Yokohama Ryuugaku Kikou

A Couple of Notes for the Incoming Students, Part 2 (Updated! – 2013/8/29)

Part two of my guide to Yokohama ryuugaku life. Here’s a copy-and-paste of the table of contents quickjump:

Part 1 (The Dorms, The Neighborhood, Commuter Passes)
Part 2 (Getting to School, Getting Comfy in Your New Place, Resident Registration, Cell Phones, Money)
Part 3 (Getting to Know Yokohama A Bit Better)

Disclaimers: this is not an official guide; things are current at the time I wrote this post and will change; you can probably use this as a guide for non-YNU study abroad but a good chunk of things won’t apply to you; this is based on my experience and things may be different when you get here.

Getting to and Navigating YNU

The good ol' YNU stone.

As mentioned previously, our dear Yokohama National University is a twenty-minute walk from the municipal subway’s Mitsuzawa-kamicho (hereafter Mitsu-kami) station. The walk to the school, being uphill, is more strenuous than the walk back.

Ascending the stairs to the school, the International Student Center (marked “S1-3”) is among the first buildings you’ll encounter on your left. The ISC is pretty much the hub of ryuugakusei life; instruction in the use of the Japanese language is done here. The ISC is also home to a circle (club) named 105; they are one of three groups that promote interaction between the Japanese students and the international students, the other two being World Wide Wings (Wwwings) and Ryu-Soc. Most if not all of their events are posted to Facebook.

YNU’s major landmarks are fairly easy to get to, as there’s a main path that connects them all. If you want to take a look, this path is actually Street View-able on Google Maps! Here’s a lowdown on a handful of other oft-used campus facilities:

The Student Hall (S1-5): Home to two restaurants and a sort of hybrid convenience store/bookstore, over three floors. On the first floor is a lounge area and the co-op store, where you can find fast food and drink options; various equipment, such as stationery and computer hardware/software; YNU merch like, say, rice crackers with the YNU logo baked into them, and apparel; and a variety of books, ranging from textbooks to manga. On the second floor is Cherche, where you can get a fresher a-la-carte meal than downstairs for fairly cheap (but beware the crowds at lunchtime!); on the third floor is Porty, a fancier, more traditional restaurant setting. I’ve never been to Porty, so I don’t know much about it, but I hear it’s nice, and YNU’s website says its “one-coin” (500-yen) lunches are pretty popular. To get there, exit through the ISC’s first-floor (ground floor) exit, take a right around the kyuudo range, and it’ll be on your left.

The First Cafeteria, Renga-kan (S1-4): Located on the left as you progress up the main path, this is the closest cafeteria to the ISC. It’s got a fairly big space, and not too many people come here (because Cherche and Cafeteria 2 are better). There’s only one small downside that affects those of you without much Japanese language skill: all the signage is naturally in Japanese and you order via vending machine (they use a ticket system), so you can’t just point and confirm like you can at the other two cafeterias. There’s also Burger Shop Seagull, which is a separate shop that’s located on the first floor, if you’re in the mood for McDonald’s-esque hamburgers (don’t worry, they’re fresher than that), come here — but note they’re only practically open during lunch hour. Renga-kan has two closing times: one for its noodle section, and one for everything else, like curry. Edit 9/29: of halfway through August of 2012, Renga-kan has begun renovation, making it inaccessible until spring semester 2014. One unfortunate casualty of the renovation is that Seagull has shut down — seemingly for good, which is a shame!

Central Plaza Ya-on: Pretty nice lawn area; not very oft-used this past semester, as temperatures were freezing. It’s a nice place to have a bit of an impromptu lunchtime picnic. If you didn’t bring food, don’t worry: two or three food trucks normally sit on its perimeter ready to serve you entrees that rotate daily.

The University Library (S3-6): Located right across from Ya-on, pretty straightforward. Has books in Japanese and English (I haven’t seen other languages). Also home to Shoca., the library cafe (get it, toshokan cafe), on the first floor.

The Second Cafeteria, The College of Engineering Dining Hall (N10-5): Yup, that’s its name – so we call it Cafeteria 2, or Ni-shoku for short. Serves pretty much the same stuff you’ll find at Cherche, except with two wide floors’ worth of seating. Worth the trip all the way to the back of the campus from time to time. On the third floor (accessible from separate spiral stairs) is another co-op with all your college essentials (it’s smaller than the student hall). There’s also a Lawson convenience store for quicker food/drink and other things.

You’ll naturally start to get a feel for where things are when you get here, of course. But let’s return back to the dorms, shall we?

