Preparing for JET: Packing, Expectations, and More

Hello, dear Green Beans!

Oh wait. I’m the Green Bean. Well, from now on, so are you!

I realize that I’ve been slacking a little terribly on my blog posting schedule. Every time I say I’m going to be more regular about blog posting, I’m not. BUT, in my own defense, I’ve been a little preoccupied with grading over 300 speeches, so….sorry, but also not really. ちょっとごめんなさい。

Today, I’d like to address all my new peeps who have been accepted into the JET Program and are heading over here in just about a month! Congrats! おめでとうございます!Pull out your poppers and party hats and kazoos, because an awesome journey (figuratively, not literally–ain’t gonna lie, airplane is terribly not muy bien) lies ahead.

For those of you heading over here, I’m sure you’ve got a thousand things running through your heads right now. When should I pack? What should I pack? What do I do once I get there? What if my bag is too heavy? What will my placement be like? Can I move into my house as soon as I get to my placement? So, let’s chat about it. Hopefully, y’all have got good predecessors who don’t leave everything to your imagination. But, for those of you who don’t, hopefully I can shed some light on the situation for you.

Let’s chat about:

Packing

Departure day

Orientation

The first few days at your placement

By the way, am I annoying you by not getting to the point, like those food bloggers who write their life stories before the recipe when all you really care about is the recipe? Sorry ‘bout that no I’m really not. Let’s get started!

Packing   

When to pack: Honestly, now. A month before departure might sound like all eternity, but it’s really not for such a big move. You’ll be busy hanging with people, saying goodbyes, visiting relatives, figuring out what to do with your stuff that you’re not taking with you…Save yourself the suffering and some of the stress and start early, and just pack little by little, or sort your things into take/don’t take piles, or make a shopping list for what you need later.

What to pack your stuff inYou are allowed two checked bags under 50 pounds (I think 23 kilograms, if you’re not in the US), a carry-on, and a personal item. I recommend that you get quality, lightweight bags that are somewhere between carry-on size and gargantuan. The bigger the bag, the more likely it is to be overweight, so take that into consideration when choosing a bag. If you don’t already have suitcases, start looking now!

Be one of those crazy shoppers who who murders the other customers at bargain sales. Scope out the Sunday sale ads in the newspapers. Quality doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. For fear of my old suitcases falling part (they were too big, anyhow), I went to Macy’s, Dillard’s, Sears, and JC Penny in the great luggage quest of 2016. Do your research! Brands, best price, warranty, you name it. I ended up finding the best deal at Macy’s during two separate 1-day sales–60% off one suitcase, 70% off for the other, for two different, similarly sized Samsonite soft shell suitcases. I also recommend that one your bags is NOT a garment bag. You can only fit one or two outfits in a garment bag, and it’s just so much wasted space. If you’re worried about your suits, just fold them neatly and steam them in the shower at orientation (there’s also an ironing room at the hotel).

How to packUse one suitcase for your orientation things and pack enough clothes/necessities to get you through at least a week after orientation. Use another big suitcase for clothes and things you don’t need immediately, and your carry on for other assorted things, like books or shoes, that won’t contribute to your weight limits (because there are no weight limits on the carry-ons). Your personal item (probably a backpack) should be used for important documents, entertainment, and your laptop. For the big suitcases, pack things inside of things. Socks inside of shoes, shoes inside of purses, you get the idea. Vacuum bags are also great for things like t-shirts that you don’t need right away and that can easily be steamed or ironed later. I also recommend buying a luggage scale. They’re maybe 20 bucks at Target, and just clip onto your suitcase so you can painfully give yourself an unintentional leg workout as you lift your suitcase to weigh it. Very handy for last minute suitcase weighing.

