ICU Dorms Explained: The Pros and Cons of Dormitories at International Christian University Tokyo

The most common question I get asked at ICU (International Christian University) on my blog is “Why did you want to come to Japan?” The second most common question is “Why aren’t you living in the dorms?”

Both questions have complicated answers, but I think no one really cares about the first question. The second question is the most useful, mostly because I didn’t realize how “unique” ICU dorm life was until I actually got to campus. I wish someone had warned me.

Zelkova House is connected to the Cafeteria

Zelkova House is connected to the Cafeteria

So now, if you’re applying to ICU, here is a quick breakdown of the dorms:

Quick note: Dorm meetings are really serious at ICU (except for Global House – meetings at Global House are serious, but if you miss one, it’s not the end of the world). If you miss a meeting for whatever reason, expect to get in trouble. It’s like you’ve “let everyone down.” Most dorms will make you write an apology note and make you read it out at the next dorm meeting. So don’t skip the dorm meetings.

Also, this is my personal blog about ICU / living in Japan. Most of it is only my opinion. Everyone has different experiences.

Oak House, Gingo House, and Zelkova House: These dorms are the newest. They also essentially feel like a really clean prison/hospital. Apparently the Emperor’s granddaughter is studying at ICU. Actually, right now she’s abroad, so I haven’t met here. Rumor goes that when she was thinking of applying to ICU, they made these dorms for her, updated with all sorts of security measures.

But then she decided to live off-campus and commute.

These dorms are full of wide spaces, un-painted cement walls, large glass windows, and ample lightings. They do not allow visitors – not even into the lobby. By “visitors,” I mean they do not allow anyone who lives outside the dorm to take a step inside the dorm. I lived in Oak House during the summer program at ICU; it drove me crazy. It’s really difficult to hang out with friends if you live in these dorms.

The front of Oak House

The front of Oak House

Each resident has a special key card that activates next to a sensor and opens the door. The system then registers you as “inside” the building. To get onto your floor (segregated by genders) or inside the building, you have to use your special card, However, if you forget to swipe “out” of the building (like, for instance if you are walking with a group of friends), the system registers you as still “inside” the building. It has no way of knowing you are actually “outside.” So then, when you try to swipe “in” at the front door, it won’t let you. Then you’re just stuck waiting until someone comes by and saves you.

I was once late to class (by about 15 minutes) because I couldn’t get the door on my floor to open. It was awful.

I had already decided I would live in my own apartment off-campus in Mitaka once the summer program finished. I don’t do well with rules and restrictions. Since International Christian University is in Mitaka, Tokyo – rent was fairly cheap.

The rooms for Oak House, Zelkova House, and Gingo House Dorm

The rooms for Oak House, Zelkova House, and Gingo House Dorm

Pros: High security = very safe. You have a roommate to talk to. Lots of closet space. The Kitchen is beautiful, with rice cookers, several refrigerators, a water heater, and a full assortment of pots, pans, plates, bowls, and utensils. Everything is always very clean. It’s easy to make friends.

Cons: High security = limited freedom. If you lose your special card, it’s a pain to replace. You can’t bring any of your friends over to study. It’s really hard to date (or get any action). It’s really hard to meet people outside the dorm. You can’t swipe out of the building after 10:00pm. It’s really expensive.

Canada House: Canada House is a men’s dorm. I’ve never lived there, but I visit all the time. All the people I’ve met in Canada House are wonderful; it has a great community. It’s a much older dorm, so the rent is cheap(ish).

They have a nice common room with a  tv and a fun tatami smoking room. I like to go over to Canada House to play video games and hang out with friends.

Canada House Dorm

Canada House Dorm

Girls aren’t allowed into the rooms, but can hang out in the common room. You can bring girls back to your room… but they will know. I’ve had friends get caught and given warnings. I guess they threaten to kick you out – but I don’t know if that actually happens.

Pros: All male. Has a great mix of international, study abroad, four year students, and traditional Japanese students. Has a great community. Good for smokers. Have roommate to talk to. Rent is cheap. Girls and outside students can visit.

Cons: All male. Can’t bring girls back to your room/have them spend the night. Dorm is old.

Global House: Global house is where a bulk of the yearlong international students live. When I was still considering living in the ICU dorms, I was going to live at Global House. A lot of my friends live there, so I visit pretty often.

The front doors are automatic; residents have the pass code. Visitors have to sign in at the front desk in a large book. You write the name of the person you are visiting, their room number, and the time you entered. When you leave, you write your sign-out time.

Anyone can visit, boys, girls, parents, friends, friends who don’t go to ICU, and family members. No one can spend the night, though. Visitors have to leave and sign out by a certain time every night (I forget).

