Thanks to everyone who gave me advice~
Also, I've failed at being a life sempai to Abbey. :( Unlike Smap-sensei, I have not given her copious advice on living in Japan. So! Open question time for Abbey or anyone else who wants to ask about studying abroad, generally or specifically in Japan!
From my last post:
"I would totally appreciate advice on some basic Getting Settled stuff, if you get a chance. Public transportation (what is it like? what kind of passes can you buy? secret tips for avoiding creepers?), getting your cellphone (how long do you have to wait? how the hell do you even go about setting that up?), ADVICE ON SETTLING IN WITH A HOST FAMILY"
(ha ha, you have been officially quoted, Abbey~)
I mentioned this in my previous studying in Japan post, but seriously, get some sleep when you first get there. Everything seems three times as scary when you're sleep deprived. Also, you get to go through the whole scary new stuff thing a second time when you move into your homestay, so if you're having trouble sleeping there, don't be afraid to ask if there are ways to make yourself more comfortable. I didn't do this, and I sincerely regret it because I'm pretty sure lack of sleep was the biggest factor in the homesickness/anxiety I felt at first.
Come up with some clever way to couch your request so it doesn't seem like it's your host family's fault your uncomfortable, but do something about any problems you might have. For instance, I couldn't sleep very well since my futon was so thin, so looking back on it I really should have said something like "I have back problems, so is there any way I could get another blanket/cushion/something a bit thicker to sleep on." Might be awkward to bring up stuff like that, but it's totally worth it in my opinion. That extends to anything else you might feel really uncomfortable about in Japan or in homestay. Try really hard not to be rude about asking for things, but don't be afraid to ask.
Also, in learning your way around your homestay/university/Japan in general, take advantage of the Japanese people around you! Ask students/your host family where good restaurants or shops are, or if they have any suggestions for sight seeing trips. Also, if you need to go to the post office, salon, etc., find a buddy, Japanese or otherwise, to go with. The post office is scary in a foreign language. alksfdj But finding someone whose done it before, or who can at least help you remember how to say "how much does it cost to send a large box to America" is really useful. asdfk
I'm not sure how good you are with public transportation in general, but I am very, very bad at it. And even I eventually figured out how to use Japanese public transportation like a pro. :P There are a few main methods of getting around without a car or bike (though there's a definite chance you might have a bike in Japan. I didn't, but a lot of my friends did and biked at least part of the way to school regularly)
I'm pretty sure that the university you're at give you free bus passes to ride the Kyoto bus system, so put that to good use! I always find bus routes way more confusing than train routes, but take a day where it doesn't matter if you get a bit lost and figure out how to get various places on the bus. Buses in Japan run very regularly, and once I figured out how to use the local buses (granted they were in Osaka for me, but the principal holds) I used them all the time, since they're so handy. My local buses came literally every five minutes during much of the day, and not much farther apart during less busy hours. I'm sure kyoto buses will run just as frequently.
There are also other buses that run outside of kyoto, that you might have to pay for. If you're going to commute to school regularly by bus, you'll probably get a bus pass. They're pretty expensive, but they will give you access to ride the bus whenever, which is nice. If you do commute, ask your host family (if they don't offer) to help you get your bus pass and possibly show you the way to school and back once, so that you learn the routes.
There are two main train systems in the Kansai region, Keihan and JR. Inside Kyoto, I'm pretty sure you will usually ride JR. I seem to remember Kelly saying she usually rode JR places. Where I was, because we were right next to a Keihan station, we almost always rode that, so JR continued to confuse me even by the end of the semester. JR has a lot of lines, and can be confusing at first, but I'm sure you'll figure it out well. The way it generally works for all train lines in Japan is you figure out where you want to go (what station you're going to) and find it on the map at the station you are at. Under your destination on the map will be the price of ticket you need to cover the cost from the station you are in. Even if you have to change trains somewhere, unless you are changing from JR to Keihan or something, you buy a ticket for the price listed under your destination. (Like if you're trying to get to Kyobashi from Kyoto Eki, you pay the price listed under Kyobashi, even if you change train lines somewhere along the way.
Most of the maps have the english names under the kanji, unless you're out in the boonies. You'll most likely quickly learn the kanji for stations you usually go to, though. But it might be a good idea to look up the kanji for stations if you're going somewhere you haven't been before. Also, the trains almost all have both english and Japanese announcements of stations on them (though the freaky English voice mispronounces everything. It's hilarious.)
