Gift ideas for someone moving to Japan
June 28, 2008 6:17 AM   Subscribe

My niece is going to teach English in Japan for a couple of years. What's a good going-away present I can give her? I would rather not just give cash although that's my last resort. She's from the Midwest, speaks some Japanese, about 25 years old.
posted by SallyHitMeOntheHead to Travel & Transportation around Japan (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Digital Camera

Matching leather passport cover and journal

Handheld GPS
posted by LoriFLA at 6:34 AM on June 28, 2008

These are all individual ideas, of course.
posted by LoriFLA at 6:35 AM on June 28, 2008

Electronic dictionary, if that's in your price range and she doesn't have one already.
posted by Jeanne at 6:42 AM on June 28, 2008

I taught English in China for a year, and I didn't really want any sort of going-away present, but I LOVED getting care packages with food from home, cosmetics or skincare products I couldn't find there, that kind of thing. Maybe you want to save your money and send something in a couple months?
posted by kate blank at 6:49 AM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Peanut butter.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:21 AM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

electronic dictionary (i have used the casio idf-3000 for 4 years and it is one of my most important possessions)
toothpaste with fluoride in it
a really great suitcase
find out what products she uses daily in America and get a lot of those and send them by mail
posted by Infernarl at 8:10 AM on June 28, 2008

Aren't electronics going to be cheaper overseas?

My Spousal Equivalent has a friend who teaches English in Japan. I'll float this past him and see what he misses most and just can't get in Japan.

MY first thought would be recipes and ingredients for specific foods that she'll miss.

Stay tuned. I'll favorite this thread and return shortly...
posted by Corky at 8:15 AM on June 28, 2008

Seconding kate's idea, with a slight twist. Give her a stationery set, or some pre-addressed envelopes/postcards. Tell her to send you a note in a few months with a list of all the things from home she misses (or simply is surprised she can't find there). Then you put together as much as you can in a box, send it off, and you are forever remembered as the best auntie EVER! Even if you bought her a thousand dollar electronic dictionary, she'd still rather have the hundred dollar care package.
Trust me; I've lived this.
posted by segatakai at 8:30 AM on June 28, 2008 [3 favorites]

If she's tall, a good pair of footwear or sandals. Finding shoes/slippers that fit giant gaijin feet is really hard in Japan.
posted by Nelsormensch at 8:44 AM on June 28, 2008

If you're going with the footwear, make sure they're the kind that slip on and off easily.

Things I appreciated during my first year or so in Japan:

calendar with pictures of friends and family
books and DVDs in English (Amazon gift certificate?)
travel book for Japan (preferably specific to my prefecture)
deodorant (the ones sold in Japan are less than impressive)
cold/flu medicine
comfort (junk) food
U.S. measuring cups/spoons (since I had a lot of U.S. cookbooks)
microwave cookbook ("real" ovens are rare)

But, really, I third the idea of sending a care package after she has been there for a little while and has already started missing stuff. The bonus is that she won't have to lug them all the way to her new home. Cosmetics and clothes were always appreciated.
posted by zerbinetta at 9:44 AM on June 28, 2008

I did the going-to-Japan-at-age-25 thing back in 1992.


er, what zerbinetta said.

Since she speaks some Japanese she should be able to hit the ground running without too much problem (I was able to).

A Costco membership might be a good idea, if she is going to Kobe, the greater Tokyo area, or Sapporo (locations). While I've never been in a Costco in Japan, and Japanese versions of American stores are generally disappointing, I think Costco is different.

If you really like her you could get her an 8GB iPod Touch and rip some DVDs for her and send them via DVD-R. The Netflix->MacTheRipper->Handbrake->iPod Touch cycle has totally transformed my exercise routine (BG seasons 1 thru 3 FTW) and would be an awesome timekiller for those long train rides. One DL DVDR can hold 20 45-minute TV shows, an entire season basically.

Plus as a bonus the iPod is going to be home to some category-killing Japanese dictionary software this year. (I'll be selling one of them).
posted by yort at 10:35 AM on June 28, 2008

Japanese stationary is awesome, so I would refrain from including any in the care package. Something that would help her save on postage would be pretty awesome, a gift card of some sort.
posted by redsparkler at 10:40 AM on June 28, 2008

Cash is a traditional Japanese gift. Well I don't know about traditional, but they seem to give it at every possible occasion. I would appreciate a nicely wrapped stack of yen. It's nice to have when you hit the ground in Japan since they use cash for everything, the airport money changers take something like 20%, and finding ATMs to take an American card can be a pain.

Other than that, N'thing the care packages. If you want to give them as a pre-going away gift, print up some self addressed (and stamped if you can) post cards that are also coupons for care packages. Put five blank lines on them for her requests. It depends where she'll be teaching and how she reacts to Japan what kinds of things she misses/needs. (Though Cosmetics will probably be one of them.) Not having proper peanut butter never bothers me, but I know people who import it. For me its toothpaste, shampoo, American sized Levis and shoes, and proper American ketchup and candy bars. And if I could import a pizza I would.

Whenever my Mom sends baked stuff (like cookies) to me in Japan, I hand them out to my Japanese friends who treat them as gifts from the gods since virtually no one bakes at home. (I'm not sure I've ever been in a house with a real oven in Japan, just stove top burners.)
posted by Ookseer at 11:14 AM on June 28, 2008

Nthing the care packages.

