Hi there! I’m Samantha,

and this space encompasses my personal milestones made beautiful in His time. Combining my flair for easy-to-read writing and my love for photography, here you'll find me sharing the thing I'm most passionate about - travel, food, fashion and my conversations with God.

*P.S when God was blessing others with the gift of height, He left me out realizing that great things come in tiny packages, so instead I am gifted with endless energy and a big wide smile to get through difficult times.

Forever & always, a child of God. Through this cozy little virtual haven, I hope each post inspires at least someone out there with my life stories.

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The Underrated Tokyo Exchange


june 20th, 2015

It's been 3 months since I stepped foot into the land of the rising sun.
Looking back at my decision to choose Tokyo as the city for my student exchange, I have no regrets.

Tokyo has been labelled the Paris of Asia.
When I broke news that I'm applying (and subsequently being accepted by the university) to Tokyo, many people congratulated me and commented "Wow! You're definitely going to have lots of fun. Tokyo's so amazing! You'll love it!"

I know.
I've been here before.
I even came to Tokyo last year for a 'recee' trip to see if I would like living here for 5 months... hmmm...

Yes, for some people, visiting Japan is like a dream come true.
But the thing is, when people make comments on how amazing Tokyo is and how they loved it so much, I guess they are looking at it from a touristy point of view. I mean, Tokyo is definitely a great holiday destination, everyone wants to visit Japan especially during the cherry blossom seasons. I see many people on social media flocking here just to have a taste of the Sakura season. The ironic thing is however, Tokyo is such an underrated place for a student's exchange choice destination!

Making the Decision
I prepared my heart and prayed before making the choice to come here. I dare say, it wasn't a reckless decision or whatsoever. Many of my schoolmates, seniors, friends, choose to go to popular places like Europe and USA or slightly more exotic places like Mexico, Turkey, Israel. I understand why. It's the trip of a lifetime, semi-travelling the world and the best time to do so is during your university days before stepping into the corporate world. Therefore, before entering university (of which my aim was to use uni as a platform for travelling actually), I set my eyes to follow suit the typical path of choosing Europe for exchange, well, so that I can travel Europe, just like the many others who have done so. What a joyful and perfect plan it seemed back then. I couldn't wait! But honestly like I said, these places are good for travelling, but for living... hmmm... I actually don't think I would enjoy it :/

Perhaps, since Singapore is already part of Asia, thus other Asian countries in general wouldn't be an encouraging exchange choice for Singapore students. I mean, there's nothing much to travel besides probably the other neighbouring parts of Asia, right? I don't have an answer to that, neither do I need an answer for that.

But here's why, instead of following the footsteps of the typical path, you should consider Japan as your future choice for an exchange programme!

and the list goes on...

#1 Uniquely Japan!
When I first arrived in Tokyo, I wanted to try everything Japanese-related! In the sense that I wanna go for unique experiences that I probably would not be able to get anywhere else. From traditional tea ceremonies, to wearing an authentic kimono, buying quirky things that can only be found here, trying out all things kawaii... yes yes, basically making good progress with the Japanese experience thing!

So what does Japan have to offer?

Themed Cafes and Restaurants: It's so ironic that Tokyo doesn't have a Hello Kitty cafe considering it's the land of this kawaii feline kitty. I wonder why, but nevertheless, there are so so many other themed cafes that amazes me. There's Ninja cafe, Alice in Wonderland restaurants, bizarre Robot Cafes, Maid Cafes, Animal Cafes, you're bound to find something that you like! I'm not into the whole maid cafe concept but I wanted to dine there for the food! Not for the taste (actually it was surprisingly decent tasting) but for the cute shaped food that it serves!

Kimono Wearing Experience: I wanted to try wearing it at Kyoto so I could take pictures in it at the major tourist attractions like Bamboo Groves & Shrines, etc during the Cherry Blossom season. However, my reservations didn't go thru due to the peak season, thus I couldn't do it. But it's okay, because I did mine in Tokyo! Probably not as authentic but the shop that I went to was cheap and good! I did mine at Asakusa, there are many shops around there offering the Kimono experience. Hop into anyone and you're bound to get dressed pretty! The shopkeepers are really friendly, they will dress you up in a kimono which is really complicated... and if you are willing to pay more for the full kimono-experience (and to look good for your photos), there are menus available for hair and makeup.

