Pre-Departure – U.S. Students

Though the information in this online guide is geared specifically to Nakatani RIES U.S. Fellows, it may be useful for anyone preparing to travel to Japan.

Before You Go

Do Your Research

One of the most important things you can do to prior to departure is to spend some time learning more about Japan. There are a number of online sites that provide useful background information such as Japan Guide.com. There are also many interesting books on Japanese society, culture, history, and language that may also be of interest.

Students are strongly encouraged to purchase at least one guide book for Japan, Tokyo, or the city you will be in during your research internship as these will be highly useful to you during your time abroad.

US Department of State Resources

All participants are required to certify they have reviewed the US Department of State’s Country Specific Information on Japan which provides a wealth of useful information for travelers to Japan. Students should also carefully review the US Department of State Students Abroad website prior to departure. This site has been specifically developed to assist students preparing for international study, research, internship, work, volunteer, or travel.

Passports & Visas

Passports: All Nakatani RIES U.S. Fellows must obtain a U.S. passport that is valid for at least six months after the date of entry into Japan, or through November 15 of the program year. If you do not currently have a US passport you should apply for a passport as soon as possible. If your passport expires prior to November 15 of the program year you will need to renew your US passport as soon as possible. Typical processing time for a new or renewal passport application is between 4-6 weeks though expedited processing is available for an additional fee.

Visas: US citizens do not require a visa to enter Japan for stays of up to 90 days. If you are a permanent resident you may need to apply for a visa if your home country is not one of the 61 countries that Japan has signed visa exemption agreements with. For a full list of countries with current visa exemption agreements with Japan please click here. The Nakatani RIES program will assist selected participants who require a visa to enter Japan with securing the necessary guarantor forms needed to apply for the visa.  Students will be individually responsible for submitting your visa application to your nearest Japanese consulate or embassy and all visa application and related fees.

Embassy Registration

The Nakatani RIES Fellowship requires all students to register online with the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) prior to departure or within two-days of arrival abroad. Registration with the Department of State makes your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary for a consular officer to contact you in an emergency. During a disaster overseas American consular officers can assist in evacuation were that to become necessary; but they cannot assist you if they do not know where you are. Registration is particularly important for those who plan to stay in a country longer than one month. When you register online, be sure to make a note of your login and password so that you can update your registration should your address or contact information change while you are abroad.

Official Transcript & Verification of Enrollment Letter

Students selected as participants in the Nakatani RIES Fellowship may be asked to submit an official copy of your university transcript and will be required to submit a Verification of Enrollment letter from your home university Registrar Office confirming that you are currently enrolled as a degree-seeking student in good academic standing. This letter should indicate your current major and anticipated graduation date. Additional details will be provided to selected participants.

Rice Summer School Enrollment

All participants in the Nakatani RIES Fellowship will be required to enroll in the Rice University Summer School as a visiting undergraduate students and will receive 3 research credits for participation in the program. All tuition and enrollment fees are provided by the Nakatani Foundation but participants may be required to pay applicable application, immunization and documentation fees.

Immunization Requirement: Students who are under the age of 22 are required by Rice University to provide proof of meningococcal vaccination or submit a waiver of vaccination. Click here for more information.

Students will receive a letter grade for participation in this program and completion of the research course. At the end of the summer, students will be able to request a transcript through the Rice University Registrar’s Office.  Students will be graded on:

  • Successful completion of all aspects of the Nakatani RIES Fellowship Program
  • Submission of all required weekly internship reports and related assignments.
  • Students are not graded on research project outcomes or results as these will vary greatly by student/project. Rather, students will be assessed based on their understanding of their research project, its possible implications for future research, and the professionalism and commitment to research they displayed.

Power of Attorney

In the U.S., the right to take legal action on another person’s behalf is conferred using Power of Attorney. When abroad this is especially useful when it comes to things like financial aid disbursements or dealings with your financial/banking institution while you are out of the country. The Nakatani RIES Fellowship strongly encourages all participants to designate a parent, guardian or other trusted individual as their Power of Attorney for the duration of the time you are abroad in Japan. This can be done by completing a Limited Power of Attorney Form. This must be signed in front of a Notary Public to be a legally binding and official document. You should give the completed and notarized original document to your designated Power of Attorney and you should bring a photocopy of the signed document with you to Japan.

Notifying Bank & Credit Card Companies

Whenever traveling abroad you should call the 1-800 number on the back of your ATM/Debit and/or credit cards prior to departure to notify them that you may be using your cards overseas and provide them with your travel dates. If you do not do this and try to use your card/s overseas they will likely not work as companies often flag international activity as possible fraudulent charges. We also recommend that you obtain the domestic phone numbers in Japan for your card companies so you do not have to pay international long-distance fees if you need to contact your card companies while you are in Japan.

