In August, we asked you, the GaijinPot readers, what items are essential for living in Japan. After pouring through the suggestions, the editor and I have chosen the ten items necessary for life in Japan. Whether you bring them with you from home or buy them when you arrive, below are the top 10 items you’ll need while living in Japan.
Out and About:
Japanese: スリッポン (surippon – for slip-on shoes with no laces); スニーカー (sunīkā – for sneakers, usually with laces)
Where to buy: Shoe stores (ABC Mart, etc.), clothing stores (AEON, etc.) or before arriving in Japan (especially for larger sizes)
Price: From 2,000 yen to over 7,000 yen
One of the most-mentioned items in the GaijinPot poll was slip-on shoes, particularly comfortable ones. You’re going to be doing a lot of taking off and putting on of shoes in Japan, so leave the knee-high lace-up boots at home. (I’m looking at you, former study-abroad classmate who always wore his old army boots.)
If you are over 25 cm in women’s or 28 cm in men’s, you may want to bring comfortable shoes from your own country. Larger clothing sizes can be hard to find in Japan.
IC Card (Suica/Pasmo/etc.)
Japanese: ICカード (IC kādo)
Where to buy: At train station ticket machines
Price: 500 yen deposit (for Suica) + money charged to the card
Unless you live in the countryside and always use a car, having an IC card for paying public transportation fares will be incredibly handy.
Take it from me: I used paper tickets for my first month in Tokyo, much to the annoyance of my friends. With paper tickets, you have to buy a ticket every single time you ride the train, you have to find a gate that will take the paper ticket and then you have to put that tiny paper ticket in a place you won’t lose it during your ride. Did I mention that you will have to be able to read kanji to figure out the exact cost of your ticket, based on the destination you are going to?
With an IC card, just fill the card up with cash, keep the card in your wallet and swipe your wallet over the reader installed on the ticket gates. The most well-known IC card is Suica, which is the train company JR East’s fare card but can be used with many other train company stations around Japan and at many stores as a debit card. Plus, Suica has a penguin as a mascot; I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like penguins.
Japanese: 自転車 (jitensha – general word for “bicycle”); ママチャリ (mamachari – bicycle with basket and often with rear rack)
Where to buy: Bicycle shops, home centers (AEON, Caines, etc.)
Price: From 8,000 yen to over 30,000 yen
If you do live somewhere with less-than-ideal public transportation, a bicycle will be a lifesaver. Maintaining a car is expensive and the process for getting a driver’s license can be long depending on where your original license is from. With a bicycle, all you have to do is buy the bicycle and fill out some registration paperwork. With space being limited, bicycle parking in Japanese cities can be difficult to find at times or might be pay-to-park, but in the countryside, stations and stores usually have free bicycle parking.
Japanese: 折りたたみ傘 (oritatami kasa)
Where to buy: Convenience stores, home stores (Mujirushi, etc.)
Price: From 600 yen to over 3,000 yen
Especially essential during rainy season, a folding umbrella will save you from getting drenched during a surprise shower. Standard non-folding umbrellas do tend to be sturdier, but they also tend to get in the way or get left on trains when the rain is sporadic.
Japanese: スマホ (sumaho)
Where to buy: Cellphone company shops (AU, Docomo, Softbank, etc.), electronics stores (Yamada Denki (LABI), Bic Camera, etc.)
Price: From free with plan to several 10,000s of yen
Service: From about 4,000 yen/month with limited-time discount to over 12,000 yen/month
A smartphone will be a huge help in Japan. You can use it to browse the web, check email, find directions via the map apps, translate Japanese words and, well, even call people. In full disclosure, I personally don’t own a smartphone but sometimes do wish I had something that combined my flip phone, maps, electronic dictionary and pocket wifi into one. Be sure to pick up a portable charger or extra batteries for your cellphone, from electronic stores such as Yodobashi Camera or Bic Camera.
Japanese: ハンカチ (hankachi – handkerchief); ハンドタオル (handotaoru – hand towel)
Where to buy: 100 yen shop
Price: From 100 yen to 1,000 yen
If you aren’t in the habit of carrying around a handkerchief, you might want to reconsider. Japanese summers are often hot and humid, and handkerchiefs can help you with any excess sweat problem. Also useful for the sweating are the deodorant wipes sold in almost every drug store and convenience store in Japan.
In addition, many public restrooms don’t have towels or dryers, so unless you’re fine with using your pants to dry off your hands, then a handkerchief can help you out. A small bottle of sanitizer will also go far, as some public restrooms don’t have soap either.
Handkerchiefs and hand towels are cheap, but if you wait long enough, you might not even have to buy your own; they’re popular as gifts so you may get one as a present.
Business Card (Meishi) Holder
Japanese: 名刺入れ (meishi ire)
Where to buy: 100 yen store, stationary stores, business wear stores (Aoki, Aoyama, etc.)
Price: From 100 yen to over 2,000 yen
Even if you don’t have your own business card, you’re probably going to end up with lots of business cards from other people. With important business cards in one place, figuring out the name of section manager whats-his-face who always falls asleep at meetings will be much easier.
If you do have a business card, a meishi holder will be indispensable. First impressions count and pulling your business card out of the damp wallet that’s been in your back pocket all day won’t be impressive.
Japanese: カーテン (kāten)
Where to buy: Home centers and furniture stores (Nittori, Mujirushi, Ikea, Caines, AEON, etc.)
Price: From 3000 yen to over 9000 yen
As mentioned in a previous article about staying warm in Japan, a thick curtain will save you money and keep you warm in Japan’s cold winters. High quality curtains can serve the dual purpose of keeping temperatures reasonable inside and keeping the morning sun from waking you up hours before work. Did you know that summer sunrises are as early as 4:30 a.m. in Tokyo? I learned this the hard way thanks to flimsy curtains.
Electric Room Heater
Japanese: 電気ヒーター (denki hītā); 電気ストーブ (denki stōbu)
Where to buy: Home centers, electronics stores
Price: From 2,000 yen to over 10,000 yen
Again, Japan can get cold in winter. If you’re living in the northern part of Japan, it would be fair to say that “cold” is an understatement. Luckily, many apartments do come with air-conditioners, but unluckily, air-conditioners might not be enough. That’s where electric room heaters come in.
An electric room heater can be placed anywhere in the room and make the little corner of the room you’re occupying toasty. To compliment your room heater, you can use items such as electric blankets, kotatsu (table with heater installed underneath and blanket on top) and electric heating carpets.
Japanese: 物干し竿 (monohoshizao – laundry pole); ハンガー (hangā – hanger)
Where to buy: 100 yen store, home centers
Price: From 50 yen per hanger; From 1,200 yen for laundry pole
Chances are you aren’t going to have a dryer in your apartment. Unless you have unlimited 100 and 500 yen coins to spend on dryers in laundromats, you’re probably going to need a laundry pole and some hangers.
Luckily, the 100 yen store has your back. From almost all 100 yen shops, you can buy wire clothing hangers as well as hangers with multiple clips for drying socks and underwear. Not all 100 yen stores have laundry poles or racks, so check out a home center.
Some honorable mentions for necessary items were:
- Bug Spray: Cockroaches (ゴキブリ) lurk in everywhere!
- Coin Purses: You’re going to be getting a lot of change in Japan, especially with the sales tax at 8%.
- Japanese-bill-sized wallets: Japanese bills may be a different size than those in your home country.
- Futon/Bed: Somewhere to sleep is very necessary and many apartments don’t usually come with a bed, but this one just seemed too obvious.
Did we miss something you found absolutely necessary? Let us know in the comments below or check out our Facebook page for more user suggestions.