This is the companion to Andrew’s post tailored especially for the ladies. But it is not all-inclusive so if you are preparing to leave the country please refer to the “Manly Edition” as well. It has all the important technology-related information you will need. Also check out this post from a fellow blogger on how to prepare for Japan.
Cash – American banks will stick it to you every chance they get with a fee for use outside of the US. You can avoid extra fees by withdrawing a large amount to start when you arrive. Unless you have a Citibank card the only Japanese ATMs that will work with American debit cards are at 7-11. Carrying around a lot of cash may feel odd and a bit nerve-wracking, but Japan is extremely safe and if you lose your wallet people are more likely to turn it in to a lost and found than steal it. We were able to get a credit card that doesn’t charge fees for international transactions however a majority of your transactions in Japan will be in cash. Until you have a Japanese bank account you will need to get cash from your American bank. Make sure you notify all of your financial institutions about being out of the country before you go!
Bath towel – Bring at least one towel you really like, preferably in a neutral color. My white towels always look dirty and the dark towels show all the lint you can’t get rid of because you don’t have a dryer. I would recommend brown or gray. It is good to have two in the apartment since the towel from the morning may not always be dry by the next day.
Hand towels – Japanese don’t use paper towels, everyone carries around a hand towel. They are very cheap here but why spend money if you already have a couple at home.
Sheets – I packed one set of queen sheets with a fitted sheet, flat sheet and two pillowcases. The fitted sheet can fit over any futon. I’m glad I have at least one temporary set. If you are coming in the winter, especially in Northern Japan, I recommend flannel sheets. Without central heat it gets ridiculously cold at night. All kinds of sheets are available in Japan, but it will save you some coin and some trouble if you have a set before you settle into your new apartment.
Power strips – You will need more plugs than are available in your apartment. Power strips are available in Japan but they will not have a grounded plug slot. I would recommend bringing them from America. I brought 3, one for the kitchen, one for the desk and one for the bedroom.
Grounded plug (three prong) to two prong adapaters – Japan uses the two prong 110v. You can pick these adapters up at Home Depot or your local equivalent for about 80cents each. I would bring one for each power strip you bring.
An e-reader of some sort – English books are very hard to find in Japan, and are expensive when you do. iPad’s are expensive here as well, so purchase one in the states if you need it. Otherwise a Kindle will work great.
Dictionary and phrase book – this is obvious if you don’t speak Japanese. Download these on your e-reader to save space. Google translate also helps if you have an iPad/iPod touch or iPhone. Translate and save some useful phrases while connected to wifi for off-line use.
Etiquette book – The Japanese have very strong feelings about etiquette and personal conduct. Get to know the ins and outs before starting a job. Trial by fire is not the best way to learn etiquette rules. I read Etiquette Guide to Japan by Boye Lafayette De Mente and found it very interesting, plus it’s available in the Kindle store.
Medicine: Before leaving, I read that Japanese over-the-counter meds were considered weak and virtually ineffective compared to the drugs we’re used to. Now that I have lived here for a year and gotten sick more than once, I can attest that this is true, especially since no drugs here are allowed to contain pseudoephedrine. I have had two care-packages sent to me, and both times I asked for medicine. Here’s the things you can’t get over the counter in Japan that you may need at some point:
Cold medicine– no DayQuil, NyQuil, Sudafed, or even decent cough drops exist in Japan. Bring plenty of all (although they are technically contraband, so keep the contents of your suitcase to yourself).
Bladder infection meds– there is no OTC pain relief like the awesome AZO tablets in the states, so stock up if you suffer from these occasionally. The actual antibiotics will have to be prescribed by a doctor here in Japan, but they gave me a prescription no problem, and it was only $7.
Yeast infection suppositories– Back home, you can walk into any drugstore and treat a yeast infection in a jiffy. Treatment is definitely not available OTC here, so grab a Monistat kit just in case.
Prilosec- I am prone to stomach acid issues, so an occasional course of Prilosec is necessary for me. Similar drugs may be available, but not OTC, so it’s easier to bring this with you.
