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Traveling and Baggage

Baggage and Shipping

Keep your baggage to a reasonable minimum. Remember that they sell most things you need in Japan; and that every extra item you take becomes a crutch that prevents you from learning to deal with Japan in an innovative way. Students from past years on the program advise that because living space in Japan is limited, too many possessions can inhibit you.

Airports, large train stations, and modern buildings will have elevators and escalators available, including Hikone Station. More rural areas may only have stairs, so you should still be prepared to carry your luggage up and down them. 

Airline Regulations

The regulations vary for each airline. Please review the rules that accompany your airline ticket, or contact the airline directly for current information. Generally, two pieces of check-in luggage and one "carry-on" are allowed per customer, within certain weight and dimensional restrictions. On most international flights the maximum weight of each checked piece of luggage is 50 lbs (23 kgs). Maximum size is 62 inches/158 cm, using linear measurement (length plus height plus width). Be sure to check with your airline for their specific regulations.

For your own protection, all baggage should be identified on the inside and the outside with your name, home address, telephone number, and destination abroad. You may wish to protect your baggage with personal property or baggage insurance.

Carry-on Luggage

Each passenger is generally allowed one piece of carry-on luggage plus a briefcase/laptop computer/purse. In addition, each passenger may carry a coat, umbrella, cane or other "special" item. Please check with your airline for their specific regulations on weight, size, and number of allowed carry-on pieces. All items not needed in flight should be checked. Medicine, keys, important papers and travel documents (passport) should be carried on board by the passenger.

The Japan Center staff requests that all students bring an overnight pack consisting of the following items in case your luggage is lost in transit or bags shipped from the airport take longer than expected:

  • Towel
  • Toiletries
  • Indoor Shoes
  • Rain Gear
  • At least $300 for the first week and for the cost of travelling to the Center

Registering Foreign-Made Items before Departing the US:

US Customs regulations require, prior to departure, you to register any foreign-made goods you are taking to Japan and are planning to bring back with you that you purchased in the States. Otherwise, it is assumed that they were purchased overseas and duties may be imposed. In our experience, this is rarely a problem; customs agents are familiar with current models of cameras, for example. However, if you have something other than standard electronic equipment—such as a Japanese bicycle, or pearls—it may be best to register these.

Before you leave the US, it would be worthwhile to learn about current US Customs regulations so that you know what you can and cannot bring back and if there will be any duties imposed on what you bring or send back.

Shipping Luggage

Many international travelers have too much luggage to haul up and down train station stairways. If you are in this situation, one option is to ship your bags from the airport to JCMU. This is a common and reasonably inexpensive option in Japan. This service is available in the lobbies of Kansai, Nagoya, and Narita airports and costs about $20 per bag. You can fill out the application form in English, and you can usually use your credit card to pay. Bags usually arrive the following day, but delays are not unknown. You should bring essential items with you on the train. Please use the JCMU address.

If you are meeting with the staff escort, you may have to ship one or more pieces of your luggage, however, you will do this together as a group.

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Passports and Visas

Check your passport expiration date to make sure your passport will be valid for the duration of your stay.

A US passport is an extremely valuable object; tampering with a passport or allowing its use by another person is a federal offense. When traveling to Japan, always keep your passport in a very safe place along with your wallet and airline ticket. Do not pack your passport. Passport holders can be bought and come in handy for holding embarkation cards and airline tickets as well.


Depending on which program(s) you will be participating in, you will need one of the following visas for entry into Japan:

Semester students will be issued a six month Cultural Activity Visa.
Academic year students will be issued a one year College Student Visa.
Summer/May Short students will be issued a 90 day tourist visa (automatically granted to American citizens upon arrival)

Obtaining a Visa

Once you have been accepted into the JCMU program, you will be asked to fill out a number of post-decision forms. It is important that you complete these forms and return them with your passport photos promptly. JCMU will submit these materials to the Immigrations Office in Japan. The Immigrations office will then issue a Certificate of Eligibility (CoE). When JCMU receives your CoE, we will contact you and request that you send us your passport and a signed Release of Liability form. JCMU will send your passport, CoE, Release of Liability and visa application to the Detroit Consulate General of Japan. The Consulate will return your passport with visa to your home address.

Rules regarding use, transference, and renewals of visas are very restrictive. Students considering multiple programs should contact the JCMU-East Lansing office as soon as possible to arrange for the appropriate visa.

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Expectations While in Transit

Items to Keep With You at All Times

Airline Ticket
Money: cash and debit/credit cards
Phone numbers/addresses for the East Lansing JCMU office, the Center in Hikone, close friends, and family

On the Airplane

The long flight across the Pacific is strenuous. The air is dry, and many people suffer from mild forms of dehydration, including irritated sinuses and throat. Drink lots of water or juice, but avoid stimulants (coffee or tea) and alcohol because these have a dehydrating effect. Keep throat lozenges handy. Chewing gum, mints or other small snack items also come in handy.

On the flight you will be asked to fill out a form which you will be handing in at Immigration Control upon landing. This form is the entry card and it can be confusing. It consists of two parts, a "Disembarkation Card for Foreigners" and an "Embarkation Card for Foreigners." For the moment, fill out the "Disembarkation Card" only and leave the "Embarkation Card" blank. DO NOT SEPARATE THE TWO CARDS; the immigration officer will staple your "Embarkation Card" into your passport, for use when you leave Japan. If you have any questions, flight attendants are normally very happy to help.

Filling out the Disembarkation Card

Fill in only the blocks inside the bold, black line. Write your "Family Name" and "Given Name" in the spaces provided; for "Nationality," write "USA" or your home country; for "Date of Birth," be sure to provide figures in the order specified (day, month, year). Give your home address, including street & number as well as city, state, zip and country. For "Occupation," write "Student." For your address in Japan, write "Japan Center for Michigan Universities, Hikone, Shiga." After filling in your passport number, write in the name of the airline and flight number of the trans-Pacific flight. Your Port of Embarkation is the city where you boarded the trans- Pacific flight (for most students, Detroit). For "Purpose of Visit," write "Study of Japanese language and culture" or other accurate description of your JCMU program.

Immigration Processing

When you arrive at the airport in Japan, you will go through immigration. Here you should hand over the entry card that you received on the plane. Be respectful whenever dealing with government representatives, especially in Japan. They take your entry into their country extremely seriously, and you should too.

A new measure recently introduced by the Japanese government as terrorism prevention is the fingerprinting and photographing of all foreign persons entering Japan. All persons over the age of 16 are required to be fingerprinted and photographed. Refusal to do so will result in denial of entry into the country.

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Rail Passes

The Japan Rail Pass allows you to use any Japan Railways (JR) services for a specific number of days, depending on the amount of money you pay. Only foreigners visiting Japan on a 90-day tourist visa can purchase a Japan Rail Pass. The pass cannot be used for Nozomi and Mizuho trains on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen lines, but is good for everything else (including other Shinkansen trains), and the only additional surcharge levied on the Japan Rail Pass is for overnight sleepers. This pass is acquired by purchasing a voucher from travel agencies before leaving the United States, and then the rail pass is redeemed in Japan. The clock starts to tick on the pass as soon as you validate it, which can be done at certain major railway stations or at the JR counter at Narita or Kansai Airports if you are intending to jump on a JR train immediately. The pass is valid only on JR services; you will still have to pay for private railway services. See the Japan-Guide website for more information.

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