Life in Okayama?
March 10, 2011 6:32 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about living in Okayama, Japan.

This fall, I'll be studying abroad at Okayama University in Japan. I'm a 21-year-old white American. Any tips or advice about Okayama City, Prefecture, or living in Japan in general would be greatly appreciated!

(I'm also studying Japanese, so any advice about the language that I won't learn in class is also welcome.)

Thanks, MeFi!
posted by reductiondesign to Travel & Transportation around Okayama, Japan (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It's a neat place. I don't know what your budget for travel will be like, but you can easily explore western Japan from Okayama. Hiroshima is close by, as is Kobe, Osaka, and Kyoto, and there's ferry service (you'll have to transfer) from Okayama to Shikoku. You can also travel to the Sea of Japan to Tottori.

If I were you, I would bring a bike, a sleeping bag, and a tent. That way you can travel around cheaply, and a lot of university students do this.

I think it would be fun to be a foreign university student in Japan. You'll make lots of life-long friends, both with Japanese students and with people from all over the world.

Learn to eat like a Japanese student - it's cheaper, although it's probably not going to be all that healthy.

Be aware that Japanese people do things differently. It's always good to join a club to make friends, but sometimes club activities in Japan are full-on, with lots of meetings and lots of arbitrary decisions made by a group of older sempai. If you can handle it, that's fine. If you can't, that's also pretty normal.

Bring shoes, because it's difficult to find larger sizes in Japan. If you have anything bigger than a 36-inch waist, bring extra pairs of pants.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:17 PM on March 10, 2011

Best answer: Okayama is considered a more conservative city, but that doesn't mean it's not fun. It's a good size where you'll be able to find most anything you want, and close enough to Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto to find those things you can't find there.

I've been through Okayama a few times on train trips and always enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed riding their very friendly streetcar lines.

Underneath Okayama station there's a import food shop/coffee seller called Jupiter I think. Good to know if you want a taste of home.

Okayama is known for the Japanese fairy tale Momotaro. I'm sure you'll be told all about it, but it wouldn't hurt to get to know the story before hand.

The "nightlife" district is to down and to the right of the station. That's kinda fun to walk around, but you might not want to take any photos around there.

Yubara Onsen in the north of the prefecture, accessible by highway bus from Okayama city, has a large open air mixed bath that is quite fun and FREE! There's also many onsen ryokan (hot spring hotels) there also. Can't recommend going up there enough.

In general...

Being able to speak Japanese makes you're experience here all the better. It's night and day how much you can gather from the environment around you with a few hundred kanji and a willingness to learn. When I was an exchange student in Kobe I ended up spending many of my nights at a Japanese bar. The bartender could speak a little English so she gave me a lifeline, but I was stuck having to interact. That really helped me a lot. So, hang out with your English speaking classmates. It will be great. But! Also try to find a place where you're on your own and you have to use your Japanese.

I've found that Japanese people, for the most part, want to help you navigate through their sometimes obtuse language, streets and culture. Sometimes they don't do it in the best way, but their hearts are in the right place. Try to remember that and try not to get frustrated.

If you ever head up to Kobe and want to have a beer send me a PM.

Good luck!
posted by sleepytako at 7:46 PM on March 10, 2011

I spent a few wonderful weekends in the various "Okayama International Villas," which were subsidized inns set up by the Okayama Prefectural Government to "to provide international guests with a place to rest and relax in the beauty of rural Japan." A few of them seem to have closed down, but the best one is on Shiraishi Island, and it's still operating.

Also, KokuRyu and sleepytako have excellent advice.
posted by wraplan at 9:59 PM on March 10, 2011

You'll be there in Muscat grape season. Eat them! They look like inane white seedless grapes, but they are *amazing*. Peaches are another local specialty.
posted by momus_window at 10:00 AM on March 11, 2011

I was in Okayama, Japan for 10 months back in 2007, doing my master's research at the university there. I stayed at the international students' dorm, just like I bet you will be! Honestly, I've got way too many good things to say about that place and I'm just heading out for the evening, but mefimail me and i will answer any and all questions you might have.

Will post back here tomorrow when I've got some free time...
posted by lizbunny at 4:40 PM on March 11, 2011

Best answer: For the most part, living in Okayama University's international dormitories will make your life a lot easier, because there are lots of new students who also want to make friends and explore. Odds are there are some students who have been around for a few months already and can show you around, too. A few tips for you:

Getting Set Up
-One of the first things you'll want to do is get yourself a bike. There are some used bike shops across the street from Momotaro Park/Stadium if you can't get one from a student leaving. Get a cheap bike lock from the 100-yen store at the mall nearby. Unlikely that you'll be able to have a motorized vehicle.
-Your room won't have much in it, but sometimes the leftover stuff from other students is stored on-site, you might get a chance to pick up some stuff from there. There is a used appliances store near the university, ask around for directions - might get a rice cooker and other things.
-Buy decorations, dishes and whatever else you need from the 100-yen store. You can get an amazing amount of stuff from the 100-yen stores - housewares, food, and souvenirs, etc. There is one nearby in the local mall, and there's also a fantastic one downtown called DAISO. Keep an eye out for cheap fireworks there in the summer ;)
-Get a Japanese cell-phone, it's going to be the only way you have a social life. Someone will help you with this.
-You can get internet for your room, I recommend you find people to share a connection with.

Going Out
- The Matador is the foreigner discotheque, fun place and you get a free drink with admisson. There's also an Aussie Bar for the pub. Club Mars is a place I liked to go for clubbing music, but few foreigners seem to go there.
- The Great Pumpkin is a karaoke place near the west entrance of the train station, seriously fun times to get a private karaoke room with all your friends, japanese-style.

- DO go to the university cafeteria, excellent cheap japanese food. I like Curry Rice a lot.
- Go to Fresta (grocery store at the mall) towards the end of the day and snag cheap food as they discount it to clear it out. The Great Canadian Bakery is wonderful for that too :)
-The convenience stores are actually ok to get food from, like bento boxes and onigiri.
-Jupiter (as mentioned above) is indeed a good place for foreign foods you miss. The only thing I really recommend you bring with you from home is anything for mexican food. Make your own salsa and tortillas, but bring the seasonings & hot sauce.

My favorite restaurants
-Ippudo is a freakin' awesome ramen shop, downtown on the main drag closer towards the Korakuen.
-There's a really nice little burger joint called Raccos Burger I highly recommend, downtown. Near-ish to the DAISO.
-Give Matcha Milk and other matcha-flavored treats a try, which is everywhere in Japan but there's a particularly nice tea shop in the covered walkway mall downtown.
-Ask for directions to Kaiten Sushi (cheap revolving sushi), it's on the same road as Momotaro park and the mall near the dorm
-There's a good okonomiyaki place right near the dorm, closer to the mall. There's a fantastic place for okonomiyaki in Kurashiki (nearby town, historical feudal japan buildings for tourism).

-Every once in a while, there's a special student deal for Jiyu-Hachi Kippun - youth travel tickets, where you get a ticket good for X days of travel (5?) and you can ride the local commuter train the whole day. Takes a long time but it's scenic at least. I got to Mt. Fuji this way.
-You can buy bus tickets at the student center, which is good for getting an overnight bus to Tokyo or wherever you like. The bus pickup points are along the main street downtown. I can't remember why, but getting to Hiroshima was either by bullet train or by bus, can't get there by local commuter train.

Ask around on campus or search on Google for directions to any of the above mentioned places. You'll have a great time :)
posted by lizbunny at 12:20 PM on March 14, 2011

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