A list of general frequently asked questions with our answers for the excited, stressed and/or confused JETs. Of course, more specific answers can be found by asking your predecessor and/or other ALTs from the same area. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask them in the discussion area, or on the okajet facebook group page.

1) How much money should I bring? When will I get paid?

Clair recommends around 250,000 yen. Once your get your placement information, you may be given a further recommendation of how much you should bring;
possibly between 100,000-250,000yen.
If you have a predecessor and are in contact with them, you can ask and this could give you a further indication. Also, you may find out how much you will pay for 'key money' (a money-gift to your landlord) and rent, which will help you to estimate how much to bring. Another outgoing is the cost of things sold to you by your predecessor, or the need to buy new furnishings.
You should ideally bring as much as you can, and bringing it in cash is what a lot of JETs do. Japan is a very cash based society, and it's common for people to walk around with a lot of cash. If you want a phone before your first paycheck comes, make sure you factor that in. Phones in Japan can be quite expensive (nice phones can go for at least 70,000 yen), you have the option of buying the phone upfront and monthly contracts can vary from a few thousand yen to around 10,000 yen a month.
Generally, ALTs in Okayama get paid near to the end of the month (approximately 14th-21st). So, you should be paid at the end of August. It may be in cash, or into your bank account if it's set up.

2) Should I bring 'omiyage'? What should I bring?

'Omiyage' is a souvenir given to friends/family/co-workers after returning from a trip. But, it's common for ALTs to bring a sort of 'welcoming gift' for their co-workers and people they meet.
Okayama is really hot, and a few ALTs have had melted-chocolate-gift horror stories. Small trinkets, like keyrings/pins/magnets might be easy to give out, but they might not be received so well. Food is a better gift to bring, especially individually wrapped things that people can share easily. Like, biscuits/cookies, sweets/candy, regional teas/coffees and so on.
It's possible to buy some boxes of small foods like this in Tokyo at the orientation, and they will be appreciated by your co-workers. Depending on where you work, there will be a different number of people you can bring omiyage to; some schools have as few as 7 or 8 staff members total, while others have 50+ staff. With huge numbers, buying for individuals becomes less important. Many schools with lots of people have an "omiyage area" where you can set out your omiyage, and people are free to take at their leisure. So if you only bring 30 things for a staff room of 60, it's alright! Don't beggar yourself buying omiyage; they will understand, and it's the thought that counts. If you can, ask your predecessor how many staff members there are, or who the important people to bring omiyage to are. Alternatively, some people bring omiyage for only a few people, such as the principal, vice principal, supervisor, and whoever helps them out when they're first getting set up.
However, if you don't want to, or can't afford to bring a gift when you first arrive (or, don't want to waste valuable packing space), don't sweat it!

3) Doesn't term start in September? What will I do during summer?

Some ALTs last year were at school all day during the week in the summer break. Other ALTs only worked part of the day, and some had the summer break completely off of work.
If you have to be at school during the day, it's a good chance to meet the teachers and students, explore the school, and start preparing for the school term ahead. Ask your supervisor at the school what you should do with your time, and you should ask before using work-time to start studying Japanese. You can also ask other teachers (or ask a JTE to ask other teachers for you!) if you can sit in on their classes.
If you're free from work, it can be good because you can explore and learn about the area. But, starting school might be a little more stressful for you because you haven't had a few weeks to adjust to the place and the people.

4) Do you need to know a lot of Japanese before you come?

No, you can arrive with absolutely zero Japanese and be fine! It's just the trying to learn and study after you arrive that's important.
Of course, having Japanese ability helps you to understand what's going on around you, enables you to more easily form relationships with co-workers, the local community and will make your life easier. But, don't worry if you don't know anything!
There isn't a ton of English in Okayama, although you might be surprised. Many people can speak at least a little (they all have at least 3 years of JHS English under their belt!), usually specific terms to their job, and most tend to be very nice and understanding about it. Hand gestures and pictures can make up a lot of the distance between languages. But also, don't be surprised if they are too shy and afraid to make mistakes to speak up beyond a "I don't speak English."
You have to study, if you want to progress and learn Japanese. You can't just 'soak it up' by being in the staff room all day. But, the more effort you put into studying, the more you get out of it. Good luck!

5) Will I have help setting up my essentials when I first arrive?

Your supervisor, or another Japanese teacher of English, should help you with the essentials, like where you'll live, your alien registration card and bank account. Also, they should help you with your utilities and bills.
Phone lines and internet are a little different, and you may not have as much help with these. But, it varies depending on your area and supervisor. Don't be afraid to ask people questions, or ask for help. You can ask the teachers at your school, your supervisor, and if you need help, you can call the Okayama PAs for help anytime!
It's a good idea also, to get the phone numbers of your Board of Education (if you're a city JET) or your base school (prefectural JET) in addition to your supervisor/JTE's phone number and any visiting schools if you have them.

6) How long does it take to get my alien registration card, bank account and 'hanko'?

