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Preparing for Departure

Money and Budgeting

The Basics of Currency in Japan

As with all currencies, the dollar yen exchange rates fluctuate every day. An online search will reveal many websites and mobile applications that can help you track these changes and assist with budgeting.

As a general principle, do not convert more dollars to yen than you can reasonably expect to use during your stay in Japan. Money is always lost in the conversion process, as banks set different rates for buying and selling currency, as well as charge a service fee. Exchange counters in airports or other locations tend to cost more in fees. To minimize fees, it is a good idea to do fewer exchanges of larger amounts than several smaller exchanges.

While traveling, it is a good idea to carry a minimum of $100 in US currency for incidental expenses incurred en route to and from Japan. Once you arrive in Hikone, tuck it away until you are ready to come home. It is also recommended that you have yen (approximately $300 worth) available to you prior to your arrival in Japan to cover travel costs and to help you get settled for the first week or so of the program. If your arrival is unexpectedly delayed or you cannot find an ATM, already having yen will be very helpful.

Many items in Japan are, for the most part, more expensive in Japan than in the US. During your first few weeks in Japan, you will quickly learn how to budget for daily living and other activities based on your personal lifestyle habits. To get a general idea of what things cost in Japan, please visit Numbeo.com's Cost of Living in Japan page.

Managing Money from Abroad

For a variety of reasons, it can be beneficial to arrange to give POWER OF ATTORNEY to a parent or close relative for the period that you are overseas. Power of attorney enables your designee to handle business and legal matters on your behalf, such as paying bills, depositing financial aid and personal checks, etc. In the past, students have had a hard time with things such as class scheduling and financial aid departments because they did not have the relevant information. As you know, some information will not be given out freely over the telephone or to anyone but you unless you grant power of attorney.

IMPORTANT: Take care of all of the details with your academic counselor, financial aid office, and your bank before you leave. Make sure that your bank, financial aid office, and designee have a copy of the Power of Attorney document. Some banks and other institutions require another form along with the standard power of attorney form. Check to be sure.

International ATMs

Using an International ATM (debit) card to withdraw money from your U.S. bank account may be the easiest way to access your funds in Japan. Most ATM cards with a 4-digit PIN will work, though it is advisable to double-check with your bank just to make sure. There are ATMs available in many convenience stores in Japan, including 7/11. There is a 7/11 with an international ATM about 15 minutes from JCMU by bike which is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week. While most U.S. debit cards work at 7/11, some cards do not work, in which case using the post office ATMs is recommended. International ATMs are found in most post offices in Japan, though they have strict hours. There are three post offices in close vicinity to the center and in general, post offices tend to be near major train stations as well. Remember, there will be a service fee on top of whatever your bank charges.

Credit Cards

Credit cards are very useful when an emergency arises when traveling, but credit card use in Japan is not as common as in the United States. Unfortunately, most stores and restaurants in Hikone normally will not accept credit cards. For U.S. credit cards used in Japan, Visa and MasterCard branded cards tend to be the most reliable in terms of acceptance. 

Credit cards can be handy in Japan for making larger purchases (such as hotel rooms or long-distance train tickets) and for cash advances. The bill will be automatically converted to dollars (often at a rate equal or better than what you would get exchanging cash at a bank), and charged to the account in the US. However, don't depend on using your credit card all of the time because it is not accepted everywhere. Also, interest rates and fees for cash advances on credit cards often tend to be higher than the fees for purchases with the credit card, or withdrawals from ATMs with a debit card. Check with your account provider to make sure you are aware of fees and other charges in advance so that you can make an informed decision about cost-effective methods.

Traveler's Checks

Traveler's checks are one of the safest forms of money to carry when traveling, but are quickly becoming obsolete. In Japan, American Express or Visa checks are probably your best bet. They are difficult to cash in Japan; inside the airport is the generally the best option. You may be able to purchase traveler's checks through AAA or your local bank or credit union; however, most banks don't issue travelers checks anymore.

Opening a Bank Account in Japan

It is possible to establish a bank account with a Japanese bank after your arrival. If you wish to open an account, please consult with the staff at JCMU.

Transferring Money from the US to Japan

The easiest way to receive money in Japan, besides depositing money into an account from the US that can be accessed by ATM, is a US International Postal Money Order issued by the U.S. Postal Office. They can be purchased for under $5 with a max value of $700 each. It can be sent by regular or express mail and cashed at the main post office in Hikone. Avoid using personal checks or any other kind of money order. Never send cash!

Program Fee Payment and Financial Aid

Payment is due before the beginning of the program. Make certain that everything is in order and clarify the procedures for the release of financial aid checks for the period when you are out of the country. These offices may require a letter in advance from you authorizing the release of checks to a parent, etc. and may require that you provide them in advance with a copy of the "power of attorney" letter. Check with your office of financial aid to make sure the awards will be available when you expect them to be.

