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Congratulations! You have been accepted to study abroad in Japan. You are working hard with your university Study Abroad Department (Office) in your home country to make sure you have everything you need: visa, contacts, housing (or homestay), classes, credit transfers, etc. You are full of emotions – ranging from excitement to nervousness on any given day.
Questions are constantly coming to mind. For example, “Will I be able to speak the language?”, “How do I get from here to there?”, “What if I get lost?”, “What is the transportation system like?”, “What if I don’t like the food?” and “How do I make new friends?”
School starts in April. You are arriving in March for orientation. It is February now, and you are starting to think, “What do I need to pack?” and “What will I need to know when I arrive to Japan?” You’ve been to the study abroad orientation at your university. Now, you have a long list of required and recommended items to buy and pack. You look at your suitcases and think, “Really, I need all of that?” and “How will it all fit?”
This is the first article in a “How-To” Survival Guide Series for your First Time in Japan.
Packing for your Study Abroad Life
First, I want to say, I have been in your shoes. These are a few tips I wished someone had told me before I arrived to Japan for the first time. When looking at your luggage, there are some important things to know.
- Key Items to Pack: Think through the LONG list of items your study abroad office provides you. Decide if all those things are actually something you need, can buy in Japan or do not need (for you). My mother literally went through the entire list and bought everything – even the recommended items. I came to Japan with two rolls of toilet paper in my luggage. Yes, you may be laughing about now. However, I did. Of course, she also shoved toilet paper rolls in the corners of my luggage when I studied in a developing country. However, Japan is a modern country. It is true that the toilet paper is not as soft as the United States which is where I am from. However, it is easily and readily available for purchase. The space and added weight could have been used for something more important.
- Must Have Carry-on Items: Pack your visa papers, passport, important school documents, prescription medicine, valuables, electronics (phone, laptop, tablet) and at least one to two days of clothes in your backpack or carry-on luggage. Do not put them in your suitcases that will be “checked” as you will not see that luggage until AFTER you go through Japanese immigration.
You will need all your important documents with you to go through immigration. Also, you will need your passport to complete the immigration and custom’s paperwork/forms that will be given to you on the airplane by the airline steward or stewardess.
- Clothes: You should pack one to two days of clothes in your backpack or carry-on as you can bring that bag with you on the train or in the bus to your final destination within Japan. If you use a shipping (delivery) service to send your larger luggage to your final destination within Japan called宅配便
“takuhaibin,” you will take time to open and pull out clothes in a larger space where there are many people around. Also, if you are transiting through different airports to arrive into Japan, this would eliminate any issues if your luggage is delayed or lost by the airline.
- Writing Pens: Make sure you also have a BLUE or BLACK pen in your carry-on that will be readily available. You will need it to complete Japanese immigration/customs forms. This will save you time when you land in Japan. Airlines do NOT provide any pens, so it is best to have one unless you can borrow from another person sitting next to you. Many people sleep on the airplane, so it is no guarantee that the person next to you will be able to assist you. Note: If you do not have the forms completed, you will need to stand at a table and complete them BEFORE entering the line for immigration.
- Gifts: In Japan, it is customary to give a little something from you to those you will meet and assist you. You should expect to give gifts to a host family, international student exchange office staff, people you meet that will help you, etc. These items do not need to be large or expensive. However, it is important to give something. Think of things visitors to your home country buy. It is a great way to think of what to bring to represent who you are and where you are from to the people you meet in Japan. Easy items to bring are: magnets, postcards, picture frames and food that is acceptable to enter Japan. Buy things that are non-breakable or easy to pack. Plan ahead and prepare to bring several items. You will meet many people in your first days/weeks/months in Japan. So, it is always best to have a few extra items in your luggage.
- Cash: In Japan, you need to prepare to have currency with you. The currency of Japan is Yen (¥). Although your country may use other forms of payment such as a credit card, Japanese people still use Yen as their primary form of payment. In the airport, you will see many businesses using credit cards. However, be prepared that outside the airport, you will need to have cash. Restaurants, smaller businesses and transportation (such as taxis) will have a tendency to use Yen (cash). Smaller cities away from the metropolitan cities of Tokyo, Osaka or Kobe will also use more cash options.
Note: Items and food cost more in Japan than other countries. Research and prepare to bring enough Yen to cover your living expenses until you have time to set up a local bank account.
- Seat Location: When purchasing your airline ticket, try and confirm a seat closer to the front of the airplane. Airlines deboard the plane from the front to back. It is best to be as close to the front of the plane as possible in order that you can be one of the first people off and get to the immigration line quicker. (See Immigration and Customs Section for further information.)