What to pack:

(1) What you should pack

  • 1 or 2 suits
  • passport (duh)
  • phone, laptop, chargers
  • deodorant (Japanese deodorant is not very strong)
  • OTC medicine (Japanese medicines are much weaker than American ones–after a visit, I brought back Tylenol, Ibuprofen, special dandruff shampoo, magnesium supplements, and the brand of vitamins I like.  
  • Feminine hygiene products (If you’re a woman; they are very hit or miss here, and tampons are virtually impossible to find)
  • Bras (again, if you’re a woman; Japanese women and foreign women are simply not built the same, plus their sizes are much smaller.
  • shoes (for women larger than a size 8, men with larger than average feet, sorry for not knowing the actual sizes but I’m not a dude and I have pipsqueak tiny feet, so I don’t know)
  • clothes (If you’re a larger woman or man. Tall and larger men have difficulties here, larger women have issues. I’m about a size 12 in US women’s sizes, and I can’t really fit into any women’s clothes here, but can fit men’s large or XL clothes. Bring plenty if you’re worried about whether you will be able to find clothes, if you’re smaller, it probably won’t be much of an issue)
  • things to use in the classroom (flags, stickers, pictures, anything to get them interested. Use your own discretion on this one, I brought a small mountain of stickers with me and only just got a chance to use them now, nearly a year later)
  • Omiyage (something small from home that you can give to the other teachers upon arrival)
  • Photos from home (for both decoration and self-introduction purposes)

(2) What you SHOULD NOT pack

  • Bicycles
  • Pasta (one ALT once brought a whole suitcase of nothing but pasta)
  • Art supplies
  • Books (unless there’s a certain book you’re married to)
  • Your PS4 (do you really want to spend your time in Japan just playing video games?)
  • TVs
  • Things that you rarely use
  • Bedding
  • Other foods that aren’t pasta
  • Pianos/guitars
  • Your best friend smuggled in your suitcase
  • Your cats or dogs
  • All however many seasons of your favorite TV show on DVD
  • Rocks
  • School supplies (notebooks, pencils, etc–you can buy that here, and invariably a much cuter version of it, too)
  • Adapters (most small electronics like cell phones and laptops will work fine; I brought an adapter which resulted in me frying all of the electricity in my apartment for a day about a week after I moved in)

 

Departure Day

Ah, the day of reckoning! The day your life will change forever as you head off to Japan, AKA Land of the Rising Sun, AKA these people were not joking why the heck is the sun fully up at 4 a.m.??

Start your day by waking up early. Eat a good breakfast. Enjoy the last remnants of American food goodness before you head off to washoku land. Triple check your packing list. If your consulate already gave you your passport back, don’t forget it. Get yourself to the airport and you’re good to go.

I highly suggest bringing at least one family member of friend with you because (A), it’s a very emotional day and you’ll probably want to say goodbye unless you’re just totally cold and heartless, and (B), you’ll need someone to take back your luggage scale, if you brought one, or someone to take back all the crap that’s making your bag too heavy. You will have the opportunity to weigh your bags on the airport scale while you’re waiting in line at group check-in, so take advantage of that opportunity to avoid the overweight fees, which you are responsible for should your bags be overweight.

After you check in, you should just be allowed to go straight through security. If any of your bags have locks on them, keep the keys handy, because they might ask you to open them (they were suspicious of my oddly heavy book, mardi gras bead,  and video game filled carry-on, and asked me to open mine). You can then just go wait at the terminal. Even though I arrived at the airport three hours early, after group check in, I only ended up waiting about an hour to board the plane when all was said and done. Make friends while you’re waiting! Even if these people aren’t going to the same prefecture as you, they will be your roommates at orientation, plus it’s nice to have people to talk to on the plane. I still talk to one of my orientation roomies!

Also as a side note, you do NOT have to wear your suit on the plane. You can wear whatever the heck you want, so get comfortable. I wore sweatpants, a t-shirt, and my Super Mario Bros. Vans slip ons.

