Housing at IUC: San Serite Shinohara

I am finally back from my year of intensive Japanese language study at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies (IUC or the Center for short).  Right about now, next year’s IUC students are trying to pin down where they will live next year, so I thought I would run through my experience for everyone.

Like most people landing on this page, I searched online for information on housing in the greater Yokohama area in general, and posts by previous students, in particular.  If this happens to be one of the first pages you visit, I can suggest the group blog What Can I Do With a B.A. in Japanese Studies? They have a whole series on housing for IUC. This post, while it’s only on my site, is intended to fit in with their series. Their housing posts cover:

If you’re reading this post, I am going to assume you know something already about the Center. Housing comes in a few varieties, but can be divided into two basic categories – options students find on their own, and options that are affiliated with the Center. I am going to write about one of the Center-affiliated apartments not covered by the “What Can I Do” crew, San Serite Shinohara.

Before I moved in, San Serite seemed like it might be too far from the Center. The commute is 30 minutes by train in the morning (including walking to/from the station) and around 40 minutes in the afternoon (partially because I never bothered to time when I left the Center, so I usually ended up waiting a few minutes for the train). You can also walk it in about an hour. Considering that you end up with a relatively cheap, sizeable apartment in a lovely neighbourhood, I was quite pleased. It is on top of a hill, but that was mainly an irritant when I was moving luggage.

The neighbourhood is generally quiet and residential. However, there are three decent-sized grocery stores and a number of specialty food stands (fruit/veggies, fish, etc.) within a ten minute walk. There are also two parks, one of which is the largest I’m aware of any of us students living near. If you are the sort of person who wants to party on the weekends, you’ll have to go elsewhere to do it, but if you want a nice, quiet neighbourhood with an easy commute, a number of options to get outside (whether to play or to study), located near a bunch of other Center students, this fits the bill. You can easily walk over to hang out with friends at Myorenji, Kikuna, Shin-yokohama and a few other areas where Center students tend to land.

Living room

As for the interior, it surprised me in a good way, my roommate in a not-so-good way. Your expectations will probably dictate whether you are happy or not. Obviously the fittings are a bit used, and nothing was ever super-expensive to begin with, but it is furnished with all the necessary items (down to utensils and sheets). The landlord is a nice guy with an office on the first floor, so he is easy to get in touch with and happy to replace broken appliances. Additionally, each year’s residents make some alterations to what the apartment comes with. Consequently, I can tell you that next year’s residents are getting a new microwave courtesy of our landlord, and various nearly-new items (yoga mat, cutting board, hula hoop, throw pillows for the couch, covers for a futon, seat cushions for the dining table, et cetera) from myself. My roommate left some things as well.


One of the two major negatives to San Serite was shared by all of the other apartments Center students stayed in, I think. San Serite is made of tekkin concrete, which means there is absolutely zero insulation in the walls. However, we eventually figured out that the in-wall A/C units also function as energy-efficient heaters. For budgetary reasons, my roommate and I left the shared rooms unheated, but you don’t have to. The other major negative is the bathroom. The separate toilet is small, but functional. The furo, while also functional, is a bit of a mess. That said, I believe the landlord is redoing it this summer, so it most likely won’t be an issue for future residents.


One other thing to note about the interior. The kitchen is surprisingly large for a Japanese kitchen, but there is effectively no counter space. There isn’t an oven, either. But then, both of those negatives are standard for a Japanese kitchen.

As far as costs are concerned, the rent amounted to roughly $375 per person. Tenants get to share the landlord’s internet connection for free, but have to pay for the gas, water and electricity, which amount to around $55 per month (the electric went up to around $45/month in the winter; otherwise it was around $20-25/month). At some point, someone from NHK will show up and ask if you have a TV. If you are foolish enough to say yes, you will have to pay for that, too, to the tune of about $10/person every month or two. Finally, you’ll want a transit pass to get to school and back. That is another $100/month, for a grand total of $540. There was a commission to the realtor of roughly $200 upfront, and when we left the apartment, they kept $200 of the deposit for cleaning, but gave the rest (~$325) back.


Well, that was my experience with San Serite Shinohara. I had a wild year, full of interesting people, leaps in my Japanese capability and new experiences. I hope the next residents get as much out of their time in the apartment as I did.

