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Before you leave on the plane for Japan there are a few things that you should do. First thing is that you will need money when you are in Japan. I recommend going to your bank and getting $500 to $1000 in travelers checks. This will enable you to do anything without having to worry about money for a while. Travelers checks are the best solution for money since you can go to any bank to cash them and they will calculate the exchange rate and give you the correct amount of yen back.

I know there are a lot of things that I am forgetting to write, please forgive me. I am going to board the plane in a few hours and as with big decisions, large doubts enter your mind and you start thinking more about what could go wrong. Thankfully when you step on the plane this feeling of pressure lessens and you start to flow with renewed energy, at least that is how it has worked for me in the past, and I am hoping the same thing happens this time as well.

You go through a couple phases when you are traveling to Japan: you feel exited, scared, overwhelmed, awed, exited, and finally bummed out that you have to leave. As you can tell I am firmly in the scared stage, not because I am scared of leaving or of flying but because I am scared that things won’t go ideally, that something will just go wrong. Here’s to hoping things go well, right?

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So here we are on the final segment of my first multi-part series on Corbin in Japan, to be honest I kind of write things with only an idea in mind and then going from there. Doing this website and subsequently describing how I pack has been a good mental and writing exercise for me and I hope it has been at least semi-informative (and perhaps a little entertaining) to those who have been reading it.

I really do appreciate any feedback so please don’t hesitate to email or leave me a comment. I have some plans for the future of the website, including starting a podcast, which would only exist for the five months that I will be in Japan. I’ve already purchased the hardware and downloaded the software to make it a reality. After I land in Japan on August 16th, we’ll see how it works out. I’m hoping it comes out decent. In any case without further ado lets get started on Part III, shall we?

“How long will I be staying?”
I will be staying in Japan for a total of five months so like I mentioned in Part II, I will be packing about two weeks worth of clothes. When I pack clothes for traveling or moving I tend to think of the purposes they will serve so I tend to group them in categories.

  • Dress or formal wear
  • Casual wear
  • Sports wear
  • Shoes

I plan to take one suit with me, and several dress shirts, two blazers, as well as a good pair of khaki pants which can double for casual wear as well. That’s just usually the style of clothes that I wear. As far as strictly casual wear, I plan to take several polo shirts and t-shirts, three pairs of shorts, and two pairs of jeans. To go along with these categories I am taking one track jacket, one pull-over hoodie, one zip-up hoodie, and a leather jacket for when it gets colder. As far as sports wear I will be taking three pairs of basketball shorts, and a few t-shirts that I’m not afraid of getting sweat on ^_^ .

For shoes I will be taking three pairs of casual shoes, one pair of basketball shoes, and one pair of dress shoes. And of course pack enough underwear and socks for two weeks time. I try to pack minimally but I also like to be prepared, this is a little more than I would usually pack but that is mainly because I have never been to a foreign country for more than a week and a half, not to mention taking into account the answer to the next question.

“How available are replacement items?”
I’m 5’11” (180cm) tall, wear a men’s size 11 shoe, and am an overall large dude. Which translates in Japanese to we don’t have clothes for you, at least not easily to find. If it would be easier to find clothes while I’m in Japan I probably wouldn’t pack quite as much just to save on shipping charges (which I will mention in tomorrow’s post).

I plan on taking a few good sized English language books with just so I have something to read if I want to, as well as several American movies. Bringing American movies with you is a good idea on many levels. First, you will have movies that you can watch without subtitles (which I don’t mind); and second, Japanese people like American movies (at least the ones I have talked to) so they will want to watch them with you as well, making it a good way to meet people. Besides a few books and movies I don’t plan on taking too many English language things with me.

“What will I need?”
I’ve already mentioned the clothes end of what I will be packing which is probably the largest part. Now that I have that set aside I can go one to other things that I will need. For me, I need a computer. I am going to be bringing along both my laptop (1.5Ghz Powerbook G4) and my desktop (Intel single core Mac Mini) as well as my 19″ LCD monitor and a slim line set of speakers. Luckily the Mac Mini et al fit in my 29″ stand up rolling luggage quite well.

