|What are the visa requirements?
| If you are a US citizen, you just need a valid passport, and you can stay up to three months in Japan without a visa. If you don't have a passport, get one immediately. If you are a non-US citizen or if you have any other visa-related questions, please contact the Consulate General of Japan.
If you don't have a passport or your passport will expire soon, apply for it ASAP.
|What restrictions do we have for luggage?
| The best advice is to make your luggage as light as possible. Ask your airline about the maximum weight of luggage you can check in for free (typically 44 pounds or 20 kg for international travel) and be ready to pay any extra at the airport if your luggage is too heavy. Typically, domestic airlines in Japan has a maximum of 15 kg (about 33 pounds) per suitcase and you will be charged extra if it goes beyond 15 kg. If you are planning to buy a lot of souvenirs, it is best to do so at the end of the program rather than at the beginning.
|Can I use my computer and other electrical appliances in Japan?
| Japan uses the following electrical standards: 100 volts, 60 Hz in western Japan (e.g., Fukuoka), and 50 Hz in eastern Japan (e.g., Tokyo). (U.S. uses 110 volts, 60 Hz.) Recent high-tech appliances such as notebook computers are designed to work under variable voltage/frequency standards, and usually they work without a transformer in Japan. Simple devices (e.g., hair dryer, shaver, etc.) may work except at slower speed or power, but if you would like to be sure, consult the user manuals of your appliances.
|Do we have Internet access?
| You can have Internet access on both locations. You will be given a password and ID, so that you can access the Internet.
|Do we have laundry facilities at a place we live?
| Laundry facilities are available on site in Beppu, but you need to buy your own detergent.
|When can we take a shower/bath?
| There are shower/bathroom facilities. Shower can be taken any time of the day, but bathing time may be limited to part of the day, so please ask the dorm/seminar house once you get there.
|Can I use my credit cards or traveler's checks in Japan?
| Unfortunately, Japan is a cash society and people usually carry a large amount of cash. Credit card usage is limited to large hotels, large deparment/retail stores, and some online purchases. In small shops and restaurants where you are more likely to go, only cash is accepted. Personal checks are almost unheard of in Japan. If you bring traveler's checks, you need to cash them at the bank or post offices that handle traveler's checks before you buy something. You can purchase pre-paid cards (in cash) for some services.
|How much money should I bring?
You need to bring cash for your meals (about $800) plus money to buy basic necessities --- toiletries, hand soap, laundry soap, wash cloth & towels, etc. At a minimum, you would need $1000. How much more money you will need depends on what you would like to spend it on, such as telephone, shopping, entertainment, personal trips you make (not included in the program), etc.
|Where can I exchange dollar to yen?
| There are several ways to exchange dollars to yen. Most major banks including Bank of America, etc. provide these services here in Atlanta. (You can check exchange rates online and compare.) There is a currency exchange service called Tomas Cook in the Atlanta airport. (The rates may not be as good.) You can get a good currency exchange rate in Narita airport. (There may not be enough time for currency exchange during the transition. Check with your travel agent.) (There may be ATMs in Narita airport that take your bank card to get yen directly from your bank account.) Some post offices in Japan also have ATMs that allow you to use your bank card to get yen from your US bank account (PLUS System and STAR System), but there may not be one near where you will live.
|I need to bring prescription drugs including injection syringes. Is this a problem?
| It is not a problem to bring your medication to Japan. However, I suggest you bring your doctor's note that explains why you need to take it in case an immigration officer in Japan stops you. (You probably don't need it, but it gives you peace of mind.) If you need to get daily injections, it might be better to notify your host family on your condition to avoid any misunderstanding or unnecessary concern although it is completely up to you to decide whether you disclose such information. We also recommend that you inform your leading GT instructor about your medical conditions just in case some emergency situation arises. If you need to take pain medication (such as Tylenol, etc.) often, I suggest you bring some from the US. Pain medications sold in Japan appear to be too mild for Americans.
|Can I make international phone calls?
| In order to make international phone calls, we recommend Skype (or other free voice communication program via the computer). If you cannot use Skype, in case of emergency, you can use the instructor's cell phone to make international calls.
|Does my cell phone work in Japan?
| Japan uses 3G standard for cell phones. Check with your phone company if you are planning to use it in Japan. There are several cell phone rental service companies for international travelers. It's better to make reservation for the service before you leave for Japan and receive a cell phone unit at a designated airport in Japan (e.g., Narita) or delivered to your home in the US before you.
|Do I need to buy local transportation pass of some kind?
| No. You will live on campus, so there is no need to take public transportation to commute to school.
|Can I go on a personal trip?
| During the LBAT program period, you are not allowed to take personal trips (including staying overnight outside the designated location) unless you discuss your plan with the GT instructor in person (when and where you would like to go and where you stay) and have his/her permission BEFORE (not during or after) such trips. Just leaving a message about your last-minute plan does not qualify as receiving permission. No permission will be given if your personal trips overlap with LBAT-program activities.