The Basics of Living In The Dorms

As said before, your room is fairly unfurnished, only offering the basics: a bed, a dresser, a desk, a chair, a refrigerator (starting fall 2013) and a heater/air conditioner. The room doesn’t come equipped with a handful of appliances, such as a burner for cooking, cooking implements, a microwave, and whatnot. Should you desire to purchase a normal (non-1Seg) TV for your quarters, there is a coaxial jack for receiving broadcasts in the corner; everything else will just need power. (Also — beware the NHK tax!) Fortunately, there are plenty of power outlets to go around.

Update 2013/8/29: I’ve been told the dorms will begin a free refrigerator rental system starting this upcoming semester (Fall 2013) — so that’s a ¥10,000~20,000 burden off of your back. (Sure wish we had that while we were there! :P)

For those from the US and Canada, Japan uses two-pronged plugs rated at 100V that are pretty much A-OK to use with things you bring — as long as they’re two-pronged. Three-prong grounded to two-prong adapters exist, but I’ve not yet seen them around here; if you want to MacGyver things up, you can use a pair of tweezers to just yank the ground plug (I’ve seen this done but I don’t recommend it). Just note that if you decide to bring your own alarm clock, it will run slower due to the slightly lower frequency (50 hertz) in Kanto; a battery-powered one would probably work better.

For those elsewhere in the world: you might (by that I mean “probably”) need an adapter. Yodobashi Camera stocks these adapters for, if I’m remembering things correctly, 1000 yen; you’ll find your nearest one in the Keikyu department store in Kamiooka one stop down. If you find yourself wanting a power strip/extension cable, go to 100-yen shops Seria or Daiso, because they have ’em and the ones I’ve bought from them haven’t blown up on me…yet.

Cooking at home is certainly more affordable than eating out. The hot water tap is actually hot enough (on the order of ~75° C) to cook instant noodles (allow for more cooking time), but most people opt to get a refrigerator, a rice cooker and an induction heating (IH) pad. Induction heating uses pots and pans that have a special magnetic layer on the bottom that the IH pad heats up, and the strength of the IH itself is controllable much like using a gas stove.  Some people — myself included — get a water heater of some sort. I personally had one of the fancy ones that are push-to-dispense (sort of like this; if you live in an Asian household you might be familiar with this) and it came in handy whenever I want a super-quick meal and resort to retort packets of curry — toss one in, have it boil, bam. Some people just have water kettles on hand, which are smaller, cheaper, and perfect for tea or instant coffee.

There are a handful of options as far as obtaining these appliances: some people will have old equipment from yestersemester’s senpai, if you can find them. They can be found for cheap at a number of “recycle shops” selling used/refurbished appliances around Yokohama — the office has a handful of fliers for a decently stocked one in Maita.

Oh, one last tip regarding appliances: don’t run a bunch of your appliances at the same time, as you’ll trip the circuit breaker. I managed to trip mine repeatedly using a combination of water heater, IH, and air conditioning.

[As for cutlery: once again, return back to Seria or Daiso. Lacquered bamboo chopsticks are 5 pairs to a 105-yen pack. Individual pieces of silverware are also 105 yen. 105-yen “Color Life” knives from Daiso are surprisingly sharp (for 105-yen knives) and should do the job nicely.

An approximately month and a half’s worth of powder laundry detergent costs 200-500 yen, depending on the brand you get. I used the 400-yen Attack Bio EX, myself, and was never disappointed. Washers at the dorm are coin-operated and cost 100 yen a load, which takes approximately 30 minutes to complete; the dryer costs 100 yen per 20 minutes, and it takes about 300-700 yen to completely dry a load depending on how heavy it is, so a handful of us just hang our clothes outside: it takes pretty much the whole day, but it’s cheap and eco-friendly, to boot. Clothes hangers can be also had at Seria or Daiso — I bought them in packs of 5 for 100 yen. “Pants hangers” that feature four clothespins set up in a rectangle are 105 yen apiece. Hangers for smaller things like socks and underwear allow you to hang a lot up at a time and are 100-300 yen, depending on the model you get.

A Brief Bit on Resident Registration

The most boring part of your first week will probably be to visit the Minami Ward office in Maita to register your status as a resident of the Gumyoji dorm. Your tutor will walk you through this; this shouldn’t take more than an hour or two. This includes signing up for the mandatory Japanese national health insurance, which will hit you for a minimum of ¥1300 per month. Make sure to bring your passport and the Residence Card you received at the airport’s immigration desk.

