a merkypie in japan

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what to expect coming to Japan on the JET Program. A lot of the questions have pretty much been the same, so rather than repeat myself over and over again I decided to write a post tackling those frequently asked questions. Questions about paperwork I will not answer because that is consulate specific. Please ask your coordinator; that is what they are there for.

1. Omiyage?! What should I bring?!

It’s a little too early to be worrying about Omiyage. Why? Because you don’t know where you’re going. You don’t know your schools, your coworkers, or the overall feel of your BoE. Wait until you are placed and bombard your pred with those questions. Your pred would know better than anyone else on if omiyage worked or not.

In my situation, I brought Florida wine and natural honey fresh from a honey farm. Florida is primarily known for agriculture as one of it’s main industries, so I decided to get that. Someone told me to bring something that represents your home as omiyage and liquor was the preferred choice.

I never gave those gifts out. I have a bag full of honey and two bottles of wine collecting dust.

2. Luggage?! I read in my GOH XX?!?!

Okay, so this is how luggage works. The amount of luggage you can bring depends on your airline. For most American carriers you are only allowed two pieces of luggage, which should be free, and anything more is an additional charge. Not to mention it is not guaranteed it will get on the plane due to the 2 luggage per passenger rule (according to Delta, which was my airline). I had two luggages and a roller from my days as FA as a carry-on. That carry on ended up costing me $150 to check in because of the rent-a-cops working TSA kept saying it was a two piece luggage piece (it was not).

Anyway, once you arrive in Japan, you are going to be guided by JET volunteers through the airport once you leave customs. You will be taken to a bus loading area where your luggage will then be tagged to be shipped off to your prefecture. You are allowed one large bag and a personal item.

Why? Because space (JETs who fly are restricted on the amount of luggage they can bring on a flight and if you’re coming to Ishikawa, you are flying) and, well, its going to be really damn annoying tugging around 3 – 4 pieces of luggage around Tokyo. You also really won’t have time to splurge and do a shopping spree unless you plan on staying up for 72 hours straight.

It cost me $30 to ship my two large pieces of luggage to my prefecture. If you have more to ship, do it. You pretty much want to be as weight free as possible.

3. Work clothes?!

This is ESID. For me, I’m primarily an Elementary school teacher so I can get away with jeans and a nice shirt. On Fridays, I dress down in the summer with a t-shirt. I also wear skirts with leggings and turtle neck sweaters. Layering is a big thing with Japanese fashion, so wearing more than less is most ideal. 

The guaranteed outfit that all ALTs must have is a suit. You need a suit for entrance ceremonies, return from vacation ceremonies, the ceremony before the ceremony, and the ceremony before the ceremony before that other ceremony. Have a nice suit for ceremonies. Oh, and PTA/Open Class days.

Basically, as long as you’re not flopping around with your boobs hanging out and your skirt isn’t short to the point that you’re showing your crotch the world, you should be good. But, again, ESID. High Schools probably have a higher dress code policy for their teachers than Elementary and Middle School. Ask your pred and get their opinion.

4. What should I bring then for clothes?!

If you have a waist less than 88cm, hips less than 100cm, and are no taller than 5’5”…. Finding clothes in Japan is not a problem. If you are bigger than that, good luck. American sizes run larger, sometimes double, than Japanese sizes. A size 10 in America is a size 14 in Japan. A medium in America is a Large in Japan. If you are a woman, any shoe size larger than an 8 means shoes do not exist for you unless you mind wearing men’s shoes. The only places in Japan to find “plus size” (大きいサイズ) clothing is in cities with a huge foriegn population, such as Osaka or Tokyo.

Uniqlo’s Ginza flagship store is the only Uniqlo store in all of Japan that carries sizes larger than XL.

You can shop online for plus size clothing but if you are very curvy or tall, it’s best to try them out as they may run short or simply make your curves look like you’re wearing a fat suit. You could probably find clothes at local boutiques and smaller chains that cater to ‘plus size’ (American) body types, so it’s really just discovering on your own.

tl;dr: Bring your own clothes and worry about shopping for Japanese clothes later.


Yes, you need two pairs of shoes. One for indoors and a pair for outdoors. I’ve heard of ALTs who just use the school’s slippers. I don’t, I travel with a pair cause I got huge feet. Do whatever you want here, its not a big deal.

That’s all the questions I’ve been getting so far and seeing around the web, so if you have anymore feel free to ask and I’ll just add them to this post. Good luck.

  • http://inakamouse.tumblr.com Mercedes

    Hey! I have a question about the slippers thing and the indoor/outdoor shoes thing. I mean I get that you can’t wear outside shoes inside, but what kind of slippers do you mean? What do people wear inside? Just regular shoes that have no been outside, or actual slippers? ….or do you literally just bring two pairs of shoes for every type you need. And are bathroom slippers a real thing? Omg so many shoe questions! Culture shock.

    • http://inakamouse.tumblr.com Mercedes

      p.s.: Awesome post by the way! great answers :)

    • Merkypie

      Japanese slippers are like regular slippers. Uncomfortable made out of like faux leather with the school’s name on them and never washed. If you ever watched a manzai act and a guy slaps the other guy with a slipper, that’s what they are.

      I have ballerina shoes for my indoor shoes, or converses if I feel like wearing sneakers. Then I wear whatever I want to and from school.

      The teachers mostly wear sneakers, some wear indoor dress shoes, others wear like work sandals…

      • http://inakamouse.tumblr.com Mercedes

        That was exactly what I wanted to know! I don’t know if i can wrap my head around having to coordinate shoes for inside AND outside every day so just having one pair you wear regardless makes sense. Having just a pair of flats you keep with you to wear inside makes a lot of sense. So I guess I will be ok if I just bring whatever shoes I want to wear like I usually would and then make sure to have a pair of comfy but professional versatile flats and then inside sneakers for any gyms or if i teach elementary school etc. Thanks! Looks like I will be dropping some serious $$ on my gargantuan sz 10 feet pre-japan for both inside AND outside shoes lol. Also random: I was watching an etiquette video and it said japanese people expect you to have slippers in front of your bathroom for them because it would be weird to wear socks or barefeet in there… so should i just buy cheap clippers when i get there and keep them by my bathroom? Is that a weirdly specific and anal question? yes lol :{

        • Merkypie

          I’ve only been to one bathroom that offered slippers in this country, well, two if I count the capsule hotel I stayed at. Every other establishment and school I’ve been too did not have a set of slippers to slip in and out of (granted, I have not been to a native’s home yet) Unless you plan on having Japanese guests a lot, I wouldn’t sweat trying to appeal to their customs. Japanese don’t expect us foreigners to abide by their cultural standards. They actually are shocked, or in more cases amused, when foreigners actually abide by their customs and societal rules. I wouldn’t stress the small things, really.