The year abroad adventures of a Scottish otaku in the North of Japan

Monthly Archives: July 2013

Days to go: 28

This final part of my ‘what to pack’ posts is mostly just bits and pieces that didn’t fit into the other categories. However a lot of them aren’t useless!

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My little haul includes:

– A little taste of home in the form of my tin whistle and tunes book
– A very useful mini umbrella
– Travel Washing Line (because you don’t always wanna fork out out the dryer)
– Sunglasses
– Wind-up torch (a useful part of your ‘earthquake pack’ – I’ll do a post on this)
– Gaiters (very handy for when the snows appear)
– Pencil case with combinations of pens/pencils/sharpener (don’t forget this can’t go in hand-luggage)
– Travel Journal (for all those adventure memories you don’t want to forget)
– Condensed textbooks (yup, that’s Genki 1 and 2; Basic Kanji Book 1 and 2 in a notebook each)
– Mini Japanese Dictionary (not my favourite one, but it’s one I’d be able to leave behind if needs be)

On a side note, after all this is weighed up (including the previously mentioned items), I have a grand total of 16.3kg. My limit is 23kg, cue the little ‘happy dance’! Mum says I need to get a bigger suitcase since this fits in with only a little space left…..I’m protesting because my current suitcase is decorated with loads of Studio Ghibli characters…..guess I’m gonna have to start again 😦

Days to go: 28

So the time is now: which clothes to pack!

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I have literally sat and made lists and crossed things out and made more lists about which clothes I was going to bring with me. I’m not normally that fussed about clothes, but with the limit of one 23kg suitcase, I had to be creative. One thing I can highly recommend (as you can see in the picture) is vacuum bags. These little beauties can be bought in bog-standard packs of 2 (in various sizes) in any Poundland store near you. They can reduce the space you need when packing and thus mean you can pack more! All in all, with most of the clothes and my towel packed into 2 vacuum bags, it weighed less than 5kg – quite good I’d say!

Now, with this list I had to bear in mind that I’m going to a place where the climate can vary between very hot and humid to very cold and snowing. That means: layers!! It means a variety of clothing types, but with the luggage limits it means working on roughly a 7 day cycle (for washing purposes).


– 7 pairs underwear
– 3 bras  (2 normal/1 sports)
– 7 pairs socks (4 thick/3 normal)
– 4 pairs trousers (jeans/combats/crops/jogging)
– Pyjamas (trousers/shorts)
– 1 jumper/1 hoodie/1 light jacket/1 heavy jacket
– 2 spaghetti tops
– 4 t-shirts
– long-sleeved top
– summer dress
– belt
– waistcoat
– towel

Shoes: docs (to be worn in plane); slip on shoes; walking sandals; heels

As you can see, I’ve kept a bunch of my clothes separate from the vacuum bags. The underwear and socks can be easily rolled up and put in shoes/handy  gaps, so there’s no need for these to take up space in the vacuum bags (don’t overfill these or they’ll split, which is a right pain!). The other pile contains 2 sets of clothes – one to wear on the plane and one set for my hand luggage (because you never know if your bag’s going to get lost, or some disgruntled passenger is going to be sick on you….)

My visa came today!! I did a little happy dance that completely confused the postie, but who cares! I have a lovely new page ib my passport!


Days to go: 31!

I’ve only been to Japan for a grand total of 4 weeks over the last 2 years, but there is so much I find myself missing while I’m back in the UK. Seriously, I get withdrawal symptoms the minute I get on the plane home. Attempting to copy stuff here just doesn’t cut it, either, it’s just not ‘Japan’ enough.

So in no particular order, my Japan cravings (which will be fulfilled the minute I get back into the country:

1. Osakan food
Ok, so I won’t be able to fulfil this one quite as soon as I get to Japan, but I’ll be working on it! Basically, some of the best food you will ever taste comes from Osaka – it’s the atmosphere as well as the food, since Osakan’s are ridiculously friendly! Some of the best Osakan food I’ve tasted is either Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki (and yes I know they’re not only Osakan but they are famous for them!).


