Introduction

Transitioning from your country’s lifestyle to Japan’s is quite the change. Moreover, you will face situations that you did not expect or anticipate for, which is fine. Whether it is dealing with culture shock or homesickness, there is something in this article that will apply to you. These are five steps I wish I had knowledge about prior to arriving in Japan.

Suitcase for traveling abroad

Packing

While packing, make sure you bring absolutely everything that you use day-to-day. Of things to pack, the most important is that you pack the right attire, especially since you are commuting on trains or buses every day. Back in America, I could afford to dress lighter because I drove everywhere, but in Japan, it can get very cold when you are walking outside for long periods of time. Likewise, I cannot stress how important it is to pack comfortable shoes. You will find yourself walking a lot, much more than you would have in your home country, that being said, having a comfortable pair of shoes will go a long way.

Forgotten Items

Other items that you may have forgotten to pack or might need to replace are less expensive; you do not want to purchase clothes in Japan if you don’t need to. Understand that you are not packing for a vacation where you only have to consider one season; even if you are staying for one semester you will experience two different seasons. If you need to buy clothes, I recommend Uniqlo because the prices are not far off from my home country and the quality is great for its price point.

Depending on where you are coming from, some of the electronics you bring may not be compatible with the outlets in Japan due to the differences in voltage. If you are coming from the UK, for instance, you might want to save space in your suitcase and wait until you arrive to purchase things like a hairdryer. Speaking from experience, I forgot to pack my hairdryer so I had to purchase one at Bic Camera; if you are in the same predicament, I recommend buying a hair dryer that is allowed on the plane so that you can bring it back to your home country afterward if need be. Bic Camera is one of Japan’s many department store chains.

External battery for your phones during travel

In addition, foreigners and even locals utilize Google Maps to get around. Packing a portable charger will come in handy when you need directions to your next destination and your phone percentage is low. This is also something you can purchase once you arrive in Japan if you don’t have one or forgot to pack it.

Something else to consider is that your living accommodation will not be the biggest, so do not pack unnecessary things that may waste space throughout your stay in Japan.

One of the main attraction in Robot cafe

Snacks and Food

If you are feeling homesick while in Japan, you may be able to soothe your homesickness with some familiar snacks. Unfortunately, many of your home country’s snacks will be hard to find or unavailable at all. For example, I cannot find the sugarfree gum that I normally chew in the States and because I did not pack extra packs, I had to find an alternative gum for the time being. This extends to spices as well; some homemade dishes may soothe homesickness, but certain ingredients for these homemade dishes are also difficult to find or unavailable at all.

I highly suggest packing things like snacks and spices in your excess suitcase space, and even if you do not have excess space you can bring these items as a carry-on. If you wish to do this, make sure these items are brand new and unopened or they might not pass through airport security.

Import Shops and Foreign Restaurant Chains

Your best opportunity in finding foods from your country is to visit one of the import shop chains in Japan. Kaldi Coffee Farm and Seijo Ishii are two of the chain shops, but there are also Costco in Japan.

Pizzas and other food from home can be hard to find in Japan

For Americans, there are chain restaurants such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Denny’s, T.G.I.F., Hooters, and Shake Shack. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Hooters, and Shake Shack are pretty much the same as they are in America, but apparently, Denny’s and T.G.I.F are quite different.

A side note when it comes to packing is don’t bother bringing a water bottle because you will seldom find a water fountain to fill it up. For the most part, you will have to purchase water unless provided at a restaurant.

A hidden Japanese sign

Culture

Understanding Japanese culture will be an easy segue into submerging yourself in it. What I mean by this is, learning the etiquettes of Japan and being able to speak in Japanese will make your time in Japan much more enjoyable.

International student talking to the worker at izakaya

If you are studying Japanese in school, I highly advise that you take your studies seriously so that you may utilize what you have learned in your daily interactions in Japan. Even if you have no Japanese background, it is in your best interest to engage in self-study so that you may pick up simple Japanese phrases that will take you far.

During your typical day, you will see English here and there on signs, but most Japanese people speak limited if any, English. In order to hold meaningful interactions with locals, you will need to learn conversational Japanese.

Setting up a cellphone plan for your travels

Getting Set Up

As soon as you land in Japan, you may need to invest in a domestic phone carrier unless your original carrier works overseas. The biggest Japanese phone carriers are Docomo, Softbank, and Yahoo Mobile; this may be something worth researching before departing from your home country.

IC card

Something that will take up a slot in your wallet is an IC card; this card is your bread and butter. Since taxis are extremely expensive in Japan and owning a car is not very practical, your main form of transportation will be public transit. 

Vending machines are everywhere in Japan and its located at the most convenient places such as train stations.
Different kind of vending machines in Japan

There are many types of IC cards, with Suica and Pasmo being the most common in the greater Tokyo area. On top of using your IC card for the train and bus fare, you may also use it for payment at ‘konbinis’ (convenience stores), vending machines and even some restaurants. You will find that your IC card is extremely useful.

If you take the same route to work or school every day, the commuter pass might be something to look into because it can save you a lot of money in the long run. To obtain a commuter pass, you must stop by the ticket office at the train station nearest to your residence with your residence card and school ID or proof of work. You can personalize your payment plan based on whether you want to pay for each month or three months at a time, etc.

Visa or any type of credit cards might be a little inconvenient to use in Japan due to cash culture

Credit Cards

As mentioned before, Japan utilizes cash over credit and debit cards, but that does not mean that there aren’t places in Japan that allow card use. If you prefer using credit, VISA and Mastercard are better credit card options because stores and restaurants in Japan that accept card usually accept these companies over others. From experience, I brought a DISCOVER credit card for my semester abroad, and I find that many places do not accept DISCOVER, but do accept my debit card, which is a VISA card. There are sites online that you can compare credit card companies so that you can find one that also gives higher rewards for your purchases overseas.

Medicine packed for travel use

Medicine

Like snacks in your home country, medicines will be hard to find if available at all. If there are certain over the counter medications or prescribed medicines that you take, it is in your best interest to bring a sufficient supply with you to Japan. In Japan, a lot of medicines require prescription clearance which can be a hassle. Moreover, you might also find that the dosage strength of Japanese medicine is much weaker.

Extended Prescription

Although it is much more practical to bring your own medicine, you must account for Japanese laws on medications for personal use. For over-the-counter medications, an individual is allowed to bring two months worth with them. As for prescription medications, individuals are only allowed to bring one month’s supply with prescription proof from their doctor. illegal drugs are absolutely prohibited in Japan, regardless of if you obtained these drugs legally elsewhere. If you require a supply that exceeds either timetable, you must obtain a “Yakkan Shoumei” which is an import certificate that you show Japanese Customs. This certificate must be obtained in advance, prior to your arrival to Japan.

Conclusion

From what to pack to how to get set up for life in Japan, I hope you found this article helpful. For more about how to prepare for Japan, check out TokyoCheapo or GaijinPot.