When you’ve made the big decision to move to Japan one big obstacle is packing and figuring out what exactly you need for your upcoming adventure. Everyone has their own list of necessities, but here are some of the things I suggest bringing – and reasons why.
I know, it’s definitely easier said than done, and as someone who saves pretty much everything (sentimental value!), I can assure you that packing for my move was not an easy task. I’m sure everyone will tell you to pack light, and I can honestly say I regret not doing so. You’re moving to Japan; a first world country with conveniences comparable, or more than what you’re used to. So don’t worry about packing bulky things that you can easily purchase there, like shampoo, body wash or numerous towels.
Bring a select number of things that are important to you, and that you’re going to use. You’ll thank yourself when you get to your tiny apartment (because let’s face it, Japanese living spaces are not at all large) and can find a place to put everything. Living there you’ll accumulate a bunch of stuff too, so you’ll be happier if you ever move away to have less to deal with. Garbage in Japan is a pain (we’ll get to that later, though).
Toiletries & Medicine
The number one item that you should pack for your life in Japan is deodorant (or antiperspirant). Japanese deodorants are often not terribly effective for foreign bodies, and the majority of them don’t include aluminum. So while there are deodorants you can find that may be effective, do you really want to spend your free time searching for deodorant? Japanese summers are hot and humid, so there’s no doubt that you’ll need it.
When it comes to most other toiletries, you should have no problem finding something you like in Japan. There’s a great range of body washes, facial cleansers, shampoos and conditioners, and oral hygiene products.
You will not find a wide selection of over the counter cold or pain relief medicine in Japan. A good majority of Japanese people go to the doctor for prescription medication, even for common viruses like like colds. They do have a lot of great products for gastrointestinal problems though! Note that medicine with stimulants or Codeine in them are illegal in Japan. Prescription medication that contain hallucinogenic, narcotics, or psychotropic drugs are not allowed. More information on both prescription and non-prescription medicine can be found here.
Japanese outlets are similar to outlets in North America, except they usually don’t have the third hole for the grounding prong. The standard voltage used in homes there is 100 volts, whereas North America is 120 volts. I didn’t bring a lot of electronics with me, but I didn’t encounter any problems. I did bring one conversion plug, which I used for my laptop. One thing that you might want to watch out for is that some electronics, like a blow dryer, may run without a converter, but will be weak or slower than normal.
Batteries are extremely easy to get in Japan, as they are sold at every convenience store, and there’s pretty much one on every corner. Don’t worry about loading up on them. You will not need to.
Many people have asked me if they should exchange money before they go to Japan, and if so, how much should they bring. I would definitely recommend bringing some yen with you, especially for when you first arrive and you’re trying to get your bearings. Cash is used a lot in Japan, especially in comparison to other countries, like Canada, where we tend to either put everything on a credit card, or use debit. There are still a lot of places in Japan that will not accept credit card, and getting money out of your bank back home can prove to be quite a test, especially when you’re in a rush. If you do need an ATM to take out money, go to the post office or the 7/11.
How much is always a difficult question. I don’t really like travelling with a lot of cash on me, mostly because I’m paranoid that I’ll lose it, but I would recommend at the very least 70,000 yen (around $700). That should be enough to cover transportation when you get there, food, and a few extras for at least a week or so. Then in your first week you can find an ATM to take out more.
Makeup & Girl StuffJapan has a plethora of makeup, and you can also find many foreign brands. I wouldn’t worry too much about packing all the makeup you own in fear of not finding anything good there, because the chances of that happening are slim. The only makeup product I made sure to bring from Canada was concealer, but only because finding one that matched my ridiculously pale skin proved to be a bit difficult.
Boys might want to jump to the next bit, because we’re moving into feminine products. Before I left for Japan, I kept being told to load up on tampons because there are none in Japan. This is completely false. You can definitely buy tampons in Japan, I did for five years. A lot of my foreign friends have said that they’re different, but I honestly didn’t notice it. They’re a bit smaller than North American brands. You won’t have any problems getting sanitary napkins, but don’t expect to find your favourite brands. The brands there are comparable, though. I also noticed that the number included in packages seemed smaller, or maybe we just have everything in giant quantities in Canada.
A lot of this depends on what your typical size is, and while a lot of Japanese clothing tends to be on the smaller side, there are people of all sizes in Japan, so even if you have to look harder, there should be something there for you. I’m usually a S or M in Canada, but in Japan I was almost always a M or L. I like my sleeves and pant legs a bit on the longer side, and I found that with sizes from Japan, the sleeves fit, but weren’t as long as I generally prefer. I also found that shorts were very short.
If you have big feet plan on packing a decent collection of shoes. I’m a size 8 in Canadian / US sizes, and I often had a hard time finding shoes that I thought fit comfortably. Not to mention I always had to look in the L or LL sections of the shoe stores, which can be a bit disheartening when it’s not something you’re used to.
Take a look at the average temperatures for where you’re going in Japan. I lived in Nagoya, which is pretty central, and I found that summers were very hot and humid, but winters weren’t too cold. It rarely went below zero degrees. The heating, air conditioning, and insulation situation in Japan isn’t very good, unless you’re in a public area (like a mall), so keep that in mind when you’re choosing your wardrobe!
Comforts from Home
Whether you’ve been to Japan before or not, your first little while there is always filled with new adventures and experiences. It’s no small task to pack up your life, and move to a completely new country and culture, so don’t be hard on yourself if you find that you’re missing a few things from back home.
Bringing a couple of items to get you through the adjustment phase is always a good idea. Snacks rank high on the list, especially if you don’t speak Japanese and aren’t too keen on trying things with questionable pictures on the packaging.
My good friend Nelske also had the opportunity to live and work in Japan, so I asked her what she would bring. One of her suggestions was a book or magazine in your native language, which is a great idea. When you’re surrounded by a language that’s not your own, it tends to get a bit exhausting. Having something to read in the language that you’re most comfortable in can really help you to relax. In the same vein, if you’re a musician or an artist, bringing something that will help you with that outlet can make your transition a lot easier.
One of the first big things I bought in Japan was a digital piano, because it was important to me. I brought my books so that I could play, and sometimes, especially around Christmas, I found it really calming to have something like that to go to. Just because you’re starting a new life, doesn’t mean you have to give up all the things you liked from your old one!
Omiyage is Japanese for souvenir, and souvenir giving is a big thing in Japan. If you’re joining a company in Japan, it’s a good idea to bring a little something from home to share with your new co-workers or boss. Food is by far the number one souvenir given and received. Don’t feel like you have to go too over the top when you’re bringing it from a foreign country. I brought maple cookies from Canada with me, and they were always a bit hit.
So there you have it; a guide to what I would recommend bringing to Japan. One last thing to remember is that you’ll accumulate a lot of things living in Japan, so whatever you bring over, you’ll likely have twice as much to bring back.
What are your must have items for moving overseas?