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Category Archive: Resources

Essential Phone Apps for Studying Abroad

  • Posted by:
  • January 23, 2017

In our increasing technologically savvy world, it would be difficult to live without a mobile phone. Travelling abroad would simply be unthinkable without it. Cell phones are considered a must-have when traveling to any part of the globe. They keep us connected to friends, loved ones, and colleagues.

It’s important to know some basic facts about cell phone use and how to stay connected when in Japan.

There are some useful apps that can also help in your transition and adjustment phase when abroad. Here are the top ones:

iPhone. | Toshiyuki IMAI


Tabimori is considered the ultimate travel guide to Japan, containing a transfer guide, a guide to Wifi facilities and hotspots, currency converter, flight information, speech translation, weather,  life & culture, and access to japan-guide.com information. Many of its functions can be used offline too.


Hyperdia is a must have app for train travel in Japan. It tells you when to leave, which trains to take, and your estimated arrival time.  It gives you the name of the train, where it’s headed, and which stops it’s going to make. For JR Pass holders, you can simply un-tap the ‘Nozomi/Mizuno’ option to see only the relevant trains valid on your pass.

Google Translate

The Google Translate app has a number of special features that you can use. You can even translate a recording of your own voice, or even scan some text to translate. You can then listen to your own translations spoken out loud or run through your translation history while offline.

Yanaka Ginza. | Emily Cole at KCP Flickr


A language-learning app that can help you to learn simple vocabulary and grammar using interactive flashcards and games.

Sushi Dictionary

Sushi Dictionary gives you tips on where to get the best sushi at any level: the uber expensive kind, the common conveyor-belt sushi, and the delicious tiny sushi restaurants off the beaten path. You can even find translations on different types of fish. This app helps you become a regular sushi connoisseur.

Tokyo Handy Guide

This all-in-one app will help you navigate your way around Tokyo. It shows you maps of the city and transportation guides that are available offline. Its ‘spot nearby’ feature allows you to find any sight- seeing location near where you are that’s worth a visit.

Kamakura trip. | KCP Flickr

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Natural Cold Remedies and Japanese Medication for Colds and Flu

  • Posted by:
  • January 9, 2017

Winter is upon us! Winters in Japan are generally dry but, as everywhere in the northern Hemisphere, the days are shorter. Some attractions close for the season, but skiing is very much the anticipated activity this time of the year. For some countries that experience winter, it can be quite a challenge to avoid getting colds and the flu. Japan is very stringent on the types of medicines you can bring in, whether it be over the counter medication or prescription drugs.

When you feel a cold or flu coming, you can try a few of these simple home remedies to chase the bug away:

Hot soup is good for the soul, colds and flu. Chicken soup is a well known remedy to make you feel better when you’re sick. It’s actually a scientific fact; a study published in the journal CHEST showed that chicken soup may help with symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections like the flu. Actually, most hot soups will do the trick. As you inhale the warm vapors of soup, it makes you feel better. Japan is known for having some of the world’s best soup. A perfect reason to indulge in ramen!

Ramen. | toyohara

Stay hydrated. Some flu symptoms can cause dehydration. Be sure to get plenty of healthy fluids in your system. Water, fruit juices, and electrolyte drinks are good sources to stay hydrated. Avoid caffeine because it is a diuretic and will make you lose the fluids you’ve been taking. A cup of herbal tea with honey can soothe a sore throat.

Gargle with salt and water. This helps in getting rid of the thick mucus that collects at the back of your throat, especially after lying in bed. It also helps ease the stuffiness you feel in your ears.

Orange juice. | U.S. Department of Agriculture

If you feel the need for some over-the-counter medicine, here are some of the known Japanese medications you can try:

Esutakku Eve Fine – one of the most popular cold and flu medicines. It’s good for fever, sneezing, pain, and a runny nose.

LuluAttack EX – for sore throat and congestion.

Eve A – one of the most popular pain medications in Japan. It can ease mild headaches to a severe cold.

These Japanese medications are readily available in Japan.

