Welcome to Tokyo sign

Japan Survival Guide 2: Shopping and Packing Light, by Hector Santiago

In this 4-part series, former KCP Fall 2012 student Hector Santiago shares budget tips learned during his time at KCP. In this second installment, Hector offers tips on shopping and packing smart.

Tip 3—Don’t Shop in the City

When I first got to Shinjuku, I was mesmerized by all of the department stores and shops available. Uniqlo, Bic Camera, Isetan . . . If you’re looking to file for bankruptcy, by all means, this is the place to start. But once again, venture outside the city, to places that are maybe 40 minutes away by train. These places are usually less populated and seem suburban compared to places like Shinjuku, and their local department stores will usually have the same items for much better prices.


Shinjuku Gyoenmae sign. | KCP Flickr

*Little known fact: Walmart is in Japan. They operate under the name Seiyu, a department store chain they acquired a few years ago.* Here you’ll find some really cool things you can’t find in the States, but under the “Homestays” label, so they are less expensive.

Tip 4—Don’t Fall for Tourist Traps

I can’t stress this point enough. As a study abroad student in Japan, you will likely take part in excursions to popular tourist locations for lessons in history or just sightseeing. These places sell things for a reason. Most tourists may not be traveling to many other places. So, coupled with the high tourist population and overpriced goods, they are guaranteed to make a pretty penny off each item, especially knowing that most tourists will want to bring home gifts from where they’ve visited. Don’t fall for this. You now have the knowledge. Save yourself the money and the regret. You can find stores that sell similar items for much cheaper. Items that are exclusive to one place are the exception. Use your own discretion (not the sense of convenience) to decide if you want that shirt from Tokyo Disneyland and that $100 Noh Mask from Asakusa.

Tip 5—Travel Light


Tokyo welcome sign. | KCP Flickr

You’re going to be in Japan for at least 3 months. So, how exactly do you plan to get that 200-lb. red oak dresser to Japan anyway? You absolutely do not need 5 suitcases filled with clothes and junk. Bring enough underwear (socks, undershirts, underpants) for about 1½ weeks, about 5 days’ worth of outfits, 1 or 2 dressy outfits, and maybe some workout clothes. That’s all you need. It’s called doing laundry, and I recommend it at least once a week. Part of your experience abroad is to become independent, learn responsibility, and to learn to take care of yourself.

This is a good start that will save you tons on fees at the airport. Chances are, you’re going to want to bring home gifts to family and friends. If so, you’ll need at least 1 or 2 extra suitcases for gifts alone. Add that to the 5 you already have, and you’re looking at a few hundred dollars in baggage fees when you come home.

Travel as light as possible. Bring one bag with all of your clothes and necessities, and 1 or 2 other bags. You can check up to 2 bags for free (depending on your airline) and carry one bag and one personal item (laptop, instrument, small bag). Get here with as little as possible because I promise you, unless you lose your luggage, you will be going home with more than you came with.

Stay tuned for more invaluable tips from Hector! Here’s Part 1 in case you missed it.

You can also visit his online travel journal to read about his other study abroad experiences.