When thinking about my three years in Japan, the most stressful times for me didn’t usually involve acclimating to Japanese culture but rather moving — both within Japan and back to America. It’s not something I wish to do ever again. However, to make your transition a bit easier, below are some brief tips about what to pack (and what not to pack) before you leave for Japan, as well as other general tips about your last weeks before departure. Next in Transition Japan: Your First Week in Japan.
I was allowed to bring two large suitcases under a certain weight and a personal item. Check with your local JET Program Coordinator and they should be able to answer specific questions about weight requirements, restrictions, etc. It was nearly impossible for me to fit everything I wanted to within these restrictions, but with a little planning, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
What to Bring—
- A careful selection of clothes. The first part of Japan I lived in — Namerikawa-shi, Toyama-ken —had similar weather to Chicago, though a bit milder. This meant I was prepared for hot summers and brutally long winters. Japan’s climate can vary greatly per location, so do your research before packing your parka, or your swimsuit. Your work clothes will most likely be most important when you first arrive since you’ll want to make a good impression, so decide on a few basic conservative work outfits to get you through your first week. Focus first on summer items, as it will likely be very hot and humid anywhere in Japan. My parents kindly sent me a package of my winter clothes as it got colder. Some JETs went home for winter vacation and could bring back more clothes then, too. Also, keep in mind that your ability to buy clothes in Japan will depend on your height, body type, shoe size, budget, etc., so just plan ahead and ask a lot of questions to your predecessor about what is available to you if you’re worried.
- Two to three pairs of shoes, including new ones that will be your “indoor shoes.” Again, prioritize work shoes, and designate a new pair of shoes as your “indoor shoes,” as you will have to change into these before entering your school. I bought a pair of black TOMS shoes as my indoor school shoes, and they worked well for me for three years. I’m a runner, so my running shoes also made the list.
- Enough underwear/undergarments to last you at least one week. I could only do laundry about once a week, and you’ll very likely live in an apartment without a dryer, so that means hanging your clothes to dry (not fun in the winter and during the rainy season). As a general rule, bring enough undergarments to last you at least a seven-day cycle, and budget on having at least a five-day work outfit routine that you can rely on.
- Deodorant — I had a hard time finding American brands, so I do recommend bringing about two sticks of your favorite brand.
- Start-up Money — The amount of money you need in your first month varies greatly depending on your location and when your first rent money is due. Budget to bring about $2,000 in start-up money if possible, though working with less is possible if you live in a smaller town.
What to Leave Behind —
- Umbrellas (I broke so many in Japan, and you can buy one on almost every corner)
- Soap, shampoo, toothpaste, contact solution, and other general toiletries. All of this can be found easily, unless you’re attached to a certain brand. There’s some skepticism if Japanese toothpaste has Fluoride in it, but I could find Aquafresh with ease. Bring a travel size of your favorite brand if you’re really concerned.
- Towels. You’ll be able to buy this all in Japan cheaply and conveniently. However, bringing one towel for your first night in your apartment is a good idea.
- Packaged food, unless you’re seriously addicted to some specific snack. I could find almost anything I wanted in Japanese supermarkets, and there’s always the Foreign Buyers’ Club if you’re really craving something.
- Books — I think it’s definitely OK to bring one for the plane ride and your first weeks, but I don’t suggest stacking up on them. Rather, you can use Amazon.co.jp, your new JET friends (often there will be a local library within your JET community), or if you can afford it, invest in a Kindle or iPad. This will be much more economical, especially if you plan to stay in Japan for more than a year.
- Teaching Materials — There will be books you can buy at orientation if you really think you need them, but in general, your best resources will be your fellow JETs who have experience teaching, websites, and your school.
- For the ladies, feminine napkins should be easy to find, though I do suggest bringing a few boxes of your favorite brand of tampons.
Become friends with your JET Coordinator, who should be very knowledge and will likely be sending you a lot of e-mails about specific requirements you need to take care of before you leave, including your visa application, background check, and health check.
Don’t try to squeeze a goodbye in for everyone you know. This will only give you a giant headache and you’ll likely leave someone unintentionally out. I spent my last few weeks in Chicago with close family members, who organized a nice barbeque for me about one week before I left. You’ll always have access to e-mail and Skype for those who you can’t see but want keep in touch with.
Websites to Get You Ready
Dream English Kids (good if you’re teaching elementary school students)
Your Local JET Chapter Website (for an example, see Toyama JET’s website here)
Am I forgetting something important? Write in the comments below and I’ll do my best to respond promptly.