Like buses, if you regularly commute by trains, you'll probably buy a (kind of expensive) commuter pass. Also, you can generally buy a card for trains (for keihan it's called a K-card) where you can preload a lot of money and keep using it until your money runs out, instead of buying a new ticket every time.
The shinkansen works basically like other trains, except that it's hella expensive and you can buy tickets in advance. It's really fast and convenient, but it also costs about as much as an airplane ticket. I actually never rode the shinkansen, but I have friends who did and it sounded pretty easy to do. You just have to find somewhere that sells the tickets (and look into getting student discounts if you use it.)
4) Night bus
This was how I got everywhere not reachable by normal transportation. (Aka I took a night bus to Hiroshima for the News concert, and to Tokyo at the end of the semester.) It's much, much cheaper, I think around $60 to get to Tokyo, instead of $125 on shinkansen. However, looking back on it, it would probably have been worth it to spring for the shinkansen to Hiroshima before the concert. Night buses are overnight buses somewhere, they take a long time, and they stop every hour or so so it's sort of hard to get a good nights sleep on them. It's fine if you have time to recuperate, and they're definitely much cheaper, but I was absolutely dead after the news concerts, for instance, and it would have been nice to have more energy that day. (Though being THREE FEET AWAY FROM KOYAMA AND MASSU AND TEGO AND HAVING PI WAVE AT YOU is very energizing.)
Also, I never had a problem with chikan alksdf;asd but I think people I know did? Usually if you go with a group of gaijin it's not so much a problem, and if anything happens just give a yell. Your strong American upper and lower body strength will probably protect you pretty well, unless it happens to be, like, a dark alley in the middle of the night. In which case, what the hell are you doing in a dark alley in the middle of the night?
If you don't have a school plan you can easily sign up for, BRING A FRIEND. Preferably one fluent in Japanese. I think AU usually had the best deals, though I got softbank because it had a plan through my school. I think I heard somewhere that through your university you can rent phones, which sounds sucky because then I don't think you get to keep the phone. :/ Generally speaking texting on Japanese phones is really cheap, and calling is really expensive, so get ready to text people constantly. :P
Generally it's pretty hard to find prepaid phones, though not impossible. It's not that bad to get a plan phone, often they have special student plans, though the phones for those can be a lot more pricey (but also more awesome. aslkdjf)
I'm pretty sure you need your gaijin card to get a cell phone, as proof of being there as a student, not a tourist (tourists can't get cell phones, because Japan doesn't like gaijin doing anything but sightseeing askdfj;asd) but once you get your card you're good to go.
Also, a lot of times you have to buy buy things in cash. I had to pay for my hundred-something dollar cell phone in cash, so bring a lot with you when you go to get it.
Settling in with a host family
Bring gifts! t-shirts, hats, etc. from your home state or college are good. If there are kids definitely bring extra things for them (stuffed animals or something.) Also, bring food that you'll be able to pack in your luggage. I brought chocolate buckeyes for my host family, and they went over well. Bring a good number of presents for them, I actually wish I had brought more for my host family, though I didn't know how many people they had in advance, so I was at a disadvantage there.
Also, bring a photo album with pictures of your family, and get ready in advance to explain your family, what they do for a living, what your home state or town is like. A photo album is a really great ice breaker, and way to start telling your host family about yourself.
Otherwise, don't be afraid to ask how things work in your homestay house, and if you don't understand something ask for clarification or for them to repeat themselves. They'll know if you're just pretending to understand, but don't really, so try not to do it too often. (I'm pretty sure it's impossible to never do it, though. :P Sometimes you just have no clue, and getting them to explain it would be way, way too difficult.) Also, be proactive about asking your host family to give you advice on places you can go, or asking them to help you study or help you with homework. If they're busy, obviously don't take up all their time, but having something they can help you with gives you something to talk about. Maybe ask your host mom to drill you on vocab for quizzes every once in a while, or ask them to read over an essay in Japanese or listen to Japanese oral reports you have to give, to see if you've got everything correct. Also, if you have Japanese textbooks, your host family might be interested in looking at them with you. I actually gave my host mom my old copy of Genki I when I left Japan, so she could use it to earn English. (Reading through Genki with my host mom is one of the best memories I have from Japan, actually. It was really fun and pretty hilarious to see her learning in reverse all the stuff I learned when I first started Japanese.)
Anyway, that was some pretty prolific ramblings. aldsfjk If you have more questions feel free!