Clarification: This blogpost is written in the perspective of a Filipino YLP scholar studying in Japan in 2020 when COVID-19 restrictions and preparations for the Tokyo Olympics 2020 was at its peak. The situation of the area around TIEC might have changed since then but this hopefully can give new scholars an idea of what to expect.
Tokyo International Exchange Center (TIEC) or “tee-yek“, as the dorm residents lovingly call it, is home to many international students in Tokyo. The compound is government-funded and is located in Odaiba. As a MEXT-YLP scholar in the Business track, you have the option to either look for your own housing or choose to stay at TIEC where the rent is subsidized and the environment is relatively foreigner-friendly.
I obviously chose to stay in TIEC to save me the hassle of finding an apartment in Tokyo but there are some pros and cons of living in the facility that are not explicitly explained as you prepare to leave your home country, such as…
- Rent is subsidized, so your dorm rent is below market price
- Facility staff and residents all speak English
- Waste management is handled by the building’s incinerator
- Immersion programs like ikebana classes and tea ceremony classes are held within the compound
- The area is largely secluded with many parks so it’s easy to go jogging, cycling, or just chill by the ocean
- Units are generally old and its cleanliness when you move in will depend on how tidy the last occupant was
- The compound is populated by international students so you aren’t fully immersed in Japanese society
- It’s far from where all the points of interest (the good izakayas, and, for my case, Hitotsubashi ICS) are in Tokyo aside from the unicorn gundam statue
- The Yurikamome is expensive and is your main channel of transport other than the Rinkai line which is a 5 to 10 minute walk away
The pros outweighed the cons in my case and so I chose to commit to spend my months in Japan at TIEC. Once you’ve gotten used to the routine, it’s a great place to live, in my opinion. I found myself enjoying the outdoors more often, especially as I learned how to use the docomo bikes that are in stations scattered around Odaiba.
It took me about two weeks to settle into my new dorm room but some people took longer than others because of the main con mentioned above where “the state of your unit when you move in will largely depend on the tidiness of the previous occupant”.
With that said, here are some practical tips I learned to stay sane during my settling in process.
Knowing the lay of the land
There are four key areas that you should know about that can help you better settle in TIEC. The first and most obvious one is The Daily Yamazaki located in the ground floor of Building B of the TIEC compound. It’s the first convenience store that you see right after exiting the Tokyo International Cruise Terminal station in the Yurikamome line. This is where you can find all your immediate grocery needs such as water, snacks, and cleaning supplies.
As a sidenote, I found that my stomach didn’t agree with the potable water that could be drunk direct from the tap in Tokyo so I often needed to buy my own drinking water from the convenience store. Some say that you can have a gallon delivered to your room every week so you can save some money but I never got to have this set up. If you’re interested in this service, best talk to the TIEC staff who give you your orientation when you first arrive.
As you inspect your unit for the first time, it will give you an idea on the level of cleaning needed to help you get comfortable. For any dollar store buys, the Seria in Venus Fort is your best friend.
Note: When I left Japan and moved out of my unit on August 2021, there was news that Venus Fort’s contract with the land owners where the mall was built on had expired and that Venus Fort management decided to not renew it. Please check with TIEC admin to confirm this. If yes, then the most convenient dollar store “nearest” you, in my opinion, would be the Daiso in Ariake Garden.
The first thing I advise that you buy is a broom and dustpan set with some rags, general cleaning agents, and a vacuum bag. You will be dealing with a lot of dust in your unit (whether that’s from the incinerator or otherwise, I don’t know) and so the first thing you’ll want to do is sweep up some loose dirt before you start deep cleaning. Some didn’t bother using a broom and dustpan and just went straight to vacuuming as all rooms at TIEC come with a vacuum, you just have to buy your own vacuum bags.
You can buy various cleaning agents such as a washing machine tank cleaner and some toilet deodorizers at Seria but if the selection isn’t to your liking and you have some time in the day, you can go to Maruetsu in Odaiba-kaihinkoen station.
This is the most accessible grocery via the Yurikamome line and also has good deals especially if you go after 9PM where there are some sashimi and other food items on discount. Another grocery that you can go to is OK Mart but between OK Mart and Maruetsu, I personally prefer the latter.
Note: On free Sundays, I like to make the trip to Ariake Garden‘s grocery. It’s bigger and has a wider selection, plus I can enjoy the train ride overlooking the ocean and the MUJI Cafe there.
