Teaching Topics: 10 things I wish I knew

Are you getting ready to head to Japan for a new job, or studying abroad? Last year at this exact time I was in the same position. I had a little information on what I needed to bring, but not much info on what to expect when I arrived.

1 – Pack more deodorant & shampoo
I like stick deodorant. I can only find aerosal spray deodorant in my area. I should have packed about 10 more sticks so my mom wouldn’t have to send me more!
If you’re in a city, then you’ll be able to find more shampoo options, but I’m not a fan of what shampoo I can find here. Luckily I have some left from the last time I was near a city & bought some. But it’s more expensive. If you have the packing space, bring an extra one.

2 – Don’t bring too many t-shirts.
I already chopped my t-shirt collection in half when I packed to come with somewhere around 15 shirts. In the summer it’s hot and I often wear tanks when I’m not working. In the fall/spring I wear the same few t-shirts & button up shirts and dresses with tights & sweaters. In the winter it’s really cold so I wear a few heavy sweaters all the time. I have probably 10 shirts that I’ve only worn a couple of times so far. Besides, everyone is very fashionable here – women and men, and you may not want to run to the store in a scuzzy outfit!

3 – You can bring your unlocked iPhone, and expect to use it for data (mail, internet, apps, just no calls).
Until you have your Gaijin card at least, you will not be able to get a Japanese cell phone contract. If you already have an unlocked smartphone, bring it – I haven’t really needed a cell number yet, so Skype & Gmail have been good enough for me so far. A 30 day SIM will run you about 3100 yen.
You can get B-Mobile SIM cards from Amazon.jp quickly & easily, which leads me to the next point…

4 – Amazon.jp is amazing.
You can buy Amazon.jp giftcards at Lawson convenience stores with cash. You can then place your order online, and usually have your purchase delivered to the convenience store as well. This is true for many stores – I made a purchase from Apple here in Japan, but I didn’t want to put the charge on a credit card, then have to send more money back home, so I was able to make my order online, get an order #, then go to Lawson & pay for it. I think I only waited 3 days for delivery.

5 – I should have asked specifically for my bed ‘measurements’, not ‘size’.
(King size in Japan is not the same as king size in the US.)

6 – You may need to pack lighter!
I definitely didn’t need to try and maneuver 3 suitcases + my backpack through the train stations & streets of Tokyo 🙂
You’re [most likely!] not moving to a less advanced civilization, so most daily-use things you need can be found here. If you are a larger person (at all), you should probably bring extra clothes. I’m pretty small and I really have to try on all shirts I’m thinking of  buying – sometimes even ‘XL’ doesn’t fit, and I wear the biggest size pants that one store carries (its only 28.7 inches!)

7 – Learn Hiragana & Katakana NOW!
You will be much better off when you arrive! I wish I had worked harder to re-learn Hiragana & Katakana before getting to Japan so I could have read basic things, like ‘ramen’ or simple things on menus. You have your whole lifetime to get on with the kanji! 😉

8 – Japanese drugs are not as strong as what I’m used to.
I could have benefitted from bringing extra ibuprofen, allergy meds, cold meds. The drugs here are not as strong, so I end up having to take extra pills. Also, it’s kind of “めんどくさい” (troublesome, difficult, pain in the butt) to try and ask about what meds you should buy…

9 – Your dictionary is often wrong.
I can’t tell you how many times I looked up a word to use for my Japanese homework and when I got to class and said it, was told that it’s not really correct! Everything changes depending on what your talking about, and then again, there’s kanji! [one of the] words for the number 4 sounds the same as the word for ‘death’ but they have different kanji… so kanji is important down the road, but you’re better off checking the words you look up with a Japanese person who understands english.

10 – “Japanese Style” Toilets:
You will encounter the greatest toilets ever. My home toilet has a heated seat and 2 different bidet features. But about half the time when I go out, especially if it’s at an older building, there will only be a Japanese Style Toilet. This is the Squatty Potty. The sooner you just learn to use it, the better. Squat low and don’t hold off until you can’t hold it anymore! This will result in disaster.

Bottom lines:
Don’t bring too many things you don’t already use daily. Bring a camera and smart phone or computer
Learn some basic Japanese. In Japan, cash is king. Credit cards will not get you very far (depending where you are)