It is also helpful to confirm what your daily withdrawal limit is for your ATM/Debit card and the international ATM and currency conversion fees you will be charged for withdrawing money in Japan. The daily withdrawal limit is typically between $200 to $300 US dollars but many banks will temporarily raise your daily withdrawal limit if you are traveling overseas. If your daily limit is raised to $500 or $1,000 you will not have to withdraw money as often and won’t pay as much in fees.

International Health Insurance

All Nakatani RIES Fellows are provided with overseas health, accident, illness, repatriation, and evacuation of remains coverage through a CISI insurance policy for the duration of their stay abroad. Participants will receive a CISI insurance card to carry with them in their wallet while in Japan and a detailed booklet outlining the coverage amounts provided. You can call the number on the back of this card at least 24 hours prior to your appointment to see if CISI can arrange for pre-payment of your medical care. However, if you are experiencing a medical emergency or CISI cannot arrange for pre-payment you will need to pay all medical costs up-front individually and then you will need to file a claim for reimbursement directly with CISI.

International SOS Coverage

All Nakatani RIES U.S. Fellows will be covered by Rice University existing Global Assistance Program through International SOS.

 International Student ID Card (ISIC)

While not required, Nakatani RIES Fellows may also want to apply for an ISIC card, though this is not required. ISIC is the only internationally accepted student ID card and proof of current student status in existence. These cards provide a range of benefits and services worldwide including discounts to more than 33,000 locations in 103 countries, supplemental travel and lost baggage insurance, and a 24-hour emergency help line. With your ISIC card you can also access student-only travel discounts on airfare and train travel abroad. The ISIC card will be valid for one year and costs just $22. It can be obtained from the ISIC website or at most university study abroad offices. You can also search the ISIC website for the specific discounts and benefits available with this card in Japan.

Students with Disability-based Needs

The Nakatani RIES Fellowship and Rice University are committed to equality of opportunity for persons with disabilities and to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The university strives to make international programs accessible to individuals with disabilities.

We encourage all participants to talk with the Nakatani RIES program prior to departure about your needs and expectations so that we can advise you on what accommodations you can or cannot expect in Japan and at your research internship site. You should also review the Medical & Health Resources in Japan page of our website as some medication that is commonly prescribed in the U.S. is illegal to bring into Japan.

Mobility International USA, an organization dedicated to empowering people with disabilities around the world to achieve their human rights through international exchange and international development, maintains a wide range of useful resources for students considering studying abroad. MIUSA considers Japan to be a somewhat accessible country for people with disabilities. The Disabled Persons’ Fundamental Law provides protections to ensure the full participation of people with disabilities socially, culturally, economically and in other aspects of life. Many public places in the larger cities, including major museums, airport, subways and elevators feature Japanese Braille signage and tactile paths on most sidewalks. There are typically elevators or escalators at subway or train stations though these are often only located at one specific entrance or exit of the station. There are station maps that show where the elevators or escalators are located and staffed Information Desks where you can ask for assistance if needed.

They maintain a range of resource information for Americans Going Abroad and you can search their website for country-specific information on Japan.

Pre-Departure Medical Check & Immunizations

All Nakatani RIES Fellows are required to schedule a Pre-Departure Medical Check with their medical doctor and should also visit their dentist, eye doctor, and/or any mental health-care professional or counselors you routinely see at least one month prior to departure. Be sure to obtain updated written prescriptions for all medications, glasses, or contacts. Review the CDC Travel Website for Japan with your doctor or healthcare professional and be sure to discuss how participation in this program might impact your personal health situation.

While no immunizations are required for entry into Japan, you should ensure that all basic immunizations are up to date.  If you are under 22 you will need to show Proof of Meningococcal Vaccination Record or Waiver, as part of your enrollment in the Rice University Summer School.  Some immunizations must be given 4 – 8 weeks prior to departure for them to be effective so schedule these appointments as soon as possible. You university student health center should be able to tell  you if there are any discount travel immunization clinics available in your local area.

There are certain medications that are commonly prescribed in the U.S. that are illegal to bring into Japan. If you take any prescription medication please see the Medical and Health Resources in Japan page for more information.

What to Pack

Currently, most airlines allow up to 2 checked bags for flights to/from Japan but baggage regulations can change at any time.  Fellows will be advised what the current baggage regulations are for the airline we will use to fly to/from Japan after selection into the program. However, remember, you will also be bound by the baggage regulations for your domestic carrier for your flight to/from Houston which typically limits you to just one-checked back.  We strongly recommend you bring just one large piece of checked luggage and pack an empty duffel bag to use as your second piece of checked luggage for your gifts/souvenirs on your way back to the U.S.