You'll need all three of these things as a foreign resident in Okayama. The alien registration card can take several weeks to be issued to you from when you apply for it. When you apply, you should also ask for a 外国人登録原票記載事項証明書 (Gaikokujin touroku genpyou kisai jikou shoumeisho). You can use this paper to set up mobile phones, internet, bank accounts, etc., and prove your residency status in Japan.
The most common bank account for JETs is 'Chugoku' bank, but your supervisor will probably choose which bank they set up with you. To set up your bank account, it's possible with only your passport. But, you may need to wait for your alien registration card. A hanko isn't always necessary, you might be able to just sign.
A 'hanko' is a stamp of your name, used in place of an official signature, that you can use to prove your identity or to stamp things to show you have agreed to them. It can take a few weeks to be made, especially if they use your name in 'katakana', because the hanko would have to be specially made. This shouldn't be a problem, and usually a signature is fine in place of a hanko. Sometimes your supervisor will surprise you with a hanko (that might be in kanji!).

7) What should I pack in my suitcase?

  • At least one black suit, for the orientation and ceremonies at the school. (Trousers or skirts are okay for women)
  • Work clothes - smart trousers, shirts/blouses, undershirts/vests for sweat in summer. For women, pantyhose or knee highs or ankle pantyhose; it is really uncommon to actually show your bare feet in Okayama, and there might be situations where you take your shoes on or off.
    • Women with larger feet: if you don't mind wearing men's sandals at work (or wear trainers) you can purchase shoes in Japan to wear indoors and around. If you want anything above a size JPN 25-26/US 8ish/UK 7ish that's remotely feminine or has a heel, purchase them at home.
  • Winter clothes are good if you can bring them, but you could post them ahead or buy clothes in Japan later on.
  • Waterproofs for the rainy periods in September (but, you can buy a lot of cheap rain gear in Japan, so it's not essential, or can be shipped at a later period)
  • Gifts for co-workers.
  • Learning resources - things from your home country you can use in class, like money, a map or famous items from your area or things you want to use in your self-introduction. More importantly, bringing lots of digital pictures doesn't take up any space! Take pictures of everything (your house, local shops, famous sights etc.) and you can use them in classes.
  • Deodorant - summer in Japan is very hot and sweaty, and Japanese deodorants aren't great for stopping sweat/odour.
  • Toothbrushes - if you're picky about what kind of toothbrush you like to use, or don't like thinner toothbrushes, they're harder to find.
  • Favorite seasoning/Hot Sauce - While you can find most spices at a supermarket or import store, if you have a favorite type of seasoning or favourite brand of hot sauce, those are harder to find.
    • There are (small) bottles of Lawry's seasoning, as well as many different types of tabasco/Blair's.

8) What SHOULDN'T I pack in my suitcase?

  • Toiletries - except for a small amount for the orientation when you first arrive, you can find all the essentials in Japan. If you have a favourite brand, bringing a little bit of that is fine, but don't overload your suitcase with things you can get posted to you later by family/friends.
    • They have razor brands like Gillette over here.
    • Contact solution: if you use ReNu, Optifree, or Clear Care you can purchase them at most drug stores like Zag Zag or in Okayama City.
  • Things that can melt.... because they can and they will.
  • Too many suits - you'll probably only need one.
  • For women - low cut or sleeveless tops/dresses are not acceptable in the workplace, and will get you unwanted attention if worn in public. So, unless you don't mind that or plan to wear something underneath to cover your cleavage (remember, you bow in Japan), then you won't have many opportunities to wear them. If you bow and can see down your cleavage down your shirt, it's probably too low.

9) When do I start work? What do I do?

This varies, but the majority of JETs will work on the weekdays during August, even though there are no scheduled classes. If you have only one base school, you will probably be at your desk all day in the staff room. You can talk to other teachers, plan lessons and go to see the different club activities happening in the school. If you are prefectural and have many schools, it may be the case that you will stay in the BOE office, where you can work, study and plan ideas. Or, you may be visiting schools and working there during the day talking to teachers and observing the school. It is rare for JETs not to work during the summer. You should work around 35 hours a week, and you have days off on the weekend. You will start teaching classes around the beginning of September.

10) Can I join those club activities you talked about?

Once again, this varies, but most will let you join in on the odd occasion. If you want to do more though just ask, perhaps you will be invited to be a permanent member. If you have participated in the activity before, perhaps you have practiced judo, or you are a skilled pianist, you may get asked to take on a certain task in a club. Of course, joining in on something you've never done before may be a possibility.
You should always remember that club activities at school are pretty full on, requiring before and after school training, and on weekends there will either be more training, or perhaps events or matches. As an ALT, you will be given a certain amount of leeway with attendance, but if you're joining a club, you should consider going to as much as possible.
Finally, joining clubs isn't always a possibility. Perhaps you have an English club at that time, maybe it's a visit school where the club only meets on days you're not there, or perhaps the club is really serious and can't make use of you. In cases like this where you really want to do a certain activity, try asking teachers for other possibilities and have a look outside the schools for it.