Global House Dorm

Global House Dorm

One of the best qualities of Global House is the fact that everyone gets their own room. Floors are segregated by gender and broken up into pods or suites. Each suite has four rooms; each room has one person. The suites are have a kitchen with a refrigerator, oven, and basic kitchen necessities. Suites are usually decked out with couches, rugs, chairs, and possibly a tv. Each suite comes with a wooden table and chairs.

From a Global House resident: “It has no curfew! You can come and go whenever you please, and have visitors over from 9am to 11pm, except for over exam periods.”

Global House gives you the chance to live alone (not having to deal with a roommate) while still having suitemates to hang out with. I think that is a wonderful system.

No doubt about it, if Global House allowed overnight visitors, I would have lived there. But when I applied, I had a serious boyfriend – now he’s my fiancé, and several friends from America who wanted to visit me/stay with me for about a week and travel through Japan. I had issues with living somewhere that wouldn’t even allow my sister to spend the night.

Pros: You get your own room but still have suitemates. Everything is clean. The common room is well furnished. Visitors can go to your room. All your friends can visit. Great community. Great mix of Japanese and foreign students.

Cons: Kind of expensive. Overnight visitors aren’t allowed.

Dialogue House: Dialogue House is where one-term study abroad students. If students who are studying abroad at ICU for only one semester choose to live on campus, they are required to live in Dialogue House. Per usual, there are always exceptions, some one-term students successfully applied to and lived in other dorms.

Dialogue House is actually located on top of the cafeteria. It encompasses several floors. Like Oak, Zelkova House, and Gingo House, it is a new dorm. And just like them, it is also very clean and hospital-like. It’s also expensive.

Dialogue House

Dialogue House

You need to swipe your student card to use the elevator near the cafeteria to get up to your rooms. Visitors can visit, but men can’t go inside women’s rooms and vice versa. Everyone breaks that rule for the first month or so until someone gets caught and the dorm parents threaten to kick them out.

Then everyone behaves.

Each floor has a common room that overlooks campus. The common room has a mini kitchenette – with a microwave and basic necessities – but there are no cooking materials. If you live in Dialogue House you will probably have to eat in the cafeteria most meals.

The rooms are huge, with full desks and lots of storage space.

ICU's Dialogue House

ICU’s Dialogue House

Pros: Roommate to talk to. Large, spacious rooms. Plenty of storage space. Rooms are clean and safe. Visitors can visit. Connected to the cafeteria, so you don’t have to go outside to get food. Great view of campus.

Cons: Expensive. The opposite sex can’t visit your room. No overnight visitors. No kitchen. Only foreign students, no Japanese students. Reminds me of a hospital.

Second Women’s Dorm, Third Women’s Dorm, Fourth Women’s Dorm: I don’t know much about these dorms. I have a couple friends that live in 3rd Women’s Dorm. All I know is it’s apparently a great community, guys can’t visit, and they sneak guys in all the time.

Pros: Roommate to talk to. Rent is very cheap. The rooms are nice. Great way to practice Japanese. Fun community. Great bond with the men’s dorms.

Cons: Men can’t visit. Men can’t spend the night. You have a roommate. You have to change your roommate once a year and roommate assignments are random (you can’t choose your roommate). Not a lot of storage space.

Second Men’s Dorm.

Just like the “Women’s Dorms,” I don’t know much about the men’s dorms (except that there’s only one of them). It’s supposed to be a great community, though.

Second Men's Dorm

Second Men’s Dorm

Pros: Roommate to talk to. Rent is very cheap. The rooms are nice. Great way to practice Japanese. Fun community. Great bond with the women’s dorms.

Cons: Women can’t visit. Women can’t spend the night. You have a roommate. You have to change your roommate once a year and roommate assignments are random (you can’t choose your roommate). Not a lot of storage space.

For more information about the dorms, including price and capacity, check the ICU website.

If you have any additional questions about the International Christian University Dormitories, just leave a comment in the section below and I can ask around for you!

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About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

27 Comments on ICU Dorms Explained: The Pros and Cons of Dormitories at International Christian University Tokyo

  1. Hi there!

    I’m an OYR at the 3rd woman’s dorm, and I thought I’d give a little insight to what living at 3WD is like:

    3WD likes to think of itself as the ‘crazy’ dorm, and boy do they stress it. They have an ongoing tradition of painting their faces white for Events and try to be as ‘kimoi’ as possible. They have lots of Events and a good relationship with Canada House. One of the best things about living at 3WD is that you don’t need to buy a bike. That’s right, they /give/ you one– at least to borrow until you leave and pass it on to the next resident.

