" for short. You should always have the University's phone numbers handy so you can reach someone 24 hours a day. Try to get some SGE member's phone number in case you need to call him/her during the trip. (See "What to expect from the KIT program") An even safer plan would be to invite the SGE members go out with you!
Lost and Found
I have lost a $175 camera and my
apartment keys in Japan, and found them both. They are serious about their lost
and found system, and unless it is cash, you can certainly find something you
have lost. Just try to recruit some KIT friends or professors to assist with
Japanese people say "Everyone should climb Mt. Fuji once during their lifetime, but only a fool will climb it twice." I found that many people I met from Kanazawa had never climbed Mt. Fuji, which is just South and West of Tokyo. Fuji-san, as it is called, is the tallest mountain in Japan at 3776 meters - 12,290 feet. We planned our trip from websites and maps that KIT had, and ended up taking a "Highway Bus" from Tokyo (Shinjuku district) to "go-gome" (the fifth station). Although we did opt to take the bus to the mountain, we did not reserve seats for the ride back as we had no idea of a return time. I include time in this description, so you can make reservation seats for the ride back accordingly. We took a train from a nearby city using our Rail Passes (See "Things to do before leaving") for nearly the same price as the bus but without reservations.
One professor said climbing Mt. Fuji was going to be "very boring."
Climbing Mt. Fuji at night was truly one of my favorite experiences, and was far from boring - rugged would be a better adjective. Around 11:00 at night, we began our ascent in the rain. As mentioned earlier, the sun rises in Japan around 4:30 AM, so that left us 5-1/2 hours to make it to the top. We barely made it in time (five hours and ten minutes with twenty minutes to rest before the sun came up).
DO remember to bring a flashlight if you climb at night - this is no walk in the park, and there are practically no lights illuminating the trails. The trails are steep, and lined with small, round igneous rock that tends to slip as you make your ascent. Bring rain gear, but not an umbrella - there are no trees due to the altitude, so you don't want to be a lightning rod. Bring 2-3 liters of water. You can buy food and drink on the way, but it is four to five times more expensive. Also, be prepared for zero degree Celsius (32 degree Fahrenheit) temperatures at the summit. I had on three shirts, a rain poncho, and Jeans and I was still cold. Bringing a camera should be obvious!
The view is much like that from an airplane - Mt. Fuji is a volcano, and therefore is the tallest thing for as far as the eye can see. What you can see is breathtaking. We saw the tops of clouds - no other landmass penetrated the endless sea of white. On the way down, some clouds cleared showing some mountains below the clouds. Pretty weak mountains compared to Fuji!
Then, expect a 3-4 hour hike back down - we arrived back at one of the base stations (I still don't know which) completely exhausted by 9:00 or 10:00 AM. We had a hard time standing due to tired muscles, and we were really unpleasant smelling. Try to schedule a place to shower as soon as you make it back to civilization.
Kanazawa is easy to point out on a Japanese map due to this North-bending, horn-shaped peninsula called the Noto Peninsula. While I was studying at KIT during the summer of 2001, there was a town, Noto-machi, that held a festival which I would rank up in the top two things I did while in Japan. The ancient Shinto festival, called the "Noto Ushitsu Abare Matsuri (festival)," was an unforgettable night of fireworks, mikoshi (wooden floats representing villages carried by teams of 60 men), and fire. Five massive 15-meter torches are lit every 30 minutes one by one into the dark of night as these floats parade in front of the Noto City Building, which faces the city's harbor on the Sea of Japan. Police control is scant, and commercial influence is completely out of the question. The floats weave in and out of the lit torches narrowly avoiding burning the teams carrying the mikoshi. The closer these teams get to the torches, I hear, the more honor they bring their hometown. By the end of the night I was completely covered in ashes from all of the torches. The only way to get to Noto-machi is to have someone drive you, though. Trains don't go there, and there are no airports (as of this Summer). Chances are that SGE students would like to go too, since it is actually a lot of fun.
Everyone should go to Tokyo and see the sights. You can "do" Tokyo in a day or two. Look into staying at the "Asia Kaikan" (Asia Center of Japan). This hotel is located in a good part of Tokyo near many of the Embassies, and also provides easy access to Shibuya and Roppongi, famous party districts in Tokyo. Also, the prices are very inexpensive.
Kyoto & Nara
Kyoto and Nara are good cities to
visit on the long, four-day weekend in the middle of the IJST program. Temples,
Shrines, shopping, and neat nightlife are what Kyoto is all about. The first
time I went, I toured Kyoto by bike, but you can get a Kyoto bus pass for a
whole day for $5.00. By the end of the IJST program, bus and train schedules
should be no problem.