Birth control– The only BC options in Japan are pills and IUD. You won’t be given an option of which brand of pills, so if you use something specific, try to bring as much as you’ll need. The doctor will also only prescribe you one month of pills at a time, making you come back each month for a new prescription. If you plan on being in Japan longer than a year, you may want to go straight for the IUD. You can do this before you come, or have it done in Japan. It is actually cheaper in Japan, but the procedure may be in Japanese, and therefore a bit more unsettling.
Stomach relief– A lot of Japanese medicine is in powder form, and not the kind that you mix with water and drink. It’s non-soluble, so you have to dump it in your mouth and chug down with a swig of water. Yuck. It is usually not too pleasant tasting, as it is often a concoction of “Chinese herbs.” For the occasional upset stomach, there is nothing like Pepto Bismal that we have found. I recommend packing a bottle or even some chewable tablets.
Rain gear – Waterproof backpack, waterproof shoes, rain pants and jacket. It will be the worst day of your life when your dress clothes, computer and shoes are all soaked through from a たいふん（taifūn).
School shoes – A brand new pair of shoes that haven’t been worn at all. They can be comfortable athletic shoes, Chuck Taylor’s or dress shoes, it doesn’t matter; the shoes just have to be indoor use only. For some reason, the custom of removing one’s shoes when entering a home was applied to entering a school. Most of the teachers wear their suits or dresses with tennis shoes. You will think it looks weird, but nobody notices. You will be standing in them all day, so get something comfortable, not necessarily cute. I picked up some once I got to Japan, but shoe sizing can be tricky for any woman over a size 7. I would have brought a pair from home if I had known. Slip-ons will also make your life easier, since you take them on and off a lot. If you get crazy foot pain like me, bring your orthodics. If you haven’t had a job where you’re on your feet all the time, invest in some gel insoles. Dr. Scholl’s for women are great.
Shoes in general– Almost all Japanese shoe stores max out at 24.5 cm (measured by the length of your foot in cenitmeters). This is pretty small! I am a size 25 1/2 to 26 in Japan, and I can only buy shoes at stores designated for “large” people. These stores only really exist in Tokyo, so if you live anywhere else, shoe shopping will be impossible. Bring only what you need, but make sure to bring shoes for all seasons: sandals, waterproof active shoes, snow boots, dress shoes, and a pair of your favorite heels.
Formal clothes (suits, ties, dress shirts etc.) – Most of the teachers in Japan dress very formally, and since you are a brand new teacher you are expected to be as formal if not more formal than the other teachers at your school. Women have a little more leeway for dress clothes but you will need to bring outfits that you can dress up with a jacket and nice slacks. No denim. If the principle or other teachers think you look unprofessional it is unlikely that they will tell you. They will tell your boss so as not to embarrass you. I bought some nice jackets, and pants suits work of course. Japanese women do not go in for low necklines, so keep it modest. Plus, you will be leaning over to help students, and you definitely do not need teenage boys staring down your blouse. If you have any cowl necks or shirts that drape, be sure to wear solid tank tops underneath. Sleeveless shirts are also not proper either, so bring some cardigans or shrugs to dress them up during the summer. As with the shoes, if you are anything larger than a petite Japanese woman, you might have to shop at “large” stores. Even for slim folks, if you are over 5’5″ pants will always be too short. Pants are the only item I wish I had brought more of. T-shirts and sweaters are easy to size and try on. Shorts don’t matter much on the length, but good pants are hard to find. Bring various business professional colors so you have some variety in your wardrobe. Dresses are a good idea since they will keep you cool in the summer, just be thoughtful as to appropriate length and style. With all your clothing choices, consider things that are nylon-blends, moisture-wicking and dry-tech. These will be a boon to you in the humidity, as well as being easier to dry. You will not have a dryer or an iron most likely, so things that dry easily and don’t need pressing should take priority in your packing decisions.