I’ve tried making Takoyaki (rather unsuccessfully with a Pop-cake make) and they didn’t taste as good as when I made them with my host-family last year…Octopus covered in batter and then seaweed/dried fish tastes better than it sounds. I can’t wait have Takoyaki in Osaka again.

2. Ranchipakku

These are basically little sandwiches that are sealed at the edges and contain a vast array of interesting flavours: maple syrup and butter, hamburger, curry, egg. You name it, there’s probably a Ranchipakku with it in! My favourite is the hamburger one, it’s so yummy (mostly because it was eaten at the top of Mt. Rokko)

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3. Manga at an affordable price/Book Off! stores

Book off. What can I say? I would live in this store if I could. It basically sells second-hand books and manga at ridiculous prices (100-500 yen), but the Japanese second-hand isn’t like the UK second-hand. We’re quite happy to give a book into a charity-shop/car-boot sale a bit crumpled, a couple of pages torn maybe. These books are in almost pristine condition!

4. Punctual public transport

If a train says it’s gonna arrive at 10.38, it will (unless someone has jumped on the tracks/there’s been an earthquake) arrive at 10.38. If the platform says the train doors will open at this spot on the platform, they’re gonna. Yes, there is the little issue of being jammed onto a rush-hour train, but hey! It’s fun, and you don’t have to hold on, just follow the flow of the crowd! Enjoy it (and it gives you and excuse to casually jab anyone in the ribs if they’re trying to grope you – yes, it happens!)!

5. The ‘gaijin look’

This can cover two phenomena in Japan. First is the obvious one – ‘gaijin’ is the slang for a foreign person and, outside of the capital, there aren’t that many about. Ergo, you’ll get stared at most places you go and it’s hilarious to watch people pretend they aren’t staring.

This is a great article about it:

It’s also fun to listen to what people are saying about you (pretending you don’t understand).

The other ‘gaijin look’ is a less common, but no less funny, one. This is when two ‘gaijin’ catch each other’s eye (on a train/public place/etc.) and then fervently ignore each other in case you get asked for directions or something. It’s bonding in the worst way!

6. Colourful draincovers

These are a wonder in themselves (if you know where to look). Most places in Japan have their own unique design of sewer drain cover – they usually show a local landmark/speciality. I love it when I find a new one when I’m on some adventure.


7. 100 yen stores

Comparing these to £1 stored here in Britain is like comparing roses to daisies, it’s just not the same…I love shopping in hundred yen stores, especially because they are such good quality – and a great place to get cheap presents!!

8. Gatchapon

What are gatachapon you ask? THESE are gatchapon. Those little vending machines that give you knock off plastic rings and swallow your one and only pound coin? Not in Japan. I saved up all my hundred yen coins and this is a fraction of the gatchapon I bought – there are pokemon ones, blue exorcist ones, hello kitty ones….they’re everywhere!

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9. Real Udon Noodles

Udon stand full of random people, steaming hot bowl of freshly made udon noodles, the sounds of slurping echoing around you. Nothing better and don’t you go comparing them to cup-ramen or I will hunt you down!

10. CC Lemon

CC Lemon is the most amazing drink, mostly since the bottle says ‘with the power of 100 lemons in it’ (the cans have less than this, but they’re still pretty cool). If they weren’t 300 yen a pop, I would probably drink them all day, every day, but ho hum!



This is only going to be a small section, but it’s still an important one. Although many of you out there may not be fantastic sewers, I would recommend taking a small emergency sewing kit out with you (for all those loose buttons or rips on the clothes you don’t really want to replace). I have quite a lot in my kit (mainly because I intend to do more than just repairs while I’m out in Japan), but you can get by with just a few of these basic items (in bold):

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 2013-07-22 19.13.10

Black/White Thread

Safety Pins (various sizes)

– Pencil

– Tailor’s Chalk

– Hemming Tape

– Thimble



– Tape measure

Various sizes of needle

– Assorted Buttons

Small Scissors

– Fabric Scissors

You should be able to get all this out there, but it would be easier to have a small stash with you and then you won’t have the panic of trying to find needle and thread when you have a huge hole in your trousers!


