Chiba International Dorm & other random adventures

Trip Start Sep 23, 2005
Trip End Sep 16, 2006

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Flag of Japan  ,
Thursday, September 22, 2005

After 14 hours spent sleeping in our Narita hotel room, Dad & I were raring to go. After a brief stop at the breakfast buffet, we hopped into a cab headed to the university dormitories. We had no idea where we were going, nor did we have any idea how far it was to Chiba University. As the cab driver maneuvered from one freeway to the next, we watched his taxi meter climb higher and higher. By 5,000 Yen (50$) we knew we were in trouble. When the taxi driver pulled into a police-guarded compound, Dad & I looked at each other not sure what was going on. As it turned out, the driver was looking for directions, since he was a Narita local and didn't know the Chiba University area. By the time we finally found the University International House, the cab far was over 10,000 Yen (100$) and we were far from the one place we knew in Japan - the Narita Hilton.

Walking into the dormitory, a Japanese woman approached us, seeming to know who we were. She showed us a room where we could put my 2 suitcases, and then told us that there were "no procedures" for that day. Not understanding, and not wanting to leave my suitcases unattended in a room for 2 weeks, we pleaded for someone who spoke English to come and help us. A younger girl, probably one of the students, came down and explained to me that because they had expected us the day before, there was nobody available to go through introductory procedures. My suitcases would be put into the main office storage area while I was away, and she let me put my name on them for added security. We thanked her, and because she had to take a phone call from another student, all she could do was hand us a simple map to use to navigate over to the university as we walked out the door.

The university residence is a 3-5 minute walk to the train/subway station. The university is one station further away. Dad & I decided to use the train, but somehow, we missed a turn and ended up walking the 20 minutes to the University. We didn't mind, since we got to experience what the walk would be like, but the lack of English on campus was a bit alarming. We finally found the International Center on campus and they helped lead us to the nearby train station, where we ventured on our first ever Japanese 'outing'. At the train station, we decided to stop for a beverage at Doutour, a 'gourmet' coffee shop where I had to rapidly access sections of my old Nakama memories in order to order Dad's coffee and my orange juice. I thought it was a bit strange when they had me specify hot or cold coffee, but we soon learned this would be a VERY common question.

After our coffee outing, we ventured into the train station. Finding our way around wasn't as difficult as I'd been expecting, everything was written out in Kanji (the Chinese characters) and in Romaji (English phonetics). The tickets are priced according to the travel distance, and you pre-pay at automatic ticket machines that have English available to help. Above the ticket machines is a very detailed map, listing each stop and the ticket price to get there. We felt like pros as we purchased our tickets and followed the thrones of people headed down the stairs to the train platforms. We only went as far as the 2nd station, but at least our first JR experience was a pleasant one. The outing continued as we got off the train and headed towards the exit. To our surprise, the tickets that we had used to enter the train needed to be put through the machines to exit as well. Fortunately, we both still had them in our pockets, and after we inserted them, the gates let us pass. We followed the signs to the exit, and found ourselves in a pseudo-metropolis. The sidewalk level of the train station opened out into a mini-shopping mall. There were street vendors, and food counters, a flower shop and a convenience store. Not sure where to start, we walked through the food market, too unsure of ourselves to taste any of the free samples. We finally decided on Ramen and walked through the curtain into the noodle shop. Ordering Ramen in Japan is not as simple as sitting at a table with a menu - there is a machine, somewhat like the train ticket machines, where you pick your meal and purchase a meal ticket. Unfortunately, none of the options are written in English, and with my limited Kanji knowledge, our choices were reduced to the few Katakana items on the menu. Dad had the Yakisoba, and I tried Miso Ramen. It was delicious. I'd even go so far as to say that it has been one of the best meals I've had here in Japan, and thank goodness the station is in Chiba - I'll be able to go back whenever I want.
As we finished lunch, we decided to find the nearest bank and open a bank account. Mizuho Financial, kiddie corner to Chiba station, was a zoo. From the moment we walked in, to the moment we walked out, there were 4 bank employees calling out Irashaimase (welcome) and running around like lost children. They were giving out numbers to everyone based on their banking needs. When banking windows became available, these women would usher the customers over and move on to the next one. They had very limited English, but the woman trying to help us was able to run into the back and find a man who could serve us. Unfortunately, there wasn't much he could do, and worst of all, his English wasn't strong enough to explain why he couldn't help us. Frustrated, Dad & I left Mizuho and went down the street to Chiba Bank. We encountered the same problem at this bank, but instead, the man who helped us spoke flawless English and was incredibly helpful. All registered visitors to Japan are responsible for going to one of the political offices and obtaining an Alien Registration Card. Because I am getting one after I move into the University Dormitory, I didn't have my ID card. Without it, the bank could not help me open an account. Without an account, there was no way they could deposit or cash my bank draft, and I was therefore S.O.L. I wasn't happy, but at least I understood. I've since decided that I will do my banking at Chiba bank, but until October, my funds for Japan are very limited.

After our disappointing banking experience, Dad & I caught the express train from Chiba to Narita. It wasn't a very exciting trip, but way cheaper than the cab ride. At Narita station we were able to catch a bus which took us back to our hotel. We did so after exploring downtown Narita for a while and strolling through a street which we dubbed 'Souvenir Alley'.

All in all, our Narita visit was more functional than entertaining, but it was a necessary stop on our transition from Canada to Japan.
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dee on

Hi, I've been an international student in three different countries including Japan, and I always get excited when I read someone experiences arriving in a foreign country as a student! nice blog! :)

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