January 07, 2009
For the serious traveler, the number one rule in Japan is much the same as anywhere else - travel light. There's nothing more useful as more space in your bag. Travelling light is even more important for rail travelers as trains usually have little space for storing bags.
Money and Essentials
A supply of traveler's checks is essential to see you through your stay. Yen travelers checks are the safest and easiest and can be changed to cash at most local banks. Japan is a cash society! You will become used to carrying a wad of cash everywhere you go! If you are going to a rural area it may be best to either skip the travelers checks (take yen cash) or change them once you've hit Tokyo. U.S. traveler's checks are generally accepted, but expect to have to travel to the nearest large bank to change them. Other key things not to forget are your passport, visa, phone numbers (home and emergency), and an international drivers license (many jobs require it).
Clothing will depend very much on where and when you are in Japan and what your are doing. You can buy all types of clothing in Japan, however they usually are not cheap and sizes can be a problem if you are not near a large city. Some people find that standard Japanese sizes do not fit them. Shoes and pants are likely to be most difficult. Men who wear over 27 cm size shoes and women over 24.5 are encouraged to bring what they will need from home. My shoe size is 30 cm and I have yet to find a pair here that will fit. One way around this is mail order catalogs. Many of which are on-line. L.L. Bean, and Eddie Bauer are most popular!
If you're a fitness buff, be warned: unless you're near a sports outlet, sports wear is very expensive. Generally Japan's climate is somewhat similar of continental USA; bring winter gear for winter (hats, gloves, boots, etc.) and nothing more than t-shirts and light pants for summer. Unless you're in Japan on business you are unlikely to meet situations where 'coat and tie' standards are enforced; casual clothing is all you'll need. There is a rainy season between June and July here in Japan. A rain coat may be handy. Umbrellas are cheap and can be found everywhere!
Most things are available (certainly in Tokyo), though at a higher price than at home. You only need to bring brand names to which you are especially attached (Tums are really hard to find). You do not need any inoculations for entry into Japan. Please be aware of Japanese customs restrictions. Medicines that are sold over the counter in your home country may be illegal in Japan if they contain stimulants (i.e. medicines containing Pseudoephedrine such as Actifed, Sudafed and Vicks inhaler). Codeine is also illegal. Check cold, allergy, and sinus medicines extra carefully.
- Prescription Medications:
Bring unopened in original packaging.
Bring a copy of the prescription.
In principle, you can bring up to a month's supply. If you bring more, the medicine may be seized and you could be charged with intent to sell illegal substances. Once your supply has run out, take the prescription to a doctor in Japan and get a new prescription for an equivalent medicine sold in Japan.
- Non-Prescription Medications: (you can bring up to a 2-month supply)
Cold, allergy, sinus medicines (without stimulants)
- Sending Medications:
Up to a one-month supply of prescription medicines that are legal for import, including birth control pills can be sent. Be sure to include the prescription in the package and a note from you physician specifying the dosage.
Up to a two-month supply of non-prescription medicines can be sent.
Lubricants are available but ones with spermicides (nonoxynol-10), are difficult to find outside of Tokyo. The pill is also difficult to get. Prescriptions are only for health reasons or severe menstrual pain (the dosage is quite high). Therefore, if you use it, bring your own supply along with the prescription. Condoms are the most widely used form of contraception in Japan. If size is an issue, it is recommended that you bring your own supply!
Miscellaneous to Bring
Fluoride toothpaste is difficult to find, although a water fluoride mixture is available.
Japanese brands tend to be expensive and not quite as effective (you can bring up to a 4 month supply).
Cosmetics and hair care products
It may also be a good idea to bring your own, once again they are very expensive in Japan.
Gift giving in Japan is a very popular custom in Japan. It helps new arrivals start off on the right foot. Rest assured that anything you bring will be greatly appreciated, so you do not have to bring large expensive gifts (note: It is customary in Japan to give a small gift to each of your neighbors.). Different ideas include: picture book of your country, tie pins, scenic calendars, sweets, key chains, stamps, letter openers and liquor. Anything will be appreciated but have the gifts wrapped or buy small bags to put them in.