Try to pack just enough for a 3 to 4-week trip as you will have access to laundry facilities during both the orientation program in Tokyo and the research internship period. Each Nakatani RIES Fellow will be assigned an alumni mentor, typically the student who did research at your lab the previous summer, and you can also speak with them to see if they have more specific tips or recommendations for your particular location in Japan as weather can vary widely depending on region.

Be aware that pillows in Japan may be smaller/flatter that what you are accustomed to and may be buckwheat pillows.  These are nice and cool to sleep on in the summer, but if you are a side sleeper they may not have as much support as you would like.  It may be helpful to bring a small, firm, travel/camping pillow with you that you can use in addition to any pillow provided at the hotel or your internship housing.  Check out Amazon for a wide array of possibilities.  The neck roll options might be good for the plane/train rides but the flat pillow options might be better for sleeping.

  • Clothing
    • Casual attire is fine for most days but you should not bring anything that might be offensive or worn/old.  Everyone in Japan will dress much nicer than  you do, so you don’t want to feel too out of place. Light-weight clothes are best as it is hot and humid in most places in Japan in the summer and jeans can get very uncomfortable.
    • You will want to bring at least once nice outfit to wear in Japan as there may be a few more formal events to attend as well. You’ll also want a nice outfit to wear during your final research project presentations in Japan or at Rice. “Don’t forget dress clothes. I forgot my nicest shirt.”
    • You are going to be walking alot and flip-flops will not cut it! Especially the cheap kind from Old Navy with no support.  Get a good pair of walking shoes, sneakers and/or sandals to wear and break them in before you go.  Try to bring shoes that can look nice enough for the classroom or a meeting with your professor but still be casual enough for sight-seeing.
    • Shorts probably won’t be commonly worn in your research lab (unless you are in Okinawa) so you will need to bring light-weight casual pants to wear for your research lab. You can wear shorts sight-seeing, as most other foreign tourists in Japan do, but try to stay away from anything too old/worn or short.
    • Layers can be helpful for the lab too. It may be very cold in some laboratories or clean rooms so you might need a light-weight sweater or long-sleeved shirt.  However, in the office areas the A/C in Japan is usually not turned on as high/cold as it is in the U.S. so you may feel it is very warm and may want to wear short-sleeves.
    • Bring some shoes you can easily slip on-and-off to wear during your research internship.  You’ll probably have to take off your outside shoes at the door to your office/lab and put on indoor lab slippers; similar to what you’d do if you visit a Japanese home.
      • If you prefer to use your own or have very small or very large feet, bring your own, new, clean/new pair of indoor shoes such as athletic sandals or clogs that you can use as your indoor slippers at your lab.

Alumni Packing Tips 

  • “Pack light! I packed one suitcase and came back with two. Keep in mind that you might be bringing quite a bit back with you in the form of gifts and souvenirs.”
  • “Only pack things that you really need. You’ll want as much space as possible in your luggage if you want to bring back souvenirs. Remember that you can find a lot of essential items for very cheap in Japan, like in 100 yen stores.”
  • “Make sure you either have ample room in your suitcase or pack another empty duffel bag in your suitcase, because you will buy a lot of gifts to bring back!”
  • “I recommend packing decently lightly (especially clothes-wise) as you will definitely want to buy a lot of interesting gifts from Japan (but make sure you pack gifts from America for ALL of your Japanese senseis, secretary, and mentor as well as random trinkets to thank people you meet on the way). I personally brought chocolates for the group lab gift, but if you do so, only buy dark chocolate. American goods are often too sweet for Japanese taste. To be on the safe side, it might be good to bring something salty. Whatever you choose to bring as a lab gift, make sure that each item is packaged individually and not too messy.”
    • Program Tip: Don’t be worried about all the room that the gifts you bring to Japan are taking up in your suitcase as this means you will just have extra space for packing the souvenirs and gifts you buy in Japan to bring back with you at the end of the summer. 
  • “I would recommend NOT bringing a huge number of clothes or shoes…they are a hassle to haul around, and if you need more shirts Tokyo is literally heaving with awesome fashion (including the most incredible sneaker stores in the world).”
  • “Definitely pack a duffel bag or smaller suitcase in a larger suitcase. I did this and managed to bring back all of my souvenirs to the US, as you will have a lot.”
  • “Bring a bag to carry with you as you go around Japan such as a messenger bag or buy a small backpack as soon as you get there.”
  • “Anywhere south of Sendai (e.g. Tokyo, Chiba, Osaka, Kyoto, Okinawa), Japan is very hot and humid during the summer, so bring cool, light clothes and very comfortable shoes because you will walk a lot during commutes.”
  • ” Use sunscreen a lot, and take light clothing like t-shirts. Pack really light if you can, say a couple pairs of pants, a pair of shorts or two, and various shirts. You’ll be able to wash all of your clothes in the laundry room for free, and it’s always nice to have a smaller bag than most when you have to lug those things around. Besides, it leaves more room for souvenirs, and you will have LOTS of souvenirs.”
  • Toiletries & Personal Care
    • If you use a certain type of deodorant or anti-persistent you may want to bring enough with you for the summer.  The brands you find in Japan will be different than in the U.S. and might not work as well for you.” Anti-antiperspirant is particularly hard to find.
    • “The toiletries in Japan are slightly different in one way or another so if you have a “special” shampoo or shaving cream and don’t want to hassle with such things buy them in the US and bring them with you.” (Also applies to feminine care products like tampons and pads.)
    • “It’s also a good idea to bring extra toiletries along, as the Japanese versions can be a lot less effective than their American counterparts (I would stress bringing extra deodorant, sunblock, and any sort of specialty product you might need).”
  • Technology
    • “Pack a lightweight computer. I brought my huge gaming laptop to Japan thinking that I was going to play online video games with my friends in the US. The time difference and poor Internet connection quality made that impossible. The laptop ended up making my pack super heavy and it took up way too much space.”
    • “Most dormitories will have lan but not wifi so bring a LAN cord (or plan to buy one there) and wireless router so you can have wifi in your room just in case.” (Or, if you have a Mac, learn how to turn it into a wireless hotspot).
    • If you already have T-Mobile or are thinking about switching, you are in luck! T-mobile offers free data and texting while you are abroad in many countries including Japan.  You’ll still pay a international rate for any incoming or outgoing call and the data speed may not be very high but its really helpful to be able to look something up while you are traveling in Japan and to stay in contact with your family/friends via text.  (You’ll still have to get a Japanese cell phone though too to use in case of emergency and so you have a JP phone number that your lab mates and professors can call you at).
  • Miscellaneous
    • “And umbrellas…leave the umbrellas at home, they’re much nicer in Japan and cheap too! For Osaka, it will be hot, and it may be really wet.”
    • “Don’t bother packing a lot of small items. There are many 100 yen shops (like dollar stores but with much more) where you can buy whatever you need. For example, don’t bring a mug or a plate, you can buy each for just about a dollar.”

