What do you need to bring? There are the obvious things, deodorant and condoms. That an entire country can be devoid of deodorant and condoms boggles. They have both, but neither is workable for a red-blooded westerner.
There is also a shoes and clothing issue, if you are bigger than average. Japanese are not so small as they once were, so there is less worry than used to be. If you are a man up to six feet, under one-hundred and eighty pounds, with shoes up to size ten, you’ll do fine. As a rare N. American male thin enough to have a smaller waist measurement than inseam, I find it easier to find clothing that fits in Japan! My BMI is dead-centre, which has to mean that the vast majority of the rest of yours isn’t. You might want to put down that milkshake. For women, I can only tell you to extrapolate; however, if you are middle to low on the BMI, you’re gold (ain’t that the truth for us all). I can't tell you anything about products women need, because of my own gender, and because my wife grew up using Japanese products.
The deodorant doesn’t work, comes in tiny bottles, costs a fortune, and is unavailable when you need it! Can the Japanese ignore it? Many can; maybe not so many as think so. If you live in E. Asia it is unavoidable to notice that, ‘all things being equal’, E. Asians smell less. (How things are not always equal I’ll get back to.) The short explanation includes a smaller average body size, fewer sweat glands, less hirsute, and a different composition of the two human sweat gland types. Take the average E. Asian and N. European, of the same gender, and give them the same diet, exercise and washing regimen, and the N. European is going to come off worse if both do not use deodorant. Generalizations are only generally true. If the N. European washes more, he’s better off than the Asian. If he has a less mammalian diet, also true. Should he have less body hair, by nature or design, so much the better. The proof is that a sardine-packed rush-hour train is not vomit-inducing (the evening train full of drunks seems to be). I won’t say it smells great, but it’s beyond imagining a train as full of my native city’s Torontonians.
Yet ‘all things being equal’ is of limited usefulness. There are Japanese who smell as strong as N. Europeans, and bullied in school for it. In contrast to the tenets of ‘Nihonjinron’, the Japanese are as polygenous as British Islanders. Something like one in ten have the same sweat gland pattern as N. Europeans and have wet earwax . Is this Jomon or Ainu genetics, or something older? Maybe something more modern? Japan has had more interaction (and exchange of DNA) with Russian E. Asia and the Dutch through Dejima, much less with all nations since the Meiji-Shin, five-years of American Occupation and ongoing occupation of bases, than 'ware-ware nihonjin' accounts for. One in ten Japanese cannot get the underarm deodorant that they need. Can you imagine ten-percent of our population not getting a needed hygiene product? For example: no maxi-pads, no adult diapers, no wax-strips, or choose an 'ethnic' hair-care product and eliminate it from N. America. That's just the way it is here: conform or '$%^& you'.
This is a nation of evening bathers, which does keep the bedding cleaner. On the other hand, one does sweat as one sleeps warm… I find I need to bathe evening, to keep the wife happy, and morning, from habit, but that is eccentric. Did I mention that people skip their bath as ‘unhealthy’ if they have a cold? Don’t colds often last a week or more? Despite general cleanliness, on Tokyo trains you end up beside the middle-aged mouth-breather with a dental abscess, or the middle-aged smoker. There is something wrong with middle-aged male hygiene, unless their wife mothers them into decent habits. Too many of these men have oily skin and less than floral scent in the morning to believe some did not skip both an evening and a morning bath. Alas, in Toronto that would be a higher proportion.
But deodorant is about your habits, not theirs. You are used to one that works throughout a moderately active day. You may even prefer anti-perspirant, which there is no hope of finding. Forget Japan’s weak deodorants, and forget underarm pads. They have such a thing: it is a characteristic to find a more difficult solution when a simpler one is available. If you take nothing else, take enough of your preferred unguent to last until you return, or you can have a visitor bring more. It may be possible to find something online in Japan, but I have had little luck with unscented anti-perspirant. Do not bother with the trip to the 'American Pharmacy' in downtown Tokyo: it's neither. If you have a friend in the American military, send him to the base P/X.