A note on all electronics, Japan does not have a grounding prong on their sockets, for whatever reason. If you plan to bring any electronics with you I would recommend bringing two power-strips and buy two Three-Prong Grounded Plug Adapters for a Two-Prong Wall Outlet, that way you will be able to plug in just about any electrical item you bring with you.

Here is a tip for packing electronics and other things, do not pack them in the boxes-wrap clothes around them. It saves room because you are not using any extra packing material (styrofoam or packing peanuts), and serves the same purpose: to insulate so that things are not damaged. I am also taking an English-Japanese dictionary with me. You should also pack toiletries: shampoo, deodorant, a towel, electric shaver, etc. Whatever you think you will need.

As far as organization with your luggage goes, remember that you will have three pieces of luggage (if you are using American Airlines, keep in mind the limits for whatever airlines you decide to use), don’t be afraid to distribute your items between the bags, be sure to keep each individual bag below the weight limit as well. You will want to keep the most immediately needed items in your carry-on piece of luggage, as well as an extra set of clothing, just in case your checked luggage gets lost by the airlines.

“What else can I fit that I want?”
Now that the essentials are packed I have extra room for anything else I want to bring with me. I plan on bringing my Wii and my Nintendo DS Lite with me to Japan. I have room for both, the Wii I will pack with the checked luggage that will be sent on ahead to Kansai Gaidai before I arrive there. The DS I will pack in my carry-on so I will have some short term amusement both on the plane and in Japan. I will also be packing the podcasting equipment that I bought so I will have to find room for that as well. With that I am pretty much fully packed.

After you have finished packing, weigh your luggage to make sure that everything is according to the limits set by the airlines. If something is over the weight limit redistribute some into your other luggage to meet the requirements. After you have everything all packed and meeting all conditions made by the airlines you are all set. Next post, which will be the final post outside of Japan (!!!), I will cover money, and other last minute things before you board the plane, so until then!

The Art of Packing, Part I
The Art of Packing, Part II
The Art of Packing, Part III

Last we left off I outlined the four key points of developing your packing plan; “How long will I be staying?”, “How available are replacement items?”, “What will I need?”, “What else can I fit that I want?”. I will expound on them further in the following paragraphs.

We’ll take the first question to begin with, “How long will I be staying?”. This question is the most important one and for good reason, it will determine how much you will need to take with you. There is really only three main answers for this question; less than a week, about a week, and two weeks or more. If you are packing for less than a week more often than not you will only need about three day’s worth of clothes, which can be fit in a piece of luggage quite easily. If it is about a week, just bring a week’s worth of clothing, it will pay off in the long run.

If you are going to be in Japan for two weeks or more, which is what I would expect if you plan on doing study abroad in Japan, then pack at least two week’s worth of clothing. The types of clothing depend on the person of course, but bring enough where you won’t have to do laundry every 4 or 5 days. Also if you are staying for more than two weeks you should also make space for other things besides clothing, such as any electronics you plan on taking with you (I will detail this choice a little more in Part III of this series). A quick note, I am a 21 year old male so I make my recommendations on clothing and shoes from that point of view, I realize that those of the female persuasion may require a larger amount of both. ^_^

The next question, “How available are replacement items?” is an especially important one as it will be the deciding factor on the amount of anything that you plan to bring with you. For instance, if you wear shoes that are size 9 (mens) or larger you should bring several pairs of shoes with you simply because you will have a hard time finding any replacements if you wear yours out. The same goes for clothing, the average Japanese person is not that large so if you are a larger person (horizontally or vertically) you will naturally have a harder time finding replacement clothing, so plan accordingly. The same goes with English language books, dvds, etc. Japan does not have a very large English speaking population so finding entertainment in English may be difficult, take what you think will suffice for the length of time you will be overseas.

