Frequently Asked Questions

You’re moving to Toyama! You probably have a lot of questions about packing, gifts, weather, apartments, etc. Your sempai have put their experiences in this Frequently Asked Questions to give a variety of experiences and tips. Let us know if you have any additional questions you’d like answered in the comments.


School Life

  • New ALTs are often asked to prepare self-introduction lessons for their first class. You may bring photos and realia from your hometown to show to the students. The JTE (Japanese teacher of English) will be with you in the class, but you’ll most likely be the main teacher for your self-introduction lesson. In very rare cases, for your first lesson you might be asked to prepare a lecture connected to the students’ recent English lesson, so make sure to ask your JTEs ahead of time.
  • Remember that your self introduction lesson is also a time to get to know your students. Make them introduce themselves to you too, and ask them questions!
  • Keep it simple! You will have to do your self introduction many times so don’t over complicate it. I think that little preparation and maximum communication is key. A simple quiz guessing things about the ALT and their country, interesting pictures from your country and Q&A time is great. They will have lots of questions.
  • Many children may be embarrassed to ask you a question by raising their hand in front of the whole class, so if they can write down questions (even in Japanese) for you then I think you will get a lot more questions.
  • Sweets/snacks from your home country usually go over really well. If you’re coming in the summer, avoid things that can melt!
  • It’s best to make sure they come individually packaged otherwise giving them out might be a hassle. However, I brought jelly beans and the head teacher was able to make little cups out of paper to give everyone a few.
  • I suggest bringing something over that represents your home as it can be a good conversation starter. Bonus points if it’s a special craft.
  • I’m from the UK and brought lots of tea with me as it travels very well and doesn’t go off. Because teachers are always drinking tea at work it is a great gift for the office and a really good conversation starter with colleagues.
  • Postcards of my home town were great to bring, you can never bring enough gifts as Japan has such a big gift giving culture. I wish I had brought more!
  • Bring a lot of photos of you from home. It would be most helpful to have them digitized and sorted. I was surprised at the number of photos I needed to find: old family photos, photos demonstrating my hobbies, even photos of me building a snowman. If you can gather a lot up before you leave and have them online somewhere where you can easily find them, the cultural exchange aspect will be a lot easier.
  • Picture books are popular in elementary schools. I often find myself wishing I had brought a few from home instead of having to rely on the more limited selection here. You can buy them online too, but I don’t even remember the books I enjoyed when I was young! So if you’re teaching ES, whether you physically bring them or just plan to borrow/buy them in Japan, keep good book ideas in mind.
  • Aside from photos, you can also bring realia like money, traditional clothes and other interesting items from your home country.
  • Bringing reward stamps and stickers from my own country are really appealing to the kids. It is obviously more difficult to get stamps/ stickers with English words on them in Japan. I have a purple stamp that says “superstar” and the students are impressed by the colour because most stamps in Japan are red.

Daily Life

  • Bring enough clothes for one or two seasons. It’ll give you enough time to have things sent over from home or go shopping once you’re more familiar with Toyama. For spring/summer, loose fitting clothes will help you get by in the humidity. For fall/winter, sweaters and layers will help you adjust to the changing temperatures. Toyama is more conservative when it comes to fashion, so bright colors will stand out (for better or for worse).
  • If you have larger- sized feet (25+ cm for women), bring over as many shoes as possible since it will be much harder to find them here.
  • It’s safe to bring at least a month's worth of your salary. Around 2500 USD is a generous amount for upfront and urgent payments such as apartment deposit, appliance purchases, and an emergency budget. You can contact your supervisor and predecessor to get a more concrete idea of the amount that you should bring and the things that you'd need to pay upon arrival.
  • I had to buy a car when I arrived, and that required a down payment. If you know you want to buy a car, you might want to bring extra money (around 2000 USD extra).
  • Keep in mind that you’ll only get paid for the days you’ve worked, so your first paycheck (deposited in your bank account once a month) may not necessarily be the entire monthly remuneration. Be sure to have enough money to get you through the first month or so until you get your first full paycheck.
  • I personally recommend Mobal, which allows you to get a Japanese SIM card that works in your current phone. It has a pretty good plan, but you will probably be able to find cheaper plans in Japan, depending on what you’re looking for. The main issues with a Japanese phone are 1) contracts are pretty unforgiving, and can be expensive and complicated, and 2) that annoying shutter sound when you take pictures! But ask your predecessor or others in your area what worked for them.
  • If you want to use your phone from home, you will need to unlock it before you come and buy a SIM card here. A warning though as some stores will not be able to put a new card in your phone even if it is unlocked.
  • I recommend getting a smartphone for the use of apps alone. There is a useful app called Hyperdia that lets you know what the train times are. Of course, Google map and translating apps are incredibly helpful, too.
  • Bringing an unlocked phone from your home country is probably the easiest (and cheapest) route. There are several companies you can get a SIM card from once you arrive in Japan. You should also be able to avoid the annoying permanent shutter sound when taking photos by bringing a phone from home (it worked for me).

About Japan & Toyama

  • Very wet. It rains a lot, and even the snow sometimes turns to rain. You’ll want good rain/snow boots if you have them, as well as an umbrella. The summer is very hot and humid, and the winter can be cold if you’re not used to cold weather. Even if you are used to cold weather, schools and apartments can get unbearably cold, so be prepared.
  • The summers are incredibly humid and you will sweat a lot. If you are worried about staying cool, there is a store called Uniqlo that has undershirts called airism that can help. There is sunscreen here but in small volumes. If you are an outdoor person it might be helpful to bring over a big bottle of sunscreen.
  • Learn Hiragana and Katakana. They are everywhere! You’ll be able to read things like menus and store names more easily. You’ll use Katakana to write your name in Japanese as well.
  • Numbers and basic expressions like “good morning”, “thank you”, “this”, “that”.
  • Work expressions like “otsukaresama desu” and “osaki ni shitsureishimasu”.
  • Food words, especially if there are certain foods you dislike or cannot eat.
  • Try signing up for the Japanese language course offered by CLAIR! It’s all online and you’ll have a decent amount of Japanese under your belt by the time you get here!
  • When you first arrive in Toyama you will have to introduce yourself to lots of different people, maybe even in front of everyone in the office, so feeling confident with a simple self-introduction will really help you feel less stressed when you arrive.
  • I brought personal care items like deodorant, perfume, and toothpaste I like. I would say if there are any hygiene items you’re particular about, bring extra of those— at least until you have time to try alternative Japanese brands and find ones you like.
  • Make-up for a wide range of skin tones can be difficult to find. Clothes, shoes and underwear also come in quite a limited range of small sizes in popular stores.

If there’s a question you’d like to see answered, please leave a comment in the discussion section!

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