I think I’m gonna do this bit in stages, mainly because I’m still in the process of deciding what to pack, but also because it’s easier to digest this way! Anyways, I have been sitting writing/revising this packing list for months (mostly because I didn’t have a job and had nothing better to do – this has been resolved!). I’ve been looking at loads of websites, pulling bits and pieces together, even drawing from my lists of things I bring to University every year (a monster of a task each time).

In this first section, I’m gonna look at that all important first aid kit/mini pharmacy that is full of useful items (some of which you can’t get in Japan) and also other toiletries that you might need. Unfortunately this is partly centred on what a girl would bring, so guys will need to adapt it (only a little, though, I promise!).

First off: your trusty first aid kit
The good thing about this is, although it takes up room in your luggage now, you don’t have to bring much/any of it back!

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– Plasters/Blister Plasters

– Paracetamol

– Antihistamine

– Cold and Flu Medicine

– Cold Sore Cream

– Hydrocortisone

– Soothers

– Antiseptic Cream

– Concentration Gel

– Nail File

– Nail Clippers

– Tweezers

– Penknife

– Contraception

– Imodium

Most of the things on this list are essential for going another country whose language you aren’t entirely confident reading. Although you can get a lot of this out there, having a small supply will give you time to find out the best products (and their names) for when you run out. You might find you prefer them.

One exception to this rule is Paracetamol. Anyone who’s been to Japan and come down with a sudden, but excruciating, headache will have found out that Japanese pain killers are, well, a bit crap, if I’m honest. They aren’t made up the same way as Western Paracetamol and therefore aren’t as effective. Now if you don’t want to be stuck at Customs for hours with a drug dog, I wouldn’t advise bringing masses of Paracetamol. I’m only bringing a few packets because I don’t use it that often. If you need it for medical reasons, you will need to get a letter from your doctor/contact the Japanese Embassy to get a special permit to bring medicine in. Also, be wary of Cold and Flu tablets/Vic’s Nasal Spray. These can sometimes contain an ingredient that can be used as a Precursor for Narcotics (it will usually tell you on the packet). These are NOT allowed into Japan and will get you a stern warning at Customs.

See her for more details:

I can highly recommend the Imodium. It may seem like you’re unlikely to need them (what with the clean water, lack of tropical diseases, etc.) but you have to keep in mind that you are drastically changing your diet when you go to Japan – a lot of the food’s structure’s will be different to what you’re used to digesting and a large number of foreign students find themselves getting constipation or diarrhoea in their first wee while in Japan. This could be a few days up to several weeks – until your body is used to digesting the new food. I would recommend eating as much native food as you can to speed up this process, but also drink plenty of water – you don’t want to get dehydrated!

Now, if you’re clever and use Tetris-type skills, you might be able to fit this all into one neat box. Although depending on your packing methods, you might end up having everything loose and in the gaps between everything else. I’m going for the box method at the moment, but I’ll have to see how it goes!

Next: other toiletries
To some of you, this may seem like a small list, to other it may seem excessive. I think I’ve got the balance of toiletries I might need for my adventure. There are a few essentials that I will need before I get a chance to find out where the shops are (Razors/Hair Products/Deodorant/Tooth Stuff/Comb/Hair Bands). Although I may end up asking my mum to send me out more toothpaste (there you go mum: my 21st birthday present sorted – Toothpaste, and crème eggs) because Japanese toothpaste is supposed to be a bit rubbish. I also have my vanity toiletries – a couple of small bottles of nail varnish, some eyeliner and eye shadow (a girl’s gotta look her best, you know – although I have now proven scientifically that it does indeed rain every time I wear makeup). These aren’t essential, but they’re nice to have.

