Student Articles

Things to Bring to Japan

by Kevin Bachmann

Embarking to a country on the other side of the world can seem a little nerve racking at first, but don't let that get to you. I traveled to Japan in the spring of 2013, and it was the coolest adventure of my life. With that being said, I'm here to give you some tips on what to bring before you take off on your life changing journey.

As you prepare to leave you most likely are wondering what kind of things to bring with you. I'm not going to talk about most of the normal things, which can be found here at (Study Abroad General what to bring link), as I figure you already got that under control.  I'm thinking more along the lines of fun and comfort.

The first things to remember to bring does actually fall under the clothes and toiletries category and might overlap a little with the normal things (Sorry). These are things that are either really hard to find, or just don't exist in Japan. Make sure to bring a good pair of shoes. If you think you might wear through them, bring another pair. It will be difficult to find shoes your size there, unless you want to pay an arm and a leg. This same rule also applies to clothing if you are not short and skinny. I remember buying a shirt and having it barely reach my waistline. Lastly bring a large tube of toothpaste; your teeth will thank you for it. Toothpaste in Japan does not contain fluoride and it really starts to take a toll on your teeth after a month or two without.

The second thing you will want to bring is small souvenirs to give away. This can be anything from coins to something with your home state's name on it. I ended up bringing postcards of my hometown. These are nice tokens to give to friends you make. Gift giving is really big in Japanese culture and people appreciate even the smallest gifts. Make sure it doesn't look messy however, as this may seem insulting. Never give away something in a plastic bag. When in doubt wrap your gift neatly. Presentation is very important in Japanese culture.

The third thing you might want to bring is food. There are a lot of things you are not allowed to take on an airplane so be careful. Don't bring fresh meat, fruit or anything crazy like that [check out TSA guidelines]. Here are several foods worth bringing that aren't the same in Japan:

    • Peanut butter- Nobody does peanut butter like the United States. You can get imported peanut butter there in specialty stores, but it is extremely pricey so I wouldn't plan on buying it. Make sure you share some with your new Japanese friends; they most likely have never tried American peanut butter. It is worth noting that there is something vaguely similar to peanut butter in Japan but it's called peanut cream. This is definitely worth trying, especially if you like sweets, but it is no replacement for the real deal.
    • Pepperoni- This is an example, but really any dried meat is great. These dried meats also fit in the category of souvenirs from home. I brought two whole sticks with me to share with people and was glad I did. It was a nice taste of home and could be used to make homemade pizza as well. (There is no such thing as proper pizza in Japan). On a side note they do have dried squid in Japan. I would definitely recommend trying this, though it tastes a little sweet like a lot of other Japanese foods.
    • Any kind of sauce that isn't soy or ketchup- There are more sauces than soy or ketchup available, but these are the only ones that resemble their Western counterparts well. A good example of this would be mayonnaise. They have mayonnaise but it tastes much sweeter, so you might want to bring your own. Definitely bring your own BBQ or hot sauce because there is no suitable replacement.
    • Cheese- If you bring nothing on this list but cheese, you will be fine. If you are not lactose intolerant I can guarantee you will miss cheese almost immediately. Japan has very little in the way of cheese, and what they do have is almost completely flavorless. The cheese will be completely fine in your luggage for a couple days until you get to your destination. You might be able to get the same kind of cheese in Japan, but like the peanut butter it will be extremely pricey.
    • The last and most important thing to bring with you is the eagerness to learn a new culture. Do not be afraid to fail at using chopsticks or messing up your Japanese. Japanese people are some of the nicest people in the world and they will love that you are trying, no matter how bad it may look or sound. Don't ever get embarrassed while trying new things and embrace all the pieces of culture you can. This is one of the best ways to gain respect in the eyes of the Japanese and make the most out of the experience before you.

Key Words and Phrases to Know and Use in Japan

by Kevin Bachmann

Japan Pic

Before I left for Japan, I knew almost no Japanese, save how to say hello. Everything turned out okay for me, but looking back I wish I would have known a few key words and phrases. Here is a collection of some of the most useful and used phrases to know.

Arigatou gozaimasu (ah-ree-ga-tō gō-za-i-mas) -Thank you

This is the absolute most important phrase you will use and hear in Japan. It's always better to say thank you a lot, than not say it at all. I shouldn't have to explain why this is an important phrase to learn, or why it will be the most used.           

Sumimasen (su-mee-ma-sen) -Excuse me            

This falls under the same category as arigatou gozaimasu. These are both vital phrases to learn, as being polite is of upmost importance. When you order food, it is also common to call the waitress over with this word. Unlike the Western counterpart, the wait staff will generally leave you be unless specifically called.

Konichiwa (kō-nee-chee-wa) - Good afternoon

This literally translates to good afternoon, but can also be used as hello until you learn the plethora of the other greetings.            

Wakarimasen (wa-ka-ree-ma-sen) - I don't understand            

There may be times when somebody speaks to you in Japanese. This phrase should be used accordingly.            

Toire (tō-ee-ray) - Toilet            

You probably won't have a problem finding the restroom due to similar signage across cultures, but just in case you do, this word will be a lifesaver.            

____ wa doko desuka (­­___wa dō-kō day-ska)  - Where is ____?            

When you travelling throughout Japan, there is bound to be something you can't find. Plug anything into this phrase and have a map handy. The locals will be more than happy to help you find what you are looking for. I found this phrase particularly helpful when looking for certain monuments in the cities.            

Itadakimasu (ee-ta-da-kee-ma-s) + Gochisosama (Gō-chee-sō-sa-ma) - Giving thanks for food            

Itadakimasu is a term used before the meal to express your gratitude, while Gochisosama is used after you are finished. The gratitude is not just for the chefs that cook the meal, but also for the people who harvested and transported it. These terms show an all encompassing gratitude.

Otsukaresama deshita (ō-ts-ka-ray-sa-ma day-sh-ta) - No translation            

There is not an actual translation for this phrase. It is commonly used after a workday to between friends or colleagues. Roughly it means, "I take notice that you are tired and I am expressing gratitude." You will also hear students saying it to each other sometimes as a greeting or farewell. Between friends, it is mostly used in the short form - Otsukare.

Hajimemashite (ha-jee-may-mosh-tay) - Nice meeting you for the first time            

You are bound to meet plenty of new people while on your adventures. Introductions are important and what better way to introduce yourself than with a small amount of Japanese. The effort will be greatly appreciated and make a wonderful first impression.

Student Opportunities

Opportunities to study abroad for a semester, a year or in shorter intensive international programs will immerse you in the cultures of the world. On campus, a very active Modern Languages and Literatures department hosts film series, cultural festivals, music, speakers and more. Student clubs bring together those interested in particular languages, countries and cultures. Our Hart Hall Global Livng and Learning Center is an active residence hall for both international students and U.S. students interested in global affairs.