- Luggage Permitted: Airlines have changed their policies to limit “checked” luggage per person. The weight limit on each bag for economy class is 23 kg (50 lbs). However, each airline is different. If you have a premium seat or are a mileage member, you may be eligible for a larger size bag (32 kg or 70 libs) or another free bag. Here is a basic idea of the standard economy class for Japan Airlines.
|Premium Economy Class||
For carry-on items, you may also bring one personal item (such as a handbag or shopping bag) and one additional bag that will meet specific size requirements that do not exceed the combination of length, width and height of 115 cm (45 in). Both bags must not exceed the total weight of 10 kg (22lbs) as well as fit in an overhead compartment or under the seat.
Check with your individual airline to determine your luggage options based on your ticket and the size/weight dimensions.
Note: Weighing your carry-on items depends on the airline company. However, if you are flying on a Japanese airline, the personnel do weigh your carry-on item(s) at the check-in counter in the city of your origin. I have linked Japan Airlines website as an example to show more information: http://www.jal.co.jp/en/inter/baggage/inflight/
- Additional Luggage: The cost of sending items to Japan through a mail or courier service (like USPS, DHL, UPS) is very expensive. You might decide to pay the additional luggage fees to take more “checked” baggage with you to Japan. It will help you to bring more necessary items, food and gifts. As I stated previously, items and food are more expensive in Japan than in other countries. I would recommend researching the cost and determining if bringing one or more checked bags is better than the cost that you will incur if you need to mail/ship something later.
- Bring food and beverages: Airline food is not always agreeable for every person’s diet. International flights are long, and the food is not on the schedule of your daily body habit. As a result, you might not like the options provided or your stomach might not agree with the food. Airline stewards and stewardesses also do not wake you up if you are sleeping. So, it is possible that you can miss a meal or snack time. This is a bad combination as you might be hungry or in the bathroom not feeling well. Being that it is your first time arriving into Japan, you will naturally feel a little nervous and tired from the time difference. So, it will not be helpful if you are not feeling well before and/or after your arrive.
I have learned from flying international flights on a regular basis to pack food that I can eat and is acceptable for my diet (such as crackers, granola bars, etc.). I also pack a bottle of water or Gatorade that I buy or fill up at the water fountain after the security screening. I drink it throughout the flight to stay hydrated. Yes, the airline provides water that you can receive throughout the flight. If the stewards or stewardesses are not walking through the cabin, you can go to the back and ask them for some water. However, it is nice to have it handy without getting up – especially if you have a middle or window seat and the person who has the aisle seat is sleeping. Also, you can drink it later after you land into Japan.
Japanese Immigration and Customs
- Estimate Time: Expect the immigration line for foreigners to take an average of 45-60 minutes to complete. If you have all your documents ready, you can get in the line faster. The line does have an estimate time from “this point” throughout to help you determine approximately how much longer it will take.
- Deboarding the Plane: People are very determined to get into the immigration line as fast as possible. You might think they are in a race as they seem to be speeding through the corridors without stopping.
Tips to Help you Beat the Rush:
- Get a confirmed seat as close to the front of the airplane as possible.
- Use the bathroom on the plane BEFORE you land. People who take time to use the restroom after they land in Japan get delayed and usually take more time to go through immigration.
- Have all your documents completed, visa paperwork and passport in your hands when you land. Do not try to look for them later in your bag while in line. Knowing it is all there and ready to present to the officer will save you time and possible questions.
- Follow the signs and ask people if you don’t know where to go. Usually, it is easy to find as the “mass” of people are all going in the same direction. Be careful not to go into the “Japanese” line (those who are have Japanese citizenship or living there on a permanent basis). It looks and is shorter, but you will need to change lines again. The signs are in English, and there is usually a person working there helping you to the correct line. It will be just fine.
- Baggage Pick-up: After you pass through Japanese Immigration, you will go to the baggage claim and pick up your “checked’ luggage. There are free carts available to put your luggage on. Please use them. You will be tired and jet lagged due to the time difference. You can use the free cart through customs inspection and throughout the airport.
- Japanese Customs Declaration/Inspection: You will need to show the customs form that you completed on the airplane and your passport to the officer. The officer will take the form and keep it. You will be asked a few questions in Japanese about the contents of your luggage (what items you are bringing into Japan). If you have nothing to declare, you should just say いいえin Japanese or “no” in English (if you do not know the language). Do not worry! At the conclusion of the questioning, the officer will hand back your passport. At that point, you will be free to leave the Immigration and Customs area of the airport.
Whoo Hoo! You have now completed all the necessary steps and are officially in Japan. Welcome!
I hope this information has been helpful. I will be happy to explain more in my “How-To” Series next time. Good luck packing and getting ready for your new adventure!
Peggy / United States