Moving to Japan can be daunting and with visas, passports, work documents, and health checkups there’s a lot to remember. We had a full month off work before moving to Japan, which I highly recommend. Between country paperwork, packing, and dinners with friends, our last month in the US was completely packed. Despite having a month to prepare for the move, we could have done more to make our transition to Japan easier. Here are 10 recommendations that would have made our transition to Japan easier.
This is the most common complaint of English teachers we know. The initial expenses add up fast: rent, food, transportation, drinking (it hurts when beers cost $3 for a can and $8 for a half pint). If you can, bring double what your company advises you to bring. We stashed away $4000 and we felt the squeeze for a while. We had two weeks of training and then a month of work before our first paycheck finally arrived. Luckily, ECC offered teachers an interest free loan to help out for the first few months, but even with the loan we were low on funds.
If you know Japanese already awesome, if not learn Katakana immediately. Katakana is one of the three Japanese alphabets and is used specifically for foreign words. It took us about a month to learn Katakana and it made ordering food and booze significantly easier. Many restaurants do not use English on the menu, so knowing Katakana and then Hiragana (the basic alphabet for Japanese words) will make eating out much less stressful.
For some reason towels in Japan are paper-thin and rough. From cheapo towels to fancy department store towels everything we tried could never compare to the big soft towels that we used in the US. We bought towels from Takashimaya and Loft but finally ended up having our folks back home send us towels for Christmas, kinda boring but oh so soft.
This is a must. Whoever you go through to setup your apartment make sure to get a photo and floor plan before saying yes. What they tell you and let you imagine and what the reality is can be very different. Your company will probably have some good recommendations of who to go through for the first year. I also highly recommend starting with a furnished apartment because buying furniture is expensive and challenging if you’re not fluent in Japanese.
This is something we didn’t really consider. Unless you have a jail broken or international phone you’re going to have to buy a new one, and they’re not super cheap. Depending on what service provider you choose you could be forking over up to $1000, like we did for fancy new iphones with Softbank! Look into the phone situation before you arrive and have an idea of how much you want to spend.
When you come to Japan you’ll likely cook at home a good portion of the time; it saves money, it’s fun, and did we mention how expensive it is to always eat out. The caveat is you can’t easily cook like you did in your home country. Veggies are different, sauces are different, cuts of meat are different. It’s more affordable and less of a headache to perfect 3-4 Japanese recipes instead of spending brainpower deciphering bottles of red liquid hopping it’s what you need to make enchiladas.
Erin learned this the hard way. Sure there’s Clinque and Estee Lauder, but if you need something more affordable it can initially be a challenge to find. There are tons of cool looking products, but unless you can read kanji it will be tough to locate exactly what you want to buy. It’s difficult to determine which products are high quality and which are cheap and intended for little girls (Erin’s client once used carpet shampoo on her hair accidentally). Erin eventually discovered this website: www.iherb.com, which many of her co-workers in Tokyo used to buy face wash and hair products.
If you’re over six feet tall finding clothes that fit is a challenge and shoes that fit are even harder to find. Many of our friends would place orders with other teachers heading back to the US for the holidays. I was able to find shirts that fit from Muji and Uniqlo, mainly because they were short sleeve or I’d roll up the sleeves. I also bought a pair of sweet man capris from a shop in Nagoya.
It’s easy to over pack and it’s easy to forget a lot of stuff (like how we left our Japanese/English dictionary in the US). Check out this post for our thoughts on what to pack. Be sure that when everything is zipped and shipped you have what you need, and what you didn’t pack you can buy in Japan. (There is an www.amazon.jp, but you can’t find everything that Amazon sells in the US).
It’s so important that we have to list it twice. Try to double the amount your company tells you to bring. It sucks having to eat crappy freeze dried konbini (convenience store) ramen and onigiri when right next door is a delicious tonkotsu ramen joint…if only you had an extra 500 yen.
What essentials have you forgotten on your travels?