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Packing Guide

Intro

While you are certainly moving your life to Japan, it’s important to determine what is truly necessary and what you can do without.  Not only does Gunma have a many stores where you can buy most things you’ll need, it’s also close to the Tokyo area, where you can quite literally find just about anything you could want. The number of online sites catering specifically to foreign shoppers is increasing and many items from home can be purchased online.  The following sections are to help you decide what to bring.

Baggage

Airlines seem to constantly change their baggage policies and there doesn’t seem to be a precise industry standard.  This makes it extremely important to check what restrictions and limitations are put on your baggage by the airline chosen to fly you over.  Some important considerations are:

  • Number limit – most airlines allow two large bags and one carryon for overseas flights, but this may vary.
  • Weight/size limits – these are the most important to check, as they often differ.  Also, airlines have the right to refuse overweight or oversized baggage at their discretion, so it’s best to not simply assume you’ll be pay the overage charges.  If you’re going to bring overweight/oversized baggage, you should contact the airline ahead of time.
  • What goes where? – when you get to Tokyo Orientation, you are permitted one large airline sized suitcase to take with you; your other suitcase(s) must be shipped to your Contracting Organization.  Other than this one large suitcase, any other baggage goes on your lap on the bus from the airport to the hotel.
  • Any extra baggage (beyond what you take to Orientation) is shipped via Japan’s ground shipping services and can take up to a week to reach your contracting organization.

Clothing

You’ll be getting to Gunma in the height of summer, but your job also official starts with Tokyo Orientation, so you should plan your clothing largely around what you’ll need for the next several weeks.  Also, Japanese washers tend to run on the small side (especially compared to what American washers), so you’ll need to wash clothes more often, which means you don’t need to pack as much.  With this in mind:

  • Suits – you’ll need one or two suits to get you through Tokyo Orientation and your first few days on the job.  One or two suits, and two or three shirts, should suffice for many people.  After the first week or two, most people will only need suits for occasional special events.
  • Work clothes – these can vary greatly, and your C.O. or predecessor is probably the best place for specifics.  However, common school clothing includes:  Track suits and other sportswear, polo shirts, kakis, and other business-casual. Some things, however, are frowned upon in the many of cases: Jeans, Graphic T’s, casual sweatpants, sleeveless shirts, etc.
  • Casual Clothes – really, this is up to your personal preference.  A week’s supply of everything should be more than enough to get you through the first few weeks.
Clothing sizes

In Japan, clothing sizes do tend to run smaller than many people are used to, and finding larger than average sizes can be difficult, particular for undergarments and footwear.  If you fall into this category, it may be more difficult to simply buy new clothing when you get here, so pack accordingly.  Also, ask others in your area if they have had trouble.

Clothing Appropriateness

Japan often has a different opinion on what is appropriate or decent, even for everyday clothing.  In Gunma, especially, opinions tend to be more traditional.  You should plan your wardrobe accordingly.

Toiletries, etc.

Some of the brands that you are used to may be difficult to find in Japan.  If you have particularly brands you need, it’s advisable to bring enough of a supply to get you through until you can have them shipped or buy them online.  Things that are especially necessary may include:

  • Deodorant – stick deodorant is very uncommon.  The deodorant sprays here are often not as powerful as you may be used to and often do not contain antiperspirant.  It’s advisable that you bring a few sticks of your favorite along.
  • Toothpaste – if you have a specific brand or flavor of toothpaste that you need, bring a few tubes along.  You can get Aquafresh pretty readily, but other than that, Japanese brands are the most common and may or may not be what you’re looking for.
  • Specialized Shampoos/Conditioners/Soaps – Japan carries Dove soap, Pantene Shampoo, and quite a few other brands, so bringing these items may only be necessary if you require a specific brand.  Ask around on the JET Forums, Gunma ALTs Facebook page, etc, if the brand you need can be found.
  • Personal items – if you require a specific brand or a non-average size of various personal items, it may be best to bring enough to last you for a while. If you feel this applies to you, you should do research into the availability of these products and also consider having them sent periodically from home.