Signing Up for Phone Service

My handy-dandy SoftBank 740SC prepaid phone.

You probably (and by “probably” I mean definitely) don’t want to be roaming here, especially if you use a lot of data.

Japan has three major carriers: au, NTT DoCoMo, and SoftBank. The latter offers the cheapest option in the form of a prepaid service: 3000 yen per card (they’re obtainable at 7-11), and each card lasts two months. You can use the balance on your account to pay for unlimited SMS texting and e-mail (you can opt for a personalized address @softbank.ne.jp), which is 300 yen a month. Outgoing calls are something like six yen a minute; incoming calls are free. For this reason, a good handful of the students opt to use SoftBank’s prepaid services. Unfortunately, SoftBank prepaid services do not come with data — smartphone junkies, beware! Also note that you will need to actually also purchase the phone; I can’t remember what I paid for mine but it was in the four-digit range.

Speaking of smartphones, bmobile has a handful of data-only SIM cards that you can use with your unlocked phone apparently as long as your phone meets their requirements. This includes practically every iPhone up to and excluding the iPhone 5, and a handful of Android and Windows Phones. Do note, however, that a handful of services (for example, having things delivered to you) require you to have a phone number.

Something I’ve also heard is that the carriers will be rather stubborn about letting phones from other regions on their network, even though they’ll work fine. If you decide to opt for a new smartphone while you’re there, you can go for a 2-year plan and cancel it after a year, invoking an early termination fee of about $100 USD (under SoftBank)…I don’t know how much that turns out to be monthly.

In The Diamond underground shopping mall at Yokohama Station, there is supposedly a SoftBank store that has English-speaking customer service. Should that fail, you can ask your tutor to assist you in getting a phone either at a retail store or at Yodobashi Camera — the basement floor of Yodobashi Yokohama has service counters for all the major carriers available, so go shop around.

Paying Your Bills

Every month, assuming you’re living in one of the “single” rooms, you’ll get a bill for ¥14,800 in the first third of the month; this is a bill for your rent, which includes running water and internet. The second third of the month will present you with your electricity bill, split into two parts — one for your water boiler, and one for everything else. Expect bills to run you at least ¥4,000 — even more if you’re doing things like using the air conditioning and cranking your refrigerator’s settings to max (normally you don’t need this, make sure things are on the medium (中) settting!!) — that’ll push you up into the five-digit mark if you’re not careful! Every couple of months, you’ll also get a couple of monthly bills for your national health insurance. When the health insurance guys send you a questionnaire, fill it out: it will more likely than not reduce the amount you have to pay for insurance if you don’t have a job (eg if you’re running on scholarship money, money you’ve saved, etc.).

The easiest way to take care of all your bills in one go is to swing by the local post office. See, Japan Post, in addition to acting as a post office, also runs a banking service that’s quite reliable, and will happily allow you to pay your bills. Just bring the bills up to the counter, pay the amount they punch into the calculator, get the receipts, and that’s it! There’s also a way to pay via ATM that I’d not been able to figure out — ask someone else if you want help with this.

Alternatively, the FamilyMart next door can take care of your electricity and insurance bills (but not your rent — that apparently has to go through Japan Post). As with the post office, just bring the bills up to the counter and ask to pay them (kore o haraitai desu), and they’ll help you sort things out.

Obtaining Money

Speaking of paying bills, you’ll need money, of course. The money that you’ll probably have exchanged at the airport can last you so long; you’ll need to withdraw money from your non-Japanese bank account. Bad news: there’s only two particular types of ATMs you can reliably use. Good news: these ATMs are fairly commonplace.

Japan Post and 7-11 operate ATMs that accept foreign cards. 7-11 will allow you to withdraw in multiples of ¥10,000; Japan Post is a bit more flexible, allowing for transactions in multiples of ¥1,000. There’s a catch, though: Japan Post ATMs (and most others) close, meaning you may be stuck with grabbing money from 7-11. The withdrawals are done in yen, meaning the exchange rate should be fairly close to market value, but check with your bank, as you may incur surcharges for using a bank internationally. (By the way, if you’re prepping for your trip abroad, now would be a good idea to call your bank’s customer support and tell them that you are going abroad — your card may get declined otherwise!!) Update: Apparently 7-11s do not accept MasterCard cards anymore.

You can also obtain money by working here, too. Normally, as a student, you are not allowed to work, but permissions can be made. Talk to the staff in the International Student Center office for more information.

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I think that’s it for now. As with my previous post, if you’ve got any questions, ask away in the comments section below. ◆

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