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Health Concerns and Insurance

Student Health and Emergency Treatment Authorization Form

JCMU requests students to disclose information regarding any health condition, medication, disability, allergy or dietary restriction in the Student Health/ Emergency Treatment Authorization Form. This form is provided to students after acceptance to the program. It is in violation of American Disabilities Act (ADA) to deny a student admission to an academic program for which they are otherwise qualified on the basis of disability. ADA also protects individuals with many pre-existing health conditions from similar discrimination. JCMU separates the application process from the disclosure of this information to protect students' rights. Nonetheless, in order for JCMU to help you manage any health conditions, medications, disabilities, allergies or dietary restrictions and to plan for any medical emergencies while you are abroad, it is essential for you to disclose as soon as possible any condition that might directly or indirectly affect your stay in Japan. Properly managing pre-existing conditions will hopefully allow you to have a trouble-free experience abroad.

Physical Examination

There is not a physical examination requirement for the visa classes JCMU uses for its programs, however, it is a good idea to have a thorough physical medical exam by your physician before you leave for Japan. This is to make sure that there are no health problems of which you might be unaware, and helps to prepare you to deal with ongoing health conditions while you are abroad. For similar reasons, it is strongly recommended that you see a dentist and an optometrist before going to Japan.

Medications (see Bringing Medications to Japan page)

If you take any medications even occasionally, or if you regularly use a special over-the-counter (OTC) medication, bring a supply with you. Although the Japanese have a highly sophisticated pharmaceutical industry, you might not be able to find the precise equivalents of OTC or prescription drugs there. In general, Japanese medications differ from American products in that they are subject to different regulations from those in effect in the US, and that they are marketed with the diet and physiology of a Japanese populace in mind. Common over-the-counter medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen-based pain relievers, cold medicines, digestive aids, etc. are available in Japan.

Most prescription and over-the-counter drugs are permitted in Japan, including drugs that may not be available there. However, drugs that are hallucinogenic, narcotic, and/or psychotropic in nature are controlled and/or prohibited by Japanese law, except in extenuating circumstances where prior approval has been obtained.

Students may bring up to one month's supply of unprohibited prescription drugs into Japan, and up to two month's supply of unprohibited non-prescription drugs (or supplements, such as vitamins) without completing any paperwork. This same rule applies to mailing prescription and/or non-prescription drugs.

If you wish to take more than a 1-month supply of prescription drugs or more than a 2-month supply of non-prescription drugs to Japan, you must obtain a certificate called a "Yakkan Shoumei".

Whatever medications you take to Japan, you should always take them in the original containers. It is also always a good idea to have a copy of the prescription and/or letter from the prescribing physician explaining the nature of the medication, the purpose of taking it, recommended dosage, and the frequency of use.

Please review the information provided on the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare page on importing medications.

Accident and Sickness Insurance

All students participating in JCMU study abroad programs are covered by an accident and sickness program administered by GeoBlue for the duration of the program. All students are automatically enrolled by the JCMU Office. Please note that this program only covers students while they are abroad and will not cover students if they are in the United States. We recommend students maintain their US insurance policy so they will be covered when they return to the US. Students and parents should carefully review the policy to ensure they fully understand the coverage and its limitations.

Please visit the International Health Insurance page on the MSU Office of International Health and Safety website for more information about the GeoBlue coverage.

Your insurance ID card will be sent to the email address you provided on the application and should always be carried with you while you are abroad. Should you need reimbursement for medical expenses, please review the information provided on the Insurance Reimbursement Claims page of the MSU Office of International Health and Safety website.

Flight and travel insurance are not included as part of the program fee. Flight insurance may be purchased at most international airports. Flight insurance covers you only when you are on the airplane and will not remove the need for more inclusive coverage. Should you wish to secure travel insurance for your luggage and other personal effects or cancellation coverage, an insurance agent or travel agent can provide you with this information.

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Cultural Adjustments

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.

Formal Clothing:

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.

Footwear:

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:

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

Electrical Power:

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.

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Comparing Climates

One Extreme – Hot and Humid:

By around March and early April, Japan begins to warm up quickly. Students arriving in Hikone during the summer and fall will find the climate hot and quite humid. Summer students should be prepared for very high temperatures and higher humidities. Late August through November is "typhoon season."

The Other Extreme – Damp and Frigid:

The air dries out in October/November and Japan rivals the US for autumn color. Cold rains and occasional snow keep winter extremely moist. It is cold in the residence halls from mid-November to mid-March. Among the proposed solutions for coping with damp, penetrating cold, we recommend considering the following:

