Buying from your Predecessor
You're coming to Japan and your predecessor's (most likely) leaving Japan, which means that they'll have a lot of stuff they'll no longer need, and you'll need stuff that you don't yet have.
Almost every JET buys stuff from their predecessor. Your predecessor might give you a flat rate just to take it all, or they might give you a line-by-line price tag on each item, or they might realize that the used toaster oven isn't worth haggling over, and just give you their stuff.
In most cases, JETs are honest about what they have and what condition it's in. Still, every now and then there's a new JET who gets to their new apartment only to discover that their predecessor ripped them off. This rarely happens, but unfortunately if it does, you won't really have any recourse but to vow not to do the same to your successor.
Don't be afraid to ask questions about anything you are thinking of buying, and don't worry about saying that you don`t want to buy something.
Here are some questions/tips you might want to ask:
- Who owns it or who paid for it? If your predecessor bought it, how much did they pay for it?
- How old is it?
- How much do they want to sell it for? You can hopefully come to an agreement that you are both happy with when it comes to price. When you do set a price that you both accept, stick to it. Be fair.
- Is it something you will definitely need?
- Ask them to send you pictures of the item/s that they want to sell.
Be explicit. If there is something you know you don`t want to buy, then give your predecessor enough warning so that they can get rid of anything they can`t take home if no one will buy it.
Banned in Japan
Please do not bring the following items into Japan lest you fancy a nice cozy stay at a Japanese prison or risk the embarrassment of having it plucked from your suitcase...........
- Forged Goods - Including forged money and counterfeit items that violate copyright laws
- Weapons - Handguns, rifles, bullets, etc.
- Narcotics - Cocaine, Heroin, Marijuana, etc.
- Pornography - Books or magazines that are deemed "damaging to public morals."
You must pay taxes if you bring more than the designated amount of some goods:
- Alcohol - 3 bottles (1 bottle=760 mls) per adult (20 years of age)
- Tobacco - 250 grams (200 cigarettes) per adult (20 years of age)
- Perfume - 2 ounces
- Don't try to bring fresh fruit, vegetable, or meat products to Japan. Keep in mind that some nuts are technically fruits (e.g., walnuts).
- Canned Products and Dried Produce are allowed as long as they were commercially processed.
- You need to get a special label to bring in dried meat. Contact your embassy for details.
Bringing Medication into Japan
Decisions on what medications may be imported legally into Japan are made by the Japanese Government.
It is illegal to bring into Japan some over-the-counter medicines commonly used in the United States, including inhalers and some allergy and sinus medications. Specifically, products that contain stimulants medicines that contain Pseudoephedrine, such as Claratin, Actifed, Sudafed, and Vicks inhalers), or Codeine are prohibited. So please read your medicine labels carefully! Up to a two-months' supply of allowable over-the-counter medication and up to a four-months' supply of allowable vitamins can be brought into Japan duty-free.
Some prescription medications cannot be imported into Japan, even when accompanied by a customs declaration and a copy of the prescription. Japanese customs officials have detained travelers carrying prohibited items, sometimes for several weeks. Japanese customs officials do not make on-the-spot "humanitarian" exceptions for medicines that are prohibited in Japan.
Generally, up to one month's supply of allowable prescription medicine can be brought into Japan. Travelers must bring a copy of their doctor's prescription as well as a letter stating the purpose of the drug. Travelers who must carry more than one month's supply (except prohibited drugs and controlled drugs), or are carrying syringes (pumps), are required to obtain a so-called "Yakkan Shoumei", or an import certificate in advance, and show the "Yakkan Shoumei" certificate with your prescription medicines at the Customs. The "Yakkan Shoumei" certificate can be obtained from your nearest Japanese Embassy or Consulate.
Japanese physicians can often prescribe similar, but not identical, substitutes to medicines available in your country.
Presents for co-workers
You're sure to hear this term as soon as you arrive to Japan so lets get it out of the way now, Omiyage (お土産）. These are souvenirs/gifts given by someone returning from a trip, to be given to family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, business associates, teachers, classmates and any other person socially related to the returning vacationer. By convention, it is shameful to arrive or return empty-handed and such acts as going on a vacation away from one's society could be perceived as selfish or anti-social. Omiyage shows the traveler was thinking of the family and community members while away.
Because of the number of omiyage often required following a vacation, travelers need to buy souvenirs in bulk (Japanese travelers have been known to bring one empty suitcase solely for them).
