Pre-Arrival

1. International Driving Permit (IDP)

IDLs are valid for one year from the day you enter Japan, or for the term of your home country’s license (whichever is shorter).

Okinawa is a very driving-oriented society unless you’re located in the Naha area or on a small enough outer island. It is highly recommended to have a car during your stay here. In order to drive in Okinawa, an international driving permit (IDP) will be required.
You may renew your IDP, but recent law changes in Japan mean that you cannot drive on an IDP if you have been in Japan for longer than one year UNLESS you have renewed your IDP and have been out of the country for at least 3 months. The renewed IDP will be valid from the day upon which you re-enter Japan after the 3 month period during which you have been overseas.
Police may check your IDPs against your Residence Card to see whether or not you have been in the country for longer than one year, and if you have, then they may request to see your passport to confirm whether or not you have been out of the country for the required 3 month period within the previous year.
This law change is reportedly designed to stop Japanese people from driving on IDPs instead of Japanese licenses (which are more expensive).
If you are still a 1st year JET and you did not get an IDP before you left your home country, then it is possible to apply for an IDP from overseas.
US JETs: National Automobile Club
Canadian JETs: Canadian Automobile Association

2. Proof of Foreign Residence

It may seen odd for you incoming JETs to think ahead into your 2nd year, but for those of you considering two years, it is highly advised you bring some form of proof of your non-Japan residence for your Japanese license conversion process.

Converting your English license into a Japanese one will probably be the most complicated task you’ll need to undertake during the end of your 1st year on JET. To further complicate the process, you will be required to have proof of residence in another country for at least three months. Most JETs are able to use their passport as proof. However some passports (US in particular) do not verify your proof of residence due to the fact that that the passports do not have the necessary stamps showing the exact dates of entry and departure. In this situation, you will be required to produce additional documents (tax forms, college transcripts, etc) to prove your status of foreign residence. It is highly recommended to obtain an additional copy of your college transcript for proof of foreign residence required for drivers license conversion.


3. How Much Money to Bring?

The initial cost of moving to Japan and setting up in your new location is often much greater than new JETs expect, but the total cost does vary by person and situation. We asked a few JETs to show just how much the price can differ.  All dollar amounts were converted at a rate of 110 yen to the dollar. Theses are only approximations and are not exact figures.

  • 420 000 yen (about $4,200) pred’s stuff, housing fees and key money (money given to your landlord similar to a deposit except you don’t get it back – very annoying but something that is part of Japanese society that you just have to accept!), first month’s rent, parking spot, electricity/gas deposit, (About 50% of the new JETs need this much for start up costs). If you plan on buying a used car expect to pay 150,000 yen to 300,000 yen (depending on the condition of the car) on top of this amount.
  • 350 000 yen (about $3,500) , pred’s stuff, housing fees and key money, first months rent, parking spot, electrity/gas deposit. (About 40% of new JETs spent about this much on start up costs). If you plan on buying a used car expect to pay 150,000 yen to 300,000 yen (depending on the condition of the car) on top of this amount.
  • 150 000 yen (about $1500) pred’s stuff, teachers’ housing, first month’s rent, luggage shipping. (Maybe 10% of the new JETs only needed this much). For a used car expect to pay 150,000 yen to 300,000 yen (depending on the condition of the car) on top of this amount.
When purchasing items from your predecessor (if you have one), you can by all means request to pay for those items in installments–most JETs understand the heavy financial burden of initial set up in Japan. You can also wait a few months to save up to buy a car. A few JETs have even took out car loans from the bank (interest rates are very low here) so that they could buy a car right away.
If you are a Municipal JET you will have to pay for one of your 2 suitcases (if you brought 2) to be shipped from Tokyo, which could cost up to ¥20 000 ($200), but you will be billed for this later in the year. To cover initial costs, some people borrow money from friends and family back home and paid them back in installments. Some JETs arrange with their landlord to pay the key money in monthly installments, although this may involve some negotiation and Japanese ability.
Many people in city areas pay around ¥40 000-¥60 000 a month for rent. If you are in an urban area, you will most likely have to pay monthly for your parking spot as well. Parking spaces can range from ¥3000-¥10 000 per month.
Very few JETs actually live in teachers’ housing, and those who do usually live in very rural areas. Teacher housing is neither guaranteed nor can it be requested. On one hand, you are lucky if you get it, but on the other, teacher housing can also be very old and run down.
Credit cards? Debit cards? Sorry, Japan is a cashed based society.
It is recommended that you bring a combination of traveller’s cheques and cash. Most traveller’s cheques can be cashed at the bank or post office, but it would be advisable for you to bring some yen (maybe 50,000yen, about US $500) so you have something to spend during the Tokyo Orientation (that way you won’t have to stand in line with the other 1,000 people who have just arrived).
Beware! Japan is a cash-based society.  Credit cards and debit cards cannot be used for payment more often than not. Only a few Japanese Bank ATMs can accept internationally issued credit and debit cards.  The Post Office Bank (the largest bank in Japan) has ATMs in rural areas.  These machines accept internationally issued cards.  Put your card in before touching any buttons and it should work.  But the thing to remember is that Japan is a cashed-based society. In other words, don’t rely on your credit cards/debit cards for making payments.

