Once you land in Japan, go through Tokyo Orientation, meet your Contracting Organization and school heads, you're finally alone in your new apartment. Now what?
Like a game of Minecraft, you need to start from (almost) square one and build your new Japanese life. You will work out and set up a lot of things with your supervisor. But other things are all up to you. Below is a JET Program moving checklist of just about everything you need to do to jump start your life in Japan.
Stuff You Can Take Care Of
Before you do anything, you're going to want to set up your home. You've just been through the gauntlet and there's a lot more to come. So before you face the rest, take a rest. And to properly take a rest, you need to make your house a home.
In most cases, JETs inherit furnishings from their predecessors. Go through and decide what you want to keep and what you want to get rid of. If there's something you really need, talk with other new JETs in your area and see if they'd be willing to trade with you.
You'll eventually be able to save up for whatever furnishings you may want.
Here's a non-exhaustive list of things to look out for if you don't already have them.
- Futon Cover
- Alarm Clock
- Desk Chair
- Desk Lamp
- DVD Player
- Couch (optional)
- Kotatsu (necessary for winter)
- Shelving or Bookcase
- Lamps and Extra Lighting
- Light Bulbs
- Picture Frames
- Wall Clock
- Surge Protector
- Wardrobe (if you have no closets)
- Dish Cabinet (if you have no cupboards)
- Shoe Storage (because no shoes in the house)
- Laundry Hamper
- Laundry Detergent
- Laundry Poles/Drying Rack
- Ironing Board
- Vacuum Cleaner
- Broom & Dustpan
- Mop & Bucket
- Step Stool
- Extra Batteries
- Electric Heater
- Kerosene heater
- Electric Fan
Some things you can do without, but a several kitchen items are vital. If you don't have dishes or utensils, find some for cheap at the local department store and stock up.
- Cookware (Pots and Pans and such)
- Dish Set
- Utensil Set
- Cutlery Set
- Kitchen Knives
- Cutting Boards
- Kitchen Timer
- Can Opener
- Kitchen Scissors
- Measuring Utensils
- Rice Cooker
- Toaster Oven
- Teapot or Magic Japanese Electric Tea Boiler
- Chip Clips
- Plastic Food Containers
- Sandwich Bags
- Trash Bags
- Trash Can
- Ice Cube Tray
- Paper Towel Holder
- Dish Drying Rack
- Dish Towels
- Dish Soap
Toiletries is one thing your predecessor won't (shouldn't?) leave you. This is where that $3000 you packed comes in handy. Head to the nearest department store and fill your bathroom and kitchen with papers and soaps.
- Shower Caddy (depending on your shower)
- Body Wash or Soap
- Washcloth or the like
- Comb or Hairbrush
- Face Wash
- Shaving Cream
- Nail Clippers
- Toilet paper
- Curling Iron
- Toilet Brush
- Toilet Cleaner
- Window Cleaner
- Surface Cleaner
- Kabi Killer (Japanese Mold Killer)
Memorize your address
Put your address in an anki deck and start memorizing it verbally and on paper. You'll be glad you did the first time you get lost and need to ask for directions. You'll be doubly glad you learned to write your address if old people in your neighborhood don't understand your pronunciation.
Prepare for self-introductions
At this point, you've likely been thrown into one or two of these situations. You've had to introduce yourself informally to new coworkers and supervisors. Though awkward, it's a good way to get you ready for the big one.
On the first day of classes at your new school(s), you'll most likely be asked to introduce yourself before the assembly. It only has to be as elaborate as you're able to make it. Just doing it is enough. That said, preparation helps with jitters.
If you're Japanese is great, write a nice 3 minute speech. If you have limited Japanese (like I did), a few sentences will be fine.
Either way, get a Japanese proficient friend or supervisor to check what you wrote.
Then memorize and practice the heck out of it.
Explore your neighborhood
This should be done on foot and online.
First, explore by foot to get a feel for the neighborhood and gain familiarity. This will help in your mental transition as well as spatially orienting you.
Second, locate your nearest hospital, public transit station, workplace, grocery store, konbini, etc. using Google Maps, or other less reliable mapping services. This ensures you know where all the important places in your life are.
Start asking about clubs and groups in your area
Ask your supervisor and other JETs about clubs or activities you can join. You may not feel inclined to do this right away if you're overwhelmed. But the sooner you join a group, the more connected you feel, and the easier it will be to deal with those overwhelming feelings. Take some time, but don't put it off. Join a club as soon as you can.
Exchange emergency contact numbers of people in case of emergency
Once you've made a few friends, give them your contact information and that of your family or friends back home in case of an emergency.
Start your Japanese study regimen
You probably won't be able to study much as you're getting prepared to leave for JET. But once you're in your apartment, it's time to study. There's a lot on your plate, but section off a portion of your day anyway. The work you do on JET will have an exponential effect on your Japanese ability, so start early and stick to it!
Stuff to Take Care of with Your School Supervisor
You will have a 担当者 at each school you work at. This person will be a Japanese Teacher that you team teach with. They will mostly help you with work related matters. Right off the bat, there are a few things you can work out with them.
