People walking around looking at their smartphones, tall skyscrapers with tremendous screens displaying a new pop-hit by a Japanese girl group, karaoke bars on every corner, and girls dressed as Japanese manga characters. There's no doubt I'm in Tokyo.
Tokyo is the most populated city in the world. It’s a metropolis that never sleeps, and it is the city where I was born and currently reside.
I am studying for a semester at the University of Tokyo, which is a famous university in Japan, ranked as one of the top 30 universities in the world, with a lively campus.
I have lived in Japan before but never studied here, so the university life is undoubtedly a cultural shock for me. When entering one of the two campuses, where my studies take place, you can hear the glee club of the university singing. Students are practicing their dance routines over and over again by using windows to the cafeteria as their mirrors. Tones from the brass band rehearsal can be heard, and the guys from the varsity lacrosse team pass you by, all of them carrying their long-handled lacrosse sticks.
I have lectures both in Japanese and English. Lectures in Japanese are a one-way communication, with the professor speaking without any questions being asked by students, whereas the English lectures are more familiar, where you discuss and debate themes brought up by the professor.
One of the traditional prejudices about the Japanese is regarding their lack or total absence of English skills. This is partly true, but only partly. My experience is that Japanese students are eager to speak English and have actually gotten better at it, so you won’t be lost in translation.
You can easily find interesting classes being held in English either by a Japanese professor or by a foreigner. Japanese professors speak English with an obvious Japanese accent, but it’s not a problem understanding them at all. Moreover, the University of Tokyo has a big diversity of lectures in English.
Living in Tokyo
Don’t be afraid of the living expenses in Tokyo. I live in a small, but cosy dorm just outside of central Tokyo. The monthly rent is about 11.000 yen (around 610 DKK), but note that it is much cheaper than the average rent in Tokyo.
Japan has had bad reputation when it comes to the cost of living, but due to over a decade of deflation prices for several consumer goods are actually a lot cheaper than in Denmark. Combine that with a powerful yen and the cost of living in Tokyo is definitely reasonable, and not as pricey as one might fear. Japan is therefore experiencing an increase in the number of tourists.
It all comes down to how you spend your money. If you know your way around, it is possible to live in Tokyo without breaking the bank. Japan, for instance, has the so called 'konbini' convenience stores located literally everywhere. They never close, and regardless if you’re in the centre of Tokyo or in the suburbs, there will always be customers. I usually stop by one of these 'konbinis' to buy an 'onigiri' - a Japanese rice ball) which costs 108 yen (6 DKK) - for breakfast before I take the train to the university, so the cost of living in Tokyo should not be a concern.
Outside the classroom
When the bell dismisses you, the endless streams of prejudices about the Japanese people continue. We usually go out to eat at Japanese drinking establishments called 'Izakayas', where you drink, eat and have fun with your friends. Japanese 'salary men' in suits drinking beers often occupy many tables at these places. After a couple of beers their faces turn all red (including my own), so it’s not a myth that Japanese people, including myself, can’t drink as much as Danes – but that definitely only makes the nights even funnier.
The waiters don’t speak English, that’s for sure, and they don’t have menu cards in English, that’s for sure, but there are usually pictures of everything on the menu card.
Next stop is the compulsory visit to a karaoke bar, which I have already done countless times, and then the nights usually end around midnight, because that’s when the last train runs in Tokyo.
To finish up with one of the most controversial myths about Tokyo and Japan – it does sometimes occur that train officers have to push people inside the train, so that everybody can get home on the last train. I have yet to see it on this trip, so it’s a rare sight, but it is one of the many things that happen only in Tokyo.
There are a lot of rumours, myths and prejudices about Tokyo and the Japanese society, but that is what makes this city one of the most interesting cities in the world. Don’t let it scare you - take the leap. You won’t regret it.
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