Friday, April 4, 2014

Getting Ready for your JET Adventure!

Table of Contents:
[Things to do NOW]
-Join forums and support groups-
-Send in your reply form-
-Get your health check done-
-Get your government background check done-
-Get your tax Form 6166-
[Things to start doing]
-Save money NOW-
-Take care of other health-related needs-
-Study Japanese-
-Think about souvenirs (omiyage)-

April 1, 2013 was a doozy of a day for me. I was started training for a new job after a night of stress and moving to a new apartment. On top of that I had either a terrible cold or serious allergies coming on and I was going to have to bike to work.

That morning, I also recieved my acceptance letter for the JET programme. At the time, the only reaction I was really capable of was, "Huh...", and then rush to get to work in some semblance of on time. After I'd settled in to the job, had the new apartment somewhat put together and found my hedgehog whom I thought was gone forever did I have enough mental capacity to sink into the reality that I was going back to Japan.

Whatever your story, I want to say congradulations to our newest JETs! All that work and waiting has finally paid off. I've been watching the announcements pour into the facebook group and I couldn't be more excited for each and every one of you. However, celebrate while you can, because next on your agenda is a sea of paperwork that needs to be completed by very strict and short deadlines (usually the end of April!). I hope the following tips will help you through all the beauracracy and headache while you prepare for your future in Japan!
**Please be aware that while I'm trying to provide accurate information, there may be discrepencies between this blog and other sources of information. ALWAYS go by what your coordinators and the General Information Handbook tell you over anything you read here or on any other source that isn't organized by your consulate, embassy, contracting organization, the Japanese government, or your Prefectural Advisers.**


 [Things to do NOW] (preferably yesterday...):

-Join forums and support groups-
There are many online resources for JETs including a plethora of facebook groups. If you are fresh out of a university, there's probably a current JET or two from your university you can ask for guidance as well.
Chicago consulate JETs were required to join a Yahoo!group in order to obtain the necessary forms and instructions. Chances are your consulte will have something similar set up. This is also a good place to introduce yourself and ask questions. The liasons from the consulates are very prompt with replies and are always available during business hours. You can even email them if there's anything you'd rather keep confidential.
That being said, abide by common forum courtesy and SEARCH the forum before asking your question. Chances are you weren't the only one with that particular problem and it may have already been answered. Our coordinators are going to be super busy so let's try to make their jobs a little easier and keep your particular forum or message board as uncluttered and easy to read as possible. :)
*Consulates tend to not send confirmations for receipt of forms, but will bother you if there is something missing from you. So if you don't hear from the consulate about your forms, RELAX- no news is good news!
Try to go to as many informational meetings as you can!
In the US, there are large meetings held at each consulate as well as local ones held in each state. These are invaluable as you can meet other new JETs and get answers to your many question from past JETs face-to-face.
 Soon you will receive an official acceptance package from JET. Read the included General Information Handbook cover-to-cover. Then read it again. Keep it in a safe place and refer to it for answers and bring it to Japan. Your supervisor will also have a copy and you can even read it online

-Send in your reply form-
 This includes a(nother) copy of your passport and a copy of your graduation certificate if you didn't send a copy in with your application.
 At my university, we received our diploma covers but not the actual diplomas at the graduation ceremony. If this is your case, it will be sent in the mail to whatever address you have on file with the university system.
HOWEVER, some schools will not send them out to apartment addresses. They will not tell you any of this and you'll get to run to your school in a tizzy to the graduation department where they will promptly hand it over with a "Sorry 'bout that...".
If this happens to you, don't panic. Head on over to your school and they'll give it to you or call and ask them to mail it to a different address. Chances are they're nice people and want to help you.
**if you are a member of AAA, you are entitled to two FREE passport photos! While you're there, get your internatioal driver's license.

-Get your health check done-
If you are a JET applicant for next year, here's a tip: after the interview, set up your annual doctor's appointment right away for beginning to mid-April. This way, you won't have to worry about it if you're accepted. For incoming JETs, set the appointment the day you find out and hope there's something open far enough ahead of the deadline. If you have to see someone besides your primary doctor, be prepared to pay extra money...