My son has been teaching English in Japan for 2 years, and I send him a package every 3 months. Global express is costly, but the goodies arrive in 5 days.

Your niece won't know what she needs/misses until she's settled in.

(If Ookseer had mentioned Cinnamon Crunch and Lucky Charms cereals, I'd swear he were my son!)
posted by Linnee at 12:12 PM on June 28, 2008

I would appreciate a nicely wrapped stack of yen

Actually the most convenient way to carry cash to Japan is with traveller's checks.

The TTB/TTS spread is reasonable, and any major bank can do the transaction.

Cinnamon Crunch and Lucky Charms

yes, this was near the top of my list -- after Arrid XX, Safeguard soap, and gel toothpaste -- when I was returning to the states for a quick visit. On several occasions I would buy a variety of 20 boxes of cold cereal to take back with me. Running through the last box of the good stuff was always a poignant, life-defining moment.
posted by yort at 1:14 PM on June 28, 2008

Electronics? No: there's a better selection there (but not cheaper). Stationery? No. Japan has freaking amazing stationery. Passport cover? No. She'll be carrying a gaijin card instead.

The two things I wanted when I was there were books and food from the home country. That stuff is available, more or less, but very expensive.

These days, if you could get her set up with a cellphone in advance, it would probably be a great boon to her, but that probably would be more expensive and complicated than it's worth.

Actually the most convenient way to carry cash to Japan is with traveller's checks.

Actually, the most convenient way to carry cash to Japan is in cash. When she's fresh off the plane and needs ¥4000 to take a train into town, and finds herself in town after the banks have closed, those traveller's checks won't buy her bupkis. Carrying large amounts of cash is normal in Japan (I had a friend who never left his apartment with less than ¥30,000). Some merchants won't take credit cards drawn on foreign banks, and credit cards aren't as popular in general.
posted by adamrice at 2:02 PM on June 28, 2008

As someone who moved to Japan last year, I have to second some of the aboves:
-cosmetics and toiletries: good-smelly soap, shampoos, deodorants. Everything here just smells like soap-smell, not fruits and flowers. Yucky.
-toiletries II: Do you know what I asked my mom for for Xmas? TAMPONS. WTF everyone here uses pads and I was not going to go back to that fresh diaper feeling.
-books: IF she's into obscure stuff, or is just kinda frugal, this is a lifesaver. is awesome and will carry most things, if she is in a big city (Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe) there will be a giant bookstore with lots of English books. Also anywhere there's a good-sized expat community there's an underground library.
-clothes: if you're NOT SKINNY you will have PROBLEMS. I'm about a size 4 or 6 in the US and wear about the biggest size in the normal stores here. I don't know where fat Japanese girls get clothes. Tall isn't as big an issue because most stores will tailor free and on-the-spot. Big shoes are also a problem. Biggest size in-stock is usually 28 cm, iirc.
-random foods: snack foods and candies and ingredients. Not just for her, but for sharing. Avoid things that require OVENS because there really aren't ovens here.

Things you don't need to bring with you:
-Electronics: cheaper and better variety here
-Travelers checks: this is a cash country
-US measuring thingies: you can buy them at the 100 yen shop
posted by whatzit at 6:23 PM on June 28, 2008

These days, if you could get her set up with a cellphone in advance

(rereading) This would be sweet but alas, this requires having the foreigner registration business already done, which you're not going to be able to do from overseas. I can at least give you a place to start the search with her: the company with the best reputation for English-language-compatibility (as in, English phones available, English speaking people on staff) is au. They're slightly more expensive than some of the other companies, but it's well worth it, imo.

(Docomo comes off as strongly anti-English, I don't know a better way to put it. Softbank has some English availability and the awesome feature of being able to call intra-network almost 24-7 for free, but have a bad reputation for piling on excess fees anytime you try to change your plan. FWIW, though, most of the cool cell phone technology comes out of Docomo, and Softbank was recently signed on to carry the iPhone in Japan.)
posted by whatzit at 6:30 PM on June 28, 2008

Okay, here's another retarded one (and I promise to shut up afterwards!):

Japan's going through some sort of dairy crisis. Cattle feed is going up, milk production is going down, and any milk produced is being turned into milk, not dairy products. So butter is almost totally unavailable.
April 2008, Japan: $20/lb
May 2008, Iowa: $2/lb
June 2008, Japan: $??/lb
I haven't seen butter in a store here since April.

(Cheese is largely unaffected. First, it's already over-priced. Second, it is mostly imported.)
posted by whatzit at 6:33 PM on June 28, 2008

Things you don't need to bring with you:
-US measuring thingies: you can buy them at the 100 yen shop

Granted I left about two years ago, but last I recall, all the measuring things were metric. That's why I found the U.S. stuff so useful.

It'd be really helpful to know where she's going because, really, if she's just going to Tokyo, you can get almost anything there. Except maybe Reese's peanut butter cups.
posted by zerbinetta at 9:32 PM on June 28, 2008

The butter crisis is overstated in Tokyo at least. It's fairly widely available now and was always in convenience stores, even during the worst of the shortage.

I second peanut butter cups!
posted by ejoey at 7:46 PM on June 29, 2008

- western toothpaste (has fluoride and taste/texture is different in Japan).
- magazine subscription

A subscription on might be good as well.
posted by cwhitfcd at 11:05 PM on June 29, 2008

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