What to Bring to Japan: An 8-Item Checklist

May 10th, 2013By Category: Uncategorized

Moving to Japan

If you’re planning to visit Japan, there’s definitely some stuff you should and should not bring. And moving to Japan? Whoa, then you really need to consider what to stuff into your gym bag.

But not to worry! As always, Ken Seeroi is here for you, doing all that pesky thinking business so you can kick back with a margarita and relax. Here’s all you really need to know.

1. Clothes

First, carefully select your all of your best clothes and neatly pack them into two suitcases. Then put the suitcases in the trunk of your car and drive to the nearest forest. You’ll also need a can of gasoline. I guess I forgot to mention that. Then once you get there, you’re going to want to send your clothes to Fashion Heaven in a massive conflagration because no one in Japan wears stuff like that. This goes double if you’re a guy. Japanese people place an insane amount of importance on personal appearance, and what’s popular overseas is usually not popular here. So if you want to look good in Japan, buy clothes in Japan. Unless you’ve got some crazy size, like you’re super fat or much over six feet tall, in which case, okay, you shouldn’t have burned your clothes. Sorry about that.

2. Shoes

Men six-foot-one or less won’t have trouble finding clothes that fit, unless they’re bulky. The same is probably true for women of average sizes, albeit my research is limited to rifling through your drawers and closets while you’re in the shower. But shoes are another matter. Men’s shoes top out at about 10.5 or 11 in most stores, so if your feet are bigger than that, you’re going to have to bring shoes, and ones that match Japanese fashions. Yeah, I know, it’s a conundrum.

3. Medicine

You know how you can go to a 7-11 in the U.S. and get some Tylenol and Tums? Well, you can’t do that in Japan. I don’t know why. You can buy a fifth of whiskey, cigarettes, and the weak Japanese equivalent of Playboy twenty-four hours a day, but you can’t get one freaking bottle of aspirin. You can get yourself into trouble, but you can’t get yourself out. It’s weird.

Now, you can go to a specialized “drug store” and get all that stuff. The problem is that, once you wake up at 3 a.m. with the flu and a temperature of 106, finding an open drug store is going to be your own private hell on earth. But what are the chances that you’ll get the flu? I mean, it’s not like you’re riding on packed trains with ten thousand sick people a day.

So I’d bring the cough syrup, pain killer, and antacid of your choice. Personally, I like Alka-Seltzer Cold and Cough for just about everything, including hangovers, but that’ s just me.

4. Illegal Drugs

I know a dude, let’s just call him Jacob, since that’s his name, who majored in Japanese in college, got to the point where he could speak it pretty well, then interviewed and landed a job in Tokyo. You can probably guess where this is going. After three months of teaching English, dating girls, and basically living the dream, Jacob got himself busted at a party for smoking pot. He was immediately deported, and his first email from the U.S. contained only one line: “I’ve ruined my life.”

Look, it isn’t easy getting to Japan. Even coming for a visit takes a nice stack of cash, and moving here is a major ordeal of securing a job, a visa, and an apartment. Then you do one thing wrong and Boom, you’re back on a plane to your home country. Japan isn’t cool with drugs. Me personally, I’ve got no beef with however you want to live your life, but know that you are taking an enormous risk in using any kind of illegal drugs in Japan. And carrying them through customs?—Man, you’re on your own with that one.

If you do drugs, then let me tell you how you’ll get busted. Think about if you were at a party with like a famous actor or a basketball player or something. And then all of a sudden he fired up a crack pipe or started making out with this cross-dressing prostitute or something. Like something amazing you couldn’t believe. Would you tell anyone? Hell yeah, you would! You’d be one the phone all your friends, like, “Guess who I saw smoking crack and making out with a transvestite!”

Well, that’s basically you in Japan. You stand out, and whatever you do, people will talk about it. And like the Breck syndrome, they’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and pretty soon a couple of detectives come knocking on your door. This is true of drugs, but it’s also true of other things in general. I hate to say it, but don’t share secrets with Japanese people. It’s not their fault. You’re just too damned interesting.

5. Food

One of the main reasons I came to Japan was for the food, so whenever I travel to the U.S., I take a suitcase full of dry natto, umeboshi, and katsuo-bushi, just to confound the customs officers, if for no other reason. But most people aren’t me. I’ve learned that. So you’re probably going to want to bring whatever Captain Crunch or Nestle’s Quick you can’t live without. Bear in mind, of course, that Japan is a well-developed, international country, so you can fulfill your desire for a bag of tortilla chips bigger than your apartment and a block of cheese the size of a human head at CostCo.