The third key question is, “What will I need?”. I know it seems like common sense but seriously it is easier to pack with the bare essentials and then whatever else you want, than the other way around. Having too much to begin with then narrowing it down will be harder on you than starting with what you need then expanding from there. Obviously clothing is a necessity, I would also recommend at least three pairs of shoes. Do not, however, bring an electric alarm clock over to Japan. There are two reasons why I say this; first, you can easily purchase an alarm clock once you get to Japan; and second, it will not keep time correctly because Japan runs on a different electrical frequency (which is what clocks use to keep time) although other two pronged electriacl items should be fine. Other than that, like I said, keep it simple the need stuff first.

After you have covered what you need, you should have space left for what you want, which leads us to the final key question, “What else can I fit that I want?” The key piece of information is how much space do you have left? It is easy to fill that space once you have it, but making the room first is the hard part. Obviously you can only pack what you want into your luggage if it will fit, keep that in mind, although it is okay to overstuff a little bit. ~_^

After you have finished packing it is time to make sure that everything still meets the size and weight limits set by the airlines, just measure you luggage with a yardstick and weigh it on a household scale. It may not be perfectly accurate but close is good enough as long as it is under the limits. If one of your bags is over the limit (most likely weight wise) just re-distribute the contained items until everything is under the limit. It is a lot easier to do this at home rather then at the airport creating a bottleneck for people wanting to get on.

So this time I went through, in detail, my strategy on planning to pack. Next time I will give you direct examples of what I plan on taking with me on my flight to Japan, until then!

The Art of Packing, Part I
The Art of Packing, Part II
The Art of Packing, Part III

A friend of mine who has travelled to Japan (she’s Japanese) recommended two websites that she knows of that offer extremely low prices for airfare to Japan. They were so low in fact that I felt the need to post them up here so that everyone who reads my site would know about them. Seriously though you can get airfare for really low prices on these websites.

In fact I will probably be using one of those websites the next time I decide to travel to Japan. Anyway that was kind of an emergency bulletin message, later today I will resume the three part special on packing, until then!

I will begin a three part series on packing today and continue until Tuesday August 14, the day before I leave for Japan. The first thing you should do is go to the airline’s website and see what their restrictions on luggage are; how many carry-on or checked baggage you may have, the maximum dimensions and weight allowed, etc. For an example I am going to be flying by ways of American Airlines, here is their page for baggage information. For my flight the maximum requirements are as listed:

  • One (1) carry-on piece of luggage
    • No more than 45 in/114 cm (length + width + height)
    • Maximum weight of 40 lbs/18 kgs
  • Two (2) checked pieces of luggage
    • No more than 62 in/157 cm (length +width + height)
    • Maximum weight of 50 lbs/ 23 kgs

After you have the information on the limits allowed for your baggage find pieces of luggage that best fit those specifications, maybe a few in’s/cm’s smaller just to cover for a little bit of overfilling, if that were to happen. After you have your specifications it’s time to plan the packing. Yes, you read correctly, plan the packing. Let me explain what I mean by this.

When planning your packing, what you are doing is narrowing down what you will need to pack for your trip. I base my packing around a few key specifications:

  • How long will I be staying?
  • How available are replacement items?
  • What will I need?
  • What else can I fit that I want?

Once I know the best items to fit those questions then I start packing. Hold that thought because the next part in our three part series will continue where we are leaving off, until then!

The Art of Packing, Part I
The Art of Packing, Part II
The Art of Packing, Part III

So I leave for Japan in 5 days and I haven’t written in a while, that’s my fault. A lot has been going on and I have been neglecting the site, but no more! In the next 5 days, until I leave on the plane for Japan, I will be posting each day something for you to read. To start off; getting your visa.