Sumo Experience: yes, you can find them here... Head to Ryogoku, also known as the Sumo Town. There are some sumo shows that you can pay to enter and watch the sumo fights!

Geisha Experience: Probably higher chance of bumping into one in an alley of Kyoto, not so much in Tokyo, especially not in the city centre of Tokyo. In Kyoto, you can make reservations for trying to be a Geisha yourself! There are shops that help you with hair, makeup (yes the white ones like a Geisha...), and kimono wearing. Go check them out!

#2 Daiso / 100-yen shops!
My getaway heaven on earth! Get lost in one of these shops and you'll find something. Walk in without a shopping list, you'll find yourself out with a bag of things.. things that you don't even need. Happens to me, all the time. Gosh, but really, in Daiso and the 100-yen shops, they have an abundance of almost everything you need or want. From household items to beauty goods to DIY craft materials and cute scrapbooking stickers to snacks and many more, variety is the way to go... honestly, it's a great place to kill time.

#3 Basements of Supermarkets
Cute Snacks, Cheap Bentos, Fresh Sashimi
Enough said, I love cooking but here in Tokyo, honestly, I just don't have to cook... and clean after that. It's no culture like that in Singapore, we don't have stores selling cooked food within the supermarkets. Perhaps it's because food is accessible anywhere in Singapore and families tend to home cook food, in other words you won't go hungry in Singapore. But in Tokyo, takeout culture is sort of a lifestyle, perhaps mine. So I really enjoy living in the fact that supermarkets have cooked food, which I can just heat up when I'm home. I remember doing this when I was living in London too, hahaha and I'm quite used to this lifestyle cause in Singapore my family tend to eat out too. So yup I don't really miss home cooked food cause I don't get it anyways, sounds sad right but that's not the point, hahaha
#4 Creative Quirky Things
uh huh yes, all things quirky and bizarre comes from Japan right?
There are things here that you don't ever see elsewhere in the world! Ever! Especially, the cute things that make me go "OMG LOOK SO CUTE! How can I even eat this? How can I touch it? Gosh, these Japanese things are so kawaii nehhh!..."

#5 Fashion

I think I can officially say I belong here, in terms of height!!!
There are so many petite girls around! hahaha, how funny it sounds right, but I actually don't feel short here cause it seems like the average height of girls in Japan are shorter? I have no idea, but I feel rather average here. And because of that, there's a trend of girls here wearing heels, shoes with wedges. My favourite kind of footwear! hahaha, see it's good being a petite girl cause you can wear heels without feeling too tall. I'm just saying this cause I'm short... hahaha, but yeah you get the point. I love the fashion here, it's mainly catered to girls like me (lace dresses, crochet, floral prints, etc), and oh yes I love how they match cute shoes with shoes and even wedges. Interestingly cute! And brands even cater to the fashion sense of girls here, like how converse shoes in Japan have the special lace and ribbon version.

#6 Friendly, Kind, Courteous People
Yes. Everyone HELPS.

Because of my limited Japanese language and my bad map-reading skills, I tend to ask a local for directions whenever I need to locate a place. The amazing part is how random strangers don't just point where to go but they actually just decide to walk me to the place itself, even when they are not going the same way as me initially. I was so touched, and always am going to be touched. It's like restored faith in humanity you know! Oh, and there was once I asked a guy working in a store for directions, he said he didn't know, so I walked out. A few minutes later, he came out of the store chasing me and told me the way.. cause he actually google mapped it for me after I left. How nice of these people! Thank you every single soul who has helped me in any way possible, I really appreciate it! (:

In metro stations, people actually do line up properly while waiting for trains to arrive. No one rushes or pushes to board the train, even during peak seasons, it's not as bad as other countries like Hong Kong or Singapore (sometimes), so I really do appreciate that.

