Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Dormitory Life

I thought it might be worth a brief post about life here in the Dormitory Maruyama, both to help with the decision of whether it's for you, and to let you know some things which might be worth knowing if you do come here. Some of these things may or may not apply to other dormitories: they each have their own facilities and rules, so I can only state with certainty what to expect at the Dormitory Maruyama, even though some of these things will certainly apply at other dorms.

Just to clear something up before I go any further, which was something I know friends of mine were confused by when I first told them I would be staying at a dormitory. A “dormitory” (in Japanese) is roughly what I would know as a “hall of residence”. It is not a “dormitory” in the English sense of communal sleeping quarters. We each have our own room (there are single and double rooms at this dormitory). It is single sex, and there is an 11pm curfew at mine.

There is a dining room (食堂) where breakfast and an evening meal are served Monday through Saturday, but not on Sundays or holidays. There are also basic kitchen facilities (gas hobs, microwave, toasters) and equipment in the dining hall, which students can use to prepare their own meals, on Sundays and holidays, or lunchtimes. By “basic equipment”, I mean a few pots and pans and cooking utensils. But be aware that there are no plates, chopsticks, knives, forks, spoons, etc. for students' use: you have to get your own. Still, if you go to a 100 yen shop, you can get all these pretty cheaply (105 yen each item, in fact: the extra 5 yen is sales tax!). Not a big deal, but the information I received didn't mention this (under “what to bring” it only listed “a pair of slippers or sandals, towels, soap, laundry soap, toilet paper etc.” and didn't mention cutlery or crockery – and in fact the dorm has slippers and does supply toilet paper in the toilets).

I previously mentioned the international telephone and internet access in the room, the latter which you have to apply for. You can also have a television in your room, (which gets a few basic channels: no BS2 or Space Shower TV here!). There is also extra charge for bedding. All of this information, and costs and the like, is included in what I was sent by the school. I won't repeat everything here which is easily ascertained from the school or from the dormitory website itself. You can choose between dormitories with and without private bathrooms. As a fan of the Japanese bath, I didn't feel the need for my own, inferior, bath, so I was happy to go for one without. The shared bath here at the Dormitory Maruyama is very nice indeed. For those less keen on the Japanese shared bath experience, there are showers, which you can use at any time. But really, the bath here is very nice!

As I have certain eating peculiarities (i.e. I don't eat meat) I always expected meals occasionally to be slightly difficult for me, but as I didn't want to make a fuss, I didn't mention my preferences in advance to the dorm (although I did to the school, when they arranged homestay for me). But the fact that I don't eat meat did come up when I asked for a particular dish without the meat, and since then they have in fact been quite accommodating, giving me fish or eggs and the like instead of the meat dishes. I imagine an actual vegetarian would have more difficulty (as indeed they would eating in Japan in general), but if you don't eat meat but do eat fish, certainly I'd advise you to let them know in advance, and they'll prepare special meals for you when necessary.

Apart from the dining hall, there isn't really a communal area, so most socialising tends to be done over the breakfast and evening meals. As there are several of us here from the JLI, we tend to eat together. But most dormitory residents are Japanese. Many are students at vocational colleges (専門学校), but there are even a few high school students here. We've become friendly with a couple of the Japanese vocational students.

I think that covers most things which you won't find in the information from the JLI or on the dorm website. As ever, if anyone who has stayed at this, or any other, dorm, wants to add anything, they can make comments.


The BBG said...

Just a short postscript.

I briefly moved out of the dorm, and into homestay. But that didn't work out so well, because of differences in expectation between myself and my host "mother" of what homestay would involve. Aside from the minor inconveniences of the lack of internet access and the commute to school, I had hoped for much more Japanese conversation, and contact with Japanese people, than turned out to be the case. So I have now moved back into Dormitory Maruyama, where I received a very warm welcome back.

I know that a lot of homestays are great, and students often keep in contact with their host families long afterwards. But if you are thinking of homestay, I would suggest making sure that what you want from it fits in with what your host family wants from it, if you possibly can.

Or you could just stay in a nice, friendly dorm, like the Dormitory Maruyama...

Jaslyn Koh said...

When do you actually tell them about your meal preferences?

The BBG said...

It actually only came up when one of the meals was meaty and I asked the people serving if they could do me one without the meat (I don't remember what it was - it was 5 years ago! - but it must have been something where it would have been simple just not to put the meat in, otherwise I would not have said anything, as I didn't want to make a fuss!).

I'm not sure what the best way of letting them know in advance would be, but you could try putting a note on your application form, or phoning them up (depending on your level of Japanese: I don't think there would be anyone to answer you in English or other languages).

Otherwise, just say something to the staff serving on your first day. When I was at the Dormitory Maruyama, all it took was me asking once for something without meat, and then they asked me if I was vegetarian, so from then on they did meat-free meals for me.

I don't think they would have a lot of scope if your meal preferences were very specific - I would be surprised if they would be able to accommodate kosher, halal, gluten-free, or the like, let alone actually vegetarian or vegan - but if, like me, you just don't want the meat but are fine with fish, then based on my own experience I would think they would be able to accommodate you fine.

If that's not good enough - if you do have more specific requirements - then I would suggest going somewhere without meals, and sorting yourself out (there are plenty of good eating options in Sapporo). But you could try phoning the dormitories first to check (if your Japanese is up to the conversation).