Orientation

When you land, you will immediately be herded into the JET group. If you need to pee, do it before you get off the plane, because there won’t be time later. You will then go straight into the special JET immigration line, where you get your residence card, AKA the most important piece of plastic you will have in Japan. Then, you will get your bags (you will have to carry them ALL by yourself, so keep that in mind when packing), go through customs, go through a tunnel of people with JET signs who will direct you to the buses, give the bags you’re not taking with you to the JET people outside of the buses, actually board the bus, and off you go to the hotel. It takes about 1 ½ hours to get to the hotel. When you get to the hotel, you will check in , drop off your stuff, and you will be free to explore Tokyo as you please. **side note 1: you will have at least one, if not two roommates, during Tokyo orientation (I had two) 

Real orientation starts the next day, and you MUST wear your suit, otherwise they reserve the right to not let you into orientation. They take attendance, which they pass on to your BOE so they know you were there, so you can’t skip anything. You will be fed breakfast and lunch each day, and dinner on one day, but the vegan/vegetarian options are a little slim pickings, so bring protein bars with you if you need to. I found that the orientation panels were pretty useless, but you still have to go. The first day is panels for everyone, the second day splits you into ES/JHS/SHS and you get to meet your prefecture people as well. You will depart for your placement on the third day. DON’T BE LATE or face the wrath of your CIR and BOE. Apparently the year before me, people were late, people were throwing up on the bus from partying too hard the night before…don’t be one of those people.

How you get to your placement largely depends on where you’re going. You might take the train, shinkansen, or even another plane depending on how far away you’re going. Hokkaido or Okinawa? Probably another plane. Main island (Honshu)? probably shinkansen or bus. Shikoku or Kyuushu? Could be either. Hyogo took us by shinkansen to Osaka, then from Osaka we took a bus to Middle ‘O Nowhere Hyogo, where go-betweens and vice principals from ALL the SHS schools were waiting for their ALTs. My predecessor came as an added bonus. We had to drive another hour or so after that to get to Kobe, where I’m placed.

 

First Few Days of Placement

After you get picked up by your school, you will probably immediately go to your base school. On this day, if not a suit, then you should at least wear something nice. I wore a suit, and I died a little from the heat, and then my school people were like, “Why are you wearing a suit? It’s so hot!” When I got to my school, we temporarily brought my bags to the office, and I met the office staff, then I went upstairs and met the teachers who weren’t on summer vacation and my principal. Be prepared to do a short self introduction in Japanese immediately upon entry into the teacher room. My predecessor stayed with me for a little while to help get me settled and gave me a tour of the school. She then gave me the solid advice of, “It’s okay to have nothing to do.” I was at least able to email home to tell them I arrived safely at my placement. I got picked up around 5 to go to my host family’s house, because I couldn’t move in to my apartment immediately due to overlap from me and my predecessor. Don’t be surprised if you can’t immediately move in, either. Boy, I sure do like the word “immediately.” The first week was rather uneventful since my predecessor was packing and I was getting settled, but at least on one afternoon my predecessor and neighbor were able to take me out of school for the afternoon to show my around my neighborhood.

By the end of the first week or two, hopefully someone will have taken you to the ward office to get your documents and health insurance stuff, to your rental agency to sign your apartment lease and pay for the house insurance and the like (I didn’t have to pay key money, but I did have to pay for fire insurance), and to get your bank, phone and internet set up. If they haven’t, then just ask.  Your school might want you to go with a certain bank, but do your research for internet and phone, especially. The three main providers are Docomo, AU, and Softbank, but I went with the lesser known Y! Mobile because it was literally a tenth of the cost of the other providers.

Final Words of Wisdom

Just don’t have any expectations. If you do have super high expectations, you will probably be severely disappointed. To keep an element of surprise, my predecessor didn’t send me any pictures of the apartment as a whole, so I was sorely disappointed by its hobbit hole size upon arrival. Better to have no expectations and be pleasantly surprised rather than all the expectations and be unpleasantly surprised. And prepare to be unprepared. You can think you’re doing everything right and still not know how to tackle a certain situation once you get here. Just breathe, and take it one day at a time.

I hope that this helped! If anyone has any questions, or if anyone is actually coming to Hyogo, please hit me up! Can’t wait to hopefully meet some of you, and good luck as you prepare for the next chapter of your life!

Peace Out,

-Erin

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