Many years of traveling have taught me that getting your entire life packed into a suitcase is near impossible, but you can come close. The stress of moving will be tough sometimes, but don’t freak out. If you take the time to do the research you’ll be ready for what comes ahead. You just got to know how to pack, what to pack, and what you should send to yourself later.
When it comes to packing, don’t skimp on suitcases. You’re going to want something sturdy to hold your stuff inside, you’ll want it to be deep and full of extension pockets. A flimsy hold hand-me-down pack won’t work for a big move, trust me on this one. Go ahead and bite the bullet and buy something that will survive being tossed around by airport personnel. Also pro-tip on clothing packing, don’t fold your clothes; roll them up. Not only will you save space but you reduce wrinkles dramatically with the roll technique.
You’re probably worried that you’re going to forget something, or perhaps there just won’t be enough room for all your stuff. The key here is to keep your priorities straight:bring what you need and not what you want. Clothes, shoes, and medicines are always get put in first. Gifts for whoever will be your future co-workers are great ideas if you’re moving to Japan. After that, you can put in small things like jewelry, books, magazines, pictures, etc.
If you can digitize all of your media before moving, that’s a fantastic way to save space. Pictures, movies, documents, put it all on a backup drive or USB’s. Lugging around pictures on picture frames can be a great strain, and same for books. Go ahead and get an ebook app or a Kindle to save weight and space.
Before you finish packing and get moving, I highly recommend you talk to people who have lived where you’re going to live. The internet is a wonderful place full of forums and chat rooms, take advantage of them on travel sites and ask about what are the number one products or clothes you should definitely bring to your new country.
If you’re coming into Japan on JET or Interac or whatever, most likely you’ve got a predecessor whose position you’ll be taking over. These can give you the down low on how much you should save before going over, what the atmosphere is like for foreign people, weather conditions, and so much more.
I took over from a girl I’ll call L. She filled out a JET Handbook for me to read over before I arrived as well as talked to me via email and Facebook. If you have a first person account of what’s available specifically in your area then you can better prepare for the coming trials ahead. L warned me way in advance about shoe sizes in Japan and that finding my shoe size would be a headache and a half. She also told me about getting an International Driver’s Permit (I.D.P.) would be necessary to get a car, and driving was a necessity in the countryside where she lived. Thanks to her, I was able to get one before I left and rented a car while I lived in Ibaraki. She was correct 100%.
My two item recommendations for if you’re coming to Japan are 1) deodorant and 2) bras. The deodorant applies to both men and women. Unlike in the U.S.A., most deodorants are spray cans. If you manage to find a deodorant that’s a roll-on type it’s usually not that strong. If you want that 24 hour protection, buy yourself some American stuff and take it with you. Bras are for the ladies, especially if you’re anything over a C cup. Most Japanese women are A or B, so most bras are tiny. I only went bra shopping once in Japan, and it was awful. The sizes are way too small for busty ladies around the chest and the cups aren’t designed well for support.
If you can get someone reliable who can ship you boxes after you move to another country then you’re pretty much set. I’m one of those who relies more on family members, but I highly suggest that the trust goes with someone responsible. If you think a close friend is better to rely on, trust your gut and go with that person instead. Needless to say, my mother sent me a box of shoes, Lucky Charms, and Reeses a month after I settled in my new apartment. Ya know, all the essentials.
A friend of mine was really smart and packed up his gaming PC to get shipped by his brother once he got a Japanese address. Since he wasn’t on a program, he was getting his apartment by himself, so he needed to wait until he got a place to send things. He left his brother with a box, instructions for what to do, and money for shipping. If you can do something like that with bulky items that might be better than trying to stuff them into a suitcase.
But make sure you double check the country’s list of banned items and medicines before you ask people to send you things. Banned items are simple, basically the same as any other country. No explosives, flammables, guns, etc. However, the latter part can be quite tricky. Some people have been arrested for bringing over the counter medicine from America into Japan and their own prescription medication.
Up to one month’s supply of allowable prescription medicine (by Japanese law) can be brought into Japan. Travelers should bring a copy of their doctor’s prescription as well as a letter stating the purpose of the drug. Travelers who must carry more than one month’s supply (except prohibited drugs and controlled drugs), or are carrying syringes (pumps) or a CPAP machine, are required to obtain a so-called “Yakkan Shoumei”, or an import certificate in advance, and show the “Yakkan Shoumei” certificate with your prescription medicines at the Customs.
For more information about bringing medicines into Japan and how to obtain a “Yakkan Shoumei” Certificate, please visit the website of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare where you can also find an application form.
Japan is zero tolerance on drugs. Fun Fact: The Rolling Stones, former Beatles band member Paul McCartney, and Paris Hilton were denied entrance to Japan because of prior drug charges from their motherlands (Tofugu). If you are caught with drugs without a Yakken Shoumei certificate, you could face jail time and/or deportation. Do you research and make sure you’ve got all the right documents before bringing or sending medicine into a different country.
Becoming an ex-pat can be a thrilling and life changing challenge, and it’s definitely worth all the effort. The final step to this process is of course the fact that you’re going to get to unpack everything in your new home. I do the procrastinator style unpacking, wherein I sort of live out of my suitcases for about a week until I eventually get around to putting everything in its proper place. I remember sliding open the closet door and just feeling so amazed that I was actually living in a Japanese apartment. Those moments will be the ones that will make all the headaches, frustrations, and preparation worthwhile.
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