The Ryuugakusei’s Guide to Tsuru

The Ryuugakusei’s Guide to Tsuru

By ryuugakusei, for ryuugakusei!


So you’re going to Tsuru! That’s a good choice, because Tsuru is by far the best program ever.

  • Full immersion! All of your classes are in Japanese, and very few people in Tsuru speak English! Enjoy practicing your Japanese every day, and getting really good at it!
  • Difficult classes with easy grading! What EAP doesn’t tell you! Study hard for your classes, which only meet once a week, get straight C’s and still get an A in the end! GPA booster for the win!
  • Cool tutors and extracurriculars! Climb Mt. Fuji! Swim in a river! Join a club! Hang out at Fumi-san’s house! Go into Tokyo with your new Japanese friends! It’s just like your Japanese animes! {joke}
  • Have a host family while living alone! Experience the freedom of no roommates in a tiny Japanese apartment! Get called onii-chan or onee-chan! Get drunk with your host dad! Help your kids with English homework! Show off your hiragana  and katakana writing skills!

You can ask me any questions about Tsuru at my formspring! Just click here!

Getting to Tsuru from Tokyo

Take the Chuo (中央) line Westwards to Otsuki (大月), and transfer to the Fujikyu (Q) (富士急) line. Travel to Tsuru Bunkadaigaku-mae (都留文科大学前) for the college, or to Tsurushi (都留市) to get to the town hall / center of town.

Getting Anywhere from Tsuru

Take the Fujikyu up to Otsuki (~45 min), then transfer to JR Chuo.



Tsuru is a very laid-back town in the middle of the inaka (countryside). A small highway runs right through the middle of town, so there’s some car traffic, but it’s not too busy. There are lots of rice fields stuck between shops our houses, and narrow, one-lane streets and alleys.

Each class meets once a week for an hour and a half, and you don’t have any classes earlier than 9:10. Each school day is broken into periods, or 限 (gen), starting with first gen and going through fifth or sixth gen. After second gen is lunch, which is also an hour and a half. The school cafeteria is pretty reasonably priced, and always has something to eat.

Clubs usually meet after fifth gen; the frequency depends on the club. If you hang out on campus after fifth gen, you’ll hear the orchestra practicing, or the drama club moving stuff around, or see the dance crews using the large windows of the buildings as mirrors.

Your apartment in Tsuru is pretty small, but you’ll get used to it rather quickly. When you move in, you’ll have to get all of the furniture out of the closet / storage space and set it up how you like it. Most of the stuff has been accumulated by generations upon generations of ryuugakusei. (I left behind a whiteboard and a smaller table!)

You can sleep up in the loft above the closet, or on the floor. Either way, you’ll have a futon (or two). Make sure you air it out at least once a month, if not more, by hanging it out on the balcony. Just make sure it doesn’t get rained on!

You’ll have to turn on the water for your laundry machine when you first use it by turning on the tap above it. (It took us a while to figure that out.) Have your tutor or a Japanese friend show you how to use it – it’s not as hard as it looks. Buying detergent can be difficult – remember that you need the detergent and the softener to get happy clothes!

Clothes go outside to dry. You can pin them on the poles, or just put them on a hanger. When it gets really cold outside, or if it’s raining, you can hang them inside on various knobs and hooks.

The kitchen is just enough for you to prepare stuff with. You’ll have a rice cooker and microwave for sure, and maybe a toaster oven if you’re lucky. The fridge is really small, so don’t plan on stocking up! You will not have an oven, but you will have an electric stove.

If you don’t feel like cooking, sometimes eating out is cheaper! Tsuru is known for its udon, and Yamanashi is known for its delectable fruits (and wine). There are lots of family-owned restaurants and shops around Tsuru, as well as a Mos Burger close by. The McDonalds is about an hour’s walk away, or just three stations by train, if you feel like paying.

Alcohol and cigarettes are legal for anyone over 20. Businesses are supposed to ask you for your ID, but they rarely do. 7-11 will ask you to hit a button that says “yes, I am over 20” when you buy something age-restricted. The only time I got carded was at the drugstore, and it really surprised me. A visible sign of Japan’s leniency is the beer and cigarettes you can find in vending machines, accessible by anyone. Party responsibly!