As a normal passport will allow you to stay in Japan for 90 days without a visa, if you are going to Japan for vacation or just not staying there for long this post is not for you, but if you plan to stay longer read on. This post is also for obtaining a student visa and nothing else. I have no experience with acquiring a work visa or a visa of any other type so I will not pretend that I know otherwise. With that said let’s go through the process of getting your student visa!

The first step is to find your local Japanese embassy or consulate because that is the only location where your student visa to Japan can be processed and then given to you. There 18 Japanese consulates scattered across the US and this page I found has a list as well as a map showing their positions. For me, because I live in New York, I had to apply at the Consulate-General of Japan in New York which also services Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, The U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia, and Fairfield County of Connecticut. After you have visited the regional Japanese consulate’s website look for a link to their “visa” page, which should detail how to obtain a visa through them. I’m not sure if the application process is different in other states but I will describe my activities.

To apply for my visa through the NY consulate I had the option of doing it in person or sending the application in by mail. I chose to do it person because I prefer to handle any problems that might come up as soon as possible, also if I had any questions I could ask them to someone with knowledge on the subject. Before you attempt either methods of submitting your application there are a few things that you must have:

  1. Valid passport with at least one full empty visa page.
  2. A two inch square photograph taken within six months of the application. (you can get them done in almost all photo shops, I did mine in Wal-Mart just because of ease, ask to do a passport photo)
  3. Certificate of Eligibility (which you should have received from your university in Japan)

If you want to know how to do the mail in process you can find the application process here for the New York Consulate, likewise your local consulate should have a similar page. Make sure you include complete documentation and fill out everything, you wouldn’t want to receive back your unprocessed application because you didn’t fill something in. I recommend that even if you are going to do the process in person to download and take a look at the application to know everything that you have to take with you.

After I found the consulate, I was directed to the area to submit visa applications. I told the attendant that I was going to be studying abroad in Japan and was handed a form to fill out. I filled out all areas, including the date I am departing from the US to Japan and returning, and by what airline. I then handed them the two-by-two photo of myself, my certificate of eligibility, and payed any fee that was required of me. Because I didn’t plan on staying in NYC while they processed my application (about four business days) I also gave them a U.S. Express Mail self-addressed stamped envelope with completed express mailing label and the postage that I purchased at my local US Postal Office. The following week I received my visa, now all that is left is to prepare to travel to Japan, which will be covered in the next four posts.

If you are in one of the areas serviced by the New York Consulate of Japan and you decide to travel to NYC to do the same process I described, let me recommend a hotel to stay at: The Pod Hotel New York (formerly the Pickwick Arms). It was cheap ($106 with tax), especially for a hotel in Manhattan, and the staff were very nice. Overall I had a very good experience in the hotel and would suggest that anyone who is planning to go to New York City on a budget take this into consideration. It was also in a very good location being at 230 E 51st St. it was only a few blocks away from the consulate.

After you have your visa, you have done all of the required material for you to leave the US, that’s a big step. Next time I will be talking about getting ready to actually leave on your plane, until then!

I just received my Certificate of Eligibility in the mail yesterday from Kansai Gaidai so I thought it would be a good idea to talk about what you should do before you go to get your visa. I have little idiosyncrasies, one of them being if I am going on a trip; to a major city, to another state, to a different country, to a country I haven’t been to in a separate continent, etc. I do a lot of research on where I am going to have a feel of where I am going before I actually get there. Japan is no different.

I have been to Japan once before in spring of 2005 for spring break visiting Tokyo for eight days. I did about a month of research on Tokyo before my flight touched down. I do more research if I am only going to a place for a limited amount of time because I want to make the most of the time that I am there. I still haven’t changed but because I will be in Osaka for five months I am doing a little less research because I figure that I can explore and do most things first hand. However, and I recommend that you do this as well, I scheduled my flight so that it is about 10 days before I have to arrive in Osaka to Kansai Gaidai for their orientation so that I can explore Japan a little before I have to buckle down for university. Here’s what happened:

A good friend of mine named Ryan who I’ve known for a couple of years now, was planning to visit a friend of his that teaches English in Japan outside of the Tokyo area. He found out that I was going to do study abroad and that I was leaving about the same time he was going to visit his friend. We talked a bit and this is when I decided to go a little early to sight see, which is why I’ll talk a little about researching where you’re going because I did exactly that for our little trip.

