Firstly, congratulations guys! Well done for acing your interview and writing a killer application essay.
Now you’re about to jet off to Japan, and maybe you’re freaking out about your placement (assuming you even know where it is) or feeling overwhelmed at your pile of ‘things you want to bring but it doesn’t really seem feasible’ (guys: you don’t need fifty billion suits, and ladies: leave the thousand handbags at home).
So this article is to give you an idea of what you should bring with you and what you should pack up in a box and leave in the shed . . . I mean do you really need to bring that giant silk album filled with family photos?
Five things you MUST bring to Japan (focusing mainly on the workplace).
- A nice suit or at least a blazer
- Ladies, Japan is quite conservative so no cleavage-revealing or sleeveless tops. Short sleeves are totally okay; however, remember you’re coming in summer so bring tops that breathe (i.e. not silk or polyester).
- Don’t go too crazy with bold, fluorescent-coloured tops or dresses. They might be looked at with raised eyebrows by your colleagues.
- Cotton-collared polo shirts are great for summer (but wait till you see another teacher wearing it before you wear one).
- No shorts at the workplace, and make sure those dresses or skirts are knee-length (unless you are willing to wear tights as well).
- Minimum one suit and a few business shirts
- Cotton polo shirts with collars are okay for summer (but wait at least a week before wearing it and only if the other male teachers are wearing them)
- Leave the black ties at home. They’re only worn at funerals. If you have a white one, they’re good for graduations and other important ceremonies, but if you don’t that’s fine: a navy tie or something similar will do.
- No T-shirts at work boys: they look really unprofessional. (Unless you get the A-OK from your supervisor.)
Ladies and gents, nearly every school (and I’m talking 99% of Japanese schools) will have indoor and outdoor shoes. I would have sneakers/runners for outdoor shoes and bring comfortable indoor shoes (you’ll be wearing these often so make sure they’re super comfy . . . but ermmm leave the fluffy slippers for your apartment).
The thing to remember is the floors at some of these schools are slippery as. So your indoor shoes need to have good grip, and yes, you can wear sneakers indoors even if it clashes with your outfit. Everyone understands, since comfort wins out over fashion. Another thing to note is your indoor shoes need to be clean and practically brand-new (I would avoid white shoes since they get pretty messy quickly).
How many pairs of shoes should you bring? Well, girls: if you have feet bigger than size 8, you might want to bring a few pairs. It’ll be hard finding anything bigger (if you’re lucky to have the chain store Shimamura near your house, then you’ll find bigger shoes, clothes and undergarments). Guys, same thing for you: if you have medium-sized feet you’re okay, but anything bigger and you might be struggling to find shoes.
If your suitcase is nearly full, then you have the option of shopping online, so you’ll be alright.
3. Omiyage (gifts for people)
Gifts for people??? Say whatttt?? If you’ve never been to Japan before, then you might not be aware that gifts for your superiors are the norm. But who to give them to? And what should you bring?? Don’t stress: you don’t need to raid the nearest souvenir shop, because some of the best gifts can be found in your local Woolies.
Who and what to give:
- Your supervisor (by the way, this person will be your lifesaver, so you should build a good rapport with them straight away . . . how to do this? Well that’s a subject for another post). You should get them something quite nice: a tea towel with Aussie animals (souvenir shops for like five bucks), maybe a jar of Australian honey, or you could even buy a mug and fill it up with some Milky Ways/Cherry Ripes/Crunchies/Maltesers (chocolates you can’t get in Japan).
- Principal/Kouchou–sensei: Doesn’t have to be elaborate, a jar of Australian honey will also do. If you have multiple schools, try to get one for each school. If you’re going to a lot of schools, then only get one for your base school.
- Deputy principal/Kyoutou-sensei: same situation as above.
- JTEs: You might have heaps, so their gifts will be much smaller: a bag of Caramello Koalas is enough and just give them one each.
Be discreet with these gifts, however: they shouldn’t be given in front of other teachers . . . feelings get hurt. And you might think you’re being a genius, but don’t give Vegemite as gifts: many Japanese people hate that stuff.
If you only have one base school, I would also recommend buying a simple English picture book to give to the school’s librarian. You can buy these really cheap at bookstores and they should be Australian-related if possible. Make sure the language in the book is simple too, even if you’re based in a senior high school.
Of course you’re going to bring money, but how much? Most high school ALTs will get paid around the 15th/16th of the month, so you might only need enough money to last a couple of weeks, but if you’re in a junior high school or elementary school you might not get paid till the end of the month.
There’ll also be situations where your apartment is completely unfurnished or you might have to pay for a bond, so put a spare $500 away for emergency money.
As for spending . . . well, that depends on you. If you can get familiar with your local supermarket, then you’ll save so much more. If you intend to go out for meals and splurge, bring thousands with you because that money will disappear before you know it.
Also, there is a strong possibility you will have to pay for your Tokyo accommodation first and be reimbursed later (it might take a month or so as well), so be prepared to fork out a few hundred dollars in the first week.
Take into consideration that you might need to get a phone, internet and maybe your own car or bike, so that adds up too. Again, if you’re lucky you might get these for free.
I would say at an absolute minimum you should be aiming to bring about $1500, but you’ll need to be strict with your spending until you get your first paycheck.
5. A good attitude and an open mind
Again, this seems like a no-brainer, but you might have this pre-conceived notion of what living in Japan will be like. Remember that visiting Japan as a tourist is different from living in Japan, but if you have visited Japan then you have a little bit of an advantage.
It’s a different culture, and as obvious as it sounds: be respectful of where you are and what you are doing. Walk in with an open mind and a positive attitude and you’ll be alright.
What to leave at home (Don’t worry—this list won’t be as long, hahaha)
- Winter clothes. Unless you are really worried that you won’t be able to fit into Japanese clothes, then forget that stuff. Plus, the Aussie winter doesn’t even compare to the Japanese winter, so your winter clothes are pretty useless.
- Clothes that don’t breathe. It’ll be super hot and humid, so expect to sweat (unless you’re fortunate enough to be placed in Hokkaido, in which case you’ll get lovely cool summers but crazy cold winters).
- Tons of mementos. Of course we get homesick, but if your suitcase is full of knick-knacks from home, you might want to consider jettisoning some of that stuff. Remember you can always ask your family or friends to bring items over when they visit, or have them sent if you really miss them.
- Stereotypes, negativity and high expectations. Just because you watched a few anime and maybe a documentary about Mt Fuji, don’t assume that you know Japan that well. This country will surprise you in both good and bad ways. Don’t assume it will be easy and you’ll be able to adapt easily. Also, don’t play the comparison game (aka “But that ALT has such and such . . . why don’t I have that?”) because it will ruin the experience for you.
I hope this article has helped you with your packing situation. If you do decide to send some stuff to Japan beforehand I would recommend sending boxes instead of a suitcase. It’ll be cheaper, and you won’t need two suitcases in Japan.
If you want to know more about what to do expect on your first day at work, then stay tuned.
Congratulations again. If everything seems overwhelming, take a moment to breathe and go do something else for a few minutes: go have a cup of tea or a beer. Then come back and continue packing. You’ve got this!