Pills. | Taiyo FUJII

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Bringing Medication for Personal Use Into Japan

  • Posted by:
  • March 12, 2014

Access to medication is essential, especially for travelers who may be away from home for a long period of time. It is always good to check what types of medication are allowed when entering a foreign country, whether they are over the counter or prescription meds.  The policies of most countries differ widely on what types of medicines are available, and it is best for you to prepare before traveling.

meds1In Japan, bringing medication from overseas into the country is controlled by the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law and the Customs Law. This is observed primarily to prevent health hazards caused by defective products. It is important for anyone travelling to Japan to know what types of medication are allowed and what are prohibited, as well as the allowable quantity for personal use.  It is helpful to know beforehand any required procedure to undertake when bringing in medication into Japan. You can visit the Embassy  of the United States Tokyo, Japan site for more details.

Some helpful facts you should know:

  • Students may bring as much as one month’s supply of prescription medication into Japan. They must bring a copy of their doctor’s prescription as well as a letter stating the purpose of the drug.
  • Some U.S. prescription medications cannot be imported into Japan, even when accompanied by a customs declaration and a copy of the prescription.
  • Students may bring as much as two months’ supply of non-prescription drugs without completing any paperwork.
  • It is illegal to bring into Japan some over-the-counter medicines commonly used in the United States, including inhalers and some allergy and sinus medications: specifically, products that contain stimulants such as pseudoephedrine.
  • Students who need to take more than a month’s supply of prescription drugs or more than two months’ supply of non-prescription drugs to Japan must obtain a Yakkan Shoumei–an import certificate–prior to traveling to Japan. Present the Yakkan Shoumei certificate with your prescription medicines at Customs upon arrival.
  • Students carrying prescription and non-prescription medications can consult the Japanese Consulate in the U.S. before leaving for Japan to confirm if they are allowed in the country. A full listing of phone numbers and email addresses is available at http://www.us.emb-japan.go.jp/jicc/consulate-guide.html.
  • Application forms for the Yakkan Shoumei differ slightly depending on which airport you are flying into in Japan.

Doctors in Japan can prescribe substitutes for the medicines you need. Several English-speaking medical facilities throughout Japan are available to address your medical concerns. For more information on bringing medicines for personal use into Japan and other medical concerns, please visit Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare site.  You can also see a sample of the Yakkan Shoumei form and read some common questions and answers on bringing medicines to Japan  such as Yakkan Shoumei requirements and where to submit them.


sakura1tinyRelated post:

Applying for a Yakkan Shoumei by KCP Student Steven Trapani

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Good websites to check

There is much news flying around about the earthquake, tsunami, explosions, and so on.  Here are some sources that tell you what you most want to know.

International SOS

International SOS is monitoring the medical and travel security situation in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan as well as the roll-on effects to nuclear power stations and to air quality.

Embassy of the U.S. in Tokyo

Alerts, analysis, messages from our ambassador.

U.S. Department of State

Visit the main site for breaking news.

Japan news within Dept. of State


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“Japan” web surfing

The winter quarter (spring semester?) has kicked off and the work is piling up. When you need a break, instead of playing Minesweeper 20 more times or losing yourself in Facebook Chat, try some of these links (from At Home in Japan. You may even learn something that moves you forward in your larger goals.

This web surfing installment is on sites about everyday life.

Japan FAQ
Know before you go, the mechanics of living in Japan, by a teacher at Fukuoka’s Seinan University.

Japan Window
The nitty-gritty of getting yourself set up in Japan (including Something Completely Different), by Andy and Hitomi Grey.


Ed Jacob’s Quirky Japan
Cool places that almost nobody visits, the honest photographer, SAQ/seldom asked questions, odd shops, vending machine heaven, quirky Japan index full of unsettling statistics–the number of schools that teach unicycle riding,  etc.

What’s Normal in Japan?
Vote on “do you wash your hands in the stream of water that comes out of the toilet tank?” “At what age does a person become middle-aged?” “What flavor of ramen did you order most recently?”
In Japanese.

Compilation of English glitches in Japan and everywhere else.

Justin’s Tokyo
Beyond amateur travel diary, a well-designed site with intriguing essays on love hotels, a snow festival, and so on. Great images too.

glass bathtub

The Way We Are
My favorite of this set  of links: photo essays from many Japanese high school students, 5 photos apiece; read between the lines. Love how kids think.  Bilingual.


