Scooter vs Japan

How to Pack for JET (sorta) | July 27, 2015

Here’s another cross post from TheJetCoaster, which has lots of other tips from super keeners on life, JET, and how to be a dirty foreign barbarian.


Every JET

When I think about packing for this move, I try and think about what I need and what I want… And then I got get a drink. And then after I’m done drinking and crying, I go back to thinking. How the heck do I pack for a multiple year move in just 3 suitcases?

Once I’ve processed all the liquor I just put into my blood, I try to remember that I’ve done this before I moved to Japan in 2009 to study abroad, so I’ve had to pack like this before. But there are two key differences between this and that trip.

Difference the first: I am going for much longer this time. When I was studying abroad, I didn’t have to worry too much if I left something in Canada. I was only going to be there for about 9 months. I didn’t need my cherished childhood toy, nor my book collection. I could safely leave things in Canada and return to them later. With JET and this move, that’s not really the case. I do not know when I will be returning to Canada. This means I need to be very careful with what I pack and what I leave, since those decisions are basically written in stone.

Difference the second: I am no studying abroad. This is actually a nice save here. When I was studying abroad, I was inclined to bring this and that textbook with me. I needed a large amount of Japanese language materials, but I also had other materials I needed to bring with me for other disciplines. As a JET, much of that is less important. Sure, I’m still going to be learning Japanese (and in a proficiency level I’m less comfortable with), but I’m not doing it formally. I can also find some of these materials locally should I need them. So sorry, Genki textbook, but you gotta stay behind. But I’ll look you up in Japan if I need your help.

So what does this mean? Well, everything and nothing. Because I’m moving to work instead of study, my academic needs are much lighter this time around. I don’t really need to be hauling a suitcase full of books with me. But because I’m moving, I need to bring extra or different items with me this time. In my mind, the two sort of cancel each other out.

There’s sort of a third difference as well (give me a break. I can’t count). This time, I’m a little better prepared and know more about what is available to me and what isn’t. I’m going to touch on this later, but it’s a good point to keep in mind moving forwards.

What to pack? Step One.

I don’t think I will ever forget what my school’s Exchange Coordinator said during my pre-departure to study abroad. Standing in front of a room full of university students, all bound for different countries and different experiences, she said one thing that applied to all of us; one thing that we all needed to remember.

You are all going to countries  that sell shampoo.

Those few words resonate with the frequency of the galaxy, and are so important to remember at every stage of packing. Never in my life have I heard some good advice that keeps coming back to me, whether I am leaving the country or moving down the block.

This phrase and the meaning behind it is going to come up again and again, and it has already impacted how I look a pre-packing.

Step Two: Clothing

So the first thing to consider packing is probably clothes. As a teacher, I’m going to need my suit, ties, formal shirts, and dress pants. Check. I also need my man shoes (check) and other similar formal wear.

I don’t like going commando, so boxers are a must (check), as are socks. This is basically where packing takes it’s first nose dive off the side of a mountain. Without trying, I have amassed a large collection of socks. Most are for casual daily wear, but some are for formal situations, while others have a more silly time and place. But I don’t have a lot of formal socks, because that has never really been a thing. So I’m going to have to pick though my daily wear socks and cut them with my formal and other socks. I guess check?

So I;ve got my formal wear. Now what. Well, I’m going to need some casual wear for the weekends and for when I need to gaijin smash. I’m going to be wearing my favourite plaid shorts, so those don’t need packing. Jeans are right out. Ahh. The first cut. See, I’m going to have several pairs of pants with me, and bringing a few pairs of jeans is pointless. It’s also very hot and humid in Japan (compared to Prairie Canada), so wearing heavy thick jeans isn’t something I’m excited about. Lastly, I can buy jeans in Japan. There’s that phrase again. If I don’t want to dress like a grown up, I can always go somewhere and buy some jeans.

Now for the rest of the casual wear; shirts. I love wearing t-shirts, but I really am not going to need that many. Maybe 5 or 6. I dunno. I have a LOT of shirts, so so that’s going to take some time. But again, I can buy clothes in Japan, so if I only bring a few t-shirts with me, it’s not a big deal.

Shoes are super easy. I’ve already decided on my man shoes. I have a pair of runners (check), and if I can find my sandals, I’ll bring those two. I don’t actually own winter boots, but that’s something that would just take up space anyways, so that’s a Japan buy.

I think that leaves things like winter wear, sweaters, and jackets. Just like shoes, I live a simple life. I have my leather jacket, which is quite warm and I wore all winter (check). I’ll bring some gloves and a toque, and maybe a scarf if I can dig one up (check all around). And that’s it. If I need anything more, I will buy it when I get to Japan. Winter is months away and I have no intention of taking up valuable real estate with tons of winter wear I’m not convinced I need.

Here’s the catch though. I’m overweight and I know it (clap your hands *clap clap*). I also have short legs and wide shoulders. I know from past experience that some clothing just won’t fit. Japanese boxers are the worst (at least the ones I bought. Pants probably won’t fit me well either, since I’m not an androgynous 100 pound Japanese cross dresser. But I’m short like a Japanese man, so that’s a plus. And most Japanese people have smaller feet like me, so shoe shopping was a dream. And socks… don’t get me started on socks. I have a pair of socks from Uniqlo from 2009 that have lasted longer than socks I bought last year.

But at the end of the day here, the recurring theme is that I can pack light and buy anything else I need after I get there.

Step Three: Books

I sort of touched on this already, but I plan to bring far fewer books with me this time. Since digital media has become more common, I can buy novels and the like online, so they don’t have to take up space in my bag. I can go pretty textbook light as well, though I do want to bring some English grammar books and other learning aids (check). And I scanned a lot of my TESOL material, so no 5 inches of textbooks there. So hopefully, I’m gonna be pretty book light.

