Below you will find a general FAQ list to help you as you’re finalizing your preparations for Japan, as well as a pre-departure pamphlet with some great tips. Join your Block/Prefecture, and the Incoming JETs Facebook pages, and be sure to check out our section on Daily JET Life as well to find out what your everyday lives will be during your new adventures!
If you need some advice on how to get ready for the move to Japan, as well as make the most of Tokyo Orientation, please read the Pre-Departure Pamphlet (PDF), a handy publication that was made available to incoming JETS during their Pre-Departure Orientation and in Tokyo.
Bring small things to make your new living arrangements feel as much like home as possible. You should bring pictures. Lots of pictures. Not only can you use them in your classes to increase cultural awareness, they will serve as wonderful mementos from home to liven up your living space with.
Bring clothes that are appropriate for the climate you’ll be living in. If you’re in Okinawa, you’ll definitely be able to leave your heavy coat at home, but don’t forget a light jacket if you’re in northern Shikoku for late Fall. There are plenty of places in person and online to buy inexpensive clothing, even for people considered by Japanese standards to be “plus size.” So start off with enough to get you started and if you need more, you can always go shopping.
You should also bring omiyage (or souvenirs). Try to keep it small, but bring something bigger for your Supervisor/Principal/Vice Principal. Try to keep it in line with the culture of the country or area you’re coming from. Picture books are a fantastic, thin-in-your-suitcase item to bring for your higher-ups. Omiyage serves as a social lubricant and you’ll definitely make sure everyone in your immediate working vicinity is taken care of as well. If you work at 6+ schools, you won’t be expected to bring omiyage for everyone. You will only get two suitcases to begin your next 1+ years in a foreign country so try to keep it small. A nice recommendation for JETs would be “fun size” individual packs of candy like Skittles or M and Ms. For more information on bringing omiyage, please see this link.
Regarding toiletries, bring deodorant/antiperspirant as the Japanese equivalents are simply not as effective. You can replenish your stock on Amazon Japan. Japanese toothpaste doesn’t usually contain fluoride, but fluoride containing toothpastes do exist. You might have a hard time adjusting to Japanese shampoo as well, so if you have room in your luggage, it might be a good idea to bring some from home. You will be able to find contact solution, hairspray, gel, easily at a local drug store.
You might have trouble finding makeup that matches your skin type. Some people recommend that you bring enough to last you for a whole year. You should be able to find things online though, so don’t worry too much.
Bring enough medication to get you taken care of until you can see a doctor in Japan. You can usually bring in a month’s supply of medication without having to apply for a Yakkan Shoumei (customs form for medication) as long as it is for personal use and isn’t an injection and doesn’t fall into the category of prohibited medications (amphetamines, pseudoephedrine, etc.). Your consulate or embassy will be able to help you fill out the paperwork for the Yakkan Shoumei. If you have a prescription for an Epi-pen or other anti-anaphylactic injection, you will need to get fill out a Yakkan Shoumei to get permission to bring the drug into the country. The same goes for diabetic injections/needles for administering insulin. Narcotics and controlled substances also fall into this category.
After you arrive in Japan and need more medication, you can easily see a prescriber in your local or nearby city or town. Most clinics are just walk in, but some require appointments. The doctors here might not be able to prescribe the exact same medication, but you should be able to find something similar. Doses are usually weaker in Japan, so keep this in mind when discussing treatment options with your new physician. Japan does not have Physician Assistants or Nurse Practitioners.
Some other medications are forbidden to bring into the country and it will be your responsibility to contact the appropriate authorities to find out if your medication is allowed. Click here for some limited information to get you started.
Many OTC medications existing in your current country can be purchased in Japan as well. Sometimes they’re labeled for different use though. The main ingredient in the allergy medication Benadryl, diphenhydramine, is available as a sleeping medication and is much more expensive than what you might be used to paying at home. Antihistamines by themselves are sometimes hard to find, but you should be able to find them mixed with other symptom-targeted medication.
Japan may not be as accommodating to allergies as you’re used to in your home countries. Be sure to translate things your allergic to into Japanese before coming so you can ask appropriately at restaurants, school lunch, etc. Most packaged and processed foods will list potential allergens on the packaging, but when you eat in restaurants, you’ll be less likely to be notified of what food goes into making/comes into contact with your final ordered product.
If you have an allergy that might cause an anaphylactic reaction, then you need to be sure to get a prescription for an Epi-pen and fill out your Yakkan Shoumei before coming to Japan. Be sure to carry the medication (and copy of the Yakkan Shoumei until you can get a Japanese prescription) with you at all times. As careful as you may be, you never know when something might be made with nuts/shellfish/etc.
