Japan Starter Kit

Jasmine Kraemer
Major: Japanese and Interdisciplinary Health Services
Keio University, AY 2018-2019

Starting from scratch in a new country can seem like a daunting task at first with having to do things like getting supplies, being able to use your phone, applying for residency, and setting up insurance among other things. On top of those, in Japan there are things like recycling and learning how to use their train system. However, with a little research and tagging along with other exchange students, the setting up process can go very smoothly. For me, I was able to set up the majority within three days. So, here are some tips and tricks for setting up your new life in Japan.

Getting your residence card and insurance:

The very first thing you will want to do in Japan is get your residence card. This will be the most important form of identification that you will need while you live in Japan. You will need to carry this around 24/7 in case a police officer asks you for identification or you need to provide ID to open up a bank account among other things. First, you will need to find the municipal office for your place of residence. Your dormitory should provide you with that information or you can ask your landlord directly where you should go. Second, you will need to bring all of your important documents that you will need to obtain your residence card. You will need your passport and your certificate of eligibility, which you should receive before you go to Japan, and cash for the set-up fees. Third, you will need to know how to write your address either with kanji, hiragana, or Romanized Japanese. If you have any Japanese friends, ask them how to write your address. Also, going in groups with other exchange students or even Japanese students helps the process run smoothly. You can get by with very minimal Japanese knowledge since sometimes there are people who speak English working at there. However, there are several stations you need to visit, and there will be stations with workers who only speak Japanese. I was glad there was someone in my group who spoke Japanese almost fluently since there were times where I did not understand what I was being asked to do.

After you apply for your residence card, you will have to register for Japan’s national health insurance. You can apply for the insurance at the municipal office immediately after you get your residence card. You will be asked if you are applying for the insurance as you are applying for your residence card. Make sure you check whichever box or boxes that you need to get the appropriate forms or documents you need to apply for it. After you apply for everything, you should get a letter in the mail around two weeks after applying. In that first letter, you should receive a bill for the monthly insurance premium that you need to pay. Take that bill to the nearest Konbini, Japanese convenience store, and present it to the clerk at the cash register. After you pay, they will stamp your bill and hand you back your half of the bill. You should receive a letter every month with the amount you need to pay. However, my friend in the countryside received several bills in the same letter that she can pay all at once or each month. Usually, you should have till the end of the month to pay, but every prefecture is different.

Setting up your phone:

            One of the first things you will want to do when you arrive in Japan is to set up your phone. The place that I ended up going to to compare phone plans was BicCamera, which is a popular electronics store franchise in Japan similar to BestBuy in America. Of course, you could go to individual phone company stores like NTT Docomo, SoftBank, and others. However, BicCamera often has several different phone company kiosks within their stores.

BicCamera Storefront.jpg
Image: The BicCamera in Shibuya

When you go to BicCamera, you will want to look for a SIM card that will best suit your needs. There are many options to choose from, such as travel SIM cards that you can use for a few days to a couple months. However, if you are planning on staying in Japan long-term, you should look into a permanent SIM card from one of the phone companies. I chose to go with NTT Docomo since they were having a deal when I got my SIM card. When you go to get a SIM card and sign up for a phone plan, you should try to bring someone along who speaks Japanese unless you speak Japanese well. Often times, the BicCamera stores in major areas like Shibuya and Ikebukuro will have some staff that speak English. When I initially purchased my phone plan, the clerk who helped me spoke English. However, when I returned to try to change my form of payment, the clerk did not speak English. When I tried to speak Japanese to him, he did not understand what I was trying to ask and ended up using Google Translate to help me. So, if you want to help ease the process, try to bring someone who speaks Japanese. Once you get the attention of one of the clerks, you will be asked which plan you want to get. They have plans that are just data and plans that are data and a phone number. Then you have to choose how much data a month you want. I would suggest getting a Japanese phone number if you need to set up a bank account, want to open point cards, or just want a way to contact someone in an emergency. There are a lot of places and things that will often ask for a Japanese phone number. Getting a phone number is not necessary since you can often find a way around giving a phone number, but having one definitely simplifies a lot of tasks. At BicCamera, the plans that include a phone number allow you to receive calls and texts for free but calling someone incurs a small charge. After you choose your plan, you will need to present your Japanese residence card or an ID like your passport along with proof of your Japanese residence’s address. After that, they will check to see if the SIM card works with your phone. Make sure that your phone is unlocked, otherwise, you will only be able to use your original phone company’s SIM card. If the SIM card works, then you will proceed with the necessary paperwork and then you can purchase and use your SIM card. The entire process takes anywhere from an hour to two hours, but you can shorten the amount of time if you have all of the necessary documents ready. The plans typically range from $15 to $40 a month plus the initial set up fee. Another thing that you should make sure to do before getting a new SIM card is to make sure that you have any apps that require phone verification already downloaded and verified. I got a new phone right before coming to Japan and forgot to verify some of my apps again like Kakao, Line, and other messaging and financial apps. You can always switch your SIM card back just to do that, but if your phone company has oversea texting charges, you should take care of those apps before you leave.

Line: Japan’s #1 messaging app:

Line app.jpg

            The app that you will definitely need while you are in Japan is Line. Line is the messaging app that almost everyone uses in Japan. Line also has several other apps like games, business, and photo editors. Most of the time, when you meet someone new, you trade Line information. What’s different about Line compared to most American messaging apps is that you add friends usually by sharing a QR code. You can also make official groups for events and clubs and add people you know who are also in the group. Also, Line has characters that sort of act as the app’s mascots. Similar to Facebook messenger, you can also download stickers to use in conversations. Japanese people use them frequently to express emotions and to be polite through texting.

Line stickers.jpg
Image: These are some of the main characters that people use

Opening a bank account:

If you are staying in Japan for a long time and are receiving scholarships from either your school or the Japanese government, you will need to open up a bank account. Opening up a bank account can also make transferring money and getting paid from a job easier. There are many different banks that you can choose to open an account with. There are also post office banks that are usually really simple to set up and use. Among some of the major banks are Mizuho and SMBC. You will often see Mizuho and SMBC ATMs and branches in every city. I chose to go with SMBC since there was a branch near my dorm, and there was an ATM on my campus making SMBC the most convenient.

Image: The SMBC in Shibuya

Setting up my bank account took around two hours since there was a lot of paperwork to fill out. They also had to facetime one of their English customer service representatives to explain the what type of tax they were asking that I pay in America. If you open up an account with SMBC, the tax that they are asking about is the Sales tax in America. Just say that you pay it in America and move on to the next step. You will need your residence card and passport to open up the bank account. You might also need a Japanese phone number. I had some friends who were able to set up a bank account without one, so it might not be necessary.

SMBC’s ATMs as well as other Japanese ATMs are slightly different than ATMs in America. In Japan, ATMs often have hours and days that you can use them without incurring a fee. I have had to withdraw money outside of those times and days and incur the ¥108 fee. You will typically incur a fee during Saturday and Sunday and after 9pm on weekdays. Also, most ATMs have an English option or English translations under the kanji so foreigners can use them.

Overall, these will be some of the first few things that you will do when setting up your new life in Japan. Of course, there are still things like recycling and how to use Japan’s trains. However, those are a little more complicated, and I will write about them in another blog.

Thanks for tuning in! またね!





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