- Figure out what the job expectations are for the ALT at that school.
- Ask for examples and explanations of ways ALTs have worked with teachers in the school in the past. What elements are worth keeping? What elements are worth improving?
- Learn the schedule for that school. When are you expected to arrive? Till when are you expected to stay?
- Meet all the English Teachers.
- Meet the Principal.
- Get a seating chart for the teachers room. Learn where each English teacher sits.
- Ask about any special events coming up you should prepare for.
- Figure out how to get to your school(s) from your house.
Stuff to Take Care of with Your BOE Supervisor
Your supervisor at the Board of Education is your main helper. He or she is in charge of you, your job, and your well-being. Most of the things you need to take care of after your arrival on JET will be with your supervisor.
Forms, Paperwork, and Settings-Up
- Review your Contract: (aka "Terms and Conditions") to find out what is expected from you from the BOE's perspective. Clarify any questions you may have.
- Internet: Set up internet. Do it! You need it! Your supervisor should help you with this. But in case they don't (or you can't wait) here's some services that should help you set up internet easily on your own:
- Key Money: Figure out if you need to pay key money to the landlord.
- Paying Bills: Find out how to pay rent and bills.
- Garbage: Learn what days garbage is collected and how to separate trash and recyclables in your particular area.
- Make yourself legal to live in Japan without fear of being jailed: When you arrive in Narita, you will most likely be given a Resident Card (在留カード). If it's not given to you at that time, it should be mailed to you within 14 days. Like a passport, this card should be kept on you at all times. Once you have your Resident Card, your supervisor should take you to a municipal office to apply for your Residence Record (住民票), which lets the your city know you live there. If you don't yet have a Resident Card, you can show your passport with the stamp indicating you will soon receive one. This should be done within 14 days of arriving in Japan.
- Personal Seal: Have a personal seal ( 判子, or 印鑑) made. This is what you will use in Japan instead of a signature. Keep it with you in case you need to do something official.
- Banking: Open a bank account and set up direct deposit. Sometimes you can choose the bank you want to be part of, but other times a bank will be chosen for you. Learn how to use your bank card and bank book to withdraw and deposit money.
- Taxes: Ask about how paying local taxes will work when the time comes.
- Schedule: Ask about your schedule 予定表. What are your work hours each day? What do you do on days when a school does not have classes?
- Vacation Days: How many days of paid leave 年休 do you have? How and when can you use them?
- Sick Days: How many days of sick leave 病休 do you have? How and when can you use them?
- Special Days Off: If you are a prefectural ALT, you may be entitled to a compensatory holiday 代休 if the number of work days in a month exceeds the number stated in your contract. Ask about how this works and if it applies to you.
- Business Trips: Will you be expected to go on any business trips 出張? What counts as a business trip? Will you be compensated for these trips?
- Your Attendance Book: Ask about your attendance book 出勤簿 at the BOE and at each workplace. When and how will you record your attendance? You will probably use your hanko for this.
- Driving: If you need a car, find out where to obtain one. Find out if your International Driver's Permit (IDP) is okay to use, rules of the road, car insurance, etc.
- Official JET Language Courses: Set up your admission into the JET Japanese Language Course if you want to take the lessons offered online by the JET Program. If not, there are other options.
- You should be automatically enrolled in the National Health Insurance and three other insurances. Make sure you understand the terms and conditions of each.
- Make sure you know how to make a claim
- If you have family with you, register them as your dependents.
Emergency Contact Numbers
Collect some emergency contact numbers (in case of emergency).
- Your Supervisor (work and home)
- Your 担当者 (school supervisors)
- Your school(s) at which you work
- Prefectural Advisors
- Embassy/Consulate of your home country in Japan
- Embassy/Consulate from which you departed
- Nearest hospital
- Primary Care Physician (once you have one)
- Police (110)
- Ambulance/Fire Department (119)
- AJET Peer Support Group (PSG) 050-5534-5566
- Tokyo English Life Line (TELL) 03-5774-0992
Random Tips for Navigating This Time
- After Tokyo Orientation you may either be taken straight to your apartment or straight to your school or Board of Education. Though you'll be jet-lagged or worn out from Tokyo Orientation, try to 我慢する. Push through the introductions and ceremonies you're led to as soon as you arrive. Introductions and first impressions are really important in Japan and they are arranged to honor you and make you feel welcome. So, even though you'll be tired at this point, down some coffee and stay genki for these short introductions. It will go a long way toward transitioning you into your new life.
- Accept your Japanese apartment for what it is. It's most likely not your dream home. It might take some work to make it feel homey. If you tell yourself from the start you can't live there, then you won't be able to. Accept it for what it is for now. You'll have the resources to move if you really want later on, but you're here for now so you might as well not be miserable.
- Check out Surviving in Japan, probably the most excellent resource for discovering what Japanese products and services most closely match those you may be used to in your home country.
JET Program Moving Checklist Complete. Relax!
By the end of all this ruckus, you've settled in a new country. You're working, walking, talking, and living in Japan. Take a deep breath and enjoy it. Go do something you love and take it in.
After that, it's time to buckle down and get good at your job.
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