Are you thinking about studying abroad in Japan? Or have you already been accepted into a program? Congratulations! You will have a fantastic time in Japan.
Oh yeah. But before you hope on that plane, make sure to look deep down inside and make sure you’re coming to Japan with an open mind. Because no matter how much anme you watch (or dramas, silly reality tv shows, and basically everything else on TV), you don’t “know” Japan. And if you show up with all sorts of ideas of what the country is SUPPOSED to be, you’re only going to end up frustrated. Seriously. It happened to me. It happened to quite a few of my friends.
Japan isn’t exactly how Western media makes it out to be. Japan is famous for cutting edge technology, anime and manga, sushi, and chic street fashion. Foreigners love Japan. However, before you study abroad in Japan, here are 6 things you should know:
1. Bring deodorant
As I’ve mentioned before, Japanese people rarely wear deodorant. They don’t need it. The people who do wear deodorant (women, businessmen) use the product not for its odor cancelling properties, but because it smells nice. And Western advertisements show the successful people wear deodorant.
The problem with this is that Japanese deodorant rarely has aluminum. This is great for Japanese, or other Asian, people (because aluminum isn’t good for you) – but this is bad for non-Asians because we stink. And it just so happens that aluminum helps make powerful, anti-stink (antiperspirant) deodorant.
What I’m saying is bring your deodorant. Don’t be “that guy” who smells like a fish that’s been dead for three days. When you pack for Japan, bring a years’ worth of deodorant.
2. Watch your medicine
You are not permitted to bring several types of medicine into Japan. For more information about prohibited medicine, click here.
In short, you are not supposed to bring more than three months of prescription medicine (including birth control), not allowed to have said medicine sent to you in more than three month dosages, and flat out not permitted to bring other types of prescription medicine (like ADD medicine – even with a doctor’s note, or certain anti-depressants). Also, no decongestants like Dayquil or Nyquil. Check before you pack, legally they can turn you away at the airport for bringing in illegal substances.
3. You might not be able to fit in Japanese clothes
I’m a size 2-4 in America. I’m a size “large” in Japan. If you are a “bigger girl” (boobs, waist, hips, feet), you need to realize that Japanese clothes might not fit you. A majority of the stores sell “one size fits all” items that can really mess with someone’s self-esteem.
Don’t even get me started on shoes. My size 8.5 feet only fit in XXL sized Japanese shoes. Click here for more tips on Trying Clothes in Japan.
3.5. You might not be able to afford Japanese clothes (especially in Tokyo)
Let’s say you’re lucky. You find clothes that fit you in Japan. Awesome. Then you look at the price – $200 for a dress. Or $100 for a pair of pants.
Living in Japan is expensive. There are discount stores (I am addicted to resale shops in Tokyo), but they are few and far between. Even stores like H&M and Forever 21 markup their products by 10% – 25% in Japan. Japan is not the place to buy cheap clothes.
4. You will probably feel out of place. All the time.
And that’s ok. I think it’s good to be regularly put in moments that take you outside of your comfort zone. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Or at least, when it comes to embraassment, this is usually true.
5. Get ready to walk
I walk everywhere in Japan. When I’m not walking, I’m biking. I walk to the station, I walk to the grocery store, and I walk to classes. Most of my friends don’t own cars; we all use public transportation. The problem with public transportation is the fact that it does, in fact, require a bit of walking.
Then, when you go travelling, you’re going to walk until your feet are dying (but that’s pretty normal for sightseeing). Bring comfortable shoes. Bring lots of comfortable shoes.
6. Watch out for your body image
Japan is a not good place for female body images. At all. It is a very “visual” society. It has the world’s largest per captia skin care market in the world. They is a heavy emphasis on the way you look. Yes, of course it difficult being “ugly” in any society – but I believe being “ugly” in Japan is especially hard. A lot of someone’s merit seems to be based solely on the way they look.
Most girls are skinny. They have excellent smiles, impeccable makeup, and tame hair. They are polite, sweet, and just plain adorable. My first couple months here I had serious problems. I got depressed, I felt awful about my body image, and used to dread going outside. I felt like I wasn’t good enough.
But then I stopped caring.
I will acknowledge that most Japanese women dress consistently nicer than me. But somewhere along the road I realized I would rather be known for my brain than my beauty; I want my talent to shine more than my face.
And I don’t want to pay for expensive, chic Japanese clothes.
7 (bonus): Get used to reading “between the lines”
After spending a year in Japan, I had this wonderful, warm fuzzy feeling back in Texas at Target when a cashier was overly rude to me. Like a breath of fresh air. Weird, right?
One of the things you will learn about Japan is that very few people actually say what they mean. This can be especially frustrating if you are living with a host family, dating a Japanese person (or becoming best friends), or joining a Japanese “circle”/school club. Most of the time, I don’t know where I stand with people.
My advice: if you want to be happy in Japan, accept the fact that (most) people won’t tell it to you straight. Take this an embrace the culture – learn how to save face with giving criticism, how to pick up on subtle hints, and how to put the group before the individual. My husband and I made it into a game of “How amny times can Grace mess up in one day?”
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