You can't help what you discover if you have tried to use the local version. They don’t fit. Do not flame me for these comments, because I really have no opinion of the Asian male member, because I don't sleep with men. I do know most Gaijin complain about the local shower cap, and I doubt we're all liars. There are stores where the hung can buy what they need, but I suggest you bring your own. You better take your own when you are lucky enough to have company for a 'love hotel'. Is your Japanese equal to the task of calling down for bigger, or asking your new friend to do so? And you'd better use a wet-suit, because there is a lot of Hep. B around (and more!). With Japan’s abortion rate a lot of Japanese men aren't wrapping up. Assume you’re in a public pool.
I brought back an optimistic amount for my third year, which would have been sad, except I sold them off at a premium to desperate friends. I've never had my luggage opened, but if yours is when you bring in a gross of condoms, I’m curious to know the Japanese for: 'what are you planning to do to our women?!'
'She, who…' could help me, but I am not going to ask her for help on the allergy front. It's just going to degenerate into a 'your medical system is more idiotic than mine' argument, and you can only win that against an American. (Not true: a Democrat will agree; a Republican will not have a passport, so you’d have to fly to Kansas for the argument.) If you want to Google or try figuring it out in a second language at a Japanese clinic, more power to you, but I do not have that kind of patience in the remaining half of my life. All of my presumptions may be wrong, so here they are! I presume useful anti-histamines are 'under the counter', and that even these are too low-dose, or too full of side-effects, to want to use. Bring your own; I do. Do not advertise this at customs, as last I heard (15y ago) you were not to bring them in without a proper prescription. Never had trouble myself, though I'd suggest you keep them in original packaging as Japan is anti-narcotic crazy. On a side note, stick to alcohol: the consequences aren't worth the buzz of the rest.
Men's Shaving Products
I forgot this one on my return after fifteen years. Electric shaving is more common than wet, and I have no doubt they have great shavers that can also give you a hand-job (with a safer attachment?). You can get most of the brands you are used to from home, though it is harder to get old-style 'safety razors'. You can also get most of the can shaving creams you are used to, but you know that can shaving cream is for schmucks (not literally!). If you know to use a shaving soap or cream you are SOL if you are not near a city. A string of four which I bought here were awful: did not lather and/or had menthol. I am very happy with the moderately expensive Body-Shop men's shaving cream, but that is all that I have found. Buy that or bring your own. If you have sensitive skin or sloppy shaving habits note you won’t find styptic pencils here.
Not had any real trouble, but I did need the help of 'She, who…', because I haven't the patience to use my kanji-dictionary to decipher the fantastic claims of dentistry. It is an adventure if you experiment with new products. My first Japanese toothpaste did wonders for my sensitive teeth, but left enough calcification on the enamel to use my teeth to scour my way through concrete when the next 'big one' entombs me in my 8th floor hutch.
You can't expect to take much of this. You can get more western food here, than you can get Japanese food at home: so ‘suck it up’. My favourite is Kaldi, and these are everywhere in Japan. Forget Omotesando Kinokuniya Food, Ginza Meiji-ya and Hiro-o National Azabu in Tokyo: none have a lot more than Kaldi, all cost a lot more, and are not for mortals. Leave them to those with an ex-pat package, bottle-blonde hostess 'companions' of yakuza, or anyone with a trust fund.
My bigger issue has been finding, and cooking, joints of meat. It's a rare home that has a real oven. You can get a small electric oven, for $300 to $2000, or a large gas oven for more than$2000 new, or you can look for a used one from a ‘Gaijin sale’. You'll need to look around for roasts and fowl, but these can be found with persistence, or ordered from an online retailer with foresight.
Forget it, if you’re coming from Canada. Duty-free looks cheap compared to Canadian mark-ups, but when you compare to the cost of same in Japan, it is not worth the trouble, unless you want to have something on-hand as a gift. Too bad, because Japan’s import restrictions are generous, and unenforced. If you are coming from elsewhere, I am still not sure airport duty-free is going to save you much money. There are a lot of good bargain liquor shops about.