Places that cater to Japanese travelers will offer selections of omiyage arranged by price, size and category. Several items of omiyage are often kept by households to give at a moment's notice to avoid embarrassments. Due to the expense and effort involved in collecting and distributing the souvenir, Japanese are often very close-lipped about their travel plans, hoping to minimize their omiyage responsibilities.
Shopping for omiyage in Japan is pretty easy, as everyplace in Japan is famous for something. Wakayama for example is famous for its mikan (mandarin orange) and ume (Japanese plum) and there are lots of omiyage shops that sell small boxes of individually wrapped goodies incorporating these fruit.
For New JETs Technically this does not apply to when you first start a job, but many JETs bring small presents for their coworkers and neighbors when they first come to Japan. This goes a long way when first building relationships. If you do this, the people you might want to shop for are:
- The Office Staff
- The English Teachers (especially the ones you teach with)
- Your landlord
- Your neighbors
Ask your predecessor for help on this one, as they'll know all of the people that you will interact with on a regular basis. It's also a good idea to bring small gifts that you can give to your students as prizes/rewards for English class. Be aware that most schools have rules against giving food to students, so make sure you check with your school before you start handing out psychotropic chocolates. (kidding...........no really ask first!)
If you are a new JET and bringing presents over from your home country, try to be as creative as possible. Food is always good, but people will like anything that is in any way representative of your hometown, country, or culture. Here are some ideas:
- Photo book
- Alcohol (good for principals, vice-principals, supervisor)
- Tie pins
First few days
As one would expect, things in Japan will be unfamiliar and different from what you may have been accustomed to at home. "Culture shock" is real people! It affects us in many different ways. It refers to the anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, uncertainty, confusion, etc.) felt when people have to operate within a different and unknown cultural or social environment, such as a foreign country. It grows out of the difficulties in assimilating the new culture, causing difficulty in knowing what is appropriate and what is not. This is often combined with a dislike for or even disgust (moral or aesthetical) with certain aspects of the new or different culture. Don't assume anything! Ask questions. Your supervisor and senpai (older) JETs in your area are probably the best people to ask questions while you are settling into your new community. See "Dealing with Culture Shock".
There are various sections for information on getting your Residency Card (在留カード), getting your Personal Seal (印鑑), setting up Home Phones, Getting Internet, and buying Cell Phones.
Who is my supervisor?
Because things aren't confusing enough, the word "supervisor" is often used to mean two (hopefully not more) people. That's because the word 所属長 (shozokuchou) and 担当者 (tantousha) are both translated as "supervisor." Your shozokucho is most likely someone in your BOE, and he/she is generally considered responsible for you. Also, in some cases, a number of English teachers may act as your supervisor depending on the situation and what you need help with. Here, when we say supervisor, we will be referring to your tantousha.
If nobody tells you that they are your supervisor, ask the question: Who is my supervisor? 私の担当者は誰ですか? ( Watashi no tantousha wa dare desu ka?).
Role of your supervisor
In most situations (unless you are your school's first JET), your supervisor will be fairly quick in explaining most of the important information that you will need to know. However, take a pro-active role and ask questions. Do not rely on your supervisor to tell you everything that you may want or need to know. Your supervisor should run you through your Personal Seal, bills, banking, and a tentative work schedule. It is common for household bills, such as gas, water, electricity, and so on to be paid through automatic remittance from your bank account, however, make sure to ask your supervisor when and how all of your bills will be paid. If you want to have your bills paid via automatic remittance (口座振替 koza-furikae), ask your supervisor to help you fill out the necessary forms at the bank. Most bills can be paid at Lawson or other convenience stores.
Transportation to and from work
Ask your supervisor about transportation to and from work. Some of you may have to take the train, bus, some may have to walk or ride a bike, and they're some who will need to drive commute by car. Please make sure to ask what means of transportation they allow, as some schools/BOEs don't allow JETs to drive to work. However, all JETs are allowed to drive during non-working hours. If you're having problems with that, see My BOE won't let me drive!. If you are going to be driving, make sure to check out the Rules of the Road.
Yes Japanese names may be difficult to remember at first. Even some 2nd and 3rd year JETs still have problems remembering names. From the moment you arrive in Japan, you will be barraged with new names and faces. It is a good idea to spend the first week or so making a hardy effort to memorize everyone's name, especially the teachers and staff members at your school or BOE. Trust me when I say it's pretty embarrassing not remembering someone's name or worst yet when you call them by a completely different name, especially when you work with them everyday. The quickest and easiest way to remember everyone's name is to have one of the English teachers give you the staffroom seating chart with romaji or hiragana written above all of the names. When you have free time, you can sit there and look around the room matching the names to faces. You should also make sure to find out the following information on each teacher:
- What their title is, if any.
