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10 Essential Items To Start Living In Japan

The ¥100 store will be your best friend when you first start living in Japan.

By 7 min read 21

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:

Slip-on Shoes

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.

Folding Umbrella

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.

Handkerchief/Hand Towels

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.

At Home:

Heavy Curtains

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.

Laundry Pole/Hangers

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.


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  • Marco Mizrahi says:

    I have been to Japan plenty of times but always stayed in hotels, how bad is the roach problem? how about mosquitoes? I live in Shanghai were this is a problem, specially in the Summer, pretty much is one of the first questions you ask when renting an apartment and the bug-spray aisle at Tesco is enormous.

  • Rusty says:

    You do know they are talking about a coin purse and what a coin purse is right?

  • My top 5 non-essential items after you’ve gotten the essentials:

    01. A lightweight hoodie. Your home’s insulation probably sucks, so you’ll spend 1/2 of the year in it.

    02. Blendy powdered coffee. For teachers not willing to spend a half hour’s salary on a cup of coffee.

    03. A toaster oven. Amazon has them for $20 and you can cook 99% of what’s in 7-11 with it.

    04. An LED light for your bike. It’s actually illegal to bike at night without one, not to mention difficult.

    05. A VPN. Look it up if you don’t know the wonders of such a service.

  • Lynn says:

    As you commented, learning about what medicines are appropriate for what symptoms will be a huge help in getting used to Japan. The GP blog has a few articles on the topic that may be useful:



  • Hirari says:

    Backpack? I don’t see many women wearing backpacks on a daily basis, especially in Japan. it’s very tomboish. You could always have a bigger purse so that your umbrella could fit in.
    I agree about Suica as well. But bikes are definitely the best! It’s advantageous for your health and it’s basically free.

    • Shawn Sato-Veillon says:

      True, that is mostly a guy thing still, since we don’t have purses. I think it’s changing though, for casual dress situations, with cute, smaller backpacks. I’m sure you also wouldn’t wear one if you drive either. Personally, I think the smaller backpacks are cute on women. 😉

  • fm64 says:

    I know this is a weird question, but I’ve asked to my japanese teachers and they never told me how are lady towels called (I don’t even know what is its correct name in English) and if they are sold in conbini or drugstores, also, I have to take a lot of drugs and usually they come with the doctor’s receipt, will those receipts work there? (I guess not, but I wanted to know anyway)

    • AdorablePanda says:

      Agree with Anthony that in English they are called sanitary napkins. In Japanese the official name is 月経帯 (げっけいたい) apparently, but they are likely to be found under the section labelled ナプキン. They are sold in drug stores, conbini and supermarkets, so they are easy to find. (They are normally sold next to the incontinence pads, so make sure you check sizes of what you are buying.)

      If you are coming for a long period of time, and you need a lot of regular medication you will need to look at the Yakkan Shoumei which allows you to import some medications, but it’s something you definitely need to check and double check before you come. More info here: http://japan.usembassy.gov/e/acs/tacs-medimport.html

    • Anthony Joh says:

      In English they are called sanitary napkins but I have no idea what they are called in Japanese. I have seen them at the drug store though.

  • Brian Ken says:

    Nice and Interesting Article, I can’t wait to go on a trip to Japan soon and of course, these items must be on the List to Buy plan. Anyway, domo arigatou, this article might just save my life over there later.

  • Colin F says:

    Very interesting article, thankyou. Just come back from my first trip to Japan, stayed 4 weeks. I’d say without a doubt, the IC card is number one, but also, aside from the 95% reduction in time spent going through station gates, most shops in Tokyo I went to allow you to use the Suica card to pay for shopping as well, which eliminates the problem with aquiring lots of change.

    “Plus, Suica has a penguin as a mascot; I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like penguins.” – this though…you now know one, cause I hate penguins.

    • Lynn says:

      It was only upon moving to Tokyo that I discovered the joys of paying for food with my Suica. Much more convenient! Also, there’s apparently a point program, but I don’t know the details.

      I should’ve done more research on penguin-hating statistics. Not much reliable data, but, as you prove, it’s best not to make such a sweeping statement 😉

  • Yoshiyuki TEZUKA says:

    This is a very interesting article, and I realize that you know many Japanese domesttic words such as ママチャリ, ニトリ etc. What you mentined here is certainly necessary. Thank you.

    • Lynn says:

      Thank you for reading! Nitori and mamachari are very important, so they definitely should be in every resident’s vocabulary. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

  • Anthony Joh says:

    GP contributor Cynthia Popper has put together a good article on getting an emergency kit. http://blog.gaijinpot.com/emergency-kit-basics/

  • Lizbeth Daluz says:

    The coin purse is actually good advice for anyone who’ll be visiting/staying in Japan. There’re so many coins!

    I find the net laundry bags from the 100yen store to be quite handy.

    • Lynn says:

      So many coins! Especially now with the 8% sales tax (with the 5%, the prices came out to nice even numbers).

      Laundry bags are also super handy. If I don’t use them, my washer chews up all my clothes.

  • Hello! I consider completely necessary to carry an uchiwa in the summer and to wear hitotekku (warm underware) in the winter. And OF COURSE, A CAMERA IN YOUR POCKET!

    • Lynn says:

      Warm underwear were a godsend when I lived closer to the mountains. I got a haramaki (stomach warmer) with a little pouch for a hokkairo (pocket warmer). Good mention!

      Without a doubt, never leave home without a camera.

  • Lesley R says:

    Earthquake kit, and Dehumidifier.

    • Lynn says:

      To everyone reading this article: DEFINITELY get an earthquake kit.

      It might not seem essential to everyday life (which is why I forgot it on this list), but it is obviously very important, so I’m super glad Lesley mentioned it.

      You can buy them at the store (I’ve seen some labeled with the kanji 非常持出袋) or you can put one together yourself. See an item list at these links:

      Of course you can buy canned goods and such to prepare for an earthquake, but some stores (such as Tokyu Hands) sell food specifically intended to be used in an emergency. Emergency ration products are often labeled (or in the section called) 非常食 (hijoushoku).

      A dehumidifier will also go far – I’ve never sweat so much as I do in Japan.



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