-Get your government background check done- *process will vary depending on home country
Like everything else related to the government, this lengthy process will take over a month so you need to get the ball rolling right away. Thankfully, consulates understand this and put the deadline for these pretty late (around the end of June). However, you do need to send copies of the completed form and fingerprint card for the criminal check in to your consulate by the end of April so they know you began the process. The actual results of the background check for US citizens will be sent directly to your consulate so make sure to triple-check the address on the form. This will cost Americans around $18 just to apply for the check, $84 in total and your city may charge you extra for the fingerprint card on-site (around $5 in Milwaukee, WI).

-Get your tax Form 6166- *will vary depending on home country
If your home country has a tax treaty with Japan, you won't have to pay taxes on your foreign income for your first two years on JET, but it's going to require some work on your part. You need to obtain a form which proves your residency in your home country. When you get to Japan, your supervisor will take you to your local tax office to hand this in.
In order to obtain this form, you will need to fill out and turn in an application form to your government (in the US, it's Form 8802). Again, expect good ol' bureaucracy to take forever to get this to you so do it early and put it in a safe place where you won't forget it. If you expect to not receive it by the time you leave for Japan, have it sent to someone in your home country you trust who will be able to mail it to you. Since this is something to be turned into the Japanese government, your consulate doesn't need any forms, but they will want a copy of the application form by the end of April (8802). US citizens can expect to pay around $64 for each copy (you can order extras).

At this point, that's probably all you need to take care of paperwork-wise. However, there's a lot more involved in moving to a foreign country.


[Things to start doing]

-Save money NOW-
As much as you can. When you get to your placement (after Tokyo), there will be necessary expenses. The amount that each JET needs will vary greatly, but things that you most definitely will need to pay for include:
  • Security deposit (equivalent to one month's rent) and first month's rent- some time after you're notified of your placement you'll receive a package detailing what kind of place you'll have and how much it will cost. If you are continuing a contract from your predecessor, these two payments should be all you need. However, if you're starting a new contract, there will be extra payments equivalent to one month's rent each for things like: key money, a "gift" to the landlord, and a payment to the real estate agency. This all can add up to an exsorbitant amount of money so if you already have an apartment waiting for you, barring any safety/health concerns, DON'T MOVE. My apartment is a one-bedroom (referred to as an LDK here) for 50,000yen a month.
  • Hanko fee- this is your official seal and all short-term residents with working visas are required to have one. You will not be able to sign any of the necessary documents properly without it. I think mine was 1,200yen.
  • Reimbursement for luggage delivery- if you have any luggage delivered from Nartia airport, you will not have to pay right away, but you will need to pay back your board of education/municipality back. 3,000-4,000yen.
  • Car Insurance- this will vary from driver to driver. If you are leasing a car, your supervisor will help you with contracts and set up monthly payments. If you own a car, it should still be covered under its mandatory check-up and insurance (called "sha-ken"), but this will need to be renewed once every two years. The payment you should consider now, is compulsory insurance. Sha-ken doesn't cover damage to other drivers so extra coverage is HIGHLY recommended (and your supervisor will more than likely insist on it). You will need to make a payment that covers the rest of the year.
*Of course, you won't know about your transportation situation until you know your placement, but remember that most JETs are rural and therefore need or find it extremely helpful to drive. Include it in your budget to be safe.
  • Housing Insurance- this is voluntary, but since your boe is usually the primary on the housing contract, they may insist on it.
  • Food and supplies- there are probably unperishables leftover in your apartment, but you will probably need a few things. 5,000yen is probably a good starting point to get what you need.
  • Cellphone- there are a wide variety of cellphone makes and models even in rural Japan. The cheapest option would be a good ol' "gara-ke" (flipphone), but GoogleMaps and GPS will be your best friend in the countryside so I would suggest planning on an older model smartphone. Low-range smartphone would probably go for around 40,000-60,000yen (I splurged on an HTC-J >.>). If you insist on a flipphone, the one I had in Tokyo was 7,000yen from Softbank.
  • Internet- prices are pretty decent here. Some people can even get fiber, but don't plan on it. I pay around 3,500yen a month.
  • Bank Account- this shouldn't really cost you anything, but you'll need to put something in it when you first open it (even just 100yen is fine).
All told, I brought 200,000yen and found it to be more than enough to get me through the first month to payday. As a rough average, 150,000 is probably a good amount to budget for at this point, but don't take any one case as law. Once you know your placement, ask your pred and current JETs in your area how much needed to survive.
Since you don't want to have a large wad of cash lying around, wait until your final weeks before departure to exchange your currency. Many banks can get your yen to you within a few days. Keep your eye on exchange rates and go on a day when you'll get the most out of your currency.
*Loan payments
There is a great service you can use to send yen to your home country's bank account provided by Shinsei Bank in Japan. However, you won't be able to set this up until you are an official resident in Japan and application processing will take about a week. As a result, you'll need to have enough in your home country's bank account to satisfy about a month's-worth of loan payments.

-Take care of other health-related needs-
*Vaccinations: There is one vaccination available for Japanese Encephilitis, but you shouldn't need it unless you're going to be living on a farm or something. However, get any voluntary ones (such as HPV and tettinus) out of the way. These are expensive and may not be covered by the Japanese Social Health Insurance or even be available in your area. Keep in mind those in a series need to be taken a certain amount of time apart from each other so plan accordingly.
*For the ladies: plan for any birth control you'll need. You can only bring a certain amount to Japan after which you need to fill out a form and go through a lenghty process to get permission to bring more than the alotted amount. Japanese brands tend to also be of lower/different dosages and getting the pill here can be both expensive and time-consuming. It is not covered and therefore costs 3,000-4,000yen a month and you're usually only given 1-3 month prescriptions at a time after which you have to go in for yet ANOTHER appointment. OBGYNs are often located in the closest metropolitan location (maybe over an hour away depending on where you live).
If you choose to get a US prescription beforehand, you can legally have one-month's supply sent to you at a time. However, some post offices won't send any kind of medication no matter how legal.
I'm a huge fan of convenient, long-lasting alternatives such as IUDs and the implant. If you get one of these in the US, not only are they FREE, but will last for all or a good chunk of your time in Japan (3 years for the implant and 10+ years on an IUD) and require little to no intervention or maintenance on your part (as that old infomercial said, "Set it, and forget it!"). However, while IUDs are available in many parts of Japan, the implant is not so keep your future plans in mind.
No matter which method you choose, make sure to consult your doctor to find the best one for you with enough time to have the all-important follow-up appointments to make sure everything is working A-OK.
*Perscription medications: now is the time to do some research to see if Japan has an equivalent brand available. Most Japanese medications are affordable (covered under insurance) and very effective. However, if there isn't anything suitable and you need more than one-month's supply, you can either have one month's supply mailed every month or obtain an official document approved by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare called a yakkan shoumei to bring it all with you. You can find an explanation of the document and application process here. Your consulate should provide the application and instructions as well. If anything is unclear to you, ask your coordinators.
You can bring a two-month's supply of legal, over-the-counter meds to Japan (the Ministry calls them "quasi-drugs"). Consult the MHLW website to confirm what's specifically allowed and what isn't. However, as a general rule, if the medication contains pseudophedrine (common cold medicine) or stimulants or codeine, it is illegal to bring (or ship) to Japan! You can easily obtain substitutes with a prescription in Japan.
One more note about OTC meds in Japan: you may find that certain kinds of medications such as loperamides (Immodium) and some asprins (such as Advil) are either unavailable or are controlled as prescription medications. The only pain medication I recognized at the drug store was Tylenol and the only gastrointestinal drugs available are these strange powders that most foreignors find ineffective. However, as with other OTC meds, you can easily obtain a prescription from a doctor for loperamides (you can even get a continuous prescription for those with chronic problems) or anti-inflammatory drugs.
If you have any questions about medications while in Japan, your school nurse is a great resource. Mine has on a few occasions given me medications on the spot, saving me time and money!
If you wish, feel free to take advantage of the two-month OTC allowance for your own peace of mind. I brought the following with me: Advil, Immodium, and a pack of the pill (for the 0.0009% chance that something goes wrong with my implant).

-Study Japanese-
JET will send you a beginner's Japanese textbook FREE OF CHARGE which comes with a printout of the Japanese syllabry (hiragana and katakana). While the quality of the textbook is questionable, it is free and a good starting point. The printout is particularly handy and great to take with you and put up on your living room wall.
*Self-Introduction: a good thing to prepare for both newbies and experts is a brief self-introduction (jikou shoukai) in Japanese. You will be introduced to many people when you first arrive and first impressions are very important in Japan. Don't stress about it though- whether you can rattle it off like a pro or stumble a bit, they'll be extremely impressed and appreciative that you made the effort. You'll learn quickly that it's all about effort in Japanese culture- ganbatte kudasai!
The JET textbook has an ok crash-course in greetings and self-introductions. Here are some things to consider including in your self-introduction:
-Your name
-Your home country
-When you arrived in your host city/prefecture
-Whether this is your first time in Japan (if not, share where else you've been in Japan)
-Your major at university
-What you would like to do in Japan
One more thing to think about is how you will present your self-introduction to your classes. Think about whether you want to do something like a powerpoint or print-outs. When you finally contact your boe and predecessor, ask them about the technological limits of the classroom so you can plan accordingly. I had a small photo album put together at Walgreens for $20 (which is now falling apart, but you get what you pay for...). That way, I had something for class as well as for my own personal use.

-Think about souvenirs (omiyage)-
Another time-honored tradition in Japan is giving souvenirs to friends and co-workers alike for just about every small trip, house move, and job transfer. It's a small way to share the traveling experience with the group. Last November, I went on a weekend trip to Hokkaido with my co-workers and on the plane back to Akita, I was amused at the common site of people try to make room for large carry-on bags full to bursting with boxed sweets (me included...).
As a foreignor, you're not exactly "expected" to bring anything, but most JETs do and chances are your predecessor did before you. The price of the gift isn't as important as it's significance to you and your culture. Try to bring something unique to you and your home country (in the case of the US, your home state, perhaps). Since you need to have enough for everyone, something small will do just fine. The most popular souvenirs in the office tend to be small treats that come in large numbers sold in boxes for the sole purpose of being distributed to large groups. I made rice crispy treats and they went over pretty well.
*It going to be the middle of hot, sweaty summer in Tokyo when you arrive so avoid things that will melt in your luggage!
Be sure to also bring something more special for your principal and people that will be responsible for you such as your supervisor.
*A custom that you absolutely don't have to do but may want to try is wrapping your larger gifts in square cloths called furoshiki. These cloths are usually sold especially for this purpose in Japan, but any kind of cloth with a nice pattern will do. You can easily search online for the special ways to fold them depending on the shape of the gift. The Ministry of Environment even has a pdf available!

-Pack- Edited 4/4/2014
*Luggage: find out what the common luggage policies are for flights departing from your country (flights departing from Canada and the US should be allowed ONE checked bag **due to recent changes in airline policy. Jerks...**). Familiarize yourself with airport security policies (TSA regulations). Be especially careful of weight restrictions. When I was getting ready to leave, I bought a new large bag that came with one of those new-fangled built-in spring scales. While it proved to be a good guide, I discovered it wasn't very reliable in terms of telling you whether you're exactly over or under the limit. Use a reliable scale and leave yourself some wiggle room. While regional airports don't charge too much for extra, overlarge or overweight baggage (around 2,000yen), you can easily get hit with a fee over $150 per bag on your international flight.
While you may be allowed two ridiculously large checked bags on the international flight, you will be only be allowed one small checked bag and a carry-on for your regional flight from Tokyo. In this case, your international carry-on will typically become your regional checked bag and the large paper bag of books and materials you receive from Tokyo Orientation will become your carry-on (your "personal item" such as a backpack or handbag will be fine on both flights). Since there will be no room for your large bags on the regional flight, your going to want to send them to your boe from Narita airport. Therefore, it's a good idea to designate your carry-on as your professional clothes bag and include a change or two of casual clothes for after the orientation and any toiletries (that comply with TSA regulations).
*Electronics: make sure you bring any adapters you may need. Those from the US and Canada will only have to deal with the fact that almost all wall outlets are two-prong.
Voltage in Japan tends to be lower than other parts of the world so you may find your foreign devices won't work or charge as efficiently.
When deciding whether to pack large electronics, consider the fragility and weight of your devices. I would limit yourself to one large gaming console and would definitely rule out any kind of desktop computer. Keep in mind that every computer in your carry-on will have to taken out of the bag at every security gate and will take up most of the room you need for Tokyo Orientation essentials. Wrap your large devices in clothing and other soft things and put them in your checked bags.
Also, keep in mind regional compatibility.
Edited 4/14/2014
**If you have the extra cash, I would invest in a tablet or small netbook-size computer. The large laptop I bought three years ago to take to Tokyo has been banged around so much going to and from the US that my CD drive is shot and the screen is no longer reliably functional. It was also heavy and clunky to have to lug in and out my backpack at security.
All-in-ones and transformers are a great option (tablets that either attach to a keyboard or are actually dual-screen laptops that become tablets when you close them). I recently bought an Asus model that I am very happy with. It even came with a very durable sleeve and an dvi adapter!
**For avid readers: I know you want to bring your whole library with you, but it's not feasible in terms of weight. My solution- get a kindle or e-reader. Probably the best purchase made before I left.  There are various ways to get e-books and now that companies are continuing to make manga digitally-available, you don't have to sacrifice weight to indulge your inner otaku either.
**cool-biz- this is a new-ish dress code invented in response to rising electricity prices and the 3/11 Great East-Japan Earthquake. In an effort to save power, workplaces are laying off the A/C in favor of allowing a more casual dresscode. This means no suit jacket and short-sleeves. When you get to your office, this policy will still be in affect, but still abide by the clothing taboos I mentioned in my post about dressing for the interview.
**most JETs are probably aware of the importance Japanese people put on removing your shoes when you enter a building. This custom extends to grade schools, rooms with tatami mats, and some public buildings such as community centers and dojos. These places usually provide slippers for guests, but for your schools, you're going to need to bring a pair of indoor shoes. Thankfully, your footwear doesn't have to be anywhere near formal. Most of my teachers wear tennis shoes and I bought myself a pair of comfy Sketchers GOWalk shoes (they even came with a drawstring carrying bag!). You may want a pair of more formal shoes for graduation- I was told my casuals were fine as long as they were black, but I felt underdressed!
Even in the winter it seems that track jackets and zip-up sweatshirts are virtually interchangeable with suit jackets in the countryside (again, saving on heat). My teachers even wear them to class. However, there are some days that require the suit jacket no matter the temperature and sometimes it can be hard to gauge what days those are. If you want to go the track jacket/sweatshirt route, I would keep an extra suit jacket in your locker at school just in case.
**depending on your placement, it could get VERY cold and snowy (and on the coasts, windy). Unfortunately, snow gear tends to weigh quite a bit. Once you receive your welcome package from the boe and know your address, I would recommend cheaply shipping them out to your new apartment over sea postage or have someone ship it all to you later.



I hope at least a small bit of this advice has been helpful. The task before you is a daunting one, but in a few short months, you will be here starting a new adventure! If you get your paperwork in on time, ask questions, gather as much information as you can, and pack smartly, everything should go fairly smoothly. A few months may seem like a long ways away, but trust me, departure will be here before you know it!

Good luck!

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