What to pack?

Although the guide below is a great resource to base your packing off of, your predecessor will be the one with the most accurate idea of what you will need to bring. When in doubt, ask your predecessor or your supervisor. Don't fret almost anything you absolutely need can be ordered from Amazon Japan.

Clothes

The weather will be hot when you arrive in Tokyo, so bring mostly summer clothes. Have someone mail your winter clothing to you later. You need at least two dressy outfits for the Tokyo orientation and your welcome ceremony at school. In the office it is acceptable to wear cotton pants and a nice shirt or a skirt and simple top during the summer. Schools more often than not lack air conditioning. If you are going to teach elementary school, you need clothes that you can play games in.

For men: In 2005, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment began a campaign named Cool Biz. In order to reduce energy use and CO2 emissions, the MOE advocated that government employees abandoned their ties, jackets, and long sleeves for a comfortable business casual summer attire of collared short sleeve shirt and breathable slacks. When you get here, Cool Biz will be in effect. You might want to wear a tie the first day just to show everyone you are classy, but after that you will more than likely be tie and sleeves free. Cool Biz starts on May 1st and ends on September 30 exactly. From October, long sleeve shirts and suit jackets/blazers are required at meetings, conferences, picture days, and might be required at your school. After the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami the dates of Cool Biz were extended, and currently run from May 1st to October 31st.

For women: This means no suit jacket. Short sleeve shirts are acceptable as well. Please note that shoulders, cleavage or any part of the back and skirts much above the knee are risqué for a teacher. There are no rules about what you can wear in your free time.

Bring a bathing suit, as there are several beaches around the prefecture.

Shoes

If you have big feet, it can be difficult to get shoes in Japan. Womens shoes go up to about an American size 8 or 25cm, and mens shoes go up to about an American 10 or 28cm. If your feet are bigger than that or around those sizes, you might not be able to buy shoes easily. You can order shoes from home or buy them in, say, Tokyo. There is a 30% duty on leather shoes coming into the country.

You have to take your shoes on and off all day – every time you leave or enter a building. Slip-on-shoes are very useful. I recommend taking a minimum of two pairs of slip-ons. You also need a pair of shoes to be your "indoor shoes" which you wear at school. Most teachers wear sandals or trainers.

Books

Bringing lots of grammar and game books is a waste of space in your suitcase. If you will be based in a Junior High School, you will probably be teaching from a text book most of the time. Senior High School ALTs sometimes have more freedom. Some schools may actually ask you NOT to teach from a book. Check with the schools and see what the case is before buying lots of teaching materials. After awhile, you will collect a bunch of lessons that you can use. When you arrive in Tokyo you will be given a Resource Materials Handbook which has game ideas and teaching tips. You SHOULD bring items from your home country that you can use during your self introduction, such as:

  • pictures or postcards of your hometown and the area around it
  • pictures of your family and house.
  • a map of your country and a map of your province/state
  • popular music from your country (they like English songs)
  • information on professional sports teams in your area
  • food from your country (I brought maple syrup)and your favourite recipe book.
  • anything that appeals to kids

On the other hand, if you will be teaching elementary school a lot, you might bring some childrens story books, books with childrens music, books with childrens classroom and PE games, and a book of clipart. Talk to your predecessor about what is already available. Books are heavy, so only bring what you will actually use.

There are large bookstores in Tokyo and main cities where you can buy English language books and Japanese textbooks. Japan also has excellent online shopping options such as Amazon and rakuten which will often offer free postage. There is also a good English book section and Japanese language textbook section in an Akita City bookstore near the station.

Food

You may want to bring spices or seasonings that you really like because they are really expensive here and some are not available at all. The local grocery stores carry more common seasonings like oregano, basil, salt, pepper, cinnamon, cumin, and garlic. If you prefer to eat foreign food you can always order from the Foreign Buyers Club or the Flying Pig (COSTCO) online. They have a very extensive catalogue which includes everything from cheese to Mexican food to bagels and they deliver the food to your house. You can also find various "foreign foods" at stores like Jupiter (close to Akita City, Aomori, Sendai and Morioka stations), Kaldi in the Akita City Aeon and Omagari Aeon, and Yamaya (various locations).

Cooking Utensils

If you like baking or cooking you may want to bring a set of measuring spoons and measuring cups from home, because the measurements are in metric. Otherwise, you can purchase normal cooking utensils here if needed.

Electronics

Bringing your computer from home is the best thing you can do. Computers in Japan tend to be quite expensive and outdated if bought at a store or even online compared to America. However, if you are from somewhere smaller like New Zealand, the computers here are cheaper and newer models are available.

Most PCs also include bundled Japanese software that add to the cost of the computer. I wouldn't suggest building a computer either due to old/expensive components often found in stores. Although that choice does exist, visit www.kakaku.com to compare component prices of online retailers.

If you are interested in purchasing a Mac, the operating system is multilingual so you will have no language problems. Mac also offers a 10% educational discount which ALTs are eligible for (not on iPods, though). Just phone the English order line and have the computer delivered to your school and no questions are asked. If you want a copy of Microsoft Office for Mac, however, this is almost impossible to find in English and you will need to bring a copy from home.

If you are going to buy a computer before you leave your country, you might want to check if the manufacturer offers an international warranty. Even if it doesn't, the best deals are probably bound to be found in your home country and not in Japan.

Also you might want to invest in a iPod or any other music player, it'll help to have some music while at home, on the road, for language learning, and these can be very useful in class.

Toiletries

Most items you will need are available in Japan, but you may prefer brands that you are used to. Consider bringing your own deodorant from home. They don't seem to have good deodorant here and since there is no AC in your schools you will most likely need it. The other thing you should bring is toothpaste, because Japanese toothpaste has considerably less fluoride (sometimes none at all).

For women: All of the makeup is made for Asian skin tones, so if you wear makeup you will want to bring enough to last you for a while. Also a lot of Japanese facial moisturizer has whitening agent in it, so you may prefer to bring something tried and trusted from home. You may also want to bring your own tampons because they are slightly different here but not that different. The birth control pill is now available here, but it is not the same as the western pills, because they are not low dose.

For men: The condoms are not the same as the ones at home. Some people get condoms mailed from home or resupply in Tokyo. Others bring a reasonable supply.

For everyone: Don't bring common items such as shampoo, mouth wash, hair spray, nail polish, razors, and moisturizer. These are readily available in Akita.

Traveling Gear: You need a small pack for school everyday.

Money

You will need to bring about 200,000 yen (approximately $2000 American) for your first month. You will be paid on August 21st. Some JETs arriving in July get paid for the few days they work in July.

About ATMs and credit cards:

  • Most businesses deal only in cash.
  • Most foreign ATM cards don't work in most Japanese ATMs.
  • Post office ATMs generally accept foreign ATM cards. Check with your bank in advance.
  • ATMs of banks with branches in your home country sometimes accept foreign ATM cards.
  • You might have time to change money at Narita when you arrive.
  • The big Tokyo hotels can change money.

If you're going to a rural location, get a lot of money changed before you come to Japan or in Tokyo.

NOTE: Travellers Cheques can be difficult to impossible to cash at rural bank branches.

If you do not have a predecessor, you may have to set up your apartment. Check to see if you are the first one there. If so, bring some extra money. Your first month will not be nearly as fun with no bed and other basic furnishings. If you are going to have to set up a new apartment, check out the classifieds on this site's message board for departing JETs who are selling their stuff.

Entering JET Checklist
Before Arrival Preparing for Akita Checklist • What to pack? • Financial and Language • Doctor/Dentist Information
After Arrival Culture Shock • Working life