Since the summers out in Japan can be hot and humid, I have the essential sun cream/aftersun but I also have a little container of Antibac gel. My Japanese teacher (Amano-sensei) keeps reminding us that since it’s so humid, there is a chance of getting a lot of germs on your hands, so this is a must. Plus it’s just hygienic in general! Lip Balm is also useful for the summer period since, apart from its obvious use, it can be used to rehydrate the area around your nose – this can become dry/inflamed because of hayfever or a cold.

Finally, FYI LADIES (men, you can avert your eyes if you wish!), I am bringing a pack of supplies with me (not pictured) as I’m not sure about what the Japanese ones are like. I’ve heard mixed stories, so you may have to shop around, or bring loads from home and put them in all the gaps in your packing!

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– Compact mirror

– Razors

– Mini Shampoo/Conditioner/Shower Gel/Deodorant

– Antibacterial Gel

– Sun Cream

– After sun (Aloe Vera Gel)

– Lip Balm

– Comb

– Toothbrush/Toothpaste

– Nail Varnish

– Eyeliner/Eye shadow

– Hairbands

– Supplies

Ok, so as promised, I’m gonna post a little about all this lovely paperwork that you need to get into Japan – of course if you’re going for less than 90 days you needn’t bother with any of this, a temporary visa will do! However, if you’re there on a long term basis there are 3 main things you’ll will face on your quest to get a visa.

Certificate or Eligibility

c of e

So when it comes (and the waiting is hellish, let me tell you – 5 to 6 weeks), this is what you’re Certificate of Eligibility and it’s basically the University saying ‘yeah, we’ll vouch for you, it’s on us mate’. That being said, don’t forget that since the University is vouching for you, anything you do is on them! You have been warned! Anyways, you’ll be needing this vital piece of paperwork to get your visa and to get into the country at immigration. My advice? Don’t loose it! You’ll need a photocopy of it for getting your visa, so keep another copy for yourself.


Visa Application

This form is gonna seem a bit daunting at first but worry ye not. It’s quite simple to fill in. I’m gonna give you a few tips on the bits that the Japanese Embassy website doesn’t give you many details/help on.

I must note: all the names, addresses, dates, numbers, etc. are made up! None of them are real or meant to cause offense to anyone.

visa example page 1

visa example page 2

1. Don’t forget to put your last name in capital letters.
2. If you do need to fill this in, for whatever reason, I’d advise you bring the deed poll (or whatever legalises your name change) and your birth certificate (or something to prove your original name). I brought mine to the Embassy and didn’t need them, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!
3. It’s a good idea to put the year in full form, i.e. 1985, not 85
4. The nationality section is a drop down list, so if you are British this will be shown as ‘United Kingdom’ (even though it’s in the ‘B’ section).
5. At the moment, British people don’t have ID numbers (that I know of, I didn’t fill it in and there weren’t any problems).
6. This will be labelled in your passport (in the information section)
7. As a student, this will be the University your are studying at in Japan, since it is unlikely at this point that you will have a fixed address in Japan.
8. Unless you are in full-time work just put student and leave the employment bit blank.
9. This would be whoever you have been in contact with through the University (someone within the International Office). For the address, just put the University again.
10. It’s unlikely you’ll know this, so just leave it blank.
11. Just leave this blank as well since there is no relationship.
12. This is whatever the person refers to them self as (usually on the email they send you).
13. Unless you know otherwise (or it is apparent), just put Japanese National.
14. Tick these honestly, although you are going to have issues if the answer to any of these is ‘Yes’.
15. Leave this blank when you are filling this out on the computer as they prefer the date to be the day you are applying for the visa. This can be crossed out if you have already printed the form, but it’s best to either write it in or type in the future date on which you’re applying for the visa.