#7 Punctual Transportation
Speaking of trains, I learnt that public transport in Japan is always on time. They are never ever late. Only I am late... When a train is due to arrive at say 12pm, the clock strikes 12 sharp, there you see the train right in front of you. So don't ever miss your transport, cause it leaves on time just like how it arrives on time, haha especially important point to note while taking those long expensive shinkansen (bullet train) rides out of Tokyo. One thing I learnt is to always arrive early, so that you are the one waiting for the train, because the train never waits for you. Plus, it's good to be early because the platforms in major subway stations can be rather complicated and far to walk to so yeah be early! Japanese people are equally on time, so if you are meeting your Japanese friend, try to be punctual and don't keep others waiting!

#8 Sophisticated Toilet Seats
Heated! Comfort! Especially during the cold winter days... the warm heated toilet seats are just too comforting... what more do I have to say.

#9 Everything (Most) is Clean

It's comparable to Singapore, but even cleaner. Even the public toilets in the metros are decently clean and has a powder room for women to do make up in. The only downside is the lack of dustbins around, reason being, apparently you are encouraged to bring your thrash home to throw away. beats me? I don't know why such a rule. haha but yeah in general, people here don't litter so the streets are rather clean even in the alleyway. Train seats are clean too.

#10 Vending Machines
Lost in the world of vending machines...
Indeed, it is very true. There's bound to be a vending machine selling drinks at almost every street corner. Sometimes, not one but a whole row of them. hahaha, it's like everywhere! Don't worry that you will be thirsty or hungry on the streets, just pop your coins into any one of the machines and food/drinks come out almost immediately. The trouble is deciding what to get, and that's the dilemma I always find myself in - pacing back and forth up and down between 5 machines next to each other and eventually deciding on my good old fruit juice or water. 

#11 Convenience Stores
Because convenience stores in Japan are actually convenient. Yes, it lives up to its name alright.
I never have to worry not being able to find something I need nearby, because besides the vending machines, there are 7-11, Lawsons, Family Mart everywhere. In one street, it is not surprising to find all three convenient stores. I admit, sometimes I do convenience store hopping, just to see what each of them offers hahaha, it's quite therapeutic somehow... haha and it's cause sometimes I actually want to find my raisin bread k, so I go to all three and I'm quite sure one of them would have my raisin bread. oh and best of all? they are open 24hours a day! I thank god for the millions of convenience stores available almost everywhere in Japan. I relied on them quite a lot especially when I'm in a rush from place to place. And once, as sad as it sounds, I ate food from Family Mart 3 meals a day cause the island that I was on didn't really have stores open that day. Hahaha so when I saw family mart/7-11, I was like omg I need to go in! Morale of the story? Make the convenient stores your BFFs, you never know when you would need them! (:

#12 Eating Alone is OK
The popular Hakata ramen chain, Ichiran, has dividers in their restaurants, probably to encourage people to focus on the ramen that they are eating instead of talking to people around them. This also trains my independence in eating alone literally, and sometimes, I do enjoy having my me-time during meal times. Just me and my food, fullstop.

#13 Beautiful Sights and Scenic Roadtrips
Many people think there's nothing much to do in Japan, but there's a lot of sight-seeing and planning to be done in the region itself as well. Whether it's via domestic flights within cities or simply taking the Shinkansen (bullet train), you are bound to find yourself exploring a new city part of Japan. I've been to some and I find that they are of equivalent standards to European cities. Just not as famous, but equally magnificent.

#14 Easy to Navigate
Contratry to popular belief, actually I find that it is rather easy to navigate around. The subway maps may look super complicated and stressful, but hey after all the station names are in English and I got used to it initially by the line colours and the station code (eg. C10, G11, etc). I have the habit of looking at full train maps especially when I'm at a station platform waiting for the train, so yes it's rather easy to get directions around via trains. However, I must say that streets and buildings are harder to navigate whether it's on foot or driving, because they are numbered in a way that we are not used to. What do I do in such cases? ASK! People are generally friendly and they will help you, especially when I look like a small girl being oh-so-lost....

