A Little Bit Of This; A Little Bit Of That
Money | Clothing and Footwear | Medicine | Personal Hygiene | Miscellaneous | Home Country Kit | Gifts
Bring lots of it. Japan is one of the most expensive countries in the world when it comes to day to day living. Although the government repeatedly claims Japan is suffering from prolonged deflation, prices are still at or near pre-bubble highs for many products. Renting a tiny, unfurnished, one room apartment can set you back a couple thousand dollars. That money doesn't even guarantee light fixtures.
Also, Japan is still more or less a cash based society. As such, outside of major cities, credit cards and traveler's checks can be more trouble than they are worth. (An acquaintance of your humble editor's had to leave his credit card at the bank overnight in order to get a cash advance.) Even in Tokyo, despite a plethora of ATM's, it is extremely difficult to get a cash advance without going to the bank or post office as many exchange students have discovered to their horror. Also keep in mind that ATM's typically operate only slightly longer hours than the bank itself and that both the bank and ATM's are shut down on major holidays.
If you do bring traveler's checks, get them in yen denominations and cash them in Tokyo or Osaka before heading out to a rural area. Be warned that even in Tokyo many small shops will refuse traveler's checks and will instead direct you to a bank or post office. (See Wakarimasen Dekimasen for more information.)
Clothing and Footwear
Oddly, a change in diet is making many Japanese youth taller. As such, large size clothes are slowly but surely becoming readily available and it's no longer necessary to bring every item of clothing you need with you. Internet purchases from R.E.I., Eddie Bauer and the like are quite easy (although you will have to pay import duty on some items). Japanese chains such as Uniqlo and Muji will also (usually) have some large sized clothing. (Your humble editor is 6'2" and no longer slim and most of his current wardrobe, for better and for worse, was purchased in Japan.) It's also possible to get a decent suits and shirts made for a reasonable price in Tokyo or Osaka.
Larger sized shoes, however, are more problematic. On occasion, a Japanese owned shoe store will carry shoes over 28 cm. Your humble editor wears a size 30 or 31 (depends on the brand) and knows only one store outside of Tokyo that always carries large sneakers. Dress shoes, however, are almost impossible to find. One small chain in Tokyo specializes in large shoes, although at a price. Again, the internet can be your friend.
For women, it's recommended that you bring a good supply of nylons as even low quality brands command a high price in Japan. Also, some women have complained that slacks are hard to find as the legs are often too short. Keep in mind that Japanese women are rather petite. (Average height is somewhere around 5'3 or 5'4" while average weight is somewhere between 80-100 pounds.) Women's shoes are also quite expensive.
Finally, even in Tokyo, a good set of rain gear (jacket and pants) wouldn't hurt. In a rural area, where you might find yourself walking to and from school, it's essential.
Medicine and Vitamins
Any medicines containing Psedophedrine are illegal. This includes prescription medications and over-the-counter products such as Actifed, Sudafed and the Vicks Inhaler. Any product with Codeine is also illegal.
Check all medication carefully and when in doubt, contact the nearest Japanese consulate and tell them what you want to bring. In most cases they can tell you right away if something is okay to bring or not.
In general, you can bring one month's supply of prescription medication. Bring it unopened and keep a copy of the prescription close by. The prescription can be taken to a Japanese doctor for renewal. Keep in mind that you will probably receive both a second examination and the Japanese equivalent of your medication.
You can also bring up to two months' supply of non-prescription medications. Again, watch out for illegal substances.
Finally, it's recommended that you carry or ship any vitamins you take regularly. Vitamins are quite expensive in Japan and some conspiratorial types question their potency. It is currently legal to carry up to four month's supply.
Personal Hygiene Products
Condoms are widely available in Japan, but size does matter. Your humble editor also questions the quality, the price and the lack of spermicide. Bring a hefty supply from home.
Birth control pills were made legal only a few years ago (after over 30 years of debate and bickering) and are still mostly only available for hormone regulation and other health reasons. Bring them from home (You can carry one month's supply and ship another.)
Deoderant of any sort is surprisingly hard to find in Japan. What little is available comes in tiny expensive cans that seem to be filled with little more than perfumed air. Bring a good supply from home.
Also bring a good supply of your favorite toothpaste and toothbrushes. Japanese toothpaste does not usually contain flouride. Some brands actually have sugar in them. Japanese toothbrushes are best used for scraping scum off your bathtub. The ones soft enough to use are usually too small for adults.
Japan has a good selection of candy, chocolate and savory snacks (including shredded dried squid and countless variations on rice crackers). Unapologetic junk food junkies, therefore, will find much to satisfy their addiction. However, if there's something you absolutely cannot live without (your humble editor must have Twizzlers Strawberry Twists nearby 24 hours a day) bring it from home. Western brands of candy are available, but they often have been doctored a bit to make them less sweet. They are also expensive and served up in smaller portions.
Cosmetics are expensive in Japan and most women who live here recommend you bring them from home. For example, mascara in the US is about three dollars. In Japan it's about ten.
Home Country Kit
This is good idea even if you're not planning to teach in schools. If you are planning to teach in schools, it's a must. Gather up pens and pencils with your hometown's or home country's name, colorful erasers, and stickers with your national or regional flag. These make great prizes in schools and great small gifts for business classes. You should also assemble photos of your family, town and country; maps of your hometown, state or province and country; and flags of various sizes.
Gift giving has been elevated to martial art status in Japan and involves many rules and lots of ettiquette. The Japanese enter seemingly endless cycles of gift giving with each other where one gift leads to another which leads to another which leads to another, etcetera. As a foreigner, you can quickly opt out of the cycle by pleading ignorance, but it wouldn't hurt to bring a few gifts, especially if you're entering the JET program or will be working at a school. You should also keep in mind it's traditional to give small gifts to your neighbors when you move in to a new place.
The gifts need not be either big or expensive. Flag pins, gifts unique to your country or region, chocolates, key chains, and liquor are all acceptable. If possible, it's best to have them gift wrapped. Also keep in mind that the Japanese are likely to simply dump the gift off to the side without opening it. Opening a gift in front of the giver would make them seem too eager. Also, if they find the gift inappropriate, they wouldn't want to be caught grimacing.
Have questions? Send an email to your humble editor.
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Copyright © 2003, Dwayne Lively
Created January 2003