Preparations

Though I quit my job last week and was supposed to have two weeks in the capital to do everything necessary, I lost the whole last week due to some nasty flu. I’m kind of over it now, but having to stuff everything in five weekdays doesn’t make things easy. Anyway, here is a post about recent ongoings and preparations. The post itself is a few weeks old and another cross-posting from my LJ, so some of the things planned here are already over. There are a lot of new developments, but I’m planning to write about them after the Monbusho happening on Saturday.

So, what happened since December until a few weeks ago? We were informed about the acceptance in December. After the Christmas holiday, when I came back to the capital I found a mail from the university in my mailbox: a certificate of the acceptance as a research student. The end date of the course is 2014 instead of 2015 on the paper, but that may be the usual procedure, so I didn’t worry about it. In January we were contacted by the Embassy about an orientation  on the 28th February and an additional Monbusho happening on the 9th March where we need to introduce ourselves. A day later we received the final confirmation about which university we can attend based on the decision by MEXT. Since I only had one university, that was no question for me at least, but they also informed me that the six-month-long intensive Japanese language course will take place at the Kyoto University.

With this announcement we started the real preparation for the departure. We were asked to contact the university about the next step, questions about the arrival, trip from the airport, accommodation and so on, and we received the documents for the visa.

1. Visa:
We have to request our visa in the coming weeks. The procedure for MEXT students is faster, but there are still a few things that gave me a headache at first. Now only the passport, the number of the personal ID is required as well, so I went to have one made as my old one expired last year. It was no biggie as my driving license works fine as well, but here I thought the real personal ID would be needed. In fact I should have waited for my next Japanese lesson to talk about the form with my teacher who is actually working at the Embassy and is processing the visas, because it turned out the number of my license would have been enough here as well XD;
The second point was, that we have to enter the address of the place we will stay at in Japan. That point was a bit uncertain, as I knew there won’t be a dorm for research students, and I wasn’t sure I can reserve a place till the time I need to hand in the request for the visa. In the end it was solved as you will see in the second point, so yay :D The last issue was the guarantor, who would act as a contact person if needed. First I contacted Seika about this, and my contact person said he was never asked about this before, but kindly provided his data. It turned out it’s enough to enter the professor, and no small details are needed – but actually I guess the foreign office might be an even better point of contact, so it’s all good. I’m planing to hand in the request for the visa at the event on the 28th, where we also have to hand in a Pledge, similar to an ethic codex.

2. Accommodation:
As mentioned above I already knew from the homepage of Seika that they don’t offer dorms for research students, but I don’t really mind, as I’m not a dorm-person, and somehow I’m too old for shared baths and toilets ^^; My contact at the university sent me a link with accommodations suitable for students, that’s bookable even via internet. After I checked the site, there’s only one location suitable for me, but there were no free rooms yet, and unless it’s an occupied room that will be free at a certain point, you have to start paying rent a week after reserving, so I was crossing my fingers to catch a room with April availability. The room itself is very small, a far cry from my 27 m2, nicely furnished and decorated room, but it has private shower and toilet and a kitchen – though the setting was surely made by someone who has never cooked in his life with a one-burner gas stove and no room for preparing things. But the room is furnished, utility expenses are included in the rent and there is no key money and whatever, which is a big difference compared to the general rent situation in Japan.
The university meant there would be many students, who look for an apartment a few months later, and they could introduce me to a real estate agent and be the guarantor if needed. After I resigned myself the fact where I need to stay after my arrival, I looked around a bit to see how the situation for renting a flat as a student looks like and yeah, it’s incredibly expensive and I’m not sure I will take that step. So basically when you want to rent a flat, you pay two kinds of extra money and they are usually more than the monthly rent each. One of that is the key money you won’t even see again, the other is the caution, that one’s similar to the system in other countries. The utility expenses are partially or fully extra, and there are other additional expenses. Another backside that none of the flats are furnished, there is literally NOTHING in them, and that could make a move extremely expensive, even if you are okay with shopping in second hand shops for furniture and machines. I knew beforehand the situation would be like this, but seeing all the numbers it’s still a bit scary despite going there with all my savings. On the other hand I might be able to find a bigger flat, and/or one that’s in a walking distance from Seika so I could save on the public transportation – which is also very expensive, but I will come back to that.
After all the researching I checked the website of the accommodation every day, so I could catch a room, and last week three rooms were advertised starting April 1. The date of the departure wasn’t decided yet, but we were told it would be in the first week of April. When I saw the available rooms, first I contacted the Embassy if there was a chance for an earlier departure, but they told me it would depend on the university. So I contacted Seika, and they told me they would welcome an April arrival much better, so I was free to reserve the room. And it was good to be quick, because one of the room has already been reserved during the two days of my mail exchanges. In the end I managed to reserve a room safely, so now I have a place to stay when I arrive ^^
Note: J-Stay is a good solution for tourists as well. They have places for weekly stay for a good price compared to others. Checked other options here as well, and others are generally more expensive or shares.

3. Flight:
The departure and the flight isn’t decided yet, we would be informed about it in March, but there is a high chance it would be with Lufthansa, so I spent an afternoon checking the details like baggage size (158 cm, 20-23 kg), carry-on baggage (30x40x10, 8 kg + laptop case) and other procedures. Exciting, as I rode a plane only once in my whole life, and it was like a two-hour trip to Paris, so nothing like the 14-hour one that’s coming up to me ^^; I hope it will go well and I can have a place in the first row of a sector. As for getting to the accommodation from the airport, I think I will use the more expensive, but door-to-door shuttle bus service. There are several trains and a coach services to Kyoto, but some cost almost the same as the shuttle bus, the cheaper trains require changing trains three-four times, and with these services there’s still the trip from the station to the accommodation, and that’s no fun in a foreign city with bags of 20+ kg despite trying to plan it. So yeah, the door-to-door shuttle bus for 3500 yen will be just fine.

