While you are on the grounds of the JCMU campus -- in the classroom and apartment spaces -- you will be sharing these spaces with fellow students, staff and faculty. JCMU will be your uchi (home) environment, where you can be at your most informal. Even here, however, the constraints of community living and constant interaction with the local population call for a certain discretion and decorum in personal attire. Torn or dirty clothing, revealing outfits (short shorts, halter tops, spaghetti straps) or sloppy appearance are not acceptable.
As you select the clothes to bring, keep in mind that slacks and skirts should be loose enough to be comfortable sitting on the floor, with your heels tucked underneath you. In the hot and humid months you will need to bring cool, comfortable clothes. Cotton T-shirts are perfect! Women should be conservative with bathing suits. Also, keep in mind that most public toilets in Japan are simply porcelain trenches in the floor, over which you must squat.
Your appearance is in many ways a sign of your respect for the Japanese community in which you live. When you leave the Center even for informal activities you should remember that Japanese people will be observing you. The sister-state relationship makes JCMU students honored within Hikone, and Shiga, as sort of “student ambassadors.” You should always be dressed neatly, cleanly and modestly, and perhaps less informally than when you are in the Center. Men should be clean-shaven and well groomed, with clean, neat clothing. Women should be equally well groomed, as well as modestly and neatly dressed at all times. Remember that you are presenting an image--not only of yourself and your family, but also of the Center, your university, and the US in general.
There will be “formal” occasions when the JCMU students are the official guests of the Shiga government or other local organizations; be prepared to dress appropriately for such events in warm and cold weather. However, you need not bring a closet full of “formal” clothes: former students advise that one outfit (per season) will be adequate. Dry-cleaning costs in Hikone are relatively inexpensive.
Shoes are very important. Almost everyone finds that they do more walking in Japan, and that shoes wear out much faster. It is difficult to find shoes that fit American feet properly (Men will have difficulty finding shoes bigger than a size ten).
The shoes you find in Japan tend to be either somewhat shoddy synthetic types, or extravagantly expensive imported leather. Neither kind will provide the kind of arch support you are accustomed to in a sneaker, which you will need for all the walking you will be doing. Moreover, shoes take an extra beating because you will be constantly taking them on and off. Slip-on type shoes (both sneakers and leather loafers) make it easier to get in and out of one’s shoes. Shoes are not worn inside homes, nor in temples, shrines, or in many public buildings.
JCMU maintains a no-shoes-indoors policy. Inside JCMU, you will need two different kinds of footwear. For public spaces (the lobbies, library, hallways and stairs) you will need something that will not leave any black mark on the floors. Moccasins or flip-flops are ideal for this purpose. Remember, if you need a large size slipper it will be difficult to find in Japan. Bring a pair.
You should have different slippers for your own room, partially for the practical reason of protecting its wooden flooring, and partially because of the Japanese tradition of psychologically distinguishing between the cleanliness of public and private spaces. For the privacy of your room, the ideal solution is Japanese slippers.
For outdoor use, you might want to have two pairs of slip-on type shoes, perhaps one being sandals or flip-flops, which dry much faster than sneakers, and one pair of indestructible walking/hiking shoes. A low-heeled pump will suffice for “formal” occasions.
Gift-giving is an important aspect of both personal and business relationships in Japan; learning what sort of gift is appropriate for what sort of occasion can be a daunting task. As participants in the JCMU program, you are, to some extent, exempt from this complicated business by your social and economic status as students. You are not expected to respond in kind to all the favors that will be done for you.
There are other, meaningful ways to express gratitude, such as pitching in with household chores when staying in Japanese homes, and writing thank-you letters. American style “Thank You” cards are not commonly found in Japan, so consider taking a box with you.
Japanese with whom you interact on a frequent basis--a host family, or friends--will probably appreciate your sharing with them something that tells them about your life. Make an effort to prepare a packet of color photos of your family, home, and college; these will be wonderful conversation starters. When selecting presents to distribute, aim for something lightweight, unbreakable, locally manufactured (made in USA), and, as much as possible, unique to your hometown, college, state or country. These gifts should NOT be expensive. It is really the thought that counts. A simple present can be dressed up with nice wrapping paper.
Some gift suggestions from previous students are:
- Your home university memorabilia (hats, t-shirts, etc.)
- Key chains
- Pens, pencils, stationery
- Scarves (brand names are popular with everyone)
- Children’s games in English
- Birthday cards
- Books, maps, puzzles or postcards of your state or famous sites in the US
In western Japan, including Shiga Prefecture, electrical power is set at 100V 60Hz (100 volts, operating at 60 cycles per second); the norm in the US is 115-120 V 60Hz. Many electrical appliances manufactured for use in the US can be used in Hikone without the use of a transformer, but they will operate at only about 85% power. Also, plugs in Japan are not 3 pronged, so you will need to bring with you a 3-prong to 2-prong converter. These can be found at most stores in the US in the household hardware aisle.
Computers, whether laptop or desktop variety, can be operated with no difficulty.