- What they are in charge of. Some teachers act as tantousha of their shima (island of desks), others are in charge of 1st, 2nd or 3rd year student matters, and others may head up particular school projects, etc.
- What subject(s) they teach. In some schools it may be possible to sit in on other teacher's classes or do a joint lesson with non-English teachers.
- Whether or not they are a homeroom teacher. Homeroom teachers are responsible for their students' behavior in and outside of the classroom, and they are the one to talk to if you are having problems with a particular student in your class.
- What club(s), if any, they coach. Most schools allow their ALTs to participate in school clubs. Find out what is available.
Junior High Schools
Generally, JHS ALTs work for a city, town, or district board of education. This is your official employer, but you will be working at the junior high school(s) and/or elementary school(s) in the area covered by your BOE. Usually, most ALTs will be "working" at the BOE for about a month until the second term starts, and more than likely will have a lot of spare time away from your desk. Use this time to get to know your area, accommodations, and all of the new faces at the BOE and your school(s). Learn how your BOE functions, who does what, what people you need to know, and what your role there is.
Senior High Schools
As a high school JET, you will work at an individual high school, but the Prefectural Board of Education is your official employer. The downside to this is that most high school JETs will be stuck at school during the summer, even when there are no classes to teach (some JHS JETs are allowed special study leave during the summer to study Japanese, travel around Japan, etc.) However, this can be advantageous for SHS JETs who have just arrived in a new place and do not know many people. Use this time to get to know your co-workers and how your school functions. If you find that you have too much free time, and checking your e-mail, facebook, international news, random wikipedia facts ten times a day does not seem to occupy enough time, try studying Japanese or joining one of the clubs at your school. Joining a club activity is a great way to communicate and interact with the students outside the classroom.
Questions About Work
Make sure you ask your supervisor or an English teacher about how your school works. Don't be afraid to ask questions! Your fellow teachers are usually more than willing to assist you. Most teachers have a lot of free time during the summer, so this is your best chance to ask them about their teaching methods, previous team-taught lessons, what was successful, what failed, and what new ideas they have for the future. Also, make a sincere effort to get to know them as individuals.
- What level of students will I be teaching?
- Will we be using textbooks in the class?
- Can I supplement the textbook with my own materials?
- Did my predecessor leave any prior lesson plans?
- What clubs are there at this school? Can I participate?
- What extra-curricular duties, if any, do I have (community Eikaiwa, etc.)?
- What is the cleaning schedule and where/when I am supposed to help out?
- Where is the copy machine and how do I use it?
- Can I use the internet at school?
- Some schools don't allow you to check your e-mail, but at the very least, you should be able to use the internet for finding teaching resources.
- What school events are held each year? What will I be expected to do during these activities?
Familiarize yourself with your surroundings as quickly as you can. Make sure that you locate your school, and the closest hospital, post office, bank, grocery store, convenience store, video rental store, train stops, bus stops, etc. Ask someone at your school to get you some train and bus schedules and then kindly ask one of the English teachers to translate them for you. Find out the hours for local stores – especially in the countryside, stores close extremely early. Many stores in Japan are closed one day a week, either Sunday, Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Also, find out where the Automatic Teller Machines are, when they open and close, what their rates are, and if there are any days that they will not be open at all. It is also important to find out which JETs are closest (geographically and emotionally) to you. In case of an emergency or if you lose your sanity, they'll probably be the ones that you can call for help. Also, find out about your nearest doctor or hospital (not something you want to put off until you have a 40°C fever).
Everyone feels a little lonely sometimes, and not knowing Japanese can make you feel even more isolated. However, try to make some Japanese friends. Chances are, there won't be that many ALTs in your immediate area, so getting to know people in your town is important. Your town probably has community sports clubs and cultural classes you can join, and there are many community events that you can attend. It is also helps to get to know your landlord, your neighbors, and local shopkeepers. Even if you don't know Japanese, meeting Japanese people is not that difficult. Many Japanese people will actually be dying to practice their English. With a little Japanese, simple English, and gestures, it is possible to communicate. Besides, it is a good reminder of how your students will feel when trying to communicate in English.
