While study abroad and traveling are incredibly exciting experiences, they come with a lot of stress. On top of worrying about flights and visas, you have to think about what to bring with you. “How am I supposed to fit everything I need in one or two suitcases?!” is a line of panic we all feel the day or two before departure.
The JCMU handbook gives some packing tips, but I’m going to go a little more in depth into what I would recommend you bring and what I think you should leave at home, based on my own experiences at JCMU.
The first thing you’ll hear when you look into packing for Japan is to bring your own deodorant/antiperspirant. It’s true! Unless you’re an incredibly lucky person born with a superpower that prevents you from sweating, bring your own deodorant.
Americans tend to use stick deodorant, while the majority of what you’ll find in Japan are roll on or spray type deodorants. And, according to… well, everyone I’ve ever talked to, they all assured me that Japanese deodorants don’t work as well. It’s safer to bring your own that you know works for you, especially if you’re going to Japan in the summer. In fact, if you are going in the summer, consider bringing extra! There’s no escaping the sweat during a Japanese summer.
For products like shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and face wash, I tend to go by this rule: if there’s a brand you can’t live without, bring it; if not, buy it in Japan.
For example, I have really frizzy hair and use a particular anti-frizz shampoo, so I bring a full supply of shampoo and conditioner with me. However, in the US I tend to buy whatever body wash is on sale, so I pack a tiny travel size body wash and get more when I’m in Japan. I do the same for face wash and toothpaste; bring a little bit and buy more when I arrive. This really just comes down to personal preference, so only you will know what’s best for you.
Other Personal Care Products
If you have a period and use pads and/or tampons, I recommend packing enough for your whole trip. Pads in particular can take up quite a bit of space, but that space will be emptied up by the end of your trip. That’ll leave you with extra room for souvenirs! You can also buy pads in Japan if you’d prefer (and if you do, this guide to pads in Japan might be helpful for you), but tampons are a little harder to find.
As for items you can go a day or two without, like sunscreen, I wouldn’t pack any and just buy it when you arrive. Also, whether you pack it before leaving or buy it after arriving, I would suggest carrying hand sanitizer or hand soap in a travel container and a small towel. Most public bathrooms don’t have towels and some don’t even have soap.
If you wear makeup, I would recommend bringing your favorites and leaving space for additions. I usually bring my most used mascara and eyeliner and buy blush and lipstick in Japan (mostly because it’s fun! Check out RatzillaCosme if you’re interested in Japanese cosmetics).
Japan has a very limited range of skin tones when it comes to makeup compared to the US, so it’s best to bring your own foundation as it might be hard to find one that matches.
Japan uses the same type of outlet as the US does, but they only have the two-prong type. That means for most things like phone chargers you won’t need an adapter, but you will need one for things that require a third grounded prong like most laptop chargers. Japan (100 V, 50/60 Hz) runs at a different voltage and frequency than the US (120 V, 60 Hz), but you most likely won’t need a converter. Most chargers, like an iPhone charger, can accept any voltage/frequency.
The only things I ever needed to plug in were chargers and a hair dryer, and I personally never had any issues. If you’re unsure about an item, check the label. If it says something like “INPUT: 100-240V, 50/60 Hz”, it can be used in Japan.
I would also bring at least one pair of good, comfy shoes that can withstand longer days of walking. You’re most likely going to be moving around a lot in Japan. I ended up walking a hole into a pair of off-brand Converse I brought when I was in Japan for an academic year.
Depending on your shoe size, you might also have a hard time finding a new pair in Japan. Generally, it can hard to find sizes over U.S. men’s 9/women’s 11. I have pretty big feet for the average American woman, but I was lucky and found a replacement pair of shoes that fit me in the men’s section of Trial (a grocery store near JCMU). They definitely weren’t cute or comfortable and didn’t last me very long, though.
It would be best if your shoes are easy to slip on and off, or at least bring a pair that is. You’ll be taking them off entering the dorms, academic building, and some restaurants, izakaya, and old buildings you might go to.
In general, Japanese sizes are smaller than those in the U.S., so I would definitely bring around 1-2 weeks’ worth of clothing that you know already fits you. You might still find clothes that fit in Japan though; I’m a bit chunkier than the average American woman and I found quite a few T-shirts that fit me fine.
Although not necessary, you may want to bring a swimsuit. You will be living on a lake and may want to take a dip at some point, especially if you’re there for the summer!
While unavoidable if you’re going to Japan in the winter, pack clothes and towels that dry quickly. Most everyone air drys their clothes, and it can take days to dry when it’s humid. There are clothes dryers at JCMU, but like other dryers I’ve used in Japan, they never quite reach completely dry, so I wouldn’t rely on them.
Towels & Bedding
Speaking of towels, I would pack one good absorbent towel, and buy another one (and a hand towel) once in Japan. For reasons mentioned above, towels in Japan are pretty thin, so, in my experience, don’t really feel like they’re absorbing any water. I use the towel I bring with me most days and use the one I buy in Japan when the other is in the wash or drying.
Fortunately, there’s one thing you definitely don’t have to bring unless you have allergies to certain materials: bedding. Your sheets and blankets are provided by JCMU, so you don’t have to worry about packing them!
One of the hardest things about packing clothes is knowing how to dress for the weather, and it really depends on what time of year you’ll be in Japan.
This can be especially difficult if you’ll be there in the winter, because bulky winter clothes takes up a lot of suitcase space. To save up space, I packed my coat but bought new gloves and a scarf in Japan when it started getting cold.
On the other hand, if you’re going to Japan during the summer, you’ll be there for the rainy season. Make sure to bring good water resistant shoes, but I would buy an umbrella and rain poncho after arriving. If you’re on the heavier side, you might want to bring your own poncho, as bigger ones are harder to find in Japan. If you’re thinking to yourself, “I don’t need a poncho, I don’t really wear them anyways,” think again: biking in the rain sucks without one.
I would pack a small notebook and pencil and buy anything else you’ll need after you arrive. There’s lots of stationery at the grocery stores and konbini near JCMU. Don’t worry about bringing any textbooks; they’re included in tuition and you’ll be given the books you need after class placement.
Pack some gifts for your new friends in Japan! Small trinkets, like keychains from your hometown or home state make some of the best gifts. Then, use that space in your suitcase for gifts for your friends and family back home. Remember to be careful not to bring anything perishable or fragile, and don’t forget to buy a little something for yourself. You earned it!
Of course, don’t forget to bring your passport and money!