Whether you’re going for a semester or a summer program, figuring out how to pack is always a struggle. My personal problem was always over packing, and it wasn’t necessarily things that I actually needed. So here I’m going to give you the run down on some things that you can do/pack before you leave for Japan that I wish I’d known beforehand:
- Small gifts (omiyage): This translation means more like souvenir, and giving omiyage is a really good way to break the ice when first meeting your host family or roommate. If you’re living with a host family or roommate, it’s a really nice gesture to bring them something small, generally a token from your home town or country. I brought tee shirts from Keeneland and some Old Kentucky Chocolate, and it was cool getting to introduce a bit of my hometown! Friends also gave each other omiyage whenever they returned from their travels after holidays. For instance, a guy from my tennis team went to America for a week and brought back sweets for the whole team. Sounds cliché, but it’s really the thought that counts!
- Travel adapter: I’m sure you would have to be mindful of this for any other country, but just make sure that you have the right adapters you need for your electronics while in Japan. I didn’t really have a problem, but several of my friends had 3 pronged plugs and it was nearly impossible for them to find an outlet without using a separate adapter. Keep that in mind and maybe do a little research to see if you will need one, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
- Slip-on shoes: This is not a must have, but slip-on shoes are definitely convenient to bring to Japan. It’s customary to take off your shoes in the genkon, or entryway, of someone’s house before entering the main living space. I’m personally a fan of lace-up boots, but by the end of my stay I was forgoing those in favor of my zip-up boots. I brought good walking shoes and lace-up boots for my days out in the city, but a pair of zip-up or slip-on shoes are definitely something to consider. Especially if you’re entering a house or apartment with a group of people, you don’t want to be the one holding everyone up trying to tie/untie your shoes.
- Hand sanitizer and a handkerchief: Let me start this off by saying that Japan is a very clean place. However, more often than not the public bathrooms lacked soap or hand dryers. I’d recommend keeping a small bottle of hand sanitizer for those instances, and it doesn’t hurt to carry around a small towel or handkerchief. Sounds like an odd thing to do here in America, but it was very common for people to buy these and have on hand in Japan. To be completely honest, I’d actually recommend waiting and buying yours there; you can find a variety of really cute ones in Japan and they sell them everywhere.
- Medications: If you have allergies, I would recommend looking into bringing some allergy medication with you because I had a hard time finding it in Japan. However, you will need to cross-check your medicine to make sure that it is legal in Japan. Japan has very strict rules about what is allowed in the country, and you will need to make sure that what you’re bringing is among the legal substances. For instance, Adderall is commonly taken here in America and is illegal to have in Japan. If you need reference to see what medicines are or are not allowed in Japan, or to know steps that must be taken to get your prescriptions into Japan legally, consult the Japanese Embassy’s website https://japan.usembassy.gov/e/acs/tacs-medimport.html
- Less is more: Honestly everywhere you look is going to tell you this, and I’m telling you from experience, it’s true. It’s hard to imagine packing light for a semester, but if you can manage it I highly recommend that you do. You’ll undoubtedly find some really awesome clothes and souvenirs for your friends (or yourself) that you won’t want to leave behind or ship back to the States, so pack light and rest assured you’ll find everything you’ll need (or didn’t know you needed) in Japan!
Jillian is a senior at the University of Kentucky majoring in International Studies, focusing on the culture and arts of Asia. In the fall of 2015 she studied abroad at Akita International University in Akita, Japan.