Living in Tokyo as a Foreigner

In my last blog post, I’ve talked about my journey to Japan. If you’re keen to know how that was like, you can read about it here.

If you’re planning to visit around Tokyo, make sure to get a PASMO or SUICA card at the ticket machine once you’re at the airport (Haneda International Airport or Narita International Airport). This is the type of card that is widely used for transportation such as buses and trains. The reasons why you should get it there are because the airport is the language buffer zone in which other people can still understand you if you speak English (sometimes Mandarin) and these ticket machines are not widely available. They’re both very similar but if you’re interested in knowing how they differ, you can read about it here.

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The PASMO and SUICA cards. Image courtesy of japanstation.com.

They can also be used like a prepaid card at some of the restaurants. I nicknamed them the Alipay of Japan.

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The vending machine outside of a restaurant.
My first impression of Japan was deceived by my experience at the airport. It seemed to me that every single Japanese person is very well-versed in English. I was dead wrong. The moment I stepped out of the airport, I started to have communication problems with the local people. This was totally different from what I’ve found on the internet saying that most people living in Tokyo are well literate in English. I couldn’t even make use of Google Maps since I had just received my SIM card (from the company Mobal) and it had not been activated yet. I was lucky to even find the place that I’m staying now at the time of writing this post. But that’s mostly thanks to Mrs Naomi because she was walking around that area searching for me.

Japanese people are really polite and helpful.  I remember walking into a supermarket operated by an old couple and checked out items worth around ¥2,000 using a ¥10,000 note. There was not even a sign of resentment on her face. In my country (Malaysia), the cashier would probably have rolled his/her eyes at me. Shame on you! On the contrary, she kept on saying ‘arigatou’ (Japanese people bow when they say this which literally means ‘thank you’). That’s how I developed the ‘Bowing Syndrome’ because I felt obliged to do the same whenever someone who’s older than me is doing it.

Living in Tokyo is very challenging especially if you don’t understand Japanese because the majority of them are only proficient in Japanese. However, there are ways to get around this to avoid the awkward moment that I’ve been through myself that looks like this:

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Graphical depiction of me and the security guard who don’t speak the same language. Drawn by Michelle Majalang (Follow her on Instagram).

Nonetheless, the security guard brought me to the right area (That’s so kind of him).

So first, make sure you have Google Translate and Google Maps installed on your smartphone. The route suggested by Google Maps is very accurate in Tokyo according to my experience. The reason why you should have Google Translate is pretty obvious because this is the app that you’re going to use whenever you want to convey a message to a Japanese who doesn’t know English. Oh, make sure that you have Japanese keyboard installed as well because they’ll have to type it out to be translated into English if the message is too complicated to be expressed by using body language. It can also translate Japanese words in pictures which is very helpful since most of the Japanese goods only have Japanese letters on them. If you don’t even know the slightest bit of Kanji (which is essentially Chinese words and they often have very similar meaning), you’ll have to rely on Google Translate most of the time. And if you’re overconfident with your proficiency in Kanji, you’d end up like me. I mistook sesame oil as cooking oil and bought it home. It could have been worse if I didn’t know Kanji because their osake (rice wine) looks exactly like cooking oil!

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Text before translation.
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Text after translation. It also shows that Google hasn’t perfected this technology yet.
Tokyo has been really rainy lately. Unlike in the UK where the weather (sometimes even the season) is always changing, if it rains here, it’s very likely to rain the whole day. When we had a good weather a couple of days ago, I snatched the opportunity to visit some of the beautiful places in Tokyo. Below are some of the photos that I had taken:

 

 

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Shinjuku Gyoen Park

Shinjuku Gyoen Park is one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen in my life. It boasts the greatest greenhouse I’ve ever seen but too bad, it falls short in size. The park does indeed live up to its rating of 4.5 on Google Review.

This sums up everything that I want to share in this blog post. See you guys on my next blog post.

 

First Solo Adventure to Tokyo

14/06/2018 marks the first day I’m travelling alone to Japan for my summer internship. I had a long list of the essentials ready a few days ago so after making sure that everything was ready, I set off. After checking in my luggage and going through the security check, I sat down and started reading a book that I had recently bought. About an hour before my gate opened, I went to Gate 43 to meet my best friend, Jason, as he was also travelling back to China on the same day. We had a short chat and I reached for my bag once again to make sure that I have my Japanese Yen with me. “I might have left something.” “Is that something important?” “Very important.” I started calling my housemates to check my room for the money and luckily, one of them picked up. To my surprise, I actually left my money at home (what a blunder, Abel). “Can you bring the money to the airport for me?” “You have to pay for my Uber I tell you (thicc Malaysian accent).” Heartbroken, I agreed. To make the matter even worse, I was not allowed to go out of the boarding area. Apparently, if you want to exit the boarding area at Manchester International Airport, you have to be escorted outside by the staff in charge of your flight and get a new boarding pass. I knew I could survive without the money, but I definitely won’t be able to survive if I missed my flight (my parents will definitely kill me). While I had my credit cards with me, my mum had deactivated my Malaysia phone number months ago so I won’t be able to use them without the code sent to my phone (yet another blunder). Left with no choice, I chose to board the plane. While I was on the plane, I figured out I still had some money left in the saving account that I had set up to pay for my rent. What a relief.

While landing in Tokyo Haneda International Airport, I experienced yet another traumatic event. As I was looking out of the window the whole time, I could tell that right after my plane had touched the ground, the side of the track got closer and closer to me. My plane was skidding. Although the whole event didn’t last for more than 5 seconds, I could see my life flashing before my eyes. That’s how scary it was. I suspect that the wheels at the front weren’t properly aligned when they were being retracted so this might have caused the brief skidding moment right after touching the ground. Pretty sure I was going to be on the headlines if the pilots handling my flight weren’t proficient enough.

Hit by a big loss (mostly due to the exchange rates), I’ve also learnt important lessons, and these lessons may come in handy in the future. First, if you are travelling to Tokyo, don’t turn all the money that you’re going to spend into Japanese Yen. Having some Yen is okay but since there are many ATMs that accept foreign Visa or MasterCard debit card, you can always withdraw cash by using your debit card. Local banks often compete with each other for lower exchange rate so you can rest assured that you won’t be ripped off if you withdraw money using a foreign debit card. In fact, I’ve received around 3.5% more Yen by withdrawing money through local ATMs (I was using a Natwest debit card with British Pound in my account, the rate may differ depending on your bank company or currency) than buying them from a store in the UK that offered me the best exchange rate. Just keep in mind that your bank may charge you on transaction fee but it’s normally only around £2-5 per withdrawal. Also, only ATMs with Visa or Mastercard logo can be used. They are available in the crowded area such as the airports and also the convenience stores. Only when you’re travelling to the rural area then you’re better off with more Yen since this type of ATM is more uncommon there.

I was never the kind of person who is very well-organized and yet I have never really faced any problem with it. This time when I tried to be organized and made a list of things that I have to prepare before coming over to Japan, I made a blunder. I guess it’s safe to say that sometimes we just have to be ourselves. Blindly following what the other people do can sometimes be catastrophic. In fact, I was so confident that my Yen was in my bag that I did not even bother checking for it until the very last minute.

This sums up my journey and things I’ve learnt during my first day in Japan. In my next blog post, I’ll talk about ways to travel around Tokyo and also my experience staying there. Till then, take care.