Using Keio’s template of “Useful Information and/or advice from the Former Exchange Students” (keio.ac.jp, accessed 07.11.2019) i also want to give my 2 cents to the troubles i encountered.
Things to bring from home:
I found it really convinient to bring a socket distributor for my electronic devices since Japan has another socket interface. Else you would have needed an adapter for each of your devices (laptop, phone) or charge it separately.
Also you should pack some basic toiletries to survive for the first couple of days and basic medications since english literacy in Japan is not so common.
However don’t bring too much weight with you since you will most likely want to take a lot of souvenirs back home.
It is easy to lose the overview of your expenses. I always noted down how much money per month i actually spend to stay in a certain limit since you likely want to do a lot of things while you are abroad. Not saying you should be too cheap but always going to eat out sushi can be optimized in favour of other exciting activities. My rent was around 550 € per month which seems to be the norm and my overall spendings per month was around 1100 € including going out and a trip per month.
Living in Tokyo
If you are an exchange student in Tokyo attending the KEIO university you will most likely attend the Mita Campus which is located in the Minato Ward. However the dormitories are located around 1h worth of commuting time away from Tokyo. This is also the reason for me having chosen a sharehouse nearUeno. I can sincerely recommand that area since it is centrally located but still not too busy. Of course there are a lot more liveable neighborhoods in Tokyo and there are actually some guides on the Internet which describe characteristica of neighborhoods. A very rough statement is, that the area in the east around Taito is a little bit more quite and more cultural while the newer areas in the west around Shinjuku are more colorful, busy and westernish influenced.
The main transportation method in Tokyo you will use are probably the train systems and the subway systems which are owned by seperate companies. There is however no one for all ticket. If you switch from one system to another you will need to get another ticket. The tickets are in general quite cheap and start at around 160 Yen and increase depending on how many stations you are going. Each of those company’s infrastructure however does cover Tokyo quiete nicely, so that you can save some money by riding a little bit more cleverly with one system and walk the last bit of meters (This actually took me 2 months to understand).
There is also a commuters pass where you pay an amount of money depending on your defined travelroute but you are allowed to ride the train on this route as much as you like – kind of a flat rate. I found out that the price is calculated so that it will be cost efficient if you ride the same route at least 5 times per week back and fourth (e.g. going to work) but having the pass you could still use it on the weekend. Hyperdia does help you with route searches and calculating the price of the commuters pass. There is a discount for students on that passs of around 25%/50% depending on the company .
In common restaurant chains you will most probably encounter 2 systems of ordering. The first one is where you select and pay for your desired item on a machine which then gives you a ticket. You will need to give this ticket to a waiter. The other one is where the menus are located on the table. You can go ahead and sit down on any table and take your time selecting your item. If you are done you need to ring a bell (press a button) to let the waiter know you are ready to order.
A common thing in Japanese gastronomy are also that you will definitely get served water without asking and also can ask for more if needed.
Convinience stores are indeed very convinient but if you take a closer look you will also realize that they are more expensive (the same foes for vending machines).
The bento they are serving are of high quality however they mostly lack vegetables. You can also buy precooked rice and sauces in a convinience store which you then can heat up in a microwave for a change of taste.
A lot of convinience store also have toilets which you can use if you are in need and ask nicely for the toilet key. I did not try that myself, but i saw a friend using it so i am not sure how high the ratio for convinience stores having a useable toilet is.
Things to do after the semester
My semester only lasted from End of March until 05 August however my Visa was valid for a full 6 month period until 23 September. Unlike the student dormitory my sharehouse did not made me leave the place but i still canceled my contract for convenience purposes. A cheap Hostel in Tokyo does cost 2000 Yen on average making it around 60000 Yen of rent expenses per month. The biggest downside is that you don’t have any private space however most Hostels provide cooking utilities as well so that you don’t need to rely entirely on food outside. Besides that it is really easy to make new friends. I would recommend Hostels on the eastern side such as Taito or Chuo since i always had bad experience with similiar prized hostels on the west side such as in Shibuya or Shinjuku. In Kyoto you can even find cheaper places. My best pick was a place at Higashiyama for around 1200 Yen including breakfast and even fruits. There is a lot to do in Japan and if you have enough money i would recommend doing one day trips around Tokyo. After the semester is finished you could then do some more extensive travelings.