And lastly, if you want to get a better meal than the microwavables at The Daily Yamazaki, then you can go to Diver City’s food court and enjoy meals from ramen to tempura-don. It’s the mall nearest TIEC (provided that they didn’t block off the route through the park because of Tokyo Olympics 2020) and will have many stores that you can use to relax after a long day’s worth of cleaning.
Note: I think worth mentioning is Nitori in Venus Fort. It deserves a special mention because once you finish doing the preliminary round of cleaning, you’ll find yourself a lot at Nitori to buy things like fresh bath towels and drying racks.
Networks that can help you save money
Now that you know what’s around TIEC and have an idea of what your potential costs might be, here are some things you can do to save some money during in the settling in process:
- Join the TIEC Flea Market facebook group to get good deals on appliances and other necessities from other residents.
- In Hitotsubashi ICS, there is a book sale organized by the Student Council every year. This is an opportunity to not only buy books from seniors but also to get their stuff for free (or at a discount) if they like you.
- For scholars, there are often facebook groups or online communities of scholars in Japan from your home country so connect with them so you can also get good deals on second-hand items.
- If you’re comfortable meeting with Japanese locals in Tokyo to get free items, you can join the Mottainai Japan facebook group and try your luck.
Note: Mottainai is a Japanese philosophy that is widely practiced across the country and within the TIEC compound.
Things I wish I knew earlier about the area around TIEC
Thank you to all my Hitotsubashi ICS classmates who lived in TIEC for introducing me to these wonders!
- If you have a driver’s license, check if it can be converted into a Japanese driver’s license (nationals from Taiwan can do this). There is a Times Car Rental service in Tokyo Telecom that makes weekend trips much more interesting.
- There is a FamilyMart behind Building C that has a better microwavable food selection than The Daily Yamazaki.
- The Soho, where FamilyMart is, also has some food trucks that come every Tuesdays and Thursdays (please double-check on the schedule).
- TIEC has a gymnasium that you can play badminton, basketball, and volleyball in. You just have to reserve it via the Admin Office and you don’t need to go through orientation to use it.
- There are many great parks around TIEC. The most obvious one is Aomi Minami Terminal Park but there is also a small park overlooking a bay in front of Venus Fort and, although quite a jog away but is arguably my favorite park, Akatsuki Terminal Park (and the name is just half of why I like it there).
- You can take the bus starting at Tokyo International Cruise Terminal bus station and ride it towards Ariake to enjoy Odaiba through a different perspective. It’s also a cheaper option depending on where you’re going but it’s best to take the bus only when you have a free day.
- I am not sure if this is applicable past the year 2021, but a large onsen park called Oedo Onsen was just a 5-minute walk away. You enjoy a discounted entrance fee as a student.
What happened during my first night at TIEC
Suffice to say, I wasn’t prepared. Because our batch had a unique schedule considering the COVID-19 restrictions, we finished quarantine and were scheduled to leave the hotel on the week of our final exams for Term 1 and our rooms in TIEC weren’t ready for occupancy yet as you needed to give George Internet at least two weeks to set up your unit’s internet connection and we gravely needed internet because we had to take the final exams online because face-to-face classes weren’t allowed yet at the time.
Usually, students have two weeks before school starts to settle in their dorms but because we arrived in the middle of the first term, we only had a weekend to make our dorm rooms livable enough to have online classes in. After the final exams and at the start of the weekend project of officially moving into our dorm rooms, I got drunk at Aqua City and passed out on my bedsheet-less mattress, leaving the cleaning work to the Ashley of the following day. Don’t do this.
Final thoughts about TIEC
It was a big topic amongst the international students of our class on where we should be spending our months in Japan. Plans of renting an entire house all on our own was floated amongst the groups that felt closer to one another while going through online class, but in the end we all decided to stay at TIEC.
It was fun. We were able to visit each other’s rooms and be able to get to know each other more by sharing our own sanctuaries with others. The facilities were also convenient as the admin staff all spoke English and knew how to handle a predominantly non-Japanese community. All in all, I have good memories of TIEC and hopefully, for future scholars, you’ll get to form your own good memories there too.
Special thanks to Hanami, the Student Affairs Officer at Hitotsubashi ICS at the time, for helping us sort out everything that happened to us because of COVID.