If you are thinking "I should be free to stay overnight anywhere whenever I feel like it as long as I'm back before the class next morning. I take my own responsibility for my action and I shouldn't need any permission for it." that is most problematic because GT requires the instructor to know whereabouts of everyone 24/7 while the program is running. You may be expelled from the program if you keep violating this rule. Remember: Even if you receive the permission from the instructor, he/she is not officially "authorizing" such trips nor is allowed to be involved in planning such trips for you.
|If I travel in Japan after the program, is there a discount pass of some kind?
| If you are planning to travel extensively for a limited period (one week, two weeks, or three weeks), it is advantageous to buy a Japan Rail Pass that gives you unlimited, discount pass for foreign visitors with a passport to ride JR trains (including bullet trains --- except Nozomi, super bullet train). Japan Rail Pass cannot be purchased in Japan. You have to purchase an "Exchange Order" (Ask for one at your travel agency) BEFORE arriving in Japan. Once you get there, you can exchange it with the actual pass at a JR station.
Discount student commuter's passes are avalable only for full-time students attending a Japanese school in Japan. (You can purchase a regular commuter's pass if you wish, but the discount is limited to specific routes you take on a regular basis.)
|What should I bring besides the obvious?
| Some of the things you take for granted are not always provided. For example, bring a handkerchief or a small towel and carry it around in your pocket or purse! When you visit public restaurants, they may not always provide you with napkins. (They may give you a wet towel prior to eating.) Newer public restrooms have hand-drying facilities. It is hot and humid in summer, so it is a good idea to carry a handkerchief or a small towel.
If you are visiting someone (e.g., your host family), it is customary to bring a souvenir. A souvenir does not need to be expensive but should somehow represent where you come from---your school or affiliation, home town, city, state, country, etc. It can also work as an "icebreaker" to promote more conversation.
|What should I expect that are done differently in Japan?
| There isn't enough space here to describe all of the different customs in Japan, but here is a small sample:
- Consider all purchases are final. In Japan, normally, stores don't accept returns unless the goods are damaged before the purchase. Customers rarely try to return the purchased item for a full refund just because it turns out that they don't like it after all. Some stores may allow you to exchange the item with something of an equal value or give you store credit for future purchases, but such stores are rare. Ask their policies before you buy something if you think you might be returning it later.
- If you are planning to travel and stay at hotels or inns, remember that you will be charged by the number of people, not by the room. (If a room costs 10,000 yen per person, it costs 20,000 yen or close to it for two people to stay in that same room.)
- Close all bathroom doors when not in use. In many homes in the US, the door to the bathroom is left open to indicate that it is not in use. This is not true in Japan. Bathroom doors are to be closed when you leave the room. So from the outside, it is difficult to see if the bathroom is occupied or not. We usually check this by knocking on the door.
- If you are an Asian descent and look like a Japanese, many people may refuse to speak in English to you even if you speak to them in English. The reasons vary, but they may feel too ashamed to speak in broken English or they may not be able to erase the sense of disbelief that you are not a Japanese. (If you don't look Japanese, the chances are better that you would be responded to in English. If they can't speak English, they may speak Japanese or shy away from you.)
- Mysterious smile? Since displaying emotions in public places often makes others feel uncomfortable, it is culturally considered a poor manner to reveal strong emotions unless they are in locations or situations where emotional outbursts are approved (e.g., sporting events, etc.). Frequently, Japanese resort to smiling to mask their true feelings such as shyness, embarrassment, distress, or even anger.*
|* Notes to #5 above --- I've seen a woman "smiling" during a TV interview as she reports the sudden death of her husband. Japanese notice her trembling shoulders and understand what she is going through and commend her effort in trying not to show her emotions even under such a dire circumstance. This behavior is heightened to an art form in Noh play in which actors wear a mask to hide emotions. However, audience know emotions are "leaked" through non-verbal behaviors and appreciate how well actors communicate such emotions through various forms of leakage.