6. Toiletries

Japan has an astonishing array of soaps, hair-care, and skin-care products, so why anyone would want to bring their own is a mystery to me, but some people do. I guess if you’re crazy about your Crest with Triple Whitening Action you’d better bring it, but honestly, you can probably find the same or better here.

7. The Internet

Okay, you can’t really bring this, but you’re going to have to deal with it right away, so let me tell you what little I know. First of all, Japan has very limited free Wi-Fi, so don’t expect to find a hotspot pretty much anywhere. Secondly, don’t buy a landline internet connection when you move into your apartment. Instead, get a smartphone and tether it. Japan has LTE, which is pretty blazing fast, and then you can use your PC at home, at work, in the izakaya, anywhere. To do so, you’re either going to need a Japanese smartphone, or somehow get your smartphone to work in this country, but you’d need to do that anyway. Another option is a wireless modem, like a personal hotspot. I had one of those for a while, and it worked great too, but now that I’ve got an iPhone 5, it does double duty as a modem as well. Pretty amazing technology, really.

8. Books and Magazines

The thing about paper is, it’s heavy. So you’re gonna want to think twice about bringing your leather-bound Chronicles of Narnia collection. On the other hand, the range of English-language books and periodicals is fairly limited in Japan, so if there’s something you really want to read, maybe you should bring it or figure out how to download it to a Kindle or something.

That’s About It…

Honestly, about 90 percent of what I brought to Japan eventually ended up in the trash within a year. I brought three suits and a couple pairs of cool jeans that turned out to be way out of style, not that I had a clue at first. I thought they looked good. And all of the expensive shirts and ties I brought—jeez, what was I thinking? If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t spend a yen on clothes before I left; I’d just come with a pocketful of cash and an empty suitcase, then go straight to the first UNIQLO when I got off the plane. Honestly, you could probably come to Japan with no suitcases at all. Now that would be cool.

Author of this article

Ken Seeroi

I'm that guy who writes JapaneseRuleof7, bringing knowledge to your brain straight from Japan. My writings are mostly humor mixed with social commentary, plus an occasional foray into language education.

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  • leslie nguyen says:

    Oh darn it! I was hoping to avoid bringing any clothes and shoes! Just my luck! Those luggages can get heavy like whoa. Hope to not get sick to avoid that medicine finding. Wow to Jacob! But hey, it happens. The fact of the matter is, people talk and that’s not going to stop let alone being too interesting. Take notes folks. Kudos to Costco. For me, I’m picky about deodorant, mouthwash and acne products so those might be a struggle to find in Japan. I was wondering about the internet especially about getting a converter for the wattage differences.

  • Kerensa says:

    I don’t agree with the internet portion of this article. Perhaps the majority of people reading this don’t plan on spending a lot of time online. I know that some providers here in Japan have a monthly limit on the amount of packets (data) you can use per month. I go through Docomo and I have a monthly limit. It would not handle my movie and television streaming; nor would it be able to handle the gaming I find myself doing from time to time.

    If you don’t plan on spending too much time online and you don’t need a fast connection for the streaming of movies or television shows, playing games or even Skype, then yeah. The tethering option is probably best for you.

    I work long days, go to the gym, practice kendo and I go home. I still find time in the morning or sometimes when I get home after work to relax in front of the laptop watching some movie on Netflix or Hulu (Hola Unblocker is amazing).

    As for medicine, be careful. Some of the stuff you buy in America is illegal in Japan and you need a “prescription” to have it (e.g. Loxonin which is essentially Ibuprofen). When I stayed in the hospital for my surgery they prescribed me Loxonin and wouldn’t even let me keep it because they didn’t want me to “take too many”. I had to call the nurse when I wanted my whopping 120mg of Loxonin (because they refused to give me any more than that).

    Sometimes at the airport they will check your baggage and if they find Aleve or Ibuprofen or even more than one box of tampons they will confiscate it. Yes. Japan confiscated my tampons claiming I had “too many medical devices”. So, be careful.

  • SO true about medicine. In UK a pack of 30 Paracetamol or Ibuprofen costs (at a supermarket) about 40p. Yes that cheap in UK! I’m told even the US can’t match that! In Japan, its like almost 1000 Yen which is about 6 pounds and not even in convenience stores! Ridiculous.