Bras: If you are anything C-cup and over, bring plenty of bras. Even back home, I can only buy bras at one place, Nordstrom. I expected never to do any bra shopping in Japan, but I did find one store here in Japan that accommodated larger ladies, Peach John. The sizes topped out at US 32E and F, so if you have a larger band width, you may be out of luck. Even the smaller sizes in Japan are ridiculously frilly and contain non-removable padding, so it’s best to stock up at home. Comfort and modesty are keys for working at school. You may be participating in sports activities, so bring a good sports bra too.
Lint roller: You can buy these anywhere in Japan, but it’s nice to have one with you during your first week. I brought a mini one to save space. Without a dryer in the apartment the lint will pile up and the lint roller will become indispensible. I keep a small one at work for touch-ups. Wet naps are also a good investment, since they are good for so many things like make-up removal, sticky hands, and also wiping off chalk dust from your classrooms.
Hair and makeup stuff – Bring your important items like brushes, favorite foundation, eye shadows and lipstick (but I would shy away from any outlandish colors at school, nude lipsticks if you absolutely must). Don’t bother loading up your baggage with bottles of shampoo and lotion since all that is readily available. Makeup is everywhere, as are blow dryers, which I suggest you buy when you get here. I brought mine from home and it has not worked as well as it did in the states. Japanese voltage is different, and my dryer never gets as hot as it should. If you have a hair dryer you can’t part with, realize it will take up a lot of space in your suitcase. Good toiletries are widely available here. There are even Lush stores in Japan, which is fantastic since all the products are the same, and usually with the same English names.
Hair dye– This is a hard one. If you are like me and have lightened blonde hair, you will have a hard time maintaining it in Japan. Since there are no blondes here, the application of “highlights” is not as widely practiced outside of a few salons in Tokyo. I did find a stylist who understood highlights and lowlights, but unfortunately I met her after another salon simply bleached my roots when I asked for highlights. If you do any coloring to your hair, talk to your stylist before you leave. Ask how to maintain it, and what to do if it goes wrong. Ask for recommendations on a decent boxed hair dye that you can bring with you. Boxed dye is available in Japan, but it is chemically designed for Japanese hair, which is indeed different than caucasian hair. It may seem extremely weak or just plain ineffective, plus all the “blonde” boxes I saw contained bleach. What I should have done, and recommend to you is to have your stylist at home return your hair to as close to your natural color as you can get. This way you will not have to worry about all the things that could go wrong at a salon in Japan. Coloring is less expensive in Japan, around $50, but why bother if you can save that money? The Japanese are great at haircuts however, so just make sure you have some pictures of your preferred hairstyle to show them.
Jewelry – If you take a job working with preschoolers or even elementary students, wearing jewelry is usually an accident waiting to happen. Even in junior high school, I haven’t seen the Japanese teachers wear much jewelry. Of course a simple necklace in junior high is okay, but keep Japanese culture in mind. Jewelry is nice to wear outside of school though, so bring a little for when you want to feel dressed up.
Comfort items: these are those personal items that make you feel better, so it’s up to you. It could be a teddy bear, I won’t judge. Personally, I brought my down sleeping pillow and it was one of the best packing decisions I made. I strapped it to my carry on and it came in handy at the airport, on the airplane, at the train station, on the train, at the hotel, at my company’s training facility, and at my apartment. I am also very particular about my pillows, so I didn’t want to leave that item to chance in another country. Your sleep is important! For me, life is not complete without a throw blanket. I picked one up once I settled in, but if you have room it wouldn’t hurt to pack yourself a nice small, soft, warm, fuzzy blanket. Sounds comforting right?
Don’t bother with bringing these:
Cell phone – It won’t work with Japan’s towers. The cell phone companies won’t give you a plan even if it does. If you have to break your contract in America and incur the ridiculously expensive cancellation fee like I did, look into having someone take over your contract before you leave. Sprint makes you wait at least 24 hours to switch ownership, so don’t wait until you are oversees, since the time difference will make it much more difficult to coordinate a three-way call with the new owner. Or make sure you don’t renew your contract before you plan to leave so you won’t have cancellation fees. An upgraded phone you can’t use won’t be cool anymore
Food – Don’t waste precious room in your suitcase on food items. A few snacks for the plane trip is a good idea, but leave the specialized food for your friends/family to send you via care-package.