On a more general note, the Center is tough. Everyone knows it – that’s pretty much why we all go there. The Center will push your Japanese farther than you thought it would, but it will be a hard journey. Almost all of the Center-affiliated apartments are for two people. We all bonded over annoyances like bad air circulation and small kitchen counters at the Center, but some people were bothered by trouble with their roommates for months on end. As far as I can tell, all the Center-affiliated apartments were generally nice. Personally, I think I liked San Serite best of the apartments I saw, but they’re all on more or less the same level. The deciding factor in whether people had a good time over the course of the year seems to have been how they got along with their roommate, so I suggest people considering that option to be careful in that regard.


Finding Film Theory in Japan

So much for updating more frequently 🙂

Well, I’m in Japan and partway through my program.   I thought I’d give a run-down on the nuts and bolts of intensive, short-term language study in Japan, writing down some of what I’ve found out about research in Japan along the way.   I’m hardly the only person doing that sort of thing (and someone I know already beat me to actually setting fingers to keys on this one to an extent), but I haven’t seen anything about the specific topics I’m going to cover.

The first thing I want to talk about is a bit boring, but horribly useful: Japanese bookstores and film theory.   Studying film academically is a matter of course in America, but it’s a relatively new development in Japan.   (See here for a short history of its development.)   To be clear, I’m talking about academic study – film theory, not film criticism.   As a result, it’s many times easier to find books or magazines reviewing the latest films, doing photo spreads on the newest hot young thing or listing someone’s favorite horror movies than it is to find an analysis of, say, the recent spurt of manga, TV shows and movies about Abe no Seimei.   That disparity exists pretty much everywhere – talking about the latest blockbuster is as international as it gets – but it’s exaggerated in Japanese scholarship.   Moreover, the way that Japanese bookstores are organized kind of highlights it.   Still, you should know the Japanese scholarship on a topic before you start shooting your mouth off, right?   I’ll show you how to navigate stores for academic books about film, and that should give you a good enough idea of how the system works that you can figure out how to find other kinds of academic books, too.

Let’s say you want to find books about women in film.   Not a specific book, just academic books on that topic.   In America, you’d stop by two bookstore sections – women’s issues and film – and maybe the women’s interest and general interest sections of the magazines/journals area.   In Japanese bookstores, there are far more sections, but they’re smaller and less likely to have what you want.   The various women’s sections (books and magazines) are largely fashion- and diet-related.   There might have been one or two other subsections, but they’re similar in tone (i.e. useless for our purposes).   There is a large section labelled nonfiction (ノンフィクション), but it seems to be all/mostly memoirs.   Likewise, there is a section labelled essays ( エセイ ) which consists of compilations of essays by single authors on a variety of general topics (i.e. a volume won’t discuss one topic in depth, but cover various aspects of society in different essays).

So much for the less-useful areas, on to the good stuff.   Japanese bookstores have at least two film sections – “film” (映画) and “Western film” (洋画) – both sections are mainly filled with non-academic works (“Best Ever” lists, for example), but I found a couple gems in them on my last trip – the second issue of Pop Culture Critique, whose theme is “girls’ combat experience”, and a book on film by one of Studio Ghibli‘s producers.   Nearby, you’ll usually find sections on TV dramas, anime and games.   Similarly, I suggest taking the time to go through the related magazine areas.   Magazines themselves haven’t panned out for me yet, but stores often shelve books and unusual items with the magazines.   On a recent trip to a bookstore I hadn’t visited before, I found a set of specially reissued Ozu films.   Each “volume” included one film and a short (40-ish page) set of specially printed notes, interviews and so on.

Now, those suggestions work for your standard new and used bookstores (i.e. Kinokuniya and Book Off), and assume you don’t have a specific title in mind (if you do, order it).   When looking for other kinds of resources, other guidelines apply.   If you want dōjinshi, for instance, Kathryn Hemmann recently posted an excellent guide to dōjinshi resources in the Tokyo area.   If you have any suggestions or know of other, similar resources, please do comment.   I’ve got less than a month left, and I want to make the most of it.


Update: I dropped by the Jinbocho area today, and they have boatloads of used book stores.   (Also, apparently, CD/record stores.)  There’s even a store that specializes in science-fiction and mysteries.  Some of the stores are pretty small, but the flip side of that is that they carry rarer books and magazines.  Happy hunting!