    3WD is a 4 story dorm. It has a ground floor, two floors with nothing but rooms and a bathroom, and then a top floor consisting of storage space for luggage and the roof. You can go up there to stargaze when you feel like it.

    Downstairs we have a:
    A Kitchenette: It has pots, pans, plates, cups, utensils, etc. but you, of course, have to buy your own food to cook.
    A communal bath: One giant tub that gets filled three times a week. Five shower heads.
    A laundry room: Free to use, but you need to buy your own soap.
    A study room: Just a bunch of tables and chairs in a room. Nice and quiet.
    A smoking room: Complete with a dartboard, newspapers, and books.
    A Social Room: This is where we have most events and meetings. There’s manga in there, but it’s nearly all shojo.
    A Tatami Room: Connected to/inside the Social room. It’s where we keep all the costumes, but during the winter we bring out the kotatsu and man, is it nice to study under it. The Tatami room also has an iron and sewing machine.

    Rooms, I believe, are the smallest in ICU. You have a roommate, but they do their best to give you one you’re compatible with via questionnaire. When switching rooms early February, they do a fun game with everyone’s names to hint at who is roommates with who. You have to solve the hints to figure out who your roommate is going to be. Fridges are passed around the dorm, but they always do their best to make sure everyone has one.

    As for rules, there used to be a curfew, but they tell you as soon as you come in to ignore it and cross it off the dorm rules. Feel free to stay out as late as you want. We can have guys in the dorm if we want, no problem, we just have to shout ‘DANSEI HAIRIMASU!’ or ‘a guy is entering’ when we let them in so that girls in the dorm know they shouldn’t walk around naked. They can be in the social room, the tatami room, the study room, the kitchenette, the bathroom, and the smoking room. Female guests can go in your room, but not male guests.
    The only strict thing about visitors is that we can’t let them in past what should have been curfew.
    Weekdays: 8:30-22:30
    Saturdays, Sundays, Holidays: 8;30-23:00

    You’re required to be in a committee that will assign you a small job to do around the dorm. During my stay there, I was in charge of picking up and disposing of the dorm’s milk cartons. Others emptied trash, switched out bathmats, washed hand towels, etc.

    You also must have ‘duty’ for an hour a week, where you basically just open/close the curtains, answer the door and sort mail. You’re required to be downstairs for your entire hour and can’t sleep, use the kitchen, or have on headphones. Every once in a while, you’ll have ‘Six Duty’ – a week where you have six hours of duty in addition to the hour you normally have. If you fail to attend your duty hours, you pay a penalty fee, but you can make it up by doing extra hours.

  2. Thank you for all the info you provided. I plan on studying at icu for next year for the whole year and would like to live in global house. Do you happen to know how or what I would have to do to increase my chances of getting into that dorm?

  3. Do you have to be Christian or follow any Christian rituals, while you’re at ICU?

    • I am – but you don’t have to be. One of my best friends there was Jewish and most of my other friends followed no religion. They don’t make you do any Christian rituals or anything, though.

  4. Do you know anything about the dorms for married couples?

  5. This is so natsukashiiiiiiii! I lived in Global for the year I studied at ICU, and I think that made the 10 months that much more worth the experience. I am not an extremely outgoing person on my own, but the people in GH definitely became like my family!

    In the dorm rules (or mission statement or whatever you call it), it actually says that half of the residents are supposed to be Japanese and half Septens and OYRs. I shared my suite with a Japanese student from Aichi, one from Kagoshima, and a guy from Norway. Another great feature of GH is that there are 4 single rooms where graduate students live. They act as tutors and have ‘office hours’ every week for people to come in and talk about their classes, their study abroad experiences, or just to converse and have some tea.

    P.S. There definitely was not a curfew! After the kick out party (saying good-bye to all the OYRs and graduating seniors), half of the dorm rode our bikes to McDonald’s at 2am for omochikaeri! :)


    • Also, there was a fee for missing dorm meetings (I think it was like ¥500 or something like that). I actually don’t know if anyone actually ever did pay it though. lol

      • I heard about that. One of my friends missed her dorm meeting (I don’t know if she had to pay – but she had to write and read out this long apology letter in Japanese during the next meeting) and complained about it later.

    • I kind of sort of regretted not living in Global House (if I was single, I totally would have). I spent quite a bit of time in there (and even went on the Global House Ski Trip) – and everyone always seemed so friendly and welcoming.

      It’s a nice dorm :)

      One of my friends right now is one of the grad students/tutors at GH. It’s a nice system.

