My Japanese Dormitory Experience

During my stay in Japan, I am living in a women’s dormitory provided for by work. When I was first told I would be staying in dormitory, from my Western background, I was under the impression it would be one of two things: a university dormitory or similar to a women’s convent. I am relieved to tell you it was neither of these things.

Located an hour and a half from my work, Osaka Gas, (which is a normal commute time in Japan) my dormitory is situated at the top of a hill in a residential area. Bordering the dorm, there is a highway, but because of the special chemicals in the blockades between the highway and the houses (manufactured by Osaka Gas) you cannot hear any highway noise. On the other side of the highway is Kansai university, and many women attending the university live in my dormitory out of convenience. There are other women who have regular jobs staying at the dormitory, a couple preparing for major examinations like dental school, and a few younger girls who I have no idea why they are here.

The dormitory is run by the house mother (ryobo-san), her accompanying husband (docho-san) and two female cooks/cleaners. (Note: ryobo means mother in Japanese, docho means father, and -san is added to show respect, like saying mister or misses). There is one woman in the dormitory who has been assigned to help me in the dorm, and so she often translates between me and ryobo-san.

Overall, I have so far enjoyed my stay in the dormitory. However, initially I was overwhelmed with all the formalities and rules regarding the dormitory. All I wanted was a place to sleep and cook after a long day, but reality was jarringly different. Although breakfast and dinner are provided for us, we have to schedule every meal we want a month in advance, and, if we are unable to make one of those meals we schedule we need to notify ryobo-san immediately. This proved difficult the first couple weeks when jetlag had me routinely sleeping through and missing dinner. Additionally, almost every meal consists of a main entree of fish, often involving fish with many little bones. Not only do I not like fish, but have you ever tried pulling hundreds of tiny bones out of a fish smaller than your hand with chopsticks? If not, I can tell you from experience that it is near impossible to do! Now, in order to make all my meal times and not upset the cooks, I proceed directly from work to dinner every night without pausing at my room to nap, and I convince myself to at least try every part of the meal!

A Typical Breakfast (There is a bread option, but most other people choose to take the miso soup and rice option)

Another set of rules I found extremely tedious in the first few weeks was the procedure to leave and come back to the dormitory. I understand the procedures are for safety, but when I was expecting to be so independent while I was here, it felt like these dormitory’s rules were stripping my independence away. Upon arrival to the dormitory, you must remember to beep in with your key fob at the front door to notify you are back.

Once entering the dormitory lobby, you immediately take off your outdoor shoes, walk to your shoe locker and unlock it with a combination, and exchange your outdoor shoes with your indoor slippers. You are also required to leave your room key in your shoe locker when you leave which inevitably means and extra trip back downstairs for me after I reach my room to realize my room keys are still in the shoes locker.

Shoe Closet

In your slippers, you can finally go to your room. And when leaving, you must do the exact reverse procedure, except instead of using the key fob to beep in, you must use the key fob on a separate key fob to beep out. Now if all of this isn’t enough for me to remember in the early hours of the morning or late at night, it only gets worse if you want to sleep out for a night or are out past 11PM. If I am out past 11PM without notifying ryobo-san, she will call the company I work for to notify them I am missing. If I want to sleep out, not only do I have to fob out on a different machine, but I also need to fill out a going away sheet of paper which is only written in Japanese! I just had to do it for my first time because I plan to spend a weekend in Tokyo, and it took me nearly 20 minutes to fill out with the help of ryobo-san!

I have become used to all the procedures now, but learning all of them on my very first day was a lot to remember! In addition to these rules, there are many formalities it is rude to do or not to do in the dorm. For example, you cannot wear your pajamas to the shower room or dining hall and you must say different Japanese phrases for when you arrive or leave the dormitory and when you take or return food trays from the dining hall. It’s a lot to learn in a short amount of time, but now that I am getting the hang of it, all the procedures and formalities seem much less daunting! I have also made a few friends in the dormitory who can speak English. Just a couple of interns like me and one other Japanese university student. I didn’t realize how nice it would be to have someone to fluently speak English with until I got to Japan where so few people can understand what I am saying! I’m off to the dormitory breakfast now. Until next time!