I started off my teaching career in Japan by being late for my first TWO days of work. How on earth did I do that, you ask? I am an absolute idiot, for one. But the other reason is the amazingly complex monster that is the Japanese train system!
Now, the trains in Japan are great. I’m sure there is no other country on earth with as efficient and complete a train system as Japan. But for those of us who are from “out of town,” it can be a horrible crazy mess.
When you get to Japan, you will probably have a few days before you start work. Use those days to figure out where on earth you will be going. If you have time, you might want to just go to work once as a test.
If you’re like me, you’ll be so excited to go out and check out Japan, that it will be no problem to take a ride or two. At each station, familiarize yourself with which platform goes where.
Learn the kanji for important stations. Kanji is monster to learn, and many of us who learn to speak Japanese competently still shy away from these difficult Chinese characters.
But, learning a few essential place names will save you tons of trouble later. In particular, learn your station name, the station where you work, and the train lines you will be taking every day.
You might also want to remember the names of the train lines and any major stations in between. Take pictures if you have to! Of course, all the information is displayed periodically in English, but remembering just a few characters will help a lot later.
Of course, go early. Until you know the train lines pretty well, go everywhere a bit early in case you get turned around. This will make the journey less stressful, and will probably keep you from being late at least once.
It’s pretty overwhelming at first, but you will be surprised at how quickly you get used to it. Listen for the train announcer. At first, nothing he says will sound like it should sound, but eventually you’ll be able to pick out the station names. Then, you can read a book and relax until you get to your stop.
If you’re like me, you get easily confused and turned around. I’m probably lucky I didn’t get completely lost and disappear forever. I’m lucky I didn’t get fired, but I’m sure it happens a lot.
If you stay in Japan for a while you will start to get used to the stations and train lines near yours, and you’ll be a pro at finding your way around in no time.