Before I left for Japan, I was bombarded with information on what I’d need when I got there. The flood of e-mails, letters, message boards, websites, and phone calls was all rather overwhelming. Topics ranged from the benign – what omiyage (souvenirs) to bring for coworkers – to the worrisome – tales of people missing their flights because of overpacked bags. Everyone seemed to have advice, but it was impossible to follow all of it. If I packed all of the Japanese textbooks, cheese, toothpaste, and shoes that everyone had recommended, I definitely would have ended up one of those forlorn JETs standing lost by the airline checkin counter.
Nonetheless, the deluge got me thinking about the importance of planning ahead. There was a good deal of stuff I might need when I arrived in Japan that I would never be able to find, but it was hard to sort out just what would come in handy. Below is a list of stuff I eventually settled on.
- Toothpaste. Supposedly the water here doesn’t have flouride and the toothpaste is spotty. Not sure if thats true.
- Deodorant. Lots of it (I was moving to the jungle, basically).
- Salt Water Taffy as omiyage, for the staff at my schools. Also, keychains, tshirts, notepads, for special people.
- Omiyage for the mayor and board of education.
- Tie-dyed t-shirts, handmade before leaving
- Two suits
- Two poetry books and the collected works of both Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe (I like to read).
- Stickers (for the kids).
- Postage stamps (to act like stickers, for the kids)
- Leather flipflops, from Wallmart, plastic sandals, dress shoes, and sneakers.
- Some big ABC coloring pages.
- Some postcards from Baltimore.
- Lots of photos of friends, family, and stuff around town
I could certainly go on, but what the hell. The point I’m about to brilliantly segue into is that I didn’t need half of that stuff to begin with and my luggage space would have been better spent on hot sauce, Reece’s cups, and Nyquil. Here’s the list of stuff I shouldn’t have brought:
- Toothpaste and deoderant. Japanese pharmacies sell Aquafresh I still have six extra units of Old Spice under my sink.
- Half the omiyage I brought. Postcards and keychains, that’s all you need. Besides, the mayor doesn’t really want a giant cardboard cutout of Cal Ripkin.
- Random English teaching props. Seasonal decorations and random magazines are probably more useful, but they can always be mailed by friends later.
- Postage stamps. Why did I listen to that recommendation?
- Edgar Allen Poe. Sorry dude.
- One of the suits. Also, half of the dress clothes I brought.
- Excess photos. Ones of friends and family are essential, but digitalize (is that a word?) the rest.
The best thing I brought were the tie-dyed shirts, which were actually mailed by a friend later. The second best was omiyage but I never gave it away: a small stuffed crab from Baltimore. Perfect for games and subverting Japanese culture (which is your de facto job description if you’re signed up for JET). Runner up goes to my Baltimore Orioles cap. They’re not popular at home, but they don’t exist over here, so wearing it gives me extra street cred.
Now, if I had replaced the omiyage, dress shirts, and Edgar Allen Poe with pharmecuticals, gummy bears, and science fiction, I probably would have had an easier time of things when I first arrive. The tricky thing with planning for this sort of trip is that the Boyscout Motto (BE PREPARED!) only works if you know what you’re up against. I unfortunately had no idea that I would be moving into the rural Japanese version of Ravenholm from halflife two, so I planned poorly. Anyway, to finish this off, here’s a photo of my old sandals, still sometimes put to use in times of dire need:
I think I got my $10 worth out of them.
Coming up next in my series of “I’m actually writing again” blog posts, things I desperately need donated to me in America this summer.