The websites below also offer helpful tips for students on packing to study abroad, in Japan or elsewhere!

The Art of Light and Precise Packing: What to Bring When Studying Abroad

7 Things you Should know before you Study Abroad in Japan

Alumni Pre-Departure Tips

The tips below have been shared by students who have previously conducted a science & engineering research internship in Japan.  Not all of these tips will apply to all fellows, but they should give you some insight into things that alumni wish they had done prior to departure.

  • “For Pre-Departure study as much Japanese as you can and as much as you can about Japan in general by looking at travel guides for example. Don’t wait until the last minute to pack and bring your best clothes. Try and start reading the science papers for your project.”
  • “Study hiragana/katakana! Carefully study the papers the host laboratory sends and look into other projects being conducted at the host laboratory. Pack omiyage for the first day in the host laboratory as well as parting gifts.”
  • “Establish a good line of contact with your lab early. That way, if they send you papers or journals to better understand your research project, you will have more time to process all the information. Look on your host lab’s website to see if they have any recent lab photos. This way you can gauge how much omiyage to buy for your lab. Now is also a good time to determine whether or not you want to buy a JR pass.”
  • “Plan out some sights you might like to see ahead of time in Tokyo and your host city. That way you won’t waste potential sight-seeing time deciding on what to do. The japan-guide.com website is excellent for making a list of great things to see.”
  • “Plan what you want to do in Japan ahead of time. Try to get a general idea of the ‘must-sees’ so you can make sure to plan to see them all.: 
  • “I think the guidebook provides a fairly complete resource in terms of suggestions for packing and general preparation. I would highly recommend the website japanguide.com or picking up a guidebook on Japan such as LonelyPlanet to start thinking of places to visit.”
  • “A JR pass is worth it if you plan to take a few long trips on the shinkansen if not then you’ll be better off just buying a ticket for a trip or two.”
  • “The biggest mistake I made was not studying my kana enough. It is so helpful to be able to read at a basic level after the 3 week orientation, and the best way to do that is study study study before you leave.”
  • “Study Japanese. I know this one is obvious, but still, you need to do it. I would highly recommend learning some of the most useful Kanji: for example, the Kanji for Tokyo, your host city, and any cities you plan to travel to. Also learn the Kanji for the cardinal directions. Of course the train/subway message boards will display in English, eventually,  it can mean the difference between making the train, or missing the train because you were waiting for the message board to translate.”
  • “Learn Hiragana & Katakana and as much Japanese as possible, especially if English isn’t spoken much in your lab. Come with an open mind for adventure and the unknown, it will be well rewarded in Japan!”

Hmm… notice a theme here about studying the kana and hiragana alphabets prior to departure?  For more tips on studying Japanese check out our Japanese Language resources page.

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