Self-research part:
1. Food:
In the past weeks I also started to intensively prepare myself for the life in Kyoto. Of course I’m getting information from my teacher, who has been a MEXT student herself and my friends who have been to Japan before, but I’m also googling a ton for Kyoto-specific information. Fortunately there are a lot of sites about Kyoto, which makes the preparation a bit easier, though I’m sure it will still be hard in the first weeks, the reason: I have some special needs… The thing is, I have been a vegetarian since 1996, and while I eat eggs and dairy products, I’m a strict vegetarian, so no meat and fish products for me in any form. You would think there are tons of dishes for me in the Japanese cuisine, but the trick is, they use dashi in nearly everything, and dashi is made from fish :S Okay, being a vegetarian is problematic even in Hungary, that’s why I cook for myself (and also for cost reasons), but cooking might be a bit problematic in the first days: the kitchen is small with hardly any place for cutting the vegetables, there is only one gas burner, not to mention a lot of ingredients I use are missing in Japan *sigh* So first I spent my days hunting for vegetarian restaurants, and in the end it seems Kyoto might still be the best choice for me, as due to the Buddhist heritage vegan cuisine (shoujin ryouri) is quite well-known, though those places are pretty expensive. Still, thanks to the Happy Cow site I managed to locate a few places I could try and some of them are quite close to Kyodai as well, so I might have luck in the first weeks. Actually I started to make a Google Map with all the food, shopping etc. locations – it might be useful later, oh and the street view is fun, too :D Otherwise I need to start collecting the kanji for the ingredients so I can avoid unpleasant surprises while cooking…
Useful links:
Happy Cow
VegGuide

2. Public transport:
The second main point was the public transport, as I will need to travel from and to university, not to mention I want to do some sightseeing as well. And yeah, public transport is expensive in Japan – a lot! In my country you buy a monthly pass and you can use any line as much as you want for one month. In Kyoto you can buy passes, but these are pre-paid cards, where the cost of the trip is deducted every time. For tourists there are unlimited daily passes, which I might use for weekend sightseeings, but for weekdays that’s no solution. There are also certain zones, and outside of the city the trip costs more. In the first six months I will have to use buses for Kyodai and it will be expensive, and I’m sure I will walk a lot in the city… Somehow I understand why many use bicycles, but I’m not used to it – I rode a bicycle the last time more than 20 years ago, so ^^; As for Seika I will have to ride the train, the Kurama Line to be exact, and fortunately they offer unlimited monthly passes, however only between two stations! If you ride it earlier or longer you have to pay extra. All these traveling costs made me think that maybe I should rent a room near Seika, if I find something affordable, as I could save 8000 yen monthly at least. We will see.
Useful links for Kyoto public transport:
General ticket situation
Eizan Densha Kurama Line passes
Bus schedule
Bus stop details

3. Bookoffs and other shops
Of course I need to find out beforehand, where to buy all my manga and doujinshi is Kyoto, so I googled for the right shops XD There will be tons of Bookoffs for manga, as for the others there are two Animates and a Toranoana~~~ There is a MelonBooks as well, but according to the reviews it’s mostly for guys only. Well, in this aspect Osaka might have been a better choice, as there are more types of shops there, but oh well. If I can’t find the things I want in Kyoto I can still order – shipping will much cheaper there :D Of course I added the locations to my Google Map, that stuff is really useful~

4. Osaka, Tokyo and others
I know it’s still quite a bit away till I can travel to other places and it depends on the finances, but I looked into accommodations and locations in Osaka and Tokyo already. Planning is fun XD I would also like to visit South Korea if possible – I would do some manhwa/donginji shoppings over there (among others of course). Actually I missed my chance to order donginji here, as the exchange rate of my currency is pretty bad lately. I will need to do these in Japan, but well, the shipping will be much cheaper than to Hungary, so I don’t really mind. I just need to get a card I can order with to Japan.
Useful links:
Weekly apartments

5. Bank account and credit/debit card
Sure I will need to open a bank account when I get there and have the necessary things ready (Resident Card, maybe hanko), as the scholarship will need a place to go to. I’m not sure how the situation currently is, but at the time by teacher was a MEXT student Japan Post Bank was obligatory, which is okay. However I need a card for online shopping, not only in Japan but possibly from abroad as well, and I want to cancel my account and card in Hungary for cost reasons. The thing is, that in the more cash-based Japan the card situation is quite different from Hungary. Here I just have to say at my bank that I need a card for this and that, and okay, there are additional costs, but I can get one without any problems. In Japan getting a credit card requires tons of administration and foreigners usually can’t get one. Some companies offer debit cards, which is perfect for my needs, but the strange thing is, you can have a bank account at one place and request a debit card at another. My teacher recommended the Rakuten Debit Card which you can apply for online, so I might try that as well. The application is in Japanese in both cases, so it will be quite the fun XD
Useful links:
Rakuten Debit Card
How to request a Rakuten Credit Card (not their debit card!)
How to open a Japan Post Bank Account in Japan
Quick info about bank accounts in Japan
Getting a Japanese Credit Card
Credit Cards in Japan: Cracking the Code
Frugal Japan

General useful links for foreign students in Japan:
Student Guide to Japan
Japan Study Support
Getting a hanko
About registering your hanko

That’s all for now, but it’s most definitely not my last post about the preparations ^^

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