Words by ADIT AMOD GURJAR
Illustrations by YASHA LAI
Hey there. So, you’ve received your acceptance letter, maybe even a scholarship. Congrats, and welcome to PEAK. Can I expect to see you soon? Let’s grab a cup of coffee and get to know each other. Tokyo has many fun spots: Disneyland, Tokyo Tower, shrines, temples, and many different themed cafes. I’m sure you’ll have a great time here. By the way, is this your first time living alone or moving out? If not, cool, you know very well how hard it can get. If yes, let me introduce you to the most essential and exciting parts of your new journey.
Given the state of excitement you’re in right now, moving in doesn’t seem that important. After all, it’s just packing a suitcase of clothes and moving into a dorm. However, it’s not that simple. You’ve got multiple things to consider regarding moving in, especially if it’s your first time. If you aren’t prepared or informed beforehand, things will hit you hard once you’re over the honeymoon phase.
Before Moving In
Moving in and living alone go hand-in-hand. When coming to Japan, carry certain essentials such as electronics (chargers, socket converters), a blanket (it gets cold), plenty of clothes, medicines (for a cold or fever), lots of files (you’ll receive lots of paperwork), shoes, etc. It’s not that you can’t buy these here; it’s just better to have them beforehand since you are new to Tokyo and searching for them could get complicated.
Bring some non-perishable food from home, and download Google Translate beforehand. Once you’re here, you’ll be bombarded by tasks, so I’d also recommend maintaining a diary. Note down deadlines for activities such as rent payment or homework submissions and tasks such as going to the ward office or the health check-up. That sums up the essentials to carry. It’s nowhere near exhaustive, so bring more depending on your needs. But please don’t burden yourself with unnecessary items that you consider “essential.”
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but learning some Japanese beforehand will help. “How much is this?”, “Where is this place?”, and “Do you speak English?” are some phrases you’ll commonly use.
Now the highlight of your new journey – living alone! While some of us may have lived alone, it’s usually been for short durations (a trip or a camp). But now that you’ll be away from family for the next four years, you are finally free! The owner of your own will. No one to nag or pester you. However, having no one to monitor you is also the most challenging part of living alone. When we’re with family, we’re obliged to listen and behave. The fear of intervention by our parents drags us to the study table. We’re under 24/7 invigilation, which forces us to behave ideally: eat less junk food, watch fewer hours of Netflix or play games, and sleep on time. Most of us follow the rules set by our families. But once you’re in dorms, things change drastically. You used to sleep by 11, well now it might be 4. You had the comfort of being served hot delicious food thrice a day, but now it’s a run to the konbini. The changes are going to be significant and drastic, literally overnight.
When it comes to food, there are quite a few options. If you’re good at cooking, congratulations! You have unlocked one level of survival. Finding the ingredients to cook your homely meal might be difficult. If that’s the case, COMPROMISE. Also, you might find the groceries here a bit expensive. Apart from that, you’ll need to manage your routine and squeeze out some time to cook. You also have the option to eat out. Tokyo has many restaurants, and you’ll likely find one that matches your taste. It’s a convenient and fast option. But it’s expensive and unhealthy. Konbini have quite a few options, such as sandwiches, bentos, ready-to-eat pasta, pizzas, curry rice, and many more. There’s one last option, the university cafeteria. It’s affordable, (mildly) delicious, and has various options to choose from. But given the current situation, chances of going to campus are slim. Speaking about food, many of us have dietary restrictions due to either allergic, religious, or personal reasons. Finding vegan, vegetarian, or halal food is difficult. Japanese cuisine uses a lot of meat, and if you’re vegan or vegetarian, sticking to limited options may be hard. Most foods in restaurants and konbini contain ingredients that may violate your restrictions. Hence, learning Japanese would help with reading the ingredients.
While college students have been known to have a messed-up sleep cycle, thanks to online classes, this issue has only been amplified. Binge-watching series, playing video games, texting, and partying will all be likely contributors. No one’s stopping you from sleeping early, but.... During pre-COVID times, going to campus used to set a routine, but now with our flexible schedules, there is no routine. Everything is just so fluid. Many times I have slept at sunrise. Next up, finances. Now, this is a personal matter. So one tip – maintain a diary or spreadsheet of all your expenses to keep track of where all those Yen are going.
Time management is the most crucial skill to learn. “The deadline for submitting the report is tomorrow; I’ll get to it once I’m done with this movie”, “The test is in a week, I’ve got time, who wants to go to karaoke?”, “My room is a mess, hmm, well tomorrow seems like a good day to clean-up”. The excuses to postpone tasks are endless. Time can be managed well. However, we often don’t use it wisely.
These are, in all likelihood, the changes that come with living alone. Furthermore, we are likely to be lazy. Here’s where self-control is vital. Put simply, it’s the ability to say no to what the body wants and yes to do the needful.
Now, if you’ve been the ideal child – no alcohol, no smoking, a virgin in every sense – then the room to explore is infinite. Drinking due to peer pressure or just out of curiosity to try something new is likely. But just as curiosity killed the cat, the lack of self-control can become an issue, as being sucked down the rabbit hole of addictions is a possibility. According to popular culture – to an extent – addictions are synonymous with university students. Curiosity or peer pressure might not be the only routes to addictions; loneliness/depression can also push one into that dark alley. Hence, making friends who’ll keep a watch on you is essential. A good friend circle is a good detoxifier for your mental health. But again, what’s most important is self-control; in the end, it’s your decision.
Personally, I had never lived alone before arriving in Japan. So, living alone was definitely a significant change in my life. Honestly, I didn’t feel a lot of change. Yes, there were some things I was experiencing for the first time, but they felt normal very quickly. I didn’t get homesick, and the food wasn’t much of an issue despite being a vegetarian. But I did face challenges with the language barrier, time management, and sleep schedule. Everyone has different experiences. The Japanese are very friendly, helpful, and hospitable. If you get lost anywhere, there’s nothing to worry about. You’ll make it home safe.
There are many more things I’d like to tell you about, but that would cross the word limit for this article. Freedom is a double-edged sword. It’s a form of power, and if you don’t know how to use it, you’ll abuse it. You need to manage your time, money, and habits. It’s your life, and you’re in charge. You could fill up on chips, sleep at 5 in the morning, drink like there’s no tomorrow, chain-smoke, and struggle financially at the end of the month, all because there’s no one to check on you. These are the choices you will be making consciously. You’ll still graduate at the end, but it might be at the cost of your health. Lifestyle is a choice, and habits stick with us for a long time. There will be many questions you’ll be asking for the first time. You’ll be making many choices for the first time. No matter which path you choose, in the end, you will come out as a different and more mature person. Everyone changes with time, so let the changes be those that bring what we want, or better, idealize. Work out a bit; stay in shape. Take care of your physical and mental health, and sleep well.
Adit Amod Gurjar is an undergraduate student in the Programs in English at Komaba (PEAK).
THE KOMABA TIMES ISSUE 11, APRIL 2022