It’s been interesting to see how life in Japan has altered the contents of my purse. Here are some of my new daily necessities, many of which I’d recommend to anyone staying here long-term:
Keyring hand sanitizer
Japan is very conscious of public health, but for some reason this does not extend to soap in public bathrooms. Sometimes it’s there, but sometimes it’s not, especially in bare bones facilities like train station restrooms.
Speaking of public bathrooms, paper towels are even more elusive. There might be an ineffective hand dryer, but many of the places I go have neither. In fact, one of my colleagues just explained to me that the hand towel in the teacher’s bathroom I’d been using for months is not actually for drying hands, but for wiping the rim of the sink (ew).
But I’m down with any excuse to buy a cute accessory, and hankies are sold almost everywhere. There are lots of texture varieties. My favorite is this one that I bought at the Oita Prefectural Art Museum. It’s a soft cloth on one side and thin terrycloth on the other—nice and absorbent.
Bonus: use it to catch crumbs when you’re eating snacks at your desk! (Did I mention I’m a slob?)
Resident card (a.k.a. “Gaijin card”)
If you’re a foreigner in Japan, you’re required to have this on you 24/7, and the police have the right to demand it from you pretty much anytime. This, of course, encourages racial profiling, and has even led to a few creeps masquerading as cops to view foreigners’ personal information. One upside: the card has my address in kanji, so I can copy from it when I’m filling out forms. And if I’m hailing a cab not too far from home, I can show it to the driver to avoid confusion.
Drink viking coupons!
The Japanese call buffets “Vikings” (a play on “Smorgasbord,” which is a bit of a mouthful). Many restaurants have drink vikings, a beautiful buffet of drink machines where you can get everything from Grape Coke to Calpis to cappucinos.
Joyfull, one of the most popular chain restaurants in our area, gives out coupons for discounted drink viking after every meal. I like to keep ’em in my wallet, and I’m always super proud of myself when I remember to redeem them.
Cute cell phone charm
Everyone here has cute danglies on their phone. I got mine from playing the arcade game TsumTsum (also a cell phone app). If I put the figure onto the TsumTsum game sensor, it scans my character, imports her into the game, and makes her my leader Tsum.
I don’t know if it’s an energy conservation thing or what, but Japan is daaaaark at night. We expected it in our small-ish town, but even when we visited our friend in Okayama, there were big swaths of our walking routes where we could barely see. It’s pretty common to see locals running their evening errands with a flashlight.
These are basically mentholated baby wipes, and they’re super cooling and tingly. They’re great for anytime you need to freshen up your stanky pits, but they’re especially wonderful in the summer.
Plenty of cash
Japan is very much a cash society. Even big chain retailers don’t always take credit cards. On top of that, many atms have limited hours. We’re lucky enough to live near a 24-hour convenience store, but in more rural areas, it’s not too hard to end up broke and stranded.
Google Translate phone app
This has been a godsend for reading product labels and communicating with my colleagues. I can read almost no kanji, so the feature that translates text from a photo has been really helpful.
Cell phone list app
I recently downloaded Wunderlist, a free list-making app.
I’ve made three lists that have been especially handy so far:
- Japanese: for new words, phrases, and slang that I learn throughout the day.
- Travel: to store the constant travel recommendations I get from friends and colleagues.
- Karaoke: for song ideas when I’m out with friends—repertoire favorites, plus new ones I want to try. Gotta be prepared!
I’d love to hear from others in the comments: how has living abroad changed the things you carry?