Survival-Online Guides
The ultimate way to end a web surfing session–a list of links!  A comprehensive list of online guides.

Now, mind reeling,  you’re ready to go back to the safe tedium of work!

Coming soon–sites about study, daily living, and travel.

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Playing cards, Japanese-style


Here’s an intriguing idea to get you up to speed on your Hiragana and Katakana.  Has anyone tried it?  I’d like to know what you think.

Kana Match Card Game, www.kanamatch.com

Jim Story, the creator, says, “Having had to memorize the Kana myself while studying Japanese, I know what a difficult and boring, yet essential, task it can be.  But everyone likes playing a game.  I thought, ‘How can I turn this dull and difficult task into a fun game, so that  people can learn the Hiragana and Katakana while having fun?’
‘So I invented the Kana Match card game, a fun and easy way to learn Hiragana and Katakana.  I played it with kids and they liked it, too!  I hope you or your children or students find it both fun and educational.”

The 46 basic Kana are covered, and the cards are available in 3 versions: (1) Hiragana and Romaji, (2) Katakana and Romaji, and (3) Hiragana and Katakana.  There is also a Solitaire version for the serious student–a great way to both learn and test yourself.

Yellow cards are Hiragana on one side and corresponding Katakana on the other. Green cards have Romaji on one side and the corresponding Katakana on the other.  The cards are designed to be played as a game–when two people sit across from each other, each can see the character or letters.

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A great resource for homestay, study, and travel in Japan

It’s hard to imagine how different living with a family from another culture (or even living with a different family within your own culture!) can be.  A homestay student and the family s/he stays with can each have radically different views of the experience.

How to prepare for this?  Check out

at home

Okay, it’s a resource website that can feel a little, well, simple at first.


But as I went through it, I discovered I wasn’t always getting the right answers to the tests.  So I clearly had some assumptions that would be interpreted differently in Japan.

The site includes some tutorials.  These tutorials are well-paced, using a variety of methods–prose, animations, diagrams, interactive images. Very small tests come up every so often. There are 3 modules–

(1)  The Cultural Child (and we are all cultural children, especially we Americans)
(2) What You Need To Grow, and
(3)  Homestay Diaries–Growing Pains . . . and Gains.

Here’s a quick example of differing perceptions–


There’s also a *great* Links page (within the Resources topic)–12 links for everyday life in Japan and 10 links on study/daily living/travel.

At Home In Japan was created by Jane Bachnik and funded by Japan’s National Institute of Multimedia Education (NIME) in Makuhari, as well as by the Japanese Ministry of Education.

Enjoy the tutorial and other resources there–they are a free, easy, no-risk way to prepare yourself for enjoying life in Japan.


Thanks to the staff at Western Washington University, a KCP affiliate university, for this link.


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Travel books–follow-on

We did a post a while back about travel books for Japan and Tokyo.  Reading a travel book is a great way to get some history, culture, geography, a good dose of practicalities, and a real taste of life there.  It’s not expensive and it might spark some ideas for you of how to get over there!

We received a few suggestions from readers and fans, for books we hadn’t included.  Here they are.

Living Abroad in Japan (Moon Living; Ruth Kanagy)

living in japan

From an Amazon review–

I lived in Japan in my youth, speak the language, and often visit my Japanese friends, I found much new information that was helpful for planning to live in Japan again. Ruth Kanagy illustrates her guidebook with beautiful original photographs and gives accurate descriptions and background explanations, social customs, and the Japanese lifestyle.

This book is a useful guide for planning a quality short trip, including important money saving details that a travel agency won’t tell you. It’s also great for longer stays, an extended work project, or even relocation to Japan.

Eyewitness Travel Guide to Japan (Dorling Kindersley publishing)

This one was recommended by KCP alum Matt Henry.  He heavily praised the photography and layout in it.

From an Amazon review–

This book is chock full of useful info and wonderful photographs. I particularly like their suggested “walks,” tours (such as Kiso Valley or Saga Pottery area), and maps.

Other highlights are detailed diagrams (such as the Gassho-zukuri houses and Toshu-gu Shrine in Nikko) and lots of photos and descriptions. Japan is a fabulous place to engage with the culture; this book can help you make the leap from reading/observing to engaging, since it takes away the reams and reams of text found in other books.  It’s not at its best as a standalone reference, though.