Like I said a little earlier his friend lives outside of Tokyo, about 45 minutes to be exact, for his job. I’ve also been to Tokyo before so I know some good places to visit so we are going to plan most of that trip the first day that we get there, we land August 15th at Narita Airport. I’ll outline our trip:

  • August 15th – 16th : On plane to Narita
  • August 16th – 20th : Traveling inside of Tokyo.
  • August 21st : Going to Mt. Fuji and Hakone
  • August 22nd – 26th : Northern Japan trip

Organizing your time is the most important part. Deciding where you will go and when is also the hardest thing to plan. In planning you should also divide your research into two parts; what you plan to do/activites, and where you will sleep/lodging. Luckily I have some experience in the area of planning and I can give some pointers of what I have done in the past years to make it a little easier for you.

When planning a trip around Japan one of the best resources is to search the internet, it is one of the best resources and one you should consult frequently because it is ever changing. For this trip we are going to be around Tokyo then taking a five day journey around Northern Japan, mainly the Tohoku Region and the Southern tip of Hokkaido. There are a few websites that are really good for finding information so that you can plan your trip.

The first is the Japan Travel Bureau that I mentioned in the Your flight, now there’s a task. post, they have a wealth of information that will help you in planning things to do while you’re in Japan. If you are going to be around the Tokyo area I highly recommend visiting the Ghibli Museum, it makes for a fun day trip. For this upcoming trip I will be purchasing the 5 consecutive day JR East Pass and the Full Day Mt. Fuji and Hakone tour from JTB.

There are three other websites that I found particularly helpful in the planning process: Yokoso! Japan, VirtualTourist, and Japan-guide. I suggest you look through each of these websites when looking for things to do in Japan, I know they gave me a good bunch of suggestions. One of my favorite pages on each of these websites are the events calendars that list festivals and such, like one of these for example. You should definitely go to japan-guide’s forums, there are a lot of very nice people that will help you with whatever questions you might have.

After you have had your fill of those websites looking for things to do (they aren’t designed that well but they do have a good amount of information), you should stop at your local bookstore megamart or amazon, whichever you prefer for some books. At the top of my list of travel books are Rough Guides and Lonely Planet. I prefer Rough Guides because of the writing style and the layout, but Lonely Planet is a close second. Don’t bother with the others as they basically just list things in a boring fashion. If you are traveling to a specific city and they have a book about it, say Tokyo, then pick up that book not the general guide to Japan book. These books have a wealth of information that are probably located on websites somewhere but nowhere near as well laid out for you. Another plus of the book is that you can take it with you on your travels and it fits neatly in your pack, unlike printouts from websites. I suggest you take a high lighter to these books and mark anything that looks interesting to you so that you can better plan your trip, both also help you with finding a place to stay while you are exploring which brings me to my next topic: finding a place to stay.

In Japan you have several options; you have western style hotels that are what you are used to, but why stay in something that you are used to and can find anywhere in your home country? Isn’t that why you chose Japan? So you can try something different? I suggest you go strait for the ryokans. Ryokans are Japanese style inns, you know with the tatami mats, low tables, and sleeping on futons (real futons not what you would buy in a store). First look in the books that you purchased for possible places, but I have found two websites that have a very good selection of ryokans for your viewing pleasure: Japanese Guest Houses and Welcome Inns. I suggest looking through each thoroughly and if possible reserve your night at a ryokan before you leave for Japan.

Well I have gone on longer than I meant to with this post but I guess this might make up for not posting in a long time. Next time I will talk about getting your visa and other things relating to that topic, so until then!

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