I lived in Japan. I lived in northern Japan. I lived in Fukushima prefecture. I lived in a town on the train line in Fukushima prefecture.
Every sentence I just wrote describes when I spent three years of my life, but each is also very narrow and specific. If someone said to me, “I’m moving to Japan. What do I need to take?” well, that gets complicated. The snow boots I desperately needed for the unplowed winter streets would be foolish in balmy Okinawa. What is readily available and/or socially acceptable in Tokyo is not going to be true in a small city without a McDonalds or a Starbucks. Yet because I lived in a city on the train line, getting to those restaurants was far more doable than it was for the next town over.
I’ve been asked what I would recommend someone to take when they are moving to my area.
1. Take clothes
Japan is a seat of fashion…if you’re size 4 or smaller and have a boyish figure. I learned to walk by the high end stores because even if I found anything that fit on my size 12 frame, it wouldn’t look good on my hourglass figure. There are some places where clothes will be available. But at first, bring clothes.
Note: Bring layers. In general, Japanese buildings are poorly insulated and poorly heated.
2. Bring a black suit with a white button up shirt for the formal occasions.
The Japanese are very formal, and there is likely to be some sort of ceremony. The cool mismatched gray suits currently in vogue in the U.S. stick out like a sore thumb there.
3. Stock up on shoes…maybe
Japanese women have tiny feet. My older sister had no trouble finding shoes for her size 6.5 feet. I didn’t inherit quite the same gene. While size 8.5 puts me squarely at normal on the spectrum for U.S. women’s feet, I was Big Foot in Japan. Still, sometimes I found a size I could squeeze into. And when it came to sneakers I could just shop in the men’s department. On the other hand, my poor coworker with size 10.5 feet was in even worse shape. There was exactly one store (Shimamura) that sold shoes in her size. Bonus: remember you’ll need twice as many shoes there because you have to have indoor and outdoor ones.
Note: definitely bring a good pair of snow boots. It will not be a purchase you regret.
4. Be mindful of selected toiletries
a. Deodorant – Do you like U.S. deodorant? Then buy it in the U.S. The Japanese use a spray bottle thing.
b. Foundation…maybe – What is your skin tone? If it isn’t strikingly pale, you’ll want to bring your own foundation. In the homogeneous society of Japan, many cosmetics companies carry exactly one shade of foundation.
c. Tampons – They have them in Japan, but they aren’t the same. I’ll leave it at that.
5. Bring something that reminds you of home. It will just make you happier. For my sister that was her quilt. For me that was as much of my library as I could justify. Take what makes you happy.
6. Pack a small nativity set – Christmas is becoming more and more popular, but I only ever saw one nativity set in Japan…and it was at a British-themed resort. In the U.S. I wasn’t much of a decorator, letting my parents’ house be enough. But over there I needed to be the one stepping up and providing visual reminders of the reason for the season
1. Tank tops – modest women in Japan do not show their shoulders.
2. Shampoo, conditioner, or soap – They have good quality products there. Don’t waste the space.