Most Japanese students stay in town for the weekend. There are a few fun things you can do in Tsuru for the weekend, but if you’re looking for real excitement, you’ll have to go to one of the closer cities, like Fujiyoshida or Otsuki, or hop the JR Chuo line to someplace fancier.



You will probably walk everywhere in Tsuru. You will also probably jaywalk every single day, too. The cops really don’t care. Just be careful and look both ways – remember, cars drive on the LEFT!

The roads in Japan are narrow, and there are not always sidewalks for you to walk on. Keep an eye out for cars and walk on the opposite side of the street (the right side) if there’s no sidewalk. The alley by Maison is notorious for having cars come out of nowhere and scaring the crap out of you.

You can buy a bike if you want for pretty cheap; I never needed one, but three of the other students got them. If you’re living in Shinmachi, you will need a bike. Biking to school from Maison takes about 5 minutes, and it’s handy to have if you want to have a faster way to get around.

You’ll notice that some of the Japanese students have motorcycles or mopeds. Not that you can get one, but it’s interesting to see.



I needed my own section for this, because I love trains here.

The Fujikyu (or Fuji Q) is the local train line, and it is your friend. It’s a little expensive but you get used to it. You can take it all the way to Fujiyoshida, right in front of  Mt. Fuji; to Fuji Q Highland directly; or in the opposite direction, to Shinmachi; to Akasaka, where the McDonalds and Fumi-san’s house is; Otsuki, your JR connection, and more.

To get to anywhere interesting, you have to go through Otsuki and get on the JR Chuo line. One direction takes you to Kofu and connects up to places like Nagano. The other way takes you into the city, through Hachioji and into Tokyo through Shinjuku and Tokyo station.

The Tokyuu (special/limited express,特急) is the fastest way to get to anywhere on the Chuo line, but it’s more expensive, since it’s a nicer train. It’s about 2400 yen to get to Shinjuku from Otsuki on the Tokyuu.

The Kakueki (local,各駅) train stops at every station and takes the longest. You’ll also have to transfer at Takao to a different Chuo line train. If you have to get into the city, and can’t catch the Kaisoku, then you might as well take the kakueki and transfer.

The Kaisoku (rapid express,快速) is only offered at certain times, and is your second fastest route into the city. It’s less expensive but about 30-45 minutes slower.

Sometimes the Kaisoku connects up to the Fuji Q and goes all the way down to Kawaguchi-ko as a “Commuter Express”. Be warned, on weekdays it is EXTREMELY CROWDED from Shinjuku to Hachioji (about 45 minutes of sardine standing), but if you’re going into the city from Tsuru, you will most likely have a place to sit all the way through.

A note about crowded trains – if you have to get on a crowded train and must stand, try making your way into the area between the two rows of seats. Standing there gives you a little more breathing room, versus standing by the door and being squished, AND risking being shoved out the door by a flood of people.

If there is an open seat – TAKE IT. Don’t feel bad about taking it, ever. Unless you see a person who deserves to sit, in which case, politely motion to the seat and say dozo.

This is especially the case for sitting in the area reserved for the disabled or elderly – it’ll be marked by lots of signs and is usually at one end of the train car. You can sit there if you want, but make sure to get up immediately if someone who’s injured, disabled, pregnant, or the elderly.

Don’t be afraid to use the luggage racks up top; they are super useful, and people on the train will most likely not even touch your stuff.

If you get completely lost in a train station, don’t hesitate to ask for help from a conductor or station employee. They’re happy to help regardless, and if you don’t feel comfortable with Japanese, you will sometimes find someone who can speak English to you. I know in Otsuki there’s at least one employee who speaks great English.

Train tickets are extremely fun, but confusing at first.

On the FujiQ, buy your ticket for the station you’re going towards.

At Tsuru Bunkadaigaku-mae, you can use the old vending machine by the ticket window – put coins in first, then select the lit-up option. At Otsuki, you can buy them at the machine by the ticket window. Remember, you can always buy from the teller at the window!

There are certain stations on the Fuji Q that stop selling tickets after a certain hour, like Akasaka. In this case, just get on the train, and pay the conductor. Let him know where you’re going and when you got on.

On JR, everything is by money paid for the ticket. Check the map above the ticket machines to see how much getting to your destination costs, then buy the ticket. Put it through the turnstile and don’t forget to pick it up as you pass through! Most JR stations have the big map in both English and Japanese. If all else fails, you can go to the ticket window (みどりの窓口).

