Tags: ALT, fluoride, Japan, living abroad, living in Japan, packing
What to pack? So you’re moving to Japan and you have to get everything you need into 2 checked-luggage bags and a carry-on. Don’t despair. It is possible. I hope this information can help guide you on what to include and what to skip.
WHAT TO PACK
-TOOTHPASTE. Japanese toothpaste doesn’t have fluoride, nor does their water supply like that of the U.S.’s. (Although I have heard that the Aquafresh in Japan is the only brand that does have fluoride.) But if you care about your teeth, and you will especially after seeing many Japanese gnarled, decayed smiles, pack your toothpaste. You may want to bring fluoride rinse, too.
-DEODORANT. It is not a product used in Japan. The only available substitute is for women, and is a very weak powder spray that lasts about 2 minutes in Japanese summers.
-A LAPTOP. If you’re a teacher, you’re going to want this with you. Many schools have only one shared computer for the whole staff. It’s also convenient for keeping you occupied in your downtime.
-A PROJECT. On that note, if you’re a teacher, you’re likely going to have a lot of downtime. This is advice you’d get from any ALT website. In my second year, I took a creative writing course for my teaching license in the U.S. and it helped me have better job satisfaction when work was slow. Other people build websites, take Japanese proficiency courses, etc.
-SHOES!! If you’re a size 7 or higher for women, or a size 9 or higher for men, you may struggle finding your shoes. Japan has tons of great shoes for men or women, but the sizes are really limited. And in my opinion, uncomfortable. They are very slim-fitting and usually without padding.
-A CLEAN PAIR OF SHOES, OR TWO. If you’re working in a school, you’ll be wearing regular shoes to work and changing into you indoor shoes. These need to look like they’ve never stepped foot outside. Sneakers, ballet flats, or soft-soled shoes are fine. If you’re planning to join a gym, know that you will expect to have a pair of indoor shoes there, too. (They must look like they’ve never been worn outside.)
-UNDERWEAR. While the shoes aren’t padded, the bras certainly are. ALL of them. If you’re over a 34A, you need to bring your own. Also, the L size here for panties is a lot like a small size in the U.S., so plan to bring your own supply of those too. Men, I don’t think you need to worry, as they must sell boxers for larger men, but you should bring at least a supply to get started on.
-A WINTER JACKET. Fitting through the slim shoulders of a Japanese coat is a problem for many westerners. You’ll need to have something warm during Japan’s cold winters, unless you live in Okinawa.
-WARM CLOTHES. Again, unless you live in Okinawa, you’re going to need warm layers to get you through the winter. Minimize packing bulk by bringing silk long underwear or the like.
-AMERICAN APPLIANCES. Anything you want to use from the U.S. that you think you can’t get in Japan. Japan and the U.S. have the same outlets; Japan’s frequency is just a little slower. There is some contention over whether or not this is harmful to a laptop battery, but what I’ve read is that your power adaptor should adjust the change for you. My laptop works fine here and fully charges. Same with my iPod. But the brand new rechargeable batteries I brought for my camera wouldn’t charge here, so I’d skip that. Basic electronic devices are the same price as the U.S.—toasters, hair dryers, etc—and are readily available at the multitude of electronics stores here, their names usually ending in “denki.”
-OVER-THE-COUNTER (OTC) MEDICATIONS. Any of the standby meds you keep at home you should bring here. Think Pepto Bismol tablets, Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Uristat. The U.S. is the land of cheap, readily available OTC meds. You can get these things in Japan, but they are typically much more expensive, and you’ll need to communicate with most pharmacists in Japanese. Also, you’re not supposed to bring Sudafed, Nyquil, etc. because of the pseudoephedrine in them. That said, I was never checked at customs.
-PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS. As of 2007 customs regulations, you were allowed to bring in 2 months of a prescription medication. My parents shipped the rest of mine every couple of months. Don’t assume Japan will have your medications. Try to do some research on its availability here. For instance, the basic antibiotic Ciprofloxacin does not exist here. My friend had a severe peanut allergy and had to travel to Tokyo from Kyushu to get treatment and a supply of medication from an allergy specialist. Bring your own birth control, ladies, unless you want to be put on the first-generation pills and endure their many side effects. Update: Though it was approved for sale in Japan over 8 years ago, the low-dose pill Marvelon finally became available for sale in Japan as of 3/2008. I would still exercise caution if you aren’t living in a big city, however. I can’t guarantee it’s availability.
-PROPHYLACTICS. You’ll need your own supply of western-sized condoms if you’re planning to use them during your stay here.
-A BIKE HELMET. Bikes are a popular method of transportation here, but bike helmets can be hard to find. If you plan to use one, you may want to bring your own.
-ENGLISH BOOKS. Some large bookstores have limited collections. If you’re a reader, you’re going to want to have some on hand. Amazon.jp has free shipping and can supply most books and other Amazon products, but the shipping time is very slow—up to 6-8 weeks.
-OMIYAGE! You’ll want to start off on the right foot by giving presents (called omiyage) to your co-workers, bosses, neighbors, and other people who will help you get started on your life in Japan. Look for small, individually wrapped items. Sweets are definitely the way to go. Think fun-sized (Halloween-sized) candy bars. Bring more than you think you’ll need. A lot more, if you have the space. To the highest bosses, you’ll give the best presents, and to your co-workers you’ll give the same thing. Don’t bother lugging Jack Daniels or Jim Beam; it’s available for similar prices here. I gave out small sweets to my co-workers, and to my cooperating teachers and bosses at both schools, I gave hand-made blank cards with pictures I’d taken around the states on them. They went over really well. Hand towels are the traditional gift for neighbors, though I never gave them.
-STAMPS. If you’re a teacher, especially for your self-introductions, you’ll want to give incentives for your students to speak. One and two cent stamps are a great idea. If you can lug them, lots of shiny pennies can do the trick, though I never tried that.
DON’T BOTHER BRINGING
-STICKERS. Japanese stickers are affordable, readily available, and much cooler. Only break this rule if you can find cool holographic stickers, stickers of Disney characters, or the alphabet in interesting fonts.
-DVD PLAYER. If you’re bringing your own supply of DVDs, bring it. But if you’re planning to rent, skip the DVD player. Japanese DVDs and DVD players are region 2, whereas those from the U.S. are from region 1.
-SUNSCREEN. This is the land of sun protection.
-AN UMBRELLA. You’ll learn to carry one with you at all times, and they sell cheap, tiny ones all over the place.
-KIT KATS or SNICKERS. These two U.S. brands are very common here.
-ACCESSORIES. This is the LAND of accessories, for men and women.
-PERFUME/COLOGNE. Most people here don’t wear it, and find it offensive when other people do. Students are known to respond to it with a “You stink.”
-MORE THAN 1 or 2 CREDIT CARDS. This is a cash society. Definitely bring one or two for online shopping or traveling outside of Japan, but within Japan you will be using cash. (Note: Call your credit card company and tell them you are moving to Japan. Also mention if you are planning to travel around Asia in the next year or two.)
-STATIONERY. Pens, pencils, paper, paints, sketchbooks are affordable and readily available.
-HOUSEHOLD ITEMS. Just wait till you go to your first 100 Yen shop. It will blow your mind, all of the things you can get there to furnish and organize your daily life.
-A BATTERY CHARGER. Again, my camera batteries never recharged here.
-SHAMPOO, CONDITIONER, SOAP, RAZORS, CONTACT SOLUTION. You can get equally good stuff here, often in the same brands (Dove, Venus, Shiseido, Opti-free, Pantene.)
Remember, unless you are planning to move to Japan, don’t bring TOO much stuff. You’ll inevitably acquire more during your time there, and that means more to pay to ship back! Good luck with your packing. Feel free to post comments or questions below.