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Your Humble Abode
Some of you may find yourselves living in a one room apartment where your shower is directly in your living room and some may find themselves in an entire 2 story Japanese style house. Whatever your living arrangements are try not to compare them with other JETs because someone will always have it better than you do. This is your home for at least the next year, so make the best of your situation.
It is not wise to skimp on household possessions because you want to save money. There will come a time when you've had a rotten day and are feeling especially down. Even the smallest of extras at home will help make you feel better. So, find a few things that will make your place more comfortable. You don't have to spend a lot of money - check out the ¥100 shops for things that will be useful around the house. If you had a predecessor, hopefully you already have a TV, VCR, CD player, electric heater, electric fans, etc. If not, it is definitely worth laying down some cash for such items - trust me, come winter you will be glad you did.
Some TVs and VCRs in Japan are bilingual, which means that at the push of a button you can switch between English and Japanese if a show is being broadcast bilingually. Look for the 音声切換 (on-goe-kiri-kae) button on your remote. The NHK channel usually has bilingual news at 7pm and 10pm. Foreign films generally can be viewed bilingually as well.
Decorating your place makes a huge difference. Simply by putting up your personal belongings around the house, like pictures, posters, books, magazines, and anything from home, your house or apartment will begin to feel more like a home. It's your home, your castle and it's worth the investment- make it a place you like being in.
Letter of Appointment
At some point after you arrive, and every time you recontract, your contracting organization will present you with a small certificate that officially recognizes you as one of their employees. It should have your name, details about what you will do, the date when your contract begins, and the date when your contract ends. This is your Jinji Tsuuchisho (人事通知書), and is your formal notice of employement, so try not to lose it. If you want to stay in Japan after JET ends and keep working, you will probably need this, as it can serve in lieu of a Taishoku Shomeisho (退職証明書), or "proof of retirement."
Your residency card will be issued to you at your port of entry i.e. Narita Airport. Upon moving to your placement you will need to go to your city/town hall (shiyakusho 市役所 / yakuba 役場) and fill in a notfication (change) of residence form. DO NOT LOSE THIS CARD. The law of the land states that all foreigners must have an acceptable form of ID on their persons at all times (in your apartment is as good as not having it). Acceptable forms of ID are the residency card or your passport (drivers license from home do not count). This is also your re-entry permit if you go on an overseas vacation. If you move you'll have to fill out a Notification (Change) of place of residence at both the new and old city/town hall (shiyakusho 市役所 / yakuba 役場) . . . even if you are moving within the same town. All other changes to the card (change of name/date of birth/gender/ nationality) must be reported to the immigration office ASAP.
Current residents with the alien registration certificate (aka gaijin card) - your current card will be your residency card until you need to renew your visa upon which you'll forfeit your alien registration certificate in exchange for the new residency card. You can exchange for the new residency card sooner if you wish.
ASIDE: make sure all your information is up to date and your documents are valid (not expired). Keep track of when they will expire. The usual response by immigration (as in all countries; Japan is no different) is deportation if anything is found to be expired or false (re: incredibly old information). If you're deported consider yourself effectively fired (figuratively; its a massive headache to try and get you back into the country and it will be months before you can and there aren't a lot of employers willing to put up with several months of absences)
Soon after arriving to Japan you should receive a small book. It should be either orange or blue, and the front should have four kanji that read 年金手帳 (Nenkin Techou). Your CO or yourself should hold on to this book while you work there, and unless you Transfer, you probably won't see it until you get ready to leave Japan. In fact, the only reason we mention it here is, when it comes time for you to apply for The Pension Refund, you will need to send it in with your application. So make sure you get this from your school/contracting organization before you leave the country.
Lost Pension Book
Because your contracting organization may hold on to your pension book, you probably won't have the opportunity to lose it. But just in case you do, you can apply to any regional office of the Social Insurance Agency (社会保険事務所) and get a replacement book.
In Japan, a personal seal called a hanko/inkan (判子) is used instead of your signature on most documents. People often use hanko and inkan (印鑑) interchangeably, but technically speaking, your hanko is the cylindrical object made of wood, plastic, etc. used to make your seal, and your inkan is the red seal that you make on paper using your hanko. Since a hanko is necessary to complete all of the important documents you need to fill out during the first week or so you are here, you should take care of this as soon as possible. Your supervisor will probably take you to get one, but if nobody brings it up, make sure to ask about it. Your supervisor may suggest that you get the seal made in katakana, but you are welcome to get it in kanji if you like. Ask your fellow teachers or Japanese friends to help you think of some good kanji to use.