Your life in two suitcases or less

First off, congratulations to those of you short listed for the 2008 JET Programme, (and to alternates, also. Hang in there, I was an alternate too!)

This post probably isn’t necessary to put up for another month or two, but many of you are itching to know what to take, I’m sure. Every year, hundreds of new JETs make tough decisions about what to bring, maybe shed a few tears, but will invariable bring stuff they may find they’ll never use. This list is to help you make those tough decisions, and hopefully give you a lighter bag to carry around Tokyo (at the height of summer, mind you) and eventually to your placement.

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The almighty piece of paper, part ichi

If you know me at all, then you know my favorite TV show is “The Office”, a mockumentary about the struggles of a paper company in Pennsylvania trying to keep afloat in an increasingly paperless world. My solution for Dunder-Mifflin’s woes are simple; move to Japan.

Japan loves paper, be it tiny bags to individually wrap every little cellphone charm you purchase at a depaato, or tickets from a machine because even at the post office you have to take a number, or just the massive number of pamplets and handouts you will get at JET orientation and subsequent conferences, paper is still king in Japan.

And since paper is king, there are two important rules to remember about it. Today we’ll cover rule one:

1. You must never throw away any piece of paper you ever get, ever.

I had forgotten all the times my Japanese professor in college who would randomly ask us to pull out worksheets that she gave us maybe 2 semesters ago, but when I arrived in Japan, I quickly remembered this unspoken rule. When I arrived at my BOE in August, they had me sign my contract, fill out my gaijin card form and gave me a few random things, one of them being my electric bill. The next week, my supervisor was going to take me to a shopping center to get me a cell phone, so I arrived at the BOE, and the following conversation occured:

Supervisor (roughly translated from Japanese): Do you have your electric bill?

Me: Um, was I suppose to have it?

Supervisor: Since it a piece of paper that you received from a Japanese person, you must be able to randomly produce it at any given time.

Me: Oh, sorry, I’m still new here, you know.

Supervisor: Daijoubu, but seriously, where’s your electric bill, it’s imperative to have it before we go get your cellphone. I can’t tell you why, it just is.

Me: I think it’s at my house. Can I bring it Monday?

Supervisor: I have a better idea, we’ll drive to your house and wait outside while you desperately search for it.

Me: Okay desu.

A couple weeks after that my supervisor came to my school one day and I had this encounter:

Supervisor: Rooren, Hello

Me: S’up, supe

Supervisor: All JETs must sign this Accident Insurance paper, from this pamplet [shows pamplet I don’t remember ever getting]

Me: [swinks eyes and tries to remember] Uh, yeah, I might have that.

Supervisor: ‘Might have it’?

Me: Yeah, I mean, it’s probably at my house with the small library of info I received at the JET orientation.

Supervisor: So . . . you don’t have it with you?

Me: Nope

Supervisor: You didn’t wake up this morning and just know that I would stop by and ask for this piece of paper so maybe you should bring it with you to school today?

Me: Well, you know I’m not Japanese . . . or clairvoyant.

Supervisor: No, I suppose you’re not.

Today’s lesson: Take that piece with of paper with both hands, bow, and make sure it never leaves your person for the length of your stay in Japan.