Finally, a passport sized photo should be alright for your picture. Just glue it to the top corner (in the handily marked box).



This bit might also seem a bit daunting, but it’s fine once you get it over with!

If you’re in the North of Englandshire or Scotland, you may want to head for the Edinburgh Japanese Consulate:
2 Melville Crescent, Edinburgh, EH3 7HW

Otherwise, you’re heading for the London Embassy:
101-104 Piccadilly, London, W1J 7JT

Now, what you’re going to need to go and get this pesky visa is:

1. a handy sword
2. a questionable sidekick

….ok, seriously:

1. A passport that doesn’t go out of date at least 6 months after you return.
2. Certificate of Eligibility
3. Colour copy of your Certificate of Eligibility
4. Completed Visa Form
5. Passport photo less than 6 months old (glued to the Visa Form)
6. Visa Fee in cash (£23 for a Single Entry Visa, £43 for a Multiple Entry Visa)*
7. Postage Fee in cash (this is a Special Next Day Delivery so check on the post office website to see what the current fee is)

*With the choice between Single/Multiple Entry Visas – if you know you’re definitely going to leave Japan during your stay, get a Multiple Entry Visa; if you’re not sure, get a Single Entry Visa, then apply for a re-entry permit before you do leave, if you decide to go for an unplanned adventure!

I guess that’s it for now on the visa’s front. If anyone needs a hand, feel free to give me a PM, a comment, or email me:

Next time: Packing lists, or how to pack the kitchen sink

So I finally got my Certificate of Eligibility from the university in Japan (coz that didn’t take ages….). However, getting my CoE means I can, drumroll please (!), go and get my visa – the final piece of this year abroad puzzle. It may also mean that I get a jaunt down to Edinburgh to do some shopping!! I’m being super organised this year – cue a ‘yay me!’ moment – because I’m buying all my family christmas/birthday presents before I go (^^)

So yeah….I shall do another post later (when I have my laptop and not just my phone) about the ins and outs of getting your visa! For now, though, I’ll just sit here in the melting Edinburgh…and post this pic of me in front of the Japanese Consulate (yes I’m wearing a totoro t-shirt and yes I’m posing a peace sign….)



So by now you’re probably wondering who on earth is this person? She (you presume I’m a she!) is just posting nonsense…. I wish I knew who I was reading about! This is presuming I’m not just talking to the ether…hello—hello—hello
See, I can hear the echoes!!

Well, in any case. My name is Lizzie Lawrence and I’m a 20 year old Scottish student studying in deepest England-shire (Preston to be exact). Although my homeland is the Highlands, I’ve left the bonnie countryside and am currently studying Asia Pacific studies at the University of Central Lancashire (hey! don’t knock it, we have the finest pigeons and drunken students in all of England!). At this point, most of you will have that ‘huh?’ face on, which I get every time I say I’m studying Asia Pacific Studies. Well, fear not, I SHALL EXPLAIN!! *cue the dramatic stance*
Basically, I study Japanese language and culture (because seriously, you can’t have one without the other), the economic/historic background of the Asia Pacific Region (with a subject head position nicknamed ‘Defence of the Dark Arts’, insert your own conclusions) and then it’s the choice of business/history/politics – I want to teach foreign business etiquette when I leave Uni, so this seemed appropriate! I also study a little German on the side (vielen dank, vielen dank!).

japan_map_akitaMy Japanese has, in the past, taken me to Osaka a few times however, this time I am venturing further afield – to the North (‘winter is comiiiiiiing!’). Akita is in the region near to where 2011’s huge earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit, so I expect to see some of the damage during my travels. On the bright side, the region Akita is in is know as the ‘Scotland of Japan’, so technically I’ll be right at home! I’ll be studying at Akita International University:

akita uni

Anyways, I’ll sign off before my cat decides to sit on the keyboard again (she has the whole garden and my laptop is where she wants to sit…..)

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