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Well, I will be going to Japan shortly and will stay for atleast one year. I'll tell you what I'm bringing, aside from clothes & shoes:
vitamins, medicine, toothpaste (no flouride in theirs), floss, deodorant (no such thing there), contact solution (tres expensive there), books, CD's, microwave popcorn, jello, (for when you're missing home), instant coffee (there's not enough caffiene in their coffee), herbal teas (didn't see it there), etc.
You should bring the stuff that you like to use cuz most likely, it will be more expensive in Japan, if they have it there that is.
Dont bring too much! I always over pack, and I found I loved the shopping too much and couldnt bring as much back as I wanted to. But really bring clothes for the season. In winter, you'll want tons of sweaters, because you will constantly be freezing inside with no central heating. If you're going in summer, bring lots of light airy clothes cause the humidity will kill you off. If you are partial to any one sort of product...such as hair, cosmetic, ect. Bring it, cause you might not be able to get it there. Thats about all I can think of. If there is something you feel you cant live without, and are thinking of just buying it there, maybe bring it, just in case you cant get it there....of course, you might go to Japan and find things that are spacific to there that you cant get back home...then when you leave its bad! Like me....I will never get over my craving for Mitsuya Cider!
There is flouride toothpaste, dental floss, contact solution, jello, herbal teas, and coffee here. Don't waste time and space packing these things. They might be a little more expensive but some are also cheaper.
For clothing if you are sensitive to the cold long underwear especially if you will work in the upper part of Japan.
Good stores for buying casual/ basic business clothing; Marukawa, Paseos, Apita and Uniglo. You should have no trouble finding your sizes at these stores unless you are over a size 12. (women) men larger than a size 32 waist.
I will be there for a year. which compared to a few weeks is long term
so far my plans are to bring lots of clothes, i'm 6 foot 2 and 34 waist 34 leg. so i think bringing lots of clothes and shoes is in my best interest. also i'm from canada so the cold won't get to me too much. just in case though i will bring a few sweaters and winter coats (snowboard & winter coat)
asprin, toothpaste and deoderant. pictures of my family and my dog. skateboard. and one "learn japanese" book. I'm hoping to get all my sketchbooks and supplies in japan, lugging several sketchbooks and art supplies would get really heavy very fast.
On my first stint I took everything bar the kitchen sink as I was unsure what Japan actually had. One of the largest producers of everything in the world, Silly me!
What I took!
Heavy dictionaries, Heavy CD`s, Heavier Downhill bike, Too much clothing
Mars Bars, Pop tarts, Photo`s of the parents, Colgate sparkly toothpaste!
because it looks cool!, Pencil case, Fat wallet.
Someone told me that the Japanese dont do chocolate, I brought a hundred and eleventy two tonnes of the stuff and got laughed at by customs when I said she could take her pick of one chocolate.
The maybe the rule to follow is if you have it in your country of origin they
will have at least a similar or better version in Japan.
But if you are worried that you wont be able to find that perfect cologne
or perfume, take it with you.
One CD/tape or MP3/media of you favourite artist only,so you get bored
and have to the locals for fun. Besides I dont think science has yet found a
way to create an unbreakable CD case.
I learnt the hard way almost got a hernia.
Go light and trust yourself to land on your feet.
i'm in the midst of packing as well. I'm a packrat so this has been a very hard experience for me to "get rid" of stuff into too few suitcases.
Shoes: depending on your foot size, you may actually come out okay to buy shoes after you arrive.
i bought spacebags (vacuum bags) and hope to increase my luggage space that way by compressing my clothes into flat things.
contacts and glasses: i have daily wear (and only wear them on occasion), so i don't need much solution. bring a copy of your glasses and contact prescription, in case you need a new pair.
i'm packing for 1 or 2 bare minimum-type days in your carry-on (as your main luggage items may not get to your apt. for a day or two)
i am going through my art supplies and trying to figure out what is too expensive for me to replace. pack as light as possible. sketch books are easy to come by (in the tokyo area there are many department stores that have them). so bring as little paper as possible. ditch the pens/pencils/charcoals/conte/watercolors. those are cheap. i'm bringing my copic markers, and chalk and oil pastels (which have been through several moving trips in a special hard case), and my screentone. i might bring 2 packs of comic paper that i bought on one of my japan trips. no aerosol allowed on planes or in the mail. glues/adhesives and paints are pretty affordable (depending on type), and can be bought if you want them after you arrive.
ironically all of my US comfort food is actually from japan (we'd go to the local japanese market for it), so i can't offer any advice there.
if you have time rip all of your CDs into MP3s and get a player. don't take too many CDs. i'm putting all of mine in a book and stowing it in my bookbag for carryon. last XMas in Japan at HMV many US artist CDs sold for about the same price as they would in the states.
pack light so that you have more inspiration to walk around the shops and look for new things to buy ^_^
look at that a fellow artist! well that does help, i will be in nagoya tho so i wonder if are supplies are as readily available....who knows. but i want to get one within a day or so of my arriving there. right now i'm finding the what to bring and not to bring thing a touch hard as well. four pairs of size 12 shoes fills up a suit case fast. deciding not to bring any art stuff has certainly helped. and i think the skateboard is going to have to be a no go. ah well.
i will also cease and desist on the drugs of any kind.....that would be just to freaky, but are such things easily availiable in japan that would be effective for somebody my size? medication strength is a problem (or so i hear)
basic art supplies are usually available in big department stores (this is where knowing brands is helpful).
if you have a friend to help you out with the japanese, i suggest buying online. my fave online shop is Tool Shop (i have no idea where their brick/mortar shops are, but the online selection is tops!) http://www.tlshp.com
the price is reasonable and you can get pretty much any art supply you'll need shipped to you.