If you’re running late and HAVE to make a connection, you can always pay on the train. Just let the conductor know and you can pay. If you’re riding the Tokyuu and haven’t paid the extra charge for the special express, you can do that there as well.

If you forget to do that, or forget to get off at your stop, or even just decide to keep going a little while longer, no need to worry! Just get your fare adjusted. You can do it at a ticket window or at a fare adjustment machine. Let them know where you came from and give them your ticket and they’ll let you know what you owe.



 Daily Life 

Maison do Crystal (aka Maison): The name of the apartment the exchange students live in. About a 12-minute walk from school. Close to 7-11.

Shinmachi Apartments (aka Shinmachi): The far-away apartments the exchange students live in. Only used if there’s an overflow from Maison, like we had. Most of the Chinese exchange students live there as well. About a half-hour walk from Maison.

Ogino: The supermarket closest to Maison. You may or may not want to invest in a point card; I didn’t. Open until 9 PM. Sales on meat and bread happen towards the end of the day. They have a great bakery, which is great for a lunchtime grab. The store can get crowded on weekday nights during the school year. Ogino also sells clothes, so if you run out of socks/underwear/want something cheap and Japanese, definitely check it out.

Okajima: The other supermarket near the college. It’s right next to the bookstore, about a seven to ten minute walk from Maison. Has a little bit different selection than Ogino; no noticable difference in price.

Seria: Your local 100-yen store. Right next to Mos Burger and close to Ogino. If you need something, Seria probably sells it for super cheap. Everything is 100 yen plus 5 yen tax. I got a lot of my organizers, folders, and school stuff here. I also bought gloves, an umbrella, a raincoat, kitchen hooks, a strainer, dishwashing detergent, teacups, bento stuff… just go there, and discover exactly what you want and need!

Tsuruha: The drugstore next to Seria. It opened up the month before we left Tsuru, so it’s brand new, and open until 11PM. If you need medicine, beauty products, or something cheap to make for dinner once Ogino closes, then this is the place to head. They have cheap bread as well, and a good selection of alcohol.

Welcia: The drugstore a little further away from school. Right behind Hanasaka Jii-san. It used to be the only one, until Tsuruha opened up. I didn’t notice much difference in price, but it’s good to know and check out.

Having Fun / Partying 

Gibson House: (20+ only) A bar close to campus. Usually filled with smokers, but drinks are pretty good, and not too expensive. Also has darts. A popular place for ryuugakusei who are bored.

Mistuboshi Mart: (20+ only) Another popular bar, a little further away from Gibson House. I never went there personally, but many of the other ryuugakusei did.

Bowling alley: For bowling. I never went there personally, but I hear it’s fun!

Western Karaoke TENT: The closest of the two karaoke places in Tsuru. Western themed (as in cowboys and indians) and reasonably cheap. Go with a friend before 5 on weekdays and get a special price! You can also do a “sing all night” plan and go from 10 PM to 5 AM on a weekend, if you want! Super fun, and usually has all the latest Japanese songs, and quite a few English songs as well. Go by yourself, with a friend, or with a bunch! Japanese people love karaoke, and so will you – even if you’re not the best singer!

Fuji Q Highland : Six Flags-type theme park. Extremely fun. Roller coasters are a little extreme, so unless you like coasters, they may not be for you. Fujiyama, their most famous coaster, is pretty easy to ride – I’d compare it to Goliath at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Rides cost money, but you can get a free ride pass for around 4000-5000 yen. Don’t go during the winter; go during the summer or fall, while it’s still warm. Expect wait times for the big coasters, somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes per ride. If you’re into Evangelion, they have an Evangelion World exhibit there. (And at the moment, a bunch of the park is Eva themed!)

Food and Drink

7-11/Famima: Need a snack, a quick drink, or an easy bentou? While it’s not the cheapest place to eat, it certainly is the most convenient, and the closest to Maison.

Mos Burger: Your closest fast-food, though it’s much healthier than what you get in the States. They offer a variety of burgers, as well as fries, onion rings, and other standard fast food fare. Reasonably priced.

Kikyouya: Right next to the eki, it has good Japanese food and a wide selection of wagashi, or Japanese-style sweets. During the daytime they also have very cheap bentous, so check it out!

