We asked current JETs for the recommendations for newcomers and to complete the phrase “I wish I’d known…” Below, you can read their responses and recommendations. Please keep in mind that every situation is different, so not everything may apply to you or to Japan as a whole.
- Bring a black suit
- Get clothes for teaching that are mix and match-able
- Bring pictures of your family, pet, car, house…basically everything.
- If you are teaching at multiple schools… bring enough pairs of indoor work shoes!
- Buy heat-tech (insulating under-layer) and wear under shirts
- Ladies, bring some shrugs/boleros to wear in summer since it’s not really socially acceptable to show your shoulders even in casual wear.
- Don’t bring winter clothes when you arrive in the summer. You can buy so many things here to keep you warm. Only have your necessities or favorites shipped to you.
- You will need a kotatsu
- Procedures in Japan can be very confusing, especially when you first arrive and need to register at city hall, open a bank account, get a cell phone, internet and other settling issues and needs. Be PATIENT! Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your JTEs, or fellow ALTs.
- Get a smartphone when you get here. They’re incredibly useful for directions, translating, and many many more things
- Try to get the same phone provider as your friends so you don’t pay extra for calls/texts.
- Exchange Facebooks with people without being embarrassed. Networking is important.
- Learn to drive. Get a lot of hobbies. Be prepared to go out of town to have fun.
- Use this time to work on your bike riding skills. Through wet weather, narrow paths, around obstacles, and over small rocks/bumps. (Editor’s note: riding a bike with an umbrella is technically illegal).
- Bring some of your favorite items with you (pictures of friends/family, a book, candy, etc)
- Bring some of your favorite products from home (deodorant, shampoo, lotion, etc).
- If you live in the US (not sure how this works in other countries, sorry) and would like to be able to call your friends/family back home, set up a Google Voice phone number BEFORE you leave. Once you do that, you’ll have an American number your friends/family can call and that you can use to call them, free of charge.
- If you don’t know any Japanese, try to familiarize yourself with a few basic greetings and phrases. If you’re really ambitious, learn to read hiragana and katakana. If you took Japanese courses in college, try to review before you come. Any amount of Japanese will be useful; even if you’re a total beginner, just knowing how to read basic things can come in handy.
- If you don’t know what is going on and don’t understand, you should copy others in your surrounding and ask questions
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask your predecessor, your predecessor’s friends, anyone on the Gunma website or FB page, etc…We don’t bite too hard.
- Try to come in with an open mind and without great expectations.
I wish I’d known…
- You may have to continue to wear a suit for the first few days after arriving to your placement. It will be hot. Keep that in mind!
- You don’t need to stress over omiyage (souvenirs for coworkers). Simple is best.
- I wish I’d known JHS kids aren’t allowed snacks at school…wouldn’t have bought over kiloes of chocolate, etc., to use as prizes, which I ended up having to eat them myself!
- Bring “gifts” for your students! Stickers, pins of your country’s flag, pencils, buttons, tiny flags, postcards, stamps, pennies, etc are great to give out during special lessons (your self-intro lesson or a holiday lesson for example).
- There is a system for grading work without numbers. X for wrong, triangle for OK (partial), maru (circle) for good job, and hana maru (flower circle) for excellent.
- How cold winter in Gunma was.
- If you’re used to America bacon, Japanese bacon not be at all what you want. It’s not smoked, it’s more like ham, and it doesn’t fry up even remotely the same.
- Pork is a staple meat in Japan and especially in Gunma, and Japan also loves bacon. If you are a vegetarian/vegan or if you don’t eat pork for other reasons, be aware that bacon or ham may be in many dishes you wouldn’t normally expect it to be in.
- Ground meat here tends to be a pork/beef mix so make sure you read meat packages carefully at the grocery store.
- If you’re a vegetarian, you often have to be more specific than “Does this have meat?” For some reason, bacon, shrimp (and seafood in general), and other things you may consider “meat” aren’t always considered in the realm of “meat.”
- I wish I’d gotten a Japanese license and a car! Gunma has the most beautiful nature and hidden gems but you will want a car to get within hiking distance of them. (sorry, public transport in Gunma is tragic).
- I wish I’d known the full extent of how little privacy you have when living in a small town, e.g. Students looking through your letter slot and straight into your apartment.
- I wish I hadn’t bought so many sleeveless tops because I never wear them here.
- There will most likely be clothes in your size! That said, it may or may not fit you exactly right. Japanese sizing tends to vary from “Western” sizing (narrower shoulders, tighter around the legs) but unless you are very tall or very large you should be ok.
- That there is an English hotline for Japan Post missed deliveries. It’s at the bottom of the slip.