#15 People speak English
In the past, Japanese people do not really speak English. But living here made me realise that actually I can get by speaking in English and not knowing Japanese at all. Although English is not their first choice spoken language and obviously thus not widely spoken, BUT STILL, there are people who can speak and understand English! If you interact with more Japanese people, you will realise that they can understand you. And in school, because I'm from Keio University, students here can speak English! My Japanese friend told me that it's a pre-requisite for entering Keio (because Keio is quite a reputable university in Japan) and thus, most students must know English. Besides, there are many returnees in Keio, students who have lived abroad since young or for long-term for a few years before returning back to Japan for university studies, therefore, they definitely know English... well, some of them have better English pronunciation than me ok!

#16 It is actually very live-able
Having your exchange in an Asian country means you do not have to bring Asian food-related things, like Bak Kut Teh, Laksa or other Asian spices and pastes, nor do you have to bring a rice cooker etc to cook here. Food is available everywhere! I wanted to pack for them but I googled and found Singaporean restaurants in Tokyo so nahhh I didn't bring any over here. Also because I'm not someone who craves badly for Singaporean food so I'm fine, I can actually live in any part of the world, hahaha but having said that, if you put Singaporean food in front of me, then I will gooble up everything! hahaha okay that explains my point anyways, I'll introduce you some good Singaporean restaurants here in Tokyo, they are expensive (only if you compare it to our hawker standards of $3-5sgd per dish) but pretty reasonable for an eat-out day, probably around $12sgd per dish. Okay right!

#17 Tokyo is an affordable city
Many people I spoke to before applying for my exchange said that they were deterred from applying to Tokyo because they have this conception (or rather, misconception...) that it is an expensive city to live in. If high cost of living or travelling in Japan is the main issue setting you back from coming here, fret not! Truth is, Tokyo will not blow a hole in your pocket! Honestly, having lived here, I believe it's comparable to living standards in Singapore. 
How much you want to spend, how comfortable you want to live here, really depends on yourself. There are many ways to go budget here, there are places and things to splurge on, well, isn't it just the same as in Singapore? Back in Singapore, I tend to eat out very often. In Tokyo, I eat out too because it is very convenient and food is everywhere! I spend almost the same amount, sometimes, in Tokyo even cheaper than in Singapore. So if budget is an issue for you, don't worry because not all dining out meals cost more than $20. You can get affordable and very full meals too! Besides food cost, activities such as main tourist attractions like parks and shrines can be free! The only things that I find expensive are my beloved fruits (omg you don't know how much I save on food and spend on fruits....gosh!) and transport. On average, it costs about $2.50sgd per ride for 3 stations? Sometimes, I just end up walking if I know the direction - tapping the suica card in and out can be really expensive.... So yeah, besides all this, Tokyo is honestly not as expensive as what people imagine it to be.

 ♥  ♥  ♥

There are so many things to see in Japan, so much to explore, too many places to visit out of Tokyo.
Yet, so little time.

You definitely have to make more than a visit to fully cover the entire Japan. It is much bigger than you think it is. Therefore, this is why I am encouraging you to come Japan for an exchange programme, spend six months here and you would be able to cover more or less the whole Japan (okay not entirely, for sure, but more or less).

So you wanna enjoy all these?

I honestly think you shouldn't give it up coming here for an exchange, reason being the cost of living here isn't as high as we imagined it to be. It's not cheap for sure, but it's almost the same as Singapore. How much you want to spend, how comfortable you want to live here, really depends on yourself. There are many ways to go budget here, there are places and things to splurge on, well, isn't it just the same as in Singapore? So see! You have no excuse not to come to Japan.

Lastly, I hate the cold...
Coming to Japan for an exchange means school terms starts only in Spring! YAY, it's such a great to avoid the harsh winter season and most importantly, you arrive just in time for the Sakura blossoms. What can be better than that? Oh, and did I add... I still managed to see snow and enjoy it at a 16degrees, haha #legit, and cause I wasn't prepared to see snow, I was actually wearing shorts and stockings that day. So yup, see you get the best of both worlds!


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