  6. Hello, I’m staying for only the fall term. How long can i stay in the dorms until they kick me out? Hopefully not right after exams…

  7. Hi Grace, great blog. Very informative. I now know that I’m not going to live on campus, as I’m bringing my fiancé along with me, so we’re going to find a place of our own. However, I know how expensive apartments are in Japan as I lived there short term before. Do you know of any sides working with ICU that can help one get an apartment closer to the train station or the city – but still close enough to campus to commute? Is there an area you can recommend for this? Are you still there? I’ll be going in 2015.

    • It depends on how long you will be staying. I know ICU can help hook you up with an apartment (as a guarantor – since foreigners have to have a Japanese person sponsor them), but from what I’ve heard, you don’t get much choice as to where they find an apartment for you.
      And their rates are pretty pricey, ranging from 700 USD – 900 USD a month (for a one-room place). If you’re only staying for 6 months or less, it might be worth it to get a furnished apartment.

      • Dear Grace, aww such a quick reply! Thanks alot! We’ll be staying there for 2 years, as I’m going to take a full MA-degree on ICU. So I was really happy to read your blog, as I’m going to do research and field work after classes etc. and therefor I can’t be dealing with too strict rules etc. as it seems to be the case in the dorms. Though ofcourse a great place to meet friends. But definitely from what you’ve written, I’m going off campus to commute. I was super happy also to read that you can by bus and train reach shinjuku in 35 minutes. That’s fantastic! I thought it was a 2 hour train ride or something. Tokyo is so big. So this sounds really great too! How do you like the area? Nice area to live? Again thanks alot for your time and reply! I really appreciate it alot! :)

        • No problem!

          I would recommend living off campus in that case. You should probably rent an unfurnished apartment (it’s MUCH cheaper if you stay for longer than a couple of months).
          I don’t know how much ICU will actually help you, though. They will act as guarantor (as long as you stay enrolled) so you can rent an apartment – but I’m not sure if you actually GET to choose your apartment or apartment location. I kind of think not.

          My husband (then boyfriend) helped me find my apartment and co-signed it with me, which solved a lot of problems… I know other foreign students had a really hard time renting an apartment on their own.

          • Dear Grace,
            will definitely live off campus then. How is the area of the ICU, or the station close to? Is it a green area, is it nice? I tryed to calculate the drive to shibuya, and it takes under an hour which is perfect!

            Would you know how many hours of lessons pr. week the MA-degrees have? Would one be able to do reseach on the side of a MA-study? Or is it quite requiresome hour wise?
            I only have 2 years to take it and can’t extend it so I’m full on from day one.
            Lovely to hear from you :)

          • Hi Ida,

            Sadly I am no longer at ICU. I was only there for a year study abroad (now I live in Tokyo with my husband – kind of on the other side of the city). I don’t know really anything about the MA degrees – but I can’t imagine it is that many in-class hours (since my regular, undergrad classes were surprisingly easy and not very time-intensive). From what I hear, the graduate program is similarly easy.

            ICU is about a 40 minute walk from the station (or a 10 minute bus ride). The station, Musashi-sakai, is along the Chuo line which is a straight shot (20 minutes or so) to Shinjuku. I was doing an internship in Shibuya and was able to bike to the station, train to Shibuya, and walk to my internship (an extra 15 minutes) in under and hour, so you shouldn’t have any problems!

          • Oh, and one last question. I cannot find either the hours pr. week for the MA-degrees or the amount of pages one will write in the MA-thesis. I just finished my MA-thesis here, but here it is 80-100 pages so it is something that takes a long time to write as it is so big. I know that my friend who took a MA-degree in London, only had to write 30 pages. And on ICU I can’t find the page-info. I’ll see if I’ll be going and I could give them a call instead of keep writing you lol, but love your blog. :) thanks again for it. Really helpful.

          • Hi Ida,

            Sorry, I can’t help you there. I have absolutely NO idea. I do wish ICU had more info available on the website… but it looks like you will have to call them. Sorry!

  8. Hey Grace,

    Is it possible to stay for half the time in a dorm then get your own place later on, maybe 6 months later?

    • I know it technically *IS* possible, but I was warned ahead of time (by the student who studied abroad before me) that if you DO leave, you are sort of ostracized by the dorm (because you left them and they are mad/sad). I’m not sure how true that is (but I can see how it happens).

      I just chose to get my own place right off the bat to save the trouble…

  9. Theresa // 3 May, 2013 at 10:16 pm //

    You forgot to mention the dorm meetings. They make me so glad I’m not living in one of the dorms. In Global House it seems to be fine if you miss a meeting, but one of my friends in second or third women’s dorm said that if she misses a meeting or is late, she has to write a letter of apology and read it out during the next meeting.

  10. Anonymous // 3 May, 2013 at 8:25 pm //

    Another point about Global House: It has no curfew! You can come and go whenever you please, and have visitors over from 9am to 11pm, except for over exam periods.

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