What to pack for one year of student exchange

※ This article discusses a very general topic for exchange students. I also make some remarks about my Japan experience as a male European.

My brain likes to-do-lists. This way I can forget about things and look them up, when they are relevant. Before I went to Japan, I collected all items on a list which I intended to pack. In general, this worked out very nice. However, you always need to consider:

  1. the luggage limits of your flight(s)

  2. consider which kinds of bags you will use in your target country. You don’t want to use a trolley to go to university.

  3. you will never know which items are most relevant in the end. You cannot consider all possible scenarios.
    But for those, you might be able to ask someone from your home country to send a package to you with your missing belongings. Or a friend takes them with you, when he/she visits you.

In the end, I devised the following list and I am publishing it, because someone else might find use for it:

  1. clothes

    1. jacket, coat

    2. trousers for the public (like jeans or shorts)

    3. casual trousers for sitting comfortably at home

    4. pullovers, hoddies, vest

    5. T-shirts, shirts

    6. shoes (summer, winter, sports, dressup) [be aware that shoes take a lot of space, so I took only 2 with me]

    7. socks

    8. underwear, bras

    9. cap, headgear, hood

    10. gloves (for winter)

    11. towels (body, hair, sports)

    12. bathing equipment (swimming shorts, bikini)

    13. rain protection equipment

    14. clothes line (often helpful)

  2. hygiene & medicine

    1. deodorant

    2. conditioner, shampoo

    3. first-aid: plaster/band-aid, tape

    4. medicine according to your needs

    5. sunscreen

    6. comb

    7. scissors (hair, nails)

    8. tweezers

    9. tooth brush, tooth paste, dental floss

    10. cotton buds

    11. earplugs

    12. razors

  3. documents

    1. certificate of nationality

    2. documents of academic degrees

    3. passport

    4. important emails of communication before flight printed out

    5. a to-do-list for the first few busy days

  4. office & studying

    1. dictionaries

    2. rulers

    3. calculator

    4. pencil case, sharpener, eraser

    5. sticky tape

    6. paper

    7. scissor

  5. accessoire & personal belongings

    1. lanyard (I like to attach wallet and key to lanyards to avoid theft)

    2. glasses

    3. briefcase

    4. money to survive the first days (at least 2 weeks, remember that the investments at the beginning are the highest)

    5. gifts you want to give to your mates abroad (edibles are generally recommended)

  6. sports (depends largely on the kind of sport)

  7. electronics

    1. mobile phone + case

    2. laptop

    3. mouse

    4. external hard disk drive (for backups or your videos and photos you make)

    5. battery charger for mobile devices

    6. earphones

    7. connector adapters, power supply adapters

    8. headset

    9. presenter (for presentations with a beamer)

    10. camera

In the end, people take different approaches towards how much luggage they take with them.

  1. Basically my luggage suffices for 1 week. Then I need to wash clothes. This should suffice for you as well, because I expect you to have a washing machine available abroad. However, if you are on a trip within your stay, you need to survive at least a week, I suppose.

  2. I took some old clothes with me. These clothes are at the end of their lifetime and I won’t take them back to my home country. So I throw them away and buy new one abroad. This way I can refresh my wardrobe with Japanese clothings and I am forced to tidy up my wardrobe once in a while.

Japan-specific notes:

  1. I underestimated the winter. I had to buy a very warm hoodie in Kobe, which turned out to be essential to survive the winter.

  2. I took too little money with me. I was equipped with 250 EUR (30.000 JPY), which was not sufficient for 2 weeks until I got my bank account and successfully transferred money from abroad.

  3. Gift culture in Japan is omnipresent. I couldn’t get enough gifts from my home country. There was always an opportunity to give gifts away.

  4. You need a thick handkerchief to wipe your hands in Japan all the time with you (bathrooms don’t have towels/tissues). You can buy them easily in Japan.

  5. Deodorants, handkerchiefs, women hygiene products and condoms are four major recurring topics in online Q&A boards (reddit is very lively as of 2016):

    1. Deodorants are very different in Japan and Europe. They tend to be less effective.

    2. Handkerchiefs are generally unavailable. You can only obtain thin tissues (like the ones for wiping off cosmetics).

    3. Women hygiene products are smaller because Japanese women are smaller. In case you are a tall European, consider taking a few extra packages with you.

    4. Condoms are expensive in Japan and the sizes are determined differently. So bring some spare ones to be safe for the beginning.