Electronics

Much of Japan runs on 100v, as opposed to 120v in the United States and 200+ for many other countries, including much of Europe and Australia.  Most laptops and many similar consumer electronics are typically developed for a broad range, and you can find the range printed on their power supplies or on the equipment itself.  Other items, particularly home electrical items such as clocks, hair dryers, etc, may not work properly and may even be dangerous to use if not outfitted to work with 100v power.

Also, be sure to check whether or not you’ll even be able to plug them in—for those in the US/Canada, if the plug isn’t polarized (both prongs are an identical size), it will plug into the outlets here, but for those from other countries, you may need to buy adapters.  Be sure to check all your electronics thoroughly before deciding to pack them.  Japan has plenty of electronics stores, so you won’t have any problems finding a replacement for anything that doesn’t meet the standards.

Food

While it is true that you can’t get a lot of the everyday brands and foods you’re used to at local Japanese grocery stores, getting the food you want isn’t impossible.  In Gunma, we now have a medium-sized Costco, which carries quite a few foreign products, and several of the malls and a few other locations have Kaldi Coffee, which actually has a good deal more imports—from all over the world, both fresh and packaged—than it does coffee.  Plus, there are websites specializing in procuring food and other household items from overseas (see resources section for links), which have low shipping fees, ship fresh goods in cool boxes, and can supply you with most things you’ll need.  Unless you need something really specific, or for a particular dietary need, you don’t need to bring food from home.

Other Household Items

Just about everything you might need for around the house—dishes, utensils, cookware, etc—can be found easily and most definitely do not need to be brought.  Home centers and department stores sell most things you’re used to, 100-yen stores carry much higher quality products than some of their overseas equivalents (you can stock your entire china cabinet from Daiso), and recycle shops are extremely common and carry everything from mugs to washing machines.  Unless you have something that you are particularly attached to or can’t do without, save space for other things and leave it at home.

Does and Don’ts

The following lists are guidelines of things you should bring and those you shouldn’t:

Do Bring:
  • Clothes for both work and play which will help you survive in a hot, humid climate.  It may seem odd to wear multiple layers when it’s hot, but undershirts, camisoles, etc, can be extremely necessary in keeping you presentable and your other clothing dry, especially at work.  Even if you don’t typically sweat in your home country, Japan’s humidity levels may break that trend.
  • Power converters for necessary electronics (laptops, etc).  Japan uses Type A outlets.
  • Souvenirs/omiyage for your co-workers, neighbors, etc.
  • Deodorant
  • Prescription Medications (be sure to file Yakkan Shoumei paperwork!) and any OTC medication you think you may want to use (be sure to check Japan’s laws on volume and restricted substances).
  • Glasses/contact lens prescriptions – you can find glasses/contacts easily and often for a great price, so bring your prescription to make the process easier
  • Contraception – Japanese condoms are often considered weaker, and come in fewer sizes, than in many other countries.  Many other contraceptive devices are often hard to find and obtain.  Oral contraceptives are available, but require medical consultations to obtain a prescription.
  • Shoes if you wear larger than women’s US 8, men’s US10, as larger sizes may be difficult to find.
  • Underwear if you wear larger than women’s US 8, men’s US 34.
  • Bras if you wear larger than 32 B
  • Props/pictures/etc for your self-introduction.  Depending on the number of schools and classes you have, you will give this countless times, so be prepared!
Don’t Bring
  • Small electrical appliances, unless you have confirmed they will function on 100v
  • Winter Clothing – you can ship it later, or simply buy it here.
  • Basic household items—utensils, cookware, bedding, towels, washrags, etc.
  • Food (see above)
  • Too much clothing—again, you will need to wash clothes more often, and there are plenty of places to shop.  If you need specific sizes, or just want the clothes you already have, it’s recommended you ship over anything more than you need for about 1 week.

Resources

These websites are a few that cater to foreign buyers, and may be useful helping you decide what to bring or not: