Advice from a new ALT in Kanazawa: Pre-move Packing!

Photo: geishaboy500

Hi folks

This is for anyone who is lucky enough to have plenty of time to organise their packing for their big move to Japan unlike myself (who is still reeling over the last minute re-pack that sent my move into complete disarray, more below)

Packing: everything but the kitchen sink…..?

For anyone (non-JETs) coming to Japan my first tip is forget the cheapest flight, look at the kg baggage allowance for the airline. You’re moving! If you’re anything like me you’re going to want to take everything with you, yes the 13 pairs of shoes,  your entire DVD collection, CDs, books etc. I flew with Virgin, 23kg weight allowance and £35 per kg for excess baggage (Yes I’m from the UK, I noticed Americans get a cracking deal with baggage allowance. I saw a fellow US ALT with 5 suitcases piled up on his trolley) Anyway I found this out the night before I flew (thanks big bro), I had been convinced that it’d cost £90 for my extra suitcase but alas that’s for flights to the US only. I ended up having to leave my entire summer suitcase with the majority of my precious shoe/DVD/book collection at home and still got stung at the airport with £125 worth of excess baggage.

Oh and don’t think that you can weigh down your hand luggage with your fave books. At Virgin they weigh hand luggage too! (6kg max) One tip for any Virgin flyers. I was told that a laptop bag would be accepted as separate hand luggage so buy the biggest laptop rucksack that you can find and ram that with your stuff too.

So my advice for packing; be really careful about not going over your airline’s weight allowance. If you have to leave stuff at home, pack it into priority labelled boxes and organise for them to be shipped to you when you get to Japan.  Did I do that? No, I’m having to call my mum, describe the red top with white polka dots I desperately need, she then hunts for it in my abandoned suitcase, finds it, moans about postage costs and eventually posts it to me. Not a great situation. My poor mum!

Photo: karen horton

Things to bring


  • Map of Japan. I wish I had taken a small one for my first few days of training. You can see where your new friends will be and mark them down on the map. Also useful to show people where you will be living in Japan.
  • Postcards of your local town. Local produce type gifts for your teachers (and bear in mind you need enough for the multiple schools you’re covering — ask your predecessor for advice on how many gifts to bring!)
  • Local currency and books of local stamps (My pupils are fascinated by bank notes & realia from other countries)
  • Japanese cookery books and anything that will help you recognise food here. There is a great bookshop here (Libro at the Rifare building) but it’s expensive so if you can bring any cook books with you great. This site is also great for recognising supermarket foods
  • Photographs of your family, your house, your hometown etc. Not only great to put up in your new home but also to show to pupils (I have my family tree and hometown pics on my English board at school)
  • BBC Learn Japanese. If you’re Japanese skills are zenzen (0%) I’d recommend this book and CD just to get you up to speed with the basics.
  • Indoor shoes. I took one pair (cheap £4 pumps from Primark) which are fine but I cover 2 schools and an education centre once  a week so have to carry the darn shoes everywhere. Bring 2/3 pairs of indoor shoes depending on how many schools you’re covering.
  • Small rucksack for school. Simple as it sounds I didn’t pack any of mine so had to buy one out here (my leather vintage handbag is sooo inappropriate for the weight of books and lesson plan materials I lug to school each day)
  • Hokkaido Highway Blues, William Ferguson- a hilarious book of a guy who hitchhikes his way through Japan to follow the infamous cherry blossom’s progress. He writes about many places in Japan including Kanazawa of course!

Photo: Paull Young

Things not to bring….

Socks- Bring, but don’t bring 30 pairs of socks like I did. I’d read somewhere that socks get worn down as you have to take your shoes off in restaurants. Well yes you so in some but not enough to wear your socks down! Bring 7 pairs. Ample. (Make sure those socks don’t have holes, because, well…you will be taking your shoes off).

Medicine Cabinet- I must admit I brought a gigantic medicine bag with everything from Beechams cold and flu tablets to tum tums. OK not necessary. Despite being a country steeped in culture and traditions, Japan is extremely modern. Think America but smaller people, smaller roads and smaller cars. There are hundreds of CVS/Boots type pharmacies that sell everything you need. (Although I can’t vouch for the effectiveness of the medicines yet…)

Deodorant – Bring deodorant.  Japan has deodorant, but (most) Japanese people don’t really smell the same way that most foreigners seem to.  Japanese students have sensitive noses, and you’ll want to have enough deodorant to last a year (and keep an extra at work).  Also, I wouldn’t recommend spray-on deodorant, since strong scents (good or bad) aren’t that favored at work.

Shampoos/Conditioners- I must have paid at least £35 in excess baggage costs for bringing mine over. Not worth it, you can buy it here (unless you’re really fussy!)

Suits- well this depends on where you’re working. I’m at elementary and suits are just out of the question. My classes involve running about, jumping, stretching, kneeling…a suit is totally impractical. Bring suits but bear in mind that if you’re covering elementary you’ll probably only wear the trousers with loose but smart cotton tops (bring plenty)

Food- OK I admit I bought some Batchelors cuppa soups, a bag of pasta and some PG Tips (tea bags) in case I needed a western food fix. (I blame this also on the fact I went to India prior to Japan and it was impossible to find anything non-spicy) Not needed. You will not have to live off udon noodles for the next year. In Kanazawa there are international supermarkets selling French cheeses, cuppa soups (admittedly not Batchelors), pasta, tea bags (Liptons not PG) and even milky ways so no panic necessary!


(Editor’s Note: If you’re fortunate enough to have contact with the ALT you’re replacing, ask them if they have any of this stuff already!  Your predecessor may have cookbooks that they’re leaving behind, or stacks of stamps and stickers.  There are no stupid questions as a newbie.  Ask away!  They probably asked the same questions.)

Jess also has a new, fabulous blog, Chuhi Chic, with information about teaching English at an elementary school, as well as restaurant reviews for Kanazawa and general entertaining reads about her fresh experiences in Japan.


One thought on “Advice from a new ALT in Kanazawa: Pre-move Packing!

  1. The biggest two things I’ll disagree with here (as both fell in the ‘don’t bring, but bring sorta’ section… hmm…) are, first, bring all the deodorant you can get your hands on and second, bring suits that fit.

    Yes, Japan has deodorant, but it rarely works well enough and you will notice that same sensitive nose students have affect their opinion of you and your ability to actually teach the class. Your co-workers will also indirectly complain about your BO (meaning they will tell your vice-principal or supervisor, not you). If you’re the kind of person “who never wears deodorant,” please learn to.

    Suit are needed regardless of how often you need them. If you show up to either day of Ishikawa Orientation in anything less than a suit and tie, I will pull you into the meeting where I get yelled at for your indescretion by the superintendent of schools. Especially if you are a woman, you will have a hard time finding things that fit well as the average shape and height are a bit different. I’m 5’3″ and round, and I have yet to find a suit jacket long enough to fit right.

    Outside of work clothes are easy to find, it’s the work clothes that often present a challenge. Suits for men, however are abundant and cost anywhere between $200-800 USD.

    I recommend bringing the folloing:

    1 smartly cut, all black suit (no pin-stripes or patterns) You will need this for ceremonies at your school which happen three times a year, all weddings, funerals (you are expected to attend the funerals of your co-workers family members in some cases), formal work parties, and uber-formal meetings or presentations (watch for TV cameras around school!).

    2-3 regular suits. For men, black, brown, blue, grey with a subtle pattern or pin-stripe. Ladies are the same as the former, but can definitely get away with a little color – cremes, reds, greens, sublte pastels and jewel tones. Please look your best!

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