11) Is it really that hot?

Short answer no, long answer yes. The thermometer may read cooler than you've experienced back home, but summer in Japan is bad for three main reasons: humidity, lack of insulation and lack of air conditioning.
In Okayama, the humidity isn't as bad as you will experience during Tokyo orientation, but that's because Tokyo is a concrete jungle where the breeze (if it exists) won't help much, and the buildings and streets will retain the heat. Temperature in the shade, may be very similar to temperature in direct sun. The humidity will make you sweaty and sticky.
Lack of insulation means that heat will penetrate your apartments and schools, this wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the third reason of the heat of Japan.
Lack of air conditioning will either come about by it not being installed or not being used. Many classrooms may only have fans to help cool students (if they're lucky), but it will not do much when it's a room of 30 hot and sweaty students. Your staff room may have A/C discipline, where they follow the guideline of 'not a degree below 28C (82.4F)' or may only allow A/C when there are no students at the school.
  • You will sweat, get used to it. The best you can do to stop it showing is wear an undershirt and use a hand towel to soak things up.
  • Bring spare clothes to work to change into (either from your commute, or just throughout the day)
  • Take those tissues and fans from workers handing them out. Most useful advertising ever.
  • Summer tips

12) Is it really that cold?

In Okayama we certainly don't have it too bad for winter, but most people agree, you will feel the cold more in Japan. This comes down to lack of insulation (again) and using heating systems until they are 'necessary'. Snowfall is rarer along the southern parts of Okayama but it does snow. It's almost as if the sanyo train line divides the regions where snow will fall (anything south of it will see less).
Often heating at schools (and in homes) is done by kerosene systems of one type or another. This may provide some relief from the chill depending on where your desk is, and how many windows are open for ventilation. Classrooms may each have their own kerosene stove.
  • Wear multiple layers.
  • Try out some of the heat packs you can buy to keep your hands warm.
  • Bring a small lap blanket to give yourself extra warmth at your desk.
  • Winter tips

13) Can I use my electronics from X in Japan?

Japan uses 100 Volt electricity, with east and west Japan using 50 Hertz and 60 Hertz. This makes Okayama 100V 50Hz. The power outlets are of a similar design to ungrounded American outlets, meaning most appliances can be plugged into either outlet, HOWEVER, there may be issues with running devices.
To run electronics optimally:
  • Make sure your electronics can handle running at 100V with 50Hz
    • Most modern electronics with a 'brick' power adapter (eg. laptop) can run 100~240V 50/60Hz (usually written on the adapter itself). This may be built into the device itself.
    • Issues with running at lower Volts and Hertz than your home country can include slower recharging, reduced efficiency, in the case of digital clocks, running slower or just not working at all.
    • Check the device as well as its battery to see if they are both able to handle the Voltage and Hertz difference.
      • For devices that use an external battery charging dock, you may be able to find Japanese equivalents.
  • If your plug won't fit get an appropriate X to Japan plug convertor
    • Additionally bring a power board to plug into the convertor, this way you can plug in many overseas electronics instead of buying individual convertors.
    • Some electronics have a changeable cord (using a figure 8 input) which can be replaced by a Japanese equivalent.
    • For Australians, it may be difficult to find AUS to JAP convertors due to requiring the earth prong. It is possible to take an AUS to US convertor and remove the US side earth prong.

14) Can I use my electronics from Japan in X?

Pretty much the opposite of 13. Japanese electronics may be made specifically for Japan's 100 Volt 50/60 Hertz electricity system and may not have your home country's outlet shape. Unless the device is labelled (check on the device, and in the manual) to run at a higher Voltage of another country, there can be some serious issues. For example, trying to run a '100V 50Hz only' device in Australia's 240V system may result in smoke, fire, explosions and misery.
  • Make sure your Japanese electronics can handle running at the Voltage (most likely higher) of your home country
    • Most modern electronics with a 'brick' power adapter (eg. laptop) can run 100~240V 50/60Hz (usually written on the adapter itself). This may be built into the device itself.
    • Issues with running at higher Volts and Hertz than that of Japan can include faster charging and efficiency, overheating, melting, smoke, sparks, fire and explosions.
    • Check the device as well as its battery to see if they are both able to handle the Voltage and Hertz difference.
      • For devices that use an external battery charging dock, you may be able to find equivalents for your home country.
    • For devices suited only to Japan's 100V 50/60Hz system, you may need to buy a Voltage Converter to safely use the product in your home country.
  • If your plug won't fit get an appropriate Japan to X converter
    • Additionally bring a power board to plug into the convertor, this way you can plug in many Japanese electronics instead of buying individual convertors.
      • If something requires a Voltage Converter it is not recommended to include it on the board.
    • Some electronics have a changeable cord (using a figure 8 input) which can be replaced by a home country equivalent.
    • Japan to X converters are available for many countries. US to X converters may also work.