4. Okinawan Dress Code

Very soon you’ll find yourself living on a tropical island, in the middle of the hottest, most humid weather you’ve ever experienced including rain, typhoons, moldy apartments, schools where air-conditioning breaks down or may not exist at all (or they just don’t switch it on until you’re lying in a puddle on the floor)… One of the biggest questions you may be asking yourself is “What should I wear?!” Lucky for you, help is at hand.

School Dress Code
Unfortunately, here I’m going to have to apply that horrible acronym you’ll be hearing so much: ESID (Every Situation Is Different). I will give you a few guidelines though.

Kariyushi Wear (かりゆしウエア)
Kariyushi Wear is the standard business-dress item of Okinawa. Think Hawaiian shirt. Bankers, government employees, your vice principal… they all wear Kariyushi and so should you. While you should wear a suit to all important occasions, like speech contests, meetings at the board of education and other formal meetings, kariyushi wear should be appropriate for all schools, and I highly recommend that you pick up a few of these shirts when you arrive in Okinawa.
Suits
I don’t think there are any schools on Okinawa that require their ALT’s to wear suits on a daily basis, though you will need them for Tokyo Orientation, the Mid-Year Conference, the Recontracting Conference (if you decide to recontract), and any other important business meetings. So bring a couple of suits along!
Generally, the best idea is to dress smartly at first, then go by what the other teachers are wearing (keeping in mind that there will probably be a few slackers at every school not dressing nicely enough – don’t follow their lead – especially the gym teachers!). During summer vacation, when you get here, they will probably dress more casually than usual, so remember to dress in a full suit for your first day of school when it actually starts, as you will have to present yourself in front of the whole school.
Guidelines for Boys
  • Smart pants, slacks, suit pants are all good for down below. No jeans, no tracksuits (at first, at least – at some schools all teachers wear tracksuits, but assume that they don’t!), nothing with rips, tears and holes.
  • For shirts, kariyushi wear, golf shirts and short-sleeved suit shirts should all be fine. No vests, no t-shirts. Some schools do allow t-shirts, but dress up at first.
  • If you are teaching at the primary school level, then a more relaxed dress code may be okay, however like we said before, start formal and then work your way down.
Guidelines for Girls
  • If you ever went to a private school, or had heard of their skirt rules, similar rules apply in Japan. When deciding whether or not to wear a skirt, put your hand just above your knee. If your skirt covers a finger or two, it’s probably okay. If it’s shorter than that, it gets delegated to weekend wear. So – no miniskirts, or thigh-revealing skirts or shorts. Most schools prefer women to wear pantyhose with skirts, so keep that in mind, although it is easier for foreigners to bend the rules without hearing anything about it. Suit pants or smart slacks are also good, as are long skirts.
  • Same shirt guidelines as for boys – kariyushi wear and golf shirts are good (though golf shirts may seem too casual for women at most schools). Girls at least have a bit more freedom with the shirts they can wear. Any smart, short-sleeved shirt will be fine.
BUT! <– BIG BUT! Follow these directions when trying on shirts:
1. Bend over. If the shirt shows any part of your back, or cleavage, chuck it.
2. Raise your arms and stretch up on your toes. If you can see any part of your stomach or back, chuck it.
3. If it has no sleeves, chuck it. Shoulders should be covered at all times.
– Again, if you are teaching at the primary school level, the rules may be different, so follow the other teachers’ lead, but don’t follow the bad example either.
– I recommend light-colored clothing for everyone, as walking or waiting for the bus in this heat in thick black clothing will end up in you being very uncomfortable and smelling pretty bad!
Footwear
The rules for footwear in Japan can be downright mystifying for a foreigner! With inside slippers, different rules for different rooms, big foreigner feet that fit painfully into those little red foam slippers, there’s a lot to get confused about! Basically, though, a good rule of thumb is that you should be more properly dressed if you’re going to be in front of students, and this applies to shoes as well.
Technically speaking, sneakers and sandals or flip flops are never appropriate for school. So why will I see my Principal wearing black sneakers in the gym when the students have no shoes on and the gym teachers are wearing cool Nike flip flops? Well, the answer is different rooms have different rules, and some people (especially gym teachers) take a lot of leeway with the rules (i.e. they’re blatantly breaking the dress code).
Officially, proper footwear in school is business casual. Slip on leather dress shoes work great, or a nice looking leather casual shoes may be okay as well. Open toed heels seem to be okay for women, as would be any other kind of classy heel. Whatever you’re wearing should look more on the dressy side than on the sneaker or sporty side. That’s official word!
So what is all this talk about sandals and sneakers about? Well, essentially different rooms have different rules. In most schools you’ll wear your regular dress shoes into the hallways and the classroom (there are some schools where you must wear inside slippers everywhere, but that will be obvious enough!). Often teachers (like the Principal) will wear proper footwear to school and then and change into ‘inside slippers’ (which may be leather sandals with a Playboy logo or black sneakers). In general, inside any teaching department’s room or the main staff room, it’s probably okay to wear inside shoes. But when you leave the room, especially going to class, you should not be wearing your inside slippers; please change back into your regular dress-type shoes. In the gym, you will probably not wear shoes, unless you are joining the students in some kind of athletic activity, in which case you need a special pair of sneakers that you do not wear outside on the street. (Yes, it is as crazy as it sounds!)