If you have Celiac Disease or a gluten intolerance, here is a website link with Japanese cards that you can print out and carry with you: http://www.celiactravel.com/cards/japanese/
Getting a new phone in Japan will be one of the first things you do with your supervisor after you arrive in your new home. You should not expect your phone from home to work in Japan, even if you change the smartcard. Most smartcards in Japan are a different size than the ones located in your home country and will not fit in your phone from home. Most people have phone service through either AU, Docomo, or Softbank. There are many options and price ranges depending on what you’re looking for. Japanese phone users do not normally use text messaging services and you will find that sending several texts can drastically raise your phone costs. On simple keitai phones, people use e-mail service to send and receive messages. Smartphone users can use messaging apps like Facebook messenger, what’s app, or the most popular, Line. There are plenty of pros and cons to getting a smartphone over a keitai, and vice versa, so think about what services you would like to use before you sign your phone contract.
Please see Driving in Japan for more information.
You will set up your bank account shortly after you arrive. Your monthly “paycheck” will usually be directly deposited into your account. You will receive a bankbook that when updated will show every transaction that happens with your account–be sure to update this bankbook regularly to avoid headaches down the line. Your bank account will more than likely not be attached to any form of debit system like you might be used to back home. Japan is still very much a cash-based society and the widespread use of cards, though catching on, is still not comparable to use in Europe and the Americas. You will, however, get an ATM card to use for withdrawals–this cannot be used as a credit or debit card for purchases.
ATMs usually have hours (using your bank’s ATM after hours or using a conbini ATM will incur a transaction fee), but you can do many things like deposits, withdrawals, bank transfers, bankbook updates, and much more from your ATM terminal. You can even send money home directly from your ATM after you set up remittance service with a company like GoRemit. This isn’t the only way to send money home though!
While GoRemit is probably the most popular international remittance service for JETs, it isn’t your only option when it comes to international exchanges. Some people have difficulty using international remittance due to small bank branches, lack of swift code, etc. JP Post also has options for your international currency needs. They have international remittance options like GoRemit, and they also have money order options. The only downside to using this options is that a paper money order is printed, you have to ship it home, and the person it is made out to has to be the one to cash it (and subsequently deposit it into your account). This can take some time due to shipping, and it’s probably not the most secure way to send funds. Check out JP Post’s English website to check out even more of their services.
You also might be able to transfer directly to your home country’s bank account using your Japanese bank. This varies and may be one of the more expensive options, so be sure and ask for information when you’re setting up your account.
If your family needs to send you money, they can do so easily using Western Union. Just be sure to check if this is available in your area. Remember though, you can usually access funds from your home bank account using your debit card at a local JP Post branch’s ATM if your family needs to get money to you quickly using a simple deposit into your home account.
The special interest group, Stonewall Japan, has everything you need to know about what to expect for your new life in Japan.
Unless you’re a CIR, speaking Japanese is not a requirement of your new job. However, you will be expected to make an effort to develop or improve your Japanese language ability during your time on the program, and to that end, CLAIR offers a free Japanese language course targeted at learners of different levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. More information on these courses will be provided by your contracting organization and/or via emails from CLAIR, so keep an eye out.
Be aware that if you’re in an elementary school setting or preschool, your teachers there might not speak English and you may need to have lesson planning meetings with them. JETs in these situations will find it especially beneficial to make a strong effort to learn Japanese. In any case, remember that gestures go a long way in communication!
There are plenty of people that come to Japan with little to no Japanese competence and find themselves very capable by the time they leave. Don’t be too worried or intimidated before you get here. There will be plenty of opportunities to become knowledgeable about Japan’s unique and fantastic language after you arrive.
After all, you only have around four months after you’re notified about your selection until you actually move to Japan, so spend that time with your friends and loved ones and making sure everything is in order. You will receive a book titled Japanese for JETs from your consulate or embassy as your departure date nears. This will get you taken care of until you arrive in Japan if you have little to no experience with the language
If you do feel like getting a head start on Japanese, however, you can begin by getting acquainted with the two Japanese syllabaries hiragana and katakana as well as learning survival and useful phrases.
We recommend a variety of Japanese language resources here on AJET. Click here to access our Japanese learning hub.
Get involved! Locking yourself inside, especially during the wintertime, is the quickest way to ensure that you enter (or stay in) the infamous “Stage two” of the emotional roller coaster ride of living abroad. Get out of your house. Speak with your supervisor about possible clubs you can join or community activities you can get involved with. Even if your Japanese is poor, your community will love to see you making an effort to get involved and it will help you out of your slump as well.
