The weeks before your departure to Japan can feel like a whirlwind of activity—you might be working or studying as well as spending time with friends and family, all while preparing for your big move across the world. Rest assured, the Shimane Prefectural Advisors (PAs) are here to help make your transition as smooth as possible!
A Brief Timeline
When you are offered your placement in Shimane, your Contracting Organization (which for ALTs is your Board of Education) will begin communicating with you, as soon as they receive your Health Check and Reply Form. This usually takes place in early June for JETs arriving in the summer.
Your Contracting Organization (CO) may first contact you through your soon-to-be supervisor (usually a Japanese employee) and/or your JET predecessor who you will be replacing, most likely through an email.
You might already be in contact with your predecessor, or you may be a new JET with no predecessor—JETs with no predecessor will most likely be moving into an apartment with less furniture/appliances, so please plan your finances accordingly.
Also, your CO will most likely mail you a welcome package, containing a variety of documents such as your employment contract (“Terms and Conditions”), a Statement of Agreement (to be brought to Japan), and depending on the CO, tourist and living information about your new home.
For more information about pre-departure procedures, please consult the JET Programme General Information Handbook.
What to Bring to Japan
There are numerous rumours on the internet about what you need to bring to Japan, such as a year’s supply of toothpaste, or omiyage (souvenirs) for every single student in all of your schools. Therefore, we’ve created a PA-recommended packing list which will hopefully dispel some of these myths. Remember though—the most important thing is to pack light!
Credit card: Having a credit card from home is extremely useful in an emergency. Make sure that your credit card is either VISA or MasterCard, which are the most-accepted companies in Japan.
Japanese currency: The PAs recommend bringing anywhere from ￥250,000-￥400,000 (approx. $2000-$4000 USD) to cover one month’s worth of expenses (if you need to lease/purchase a car, please plan accordingly). Most JETs will not receive their first paycheck until a few weeks after arrival. Please confirm with your predecessor and/or CO about how much yen you will need to bring. When ordering foreign currency through your bank, keep in mind that it could take over a week for your bank to have the cash ready.
International Driver’s License/Permit: Known as an IDL or IDP, you will need one in order to drive in Japan (along with your home country’s driver’s license—make sure it is up to date). They must be purchased in your home country, so it is better to get one even if you don’t plan on driving… you may change your mind down the road! An IDP is valid for one year, after which you must switch to a Japanese driver’s license. You won’t need to worry about getting a Japanese driver’s license until you’ve settled down in Shimane for a few months.
Smartphone: Although you can purchase a phone after your arrival, it is recommended that you bring an unlocked (“SIM-free”) phone that will work in Japan. For more information, please see our page on cell phones.
Appropriate clothing: August is the hottest time of the year in Shimane, and it can get very humid! In addition, you may be surprised to learn that not all buildings in Japan are air conditioned 24/7, so having light, breathable clothing is essential. Don’t worry about packing winter clothing! Affordable clothing stores (such as Uniqlo) are readily available in Shimane, so the most important tip is to pack light. Trust us—so many JETs bring too many clothes! The only exception is if you have a larger shoe size (i.e. above a men’s US size 11 or women’s US size 8.5), as larger shoes can be hard to find in Japan, although larger sizes can be ordered online. Also, JETs with larger body types may struggle to find suitably-fitting clothes, such as underwear. The larger cities in Shimane (Matsue, Izumo and Hamada) have the best selections for clothes.
Electrical adapter: Most appliances from North American and the Caribbean will work just fine in Japan without an adapter. If you are from outside of these regions however, you will need an electrical adapter. Japan’s household outlets provide electricity at 100 volts and 50/60 hertz.
Deodorant: Although Japan has domestic types of deodorant (spray, roll-on, gel, etc.), you will most likely not find typical stick deodorant. Also, a lot of Japanese deodorants are also antiperspirants, meaning they often contain aluminum. Foreign stick deodorant (Old Spice, Irish Spring, etc.) can be purchased online, but it is best to pack 3-4 extra bars as well. In the humid heat of Japanese summer, deodorant becomes a lifesaver!
Souvenirs: In Japan, it is common to give a small souvenir (called omiyage) when meeting someone for the first time. However, omiyage can be a source of stress for new JETs, who worry about what and how much to buy. Please be reassured that your CO will not mind whatever souvenir you give to them—it really is the thought that counts. For example, food is a common form of omiyage, such as sweets, pretzels, individually wrapped caramels, cookies, flavoured popcorn, etc. (avoid bringing chocolate, as it will melt). Tea bags with a unique flavour from your home country are also a good option. It isn’t necessary to buy special items for your principal or supervisor, but having enough omiyage for 15-20 people at each of your workplaces is more than enough. Often, the care you take in wrapping, presenting and explaining the souvenir is appreciated just as much as the item itself.
Objects for show and tell: For both ALTs and CIRs, it is a good idea to have a few small items from your home country to show children when visiting schools. Examples may be a traditional costume, sports jersey, stuffed animal, small musical instrument, money from home, postcards and photos of your country, or traditional children’s games.
Stickers or rubber stamps: Japanese students love receiving stickers, stamps, and even signatures from JETs! It might be useful to bring some sets of small stickers from your home country that you can place on tests or homework. An even better option is to buy a rubber stamp that you can use, as it will not run out.
Emergency contact list: Nowadays, smartphones have a feature where you can save emergency information to your phone, and in the even of a disaster, emergency services can access that information from your phone (e.g. blood type, allergies, medical history, address, and emergency contacts). It is also a good idea to have a paper copy that you can keep in your desk at work, or in your bag when travelling.
Medication and prescriptions: The amount and type of medication (prescription or over-the-counter) that you wish to bring to Japan may be restricted. In some cases, you may have to complete a 薬監証明 (yakkan shoumei = drug approval certificate) to have the medication cleared by customs. For more information, please read “Section 1.4.7 Medication, Medical Products, Cosmetics and Medical Equipment” in the JET Programme General Information Handbook. Make sure you have a copy of any prescriptions that you may need, including for glasses/contact lenses.
What Not to Bring
Extra toothpaste: Unless you are very particular about a brand of toothpaste, you do not need to bring a year’s supply to Japan. There is a common myth that Japanese toothpaste has no/little fluoride, but nowadays there are many brands with plenty of fluoride. Check for toothpaste that says フッ素 (fusso = fluoride).
Winter clothes: As mentioned previously, you do not have to bring an abundance of winter clothes; if needed, it can always be bought in Japan or mailed to you later. Packing light will save you a great deal of hassle!
Food for students: As a rule, you should avoid giving food (including small sweets and gum) to students, as there may be a risk of choking or allergies. For students, giving stickers and stamps are much better.
For more information about what to pack, please consult the JET Programme General Information Handbook.
Finally, we have one corny recommendation for what to pack. The good news is that it both weighs and costs nothing. Please bring with you a sense of humour, a flexible attitude, a willingness to learn and a readiness to to expect the unexpected!