At any official function however, please, never wear sneakers, sandals, flip flops or slippers. The dress at these functions is business, which means Kariyushi Wear or Suit! So anything less than a proper dress shoe isn’t appropriate and anyone you see wearing this kind of footwear is messing up the rules (Japanese or foreigner otherwise)! Official functions include:

  • Okinawa New JET Orientation (Kariyushi Okay)
  • Skill Development Conference (Kariyushi Okay)
It’s better to wear a suit and not kariyushi at the following functions:
  • Tokyo Orientation (Kariyushi wear is actually never acceptable on the mainland in place of a suit)
  • Any participation as a judge in a speech, recitation, debate, or skit contest
  • Any time you are presenting at any Orientation or Conference as a representative of your contracting organization.

Home Dress Code
As I’ve said, when you arrive here it’ll be very VERY hot. The temperatures average in the high twenties or low thirties. The humidity is what will kill you. The average humidity in Okinawa is 70%, and it does reach the mid-nineties more often than you’d think or like.

So, when you get here, you’ll want all the summery clothing you own. Summer in Okinawa is between April and October (though this is arguable, some of us were still wearing short sleeves in November, and our first swim in the sea was on April 1st). You’ll also be arriving in the middle of typhoon season (though the dates of typhoon season are also often argued), so bring a raincoat!

Girls, bring swimming costumes. Bikinis are fine for the beach here, though you’ll hardly ever see locals wearing them. If you plan on joining a gym, you’ll need a one-piece costume. Do bring bikinis, though, girls (and boys, if you really, really want to) – you will be visiting the beach plenty in your first couple of months here, and bikinis here are both very expensive (¥3000 to ¥13 000) and a particular brand of hideous. You can find bikinis in surf shops, though these will only be in Naha, Chatan or Okinawa City , and they will be very expensive.

Be aware that Japanese people are rather small. So if you’re very tall, have big feet, or any sort of curves (no, girls, this doesn’t mean you’re fat, it means, firstly, that we have much higher and thinner waistlines, as well as bigger bums and thighs than Japanese women), you’ll want to bring clothes with.

Clothing here is measured in centimeters, so get your shoe size converted to centimeters. You can generally find shoe sizes up to 26 for women, and 28 for men. If yours are bigger than that, you may have difficulties finding shoes, though it isn’t impossible. Too much bigger than that and you will have to import.

Guys, you should be OK with finding most clothes, unless you’re very tall (taller than about 6’3”). If you’re taller than that, you may want to ship some pants over.

Girls, if you have a waist measurement smaller than 68cm, you can buy any clothing you want here. Above that, it gets difficult. As an example, my waist measurement is 70cm, and I’ve found a total of one pair of jeans since arriving here. Jeans are near-impossible to get, so either bring some from home, or plan a trip to Hong Kong, Thailand, or Singapore! You should be okay for shirts, but pants and skirts are quite difficult. Yes, you will have to go into the LL size of the shop (believe me, it’s not an indication that you should be visiting the gym more, I have resorted both to buying something with an LLL label on it, and going into the mens’ section to find tracksuit pants).

Also, bring bras. If your waist size is larger than around 72cm you may want to bring panties. Bras here are very highly padded, are usually very small, and do have the “ugly factor” to consider (unless, of course, your taste in underwear extends to sequins, bows, lace, feathers and glitter, all in one piece).

Winter Wear
This is no joke and it may seem crazy when you arrive in sweltering August but it can get terribly cold in Okinawa in January and February, as most buildings are concrete with little to no insulation, so the cold wetness seeps into everything. Although the thermometer may never dip below 11°C/51°F, it can seem much colder with the rain and wind.  While the sun is strong year round, it is usually cloudy and very windy in winter (Okinawa is the windiest prefecture in Japan), nullifying and warm that might have been gained from the sun.  So while it might be 15C outside, it will only be 16C inside, and you will be cold unless you’re in the shower. You should bring some warm layering clothing for both at home and at work. Hardy souls may wear shorts into December, but they truly are hard people if they can. You may also consider bringing winter clothing if you want to make a trip to mainland Japan during December or January, as it is very snowy there, and you may have trouble finding winter clothing in your size to buy on Okinawa.

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