Even in the inaka, there is sure to be a cab/taxi service that can take you to a train station which will be your portal to the outside world. Japan’s public transportation has limitless connections to everywhere imaginable in the country. It’s also easy to fly to nearby countries on cheap, discount airlines. Even if you’re in a tiny island, there’s a way to escape for the weekend and experience all the wonders in Japan.
Find a friend to talk to even if it’s in broken English/Japanese. You’re never alone! Escape, explore, lose yourself, and find yourself again. Try to do the best for yourself that you can with the limited time that you have.
You might find travel in and out of the country to be much easier than your home country, especially if you’re not used to the wonders of public transportation.
If you have access to a train station, you can get virtually anywhere in the country. The website Hyperdia will prove very valuable in assisting with your travel needs. It lists departing and arriving train stations, as well as any information regarding transfers.
Google maps will also be useful to help you with your navigation needs. It can be indispensable in the Tokyo underground and has color labeling to show you which lines you need to go to.
Flying in Japan is easy too. There’s usually a fairly simple way to get to an airport (even if you live away from Honshu on Shikoku, Okinawa, etc.). You can use ANA or JAL to fly anywhere imaginable and some airlines even let you pay for domestic and international flights at the konbini. The major international airports in Japan also have access to discount airliner Peach, which can get you to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea from Osaka or Tokyo round trip for around 30,000 yen.
Booking a hotel: Keep in mind that hotel prices in Japan are usually per person, so the overall cost of a night’s stay can vary depending on how many people you are with. Hotels usually allow you to pay in person at the front desk when you arrive. There may be a cancellation fee depending on your reservation, however. Bookings.com is a great resource to find hotels throughout Japan. Another popular site is JALAN which has English and Japanese (use their Japanese site for special deals and discounts!).
Common omiyage items are food – sweets and snacks. If you’re going to a big city you may have easy access to a foreign food store which could make your life a whole lot easier by just buying omiyage here and getting wrapping from Daiso/100yen shop. It won’t be as cheap as back home but it’ll free up luggage space for more important parts of your life you want to bring over. Tea bags/coffee sticks from your home country are great and simple and will probably go down well. Keep in mind (July/Aug arrivals) you are arriving in the middle of Japanese summer – think very, very, VERY hot – so if you’re bringing meltables (eg chocolate) you want to take extra care to keep it in a cool place. Some people bring ingredients from home and bake/make things after arriving (make sure you’ll have access to an oven if you plan to do this).
Many Japanese teachers don’t give omiyage when they arrive at their school (some exceptions), only when they go on trips throughout the year – and usually the omiyage items are simple and small. The staffroom won’t necessarily be expecting you to bring anything, and certainly nothing big. No one will judge you if you don’t bring something fancy, so don’t stress.
Easiest is to ask your predecessor (if you have one). Principal, Vice-principal, OTEs are the only essentials if you’re going to bring omiyage. If the staffroom is small, you could bring omiyage for everyone. If there’s 50+ people in the staffroom, don’t fret. In the bigger staffrooms, often the Japanese teachers don’t bring omiyage for the entire workplace when they go on trips anyway and you won’t be expected to. BOEs/COs? Again, talk to your predecessor.
Generally, most ALTs just bring omiyage for their base school. There’s definitely no need to give entire staffrooms at visit schools omiyage – but you could consider bringing items just for your JTE/supervisors working there. Again, no need to kill your wallet to accomplish this. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to shower your base and visit schools with love when you go traveling throughout the year, should you wish.
As long as they’re individually wrapped, don’t worry about making it fancy. If you want to buy omiyage in bulk or combine different items, it’s fine to take them out of original packaging and re-wrap them into individual bags.
There’s no need to offload your omiyage the immediate moment you meet people. You can wait til you’ve settled in a few days – whatever is less awkward for you. If you want to give your omiyage to each teacher personally so you can introduce yourself and say ‘yoroshiku onegaishimasu’, you may need to wait a while as a lot of teachers are out/away on summer vacation.
Just bring however much cookies/sweets you can (preferably wrapped) and tell them during your self-introduction to help themselves to that box over there on the table – leave a friendly signed note saying yoroshiku onegaishimasu.
If you want to connect with your teachers, make an effort to talk to them. If you want your omiyage to be a conversation starter, then follow through – don’t leave the omiyage you painstakingly lugged across an entire ocean on the table. Ask your OTE for a map of the staffroom with the teachers’ names/subjects. Wait for the teacher to be at their table before giving it to them, introduce yourself and explain what you’ve brought them. If your staffroom is too big you can do the same to groups of teachers sitting around. Don’t be disheartened if your attempt doesn’t turn into a full blown conversation (obviously also make sure your timing is ok). Consider this a feeler for personalities and making that first impression.