• Flannel pajamas

• 1 or 2 sweatshirts

• Long underwear

• For warm pants, try fleece pants, or heavy jeans

• For women: warm tights

• Several pair of warm, thick socks, i.e. rag-wool-type

• Warm waterproof jacket/coat

• Warm gloves, preferably waterproof, for bicycling

• A hat and/or scarf for windy days

• Turtleneck shirts to layer under other clothes

• Warm crew neck sweaters

• Warm waterproof boots

• Sturdy water-resistant walking/hiking shoes that fit over thick socks

• Flannel sheets for twin size beds

Although the temperature extremes in Hikone are much more moderate than those of the Midwest, you will be more vulnerable to the weather. The high cost of energy makes it prohibitive to maintain a year-round constant indoor temperature. Note: there is no central heating or cooling in the Center residence hall, nor is there any insulation. This is common in most buildings in Japan. In JCMU classrooms and apartments, expect air- conditioned temperatures to be no cooler than about 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and heated interiors to be no warmer than 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. In practical terms, this means that you will need clothing for a range of climatic conditions; do not expect to make it through the winter with T-shirts and jeans. During the late spring, summer and early fall months, make sure you bring light clothing that breathes well. The principal means of transportation in Hikone is the bicycle. It might be a good idea to bring a water bottle with you in the warmer months and when the weather gets cooler a rain parka and warm gloves for riding your bicycle in the rain is a must.

Another factor to keep in mind as you plan your wardrobe is the laundry facility at the Center. The Laundry Room is equipped with washing machines, which use cold water only, and are free of charge. There are also clothes dryers, but they have limited capacity and produce limited heat. The advantage of low heat is that clothes are not as prone to shrinking; the disadvantage is that it can take multiple drying cycles to dry thicker items like jeans. Most students hang their laundry to dry in the "drying room." In humid weather, it can take days for heavy jeans or sheets to thoroughly dry. One solution is to choose clothing made of synthetic fabrics, or blends, rather than all natural fibers such as cotton or wool, and to choose lightweight clothing, which can be layered, rather than heavy garments and thick fabrics. Note: Due to the fact that autumn in Japan can be warm, humid, and rainy, mildew can be a problem especially with clothes. It is recommended to purchase some desiccants for your closet and drawers. These can be purchased at many stores and will help remove the moisture in your clothes.

Rain gear:

Rain gear is an essential for any time of the year; ideally, it should allow adequate protection when riding a bicycle. Rain gear can be found in Japan at reasonable prices. Umbrellas are essential, too, and you can find them at any price in Japan. It is suggested that you bring a folding umbrella and rain gear.

Weather Resources:

For quick, easy access to weather information about Hikone and Shiga prefecture please refer to these English websites which provide temperatures in both Farenheit and Celcius:

http://www.wunderground.com/global/stations/47761.html
http://weather.weatherbug.com/Japan/Shiga-weather.html

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Packing for the Trip

Essential Items:

  • Rain gear (a good rain coat or poncho is very useful; umbrellas are widely available in Japan)
  • Backpack or cross-body bag for short trips and commuting by bike
  • Comfortable and durable shoes for walking or hiking
  • A laptop, tablet or other personal computing device (not required for classes, but most students find it invaluable to have a computer or other device for communicating with family and friends).
  • Camera
  • Indoor slippers
  • Favorite toiletries

Personal Items:

The following are personal items that students have found to be expensive (or unavailable):

  • All contact lens supplies: saline, enzyme, chemicals, etc. (Take what you need for the first two months, send the rest).
  • Glasses or contact lenses: bring an extra pair. (Be sure to bring a copy of your prescription with you.)
  • Deodorant: many former students complain that Japanese deodorants do not work, so make sure to bring your own from the US. Previous students have even had to have family members send them deodorant from home, which is costly and time- consuming.
  • Favorite perfume/cologne and skin cleansing products.

Remember, if you wish to bring liquids, gels, or aerosols in your carry on, there may be restrictions on how much you can carry. For more information on what you can bring, please check the airline you intend to fly with and http://www.tsa.gov.

Clothing:

Life in Hikone requires somewhat different clothing than life on your home campus, for climatic and cultural reasons. With the exceptions noted below, it is best to take or send to Japan the clothing you will need for the academic year. Remember everything you take over, you will have to take back. Do not over-pack; one or two weeks' clothing for each season is fine. It is a good idea to pack light clothing that can be layered. Students coming for the fall or academic year will find long-underwear and a couple of sweaters to be useful.

Although a wide range of clothing is available in Japan, it may be difficult to find something in your size, or in the styles you prefer. Women who are 5'6" or under and men who are 5'10" or under and of very slim or medium build should be able to find clothes that fit in Japan. If you are taller, or stocky, it will be much more difficult to buy new clothing in Japan. Keep in mind that the prices of clothing are often more expensive in Japan.

Towels:

Thinner towels are recommended because they will dry easily. You can buy much thinner towels in Japan, which will dry quickly, at reasonable prices. If you plan to buy towels in Japan, however, please bring at least one bath towel with you to use immediately, before you are able to go shopping.

Non-perishable Food:

Generally, you will be able to find most everything you will need. If there is some food item that you simply cannot live without, you might want to leave a little space in your luggage. You may also consider sending some supplies to yourself before you leave the USA or leave a list with family and friends for "care packages" to send later on. In general, the cost of food is greater in Japan than in the United States.

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