Ramen Fukuta: The ramen shop right on the main corner of the university. You’ll probably pass by it every day. The ramen is very reasonably priced and the old man and woman who run it are super sweet! They also give out coupons to students that you can use.

Gyukaku: If you’re looking for someplace a little more expensive, but a lot more fancy, hit up Gyukaku. Here you order meat and vegetables and cook them right in front of you at your table. They have good drinks as well, and fun times.

Hanasaka Jii-san: A combination flower/clothes shop and café, this quaint little place is a strange sight in Tsuru! It’s very modern and ‘hipster’, I guess you could say. The drinks are a little more expensive than normal, but the atmosphere is great. If you like green tea, they have a great wagashi parfait!

This is just a sample of what shops I remember most from Tsuru. There are lots of other little ramen, udon, and food shops scattered around Tsuru! Explore and try them all!

If you went to Tsuru and want to add something to this page, let me know by commenting, and I’ll add it in!



…apart from the fact that you will end up injecting Japanese words into your speech all the time. My top three ended up being omiyage, shokudou, and meiwaku.

文大生(ぶんだいせい): A student at Tsuru Bunkadaigaku. Abbreviation of “文科大学学生” (ぶんかだいがくがくせい).  “Are you a bundaisei?”

ラストサムライ(Last Samurai) : A guy at school who always wears a yukata/hakama every day, and carries a briefcase. “Did you see The Last Samurai outside?”

セイコちゃん (Seiko-chan) : A MTF transgender person who is spotted frequently in the cafeteria. A little shy, but very girly, despite her outward masculine appearance. She’s really nice, too. “Seiko-chan sang a song to K at the goodbye party, it was kind of random.”

駅/Eki : Tsurubunkadaigaku-mae Station (eki). “I waited at the eki for 15 minutes but he never showed, so I got on the Fuji Q without him.”

セブン/Seven : Shortening of 7-11. “I’m going to Seven, anyone down?”

ファミマ/Famima : Shortening of Family Mart, which is a little ways down the street. “I went to Famima to get a bento during break.”



 Don’t join a club! The Japanese students won’t want you there. Your Japanese isn’t good enough. You won’t fit in.

Wrong, wrong, wrong! The best thing you can do while at Tsuru is join a club! All of the clubs are small and close-knit, and each offers the chance of a lifetime. While the club you join may end up not being the one for you, definitely try one out! The students at Tsuru are very welcoming and want to have you there, though they may be shy about approaching you at first. Let them know that you can speak Japanese, and make an attempt to integrate with them, and everything will work well.

You can ask me questions about my club experience at Tsuru on my formspring!

Don’t talk about anime in Japan. Everyone will think you’re a nerd.

While it’s true that talking non-stop about anime all the time will get you weird looks, mentioning that you like or watch anime won’t make everyone think you’re weird! I had a lot of Japanese friends who watched anime, most of whom were surprised that I knew about the same anime they did!

Anime like One Piece, Naruto, Doraemon, and Sailor Moon are known by most Japanese people, in the same way that most Americans have heard of Skooby Doo, the Powerpuff Girls, and the Simpsons. It’s just a part of their culture, one that they may really want to share with you!

You may find yourself at karaoke singing along to your favorite anisons (anime songs) with your Japanese friends one day!

 Japanese people get really weirded out by gaijin. They won’t like you.

While this is true some of the time, it’s not true all of the time. Japanese people tend to believe the stereotype that most gaijin do not know Japanese or know much about Japan at all. In places like Tsuru, where there aren’t very many gaijin around, you will definitely get stares or glances, or even comments. Most of the ones I got weren’t negative – just kids pointing at me from across the street, or people passing by going “Oh, hey, it’s a gaijin”. I think only one time I had to speak up and say “Hey, I speak Japanese and can understand what you’re saying about me!”

In Tokyo and Kyoto (and other large cities), you may be automatically greeted in English by shopkeepers. And their English may not be very good! Sometimes it’s easier for us ryuugakusei to do the whole thing in Japanese!

Just politely let them know that you can speak Japanese, and be patient with them, even if they try to speak very slowly to you. Chances are most people will speak slowly to you for the first few months, even your tutor and your professors!

Have something to add? Comment below!

Got a burning question? Ask me on my formspring!



One Response to The Ryuugakusei’s Guide to Tsuru

  1. Mineko Takiguchi says:

    カトリーナさん、great work here! すごい!

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