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Products & things you can't get in Japan (yes you can bring cheese)

Updated on January 15, 2013

Hint: you can actually get most of these.

One common misconception about moving to Japan is that either

A) you can get anything you could in the US, through the magic of internet

B) you can't get anything and will live on rice and miso for the next 5 years

Neither are really true. As someone living in the countryside, and shopping at a mid-sized town, let me tell you what you likely will and will not be able to find.

More than Miso

You actually can get most things at your average supermarket. If you can't, there will likely be a foreigners' store in your area. The common woes are actually pretty easy to find. I have found:

  • cheese
  • peanut butter
  • shirts
  • chocolate
  • mint flavor (popularity is rising)
  • pasta of all sorts
  • decent Italian restaurants
  • Mexican food
  • most major spices to make any of these things

So don't freak out. There's a much shorter list of things that I haven't been able to get. The real sticking point is price. If you've lived on your own for a while and know the prices of things, adjusting to "import prices" can be rough.

Jacked Price List

This cream of broccoli soup might cost you $6 per bowl to make.  Cream is jacked, cheese is jacked, and broccoli is to a lesser extent.
This cream of broccoli soup might cost you $6 per bowl to make. Cream is jacked, cheese is jacked, and broccoli is to a lesser extent. | Source

Fruit and "Decent" Chocolate: Outrageous

You won't be making this, even if strawberries are in season.
You won't be making this, even if strawberries are in season. | Source

So here's my jacked price list. Some of these things you could bring from home, but some are just shogunai (nothing to do about it).

  • broccoli (I eat a LOT of broccoli, other people might not notice this one)
  • chocolate in general
  • bakers chocolate and cocoa in particular
  • cream
  • cheese (you can get it, but you pay through the nose compared to US prices)
  • fruit, except bananas. Don't ask me why. Expect about $1 per piece of fruit at the cheap end.
  • pasta sauces
  • peanut butter - I don't eat much, so I don't notice this.
  • button/crimini/portabella mushrooms
  • clothes
  • gym memberships
  • energy drinks
  • accessories

Now, Japan has its own version of peanut butter which tastes like the fluff was mixed into the jar. It's okay if you like that kind of thing, but for our purposes we're talking about Skippy being expensive.

Same on chocolate. You can get it....but it's strange. If you go for western style, it gets more expensive. Baking is not popular in Japan, due to lack of real ovens, so the baking section is like easy-bake versions of everything. A 3oz bag of chocolate chips, 10 grams of baking powder, and 1000000000 decorating implements.

If you have the luggage space, I suggest buying some dried mushrooms if you really enjoy the flavor. No one told me that mushrooms were going to be so rare, or so expensive. I guess most people are focused on the cheese and chocolate.

Regardless of all this, I would save most of the suitcase space for clothes if you don't have an Asian bodytype. Even those of us who are more slim will have trouble finding things that really fit, especially larger busts, wider shoulders, and curvier hips. I do not mean larger hips, but literally curvier. They don't sell clothes that lay well on a ba-donka-donk, so you have to size up, and end up with a sack.

What should you bring when moving to Japan?

- hard cheese, like Romano or Parmesan, which won't spoil in a suitcase

- dried mushrooms

- cocoa powder & bakers chocolate if you want to bake, or just a few mixes

- many pairs of pants

- underwear

- bras

- deodorant

- toothpaste with fluoride if you use it

- flavored coffee creamer (it doesn't exist here- this is one thing you truly can't get anywhere in my area)

- omiyage, aka small edible gifts for everyone.

- any medications you are currently taking that aren't expressly prohibited.

The JET handbook says that you can only bring X amount of Y at a time in your suitcase. After checking the relevant customs rules, I couldn't find anything about such restrictions. There is a "reasonable personal use" clause on everything, meaning don't bring enough to sell.

However, the JET handbook specifies that you can't bring more than 1 month of medication into the country at a time, which seems to be false. Sending medication later is expensive and requires paperwork, and going to the doctor is of course no fun. So bring as much of your medication as you need until you get settled. Everyone who isn't on the JET program is, and no one has had problems. Just don't go crazy or they'll think you are dealing.


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