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A KCP Book on Hiragana

In 2007, the talented staff at KCP created this book/DVD–
Virtual Hiragana Class in One Week (published by Bonjinsha).

A fun yet educational text gets you up to speed with some basic Hiragana characters in one week. This bilingual workbook includes romaji for basic pronunciation, but it mostly uses visuals to help you remember the phonetics when you see each character.

The course teaches pronunciation and writing of Hiragana by showing their appearance and using simple sentences. Each of the 8 units consists of an on-screen lecturer teaching the Hiragana individually, explaining stroke order, common errors, pronunciation, and more.  The workbook has clear, short explanations, written practice, and simple fun tasks. Visual associations aid in memorizing each character. You’ll also pick up basic vocabulary through the quizzes.

It’s not widely available in the U.S.  Prices top out at around $52, but the Kinokuniya Bookweb has it for under $30.  When you click the link below, choose Bookweb USA and type Virtual Hiragana into the search box.  Much of the info is in kanji, but click a shopping cart symbol at the right of the page to see the order form.  Click “In English” just above the form.  The site figures your nearest Kinokuniya branch store, or you can have it mailed (and pay the shipping cost).

To buy the virtual class–Kinokuniya

(Company info–Kinokuniya Company Ltd., founded in 1927, is the largest bookstore chain in Japan, a leading importer of information products like books, journals, and electronic databases, and the operator of a Yahoo award–winning online bookstore.)

If you want to get closer to the Japanese language–and to Tokyo–this is a fine start that’s not too spendy.

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Reading about Japan

A great way to “explore” Japan, and to explore your own feelings about going there, is to read about it.  These books may be useful to you in your exploring.  They link to Amazon.com, so you can buy the books for low, low prices–as low as $2, in some cases.  Also included are excerpts from reviews.  Enjoy!

Lonely Planet Japan

5.0 out of 5 stars The one book you NEED to come to Japan
After spending about 3 weeks in Japan with this as my only guide book, I can honestly say you NEED to buy this book before traveling to Japan. It also serves as sort of a mini-travel dictionary in a pinch as well as a quick guide to cultural practices.

Lonely Planet Tokyo

5.0 out of 5 stars Better than Frommer’s
I recently bought both this book and Frommer’s most recent edition of its guide to Tokyo. I think the Lonely Planet guide is much better than its rival. Lonely Planet’s is shorter, but the information in it is much more useful–especially for my situation as a student with a place to stay and food being taken care of (though Lonely Planet does have information on hotels and restaurants for those who need to know).

5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensable Atlas for a Traveler in Japan
I travel to Japan every 5th week or so to sell my company’s semiconductors to various manufacturers spread out all over Japan. This bilingual atlas is terrific for English-only speakers like me, as it has all the Japanese characters next to the English names, which is essential when navigating the train stations off the main lines. This Atlas has good city maps, too.

5.0 out of 5 stars Innovative and upbeat, not your usual guidebook.
This is definitely not your average guidebook. Rather than just a listing of the usual tourist destinations, Tokyo for Free gave me insight into what living in Japan would really be like.

5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest
Having lived in Japan for the past 6 years, I’ve had the opportunity to use all of the major guidebooks (and quite a few of the minor ones as well), and without a doubt, the most useful and informative guidebook is this one. Of course Lonely Planet has lots of information about restaurants and hotels, but what you really want is a purpose to visit the places that you are visiting. This guidebooks tells you the history of each place, so you can understand why each place is important.

5.0 out of 5 stars Outstandingly beautiful book, yet information-packed.
If you glance through this book, you’ll immediately be stunned by the top-notch scenery shots of today’s Japan. National Geographic’s long experience in joining excellent information with outstanding images has given us a great look at Japan and its culture. I’m now planning a trip there for next summer!

5.0 out of 5 stars Real-size images of Japan and Japanese
I’m a Japanese living in Japan. I bought this book to check if it’s worth recommending to my friends–and yes, I recommend this book. It’ll tell you real-life Japan and Japanese without exaggeration. It covers Japan from the inside–the life of ordinary Japanese people.

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