Step Four: Gaming


Here’s where I drive off a cliff again. I’m a tabletop gamer. Just like last time, I expect to bring a certain number of gaming books and board games with me. But I need to be SO careful here, since I have single board games that can fill a suitcase and take up half my weight limit. So here’s how I’m thinking about this.

First, my living conditions are different. I’m not that close to any large expat communities like I was when I lived outside of Osaka. And there aren’t a lot of them even around me. My town has me and my predecessor (who told me he’s received a position with the town). I think there are some JETs around me, but that is literally around me in a circle. The likelihood that I can find gaming groups is much, MUCH smaller than when I was in Osaka. So bring a lot of games isn’t as necessary or valuable.

Second, specific to roleplaying games, I own many in digital form. Since I will most likely be playing online, having physical books isn’t as important. Sure, I’m going to try and bring a few of the smaller ones in case I do get a local game going, but I can pack pretty light.

Third, I am aware that many board games are available in Japan, either in Japanese or as an English import with a Japanese crib sheet. In the case of the latter, it’s often the same game I can buy in Canada. For the former, I can find English crib sheets or even the full rules online, either from the publisher or on BoardGameGeek.

So I can leave some games here, even if I really enjoy them (like Forumla D) since I can buy the after I land, and I can leave others that I love but are unlikely to play at this time. Also, I can buy most (but not all) gaming books I’m watching online, which I am increasingly doing anyways. So that’s kind of a check.

Step Five: Other Hobbies

I do other stuff too. I swear. *cries* Anyways, I would like to again bring my rock climbing harness, since there are a number of gyms in nearby Asahikawa (check). I’m also going to be bringing some bookbinding supplies (I tried to get into that but lacked the time and room where I live now), mostly since the tools are pretty small. And if I have a printer at home and find any craft stores to get the rest of the supplies, I’m good (so check). I don’t think I’ll bring any origami books or the like with me. Although it was surprisingly hard to find non-kids books, I can just cross that bridge when I get there.

Same goes with a lot of other hobby and interest stuff. No point in packing around my several hundred disc DVD and blu-ray collection since I can stream movies, watch TV, and hit up some rental stores. I will try to bring my Arduino and electronics kit, provided I can get it small enough and through airport security (I still have to make that phone call).

Step Six: Computers

See that “s” on the end. Yep. Nerd. This is a tough and stupid choice, but one that needs to be made. So let’s start with my laptop. That’s a check, or rather my main laptop is a check. I’m not bringing my other two (yes, I have three laptops. Get over it). My desktop is also staying home.

Dramatization. May not have happened.

That leaves my mini-PC and my file server. Yeah. I have a lot of computers. I purpose built a file server (to handle redundant storage and to prevent data loss) to be as small as I can make it, yet be a full PC so I can better maintain and control it. It’s still really big and very heavy, but that’s the hand I was dealt. And my mini-PC is coming with me, which I may convert into a media centre-settop box kind of deal.

Lastly is my tablet, which will be coming as well, though I may be replacing shortly. So that’s lots of big, heavy, stupid checks. Note that this is pretty excessive and due to my specific needs and neurosis. I wouldn’t actually recommend anyone bring a desktop PC or as many computers as I am bringing. Computers can be bought and built in Japan. I’m only doing this because of careful planning over the duration of about two years.

Step Seven: Personal Affects

This one is both easy and hard. Since I can buy shampoo in Japan, a lot of toiletries are going to be left. I’m going to get a cheap toothbrush, a travel bottle of mouthwash, and I have some little bottles for shampoo and body wash for a few days. I’ll have a towel, but that’s mostly for suitcase padding to keep other things in place, and so I can have a shower my first morning.

I’m also going to try and bring a small quilt that belonged to my grandpa, since it made a really good blanket and cuddle buddy last time. But my suitcase is getting full, so I’m not sure about that. I’d also like to bring my zafu, because I am a terrible Buddhist. But I also know that I can buy religious materials after I land, despite how ridiculously hard it was last time, so this might get cut too.

Aside from that, I can’t really think of anything. Photos and valuables are staying here, aside from legal and personal documents. I’ll surely have a bunch of knickknacks and small items, but nothing major. And of course, my gifts, prizes, and teaching aids. Oh. And that silly amount of loose tea I have. Basically no weight but does take up a little space (yes, I can buy tea in Japan, but this stuff is expensive and probably won’t keep).

That might seem like a lot and it probably is, but there is going to be a pretty heavy slash and burn as I pack. Stupid crap or replacables like casual clothes, board games, and my zafu are on my endangered list, as is anything that isn’t totally vital for my job or sanity. Ironically, computers are probably quite high up. I paid good money for my server and it holds all my important documents and off device storage, so if any cuts had to be made, it probably won’t be here.


Pack light. Seriously. I know it doesn’t look like it, but that’s basically an itemized list. We are really attached to physical things, and all this is going to do is weigh you down. So many things can be bought in Japan once we are paid that it makes at least half of what we pack completely pointless.

Perhaps the best way to pack is to take half of what you want to bring, lay it out, and then pick up half of that and put it away. And then maybe do that another time. I actually do feel, file server taking up my carry on suitcase aside, that I am going to be travelling a bit lighter than last time. I’m going to be really light on clothes, bring fewer board games with me, and may actually go bookless (save for a few texts and classroom aids). Everything else is pretty small and manageable.

Ultimately, everyone’s packing is going to be different, but this will hopefully give people and idea of what they may or may not want to bring.

Thank for watching.


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About author

Scooter is an ESL teacher and Japanese anthropologist. He hopes to document his thoughts of living in Japan, continued cultural studies, and to provide advice for others looking to hop the pond.







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