Sunday, July 4, 2010

bfg on the Japan War Chest

It is a Sunday morning and the shops only open at noon. Tempted as I am to curl up in the Reading Chair and drown myself in the latest Jordan book, it seems right to flesh out a few concerns I have and catch you all up on the latest news which all has to do with the big question: What to bring with me to Japan?

Now, I could ship things ahead and if I were going to snowy Hokkaido I would (winter jackets, etc.) but the charges are significant and I would rather just bring it with me in my suitcase and pay the airline fees. Since my trip is overseas, I am allowed two large suitcases that weigh no more than 23kg, one carry on at no more than 4.5 kg and one purse. JET has a travel agent who handles all our flight arrangements in Vancouver and it looks like we will all be flying Air Canada. Atlantic JETs unfortunately have to stop over in Toronto but this means I may get to sit next to Ashley, the TO pen pal, so a total upside. I think only TO and Vancouver JETs get a direct flight...

With these restriction... what to bring? This blog is called Big Female Giant and it was ALMOST called Big Fat Female Giant but my love of Dahl won out in the end.

It is not that I am Fat, though in Japan I will probably be called Cow by my students, but I am far from being small being a size 10 in most things (sizes always vary depending on the store. That is why I love American brands) which translate to Size "I don't Exist" in Japan. Sigh. Dreams of Tokyo Shopping Spree wisked away...

Its not just my pant size though ... I have big feet (and there is no sexual innuendo in that comment given I am female!). A size 10 usually fits me here in Canada but I also have wide feet... God! I am really laying out all the negatives here - its just to say, I need to bring everything I could possibly need for  a year (or more) in Japan for all occasions. Even though I am dieting and rejoined the gym (spinning classes!) I can't change this simple fact.

Now maybe you think, "Oh! What a whiner, 100 pound of stuff to bring and she is complaining?"

Yeah, dam right I am!

Take the shoes; I need to bring shoes for walking, running shoes, shoes for going to school, shoes for inside school, flip flops for the washroom at school (since the washroom slippers will be for people with significantly smaller feet. Oh, you didn't know? In Japan, you change footwear in the washroom), rain boots, shoes for going out and casual/going out shoes that are comfortable enough for walking around in but also fine for last minute going out. That is, speaking plainly, a shit load of shoes.

Now in Montreal, if I need a pair of shoes, I go out buy a cheep pair and they last the season and to the Salvation Army they go. But because I need things that are durable, not knowing how long I intend to stay for, the cost shoots up. In some ways, I am happy about this because its forcing me to invest in my footwear and buy better quality shoes. But the money! and the WEIGHT of it is scary. I only bought four pairs of new shoes but as of now I am bringing with me 8 pairs. PLUS, I am still debating on whether or not to bring hiking boots or not. I am trying to gage weather it is safe for me to climb Mount Fuji with my running shoes because hiking boots means another 120$ and that much more weight. Plus PLUS, they are f-ugly; no person wears hiking boots with clothing on and you think to yourself "That is attractive". I am Italian! I want pretty things.

The clothing has been more of a concern on the budget side than the weight side. During Orientation, there were several suggestions as to what to wear/bring to Japan, and most of them concerned women's clothing: has to have a sleeve - thick straps are not allowed, has to be below the knee (who wears skirts below the knee? Honestly, at the knee is easy to find but below the knee I found one and it was too atrocious to even consider purchasing), have to wear nylons (I bought 30 pairs this weekend and need to find 10 more) even if it is deathly humid, must wear shirts that cover your mid-drift and no cleavage. And this was just about the clothing!

Now, each school is different but you don't know until you get there which is too late. So it is best to side on caution especially in my situation where restocking on clothes is not an option. Your predecessor can give you some advice but they all seem to say, "Be hyper conservative at first and then look around you and match the other teacher's style." Another example of modern Japanese homogeneity.

This wardrobe thing has been on my mind for some weeks now and I was finally sick of it. I am sick of getting ready for Japan - I want to enjoy Montreal and my friends. My July schedule is quickly filling up with ice cream dates and dinners with friends so I told the bf that the first weekend of July, I want the major parts of my wardrobe shopping to be done.

Now, I budgeted $1000 for clothes and $700 for shoes (the shoes is because I needed good walking shoes and really good rain boots). I only spent $350 on the shoes which makes me very happy but the clothes - holy moses! It was a lot.

I should say I think what surprised me were the small items that I didn't factor in as a cost. Luggage for example: it didn't hit me that I didn't have a suitcase. And when it came time to thinking about it I was pretty certain I could use my mom's or dad's. But then it hit me! Its not for a month but a year - no way I could take their stuff for that long (or more) given that my dad is a pilot and my mom has to travel with my brother at least once a year for his sports. So I actually had to pay for a suitcase - it was a very adult moment let me tell you. I love her though: she is green and has for wheels and just yells out "Samsonite"! But that was $200 I had not budgeted for.

Another unexpected but necessary purchase: a big purse to carry my laptop in. Since I am writing a thesis there, I will probably lug Jingu around showing off her Macness to the world. In Spain, I would go to bars at night until closing typing and drinking away; it was awesome. But I had a laptop bag and walking home at 2 am... it didn't feel safe. So I ended up splurging at Rudsak $250 and got myself an awesome leather bag that fits all my electronics nicely and a few magazines etc. Perfect for the plane ride as I want my electronics on me and for the late night walks with the laptop. I won't feel like my bag is screaming out "Rob Me!" (Actually, I also bought the matching wallet which WAS a splurge but I LOVE that thing so much  and people stop me at the cash saying my wallet is a manifestation of awesomeness. So there!)

That is $450 of un-budgeted cash I had to fork over. Now, I could have bought the $60 suitcase - that is true. But I am the daughter of a pilot and spent many the hour waiting for my dad to land in the "gates" area of then-Mirabel airport. The number of people with cheep suitcases that were DESTROYED beyond repair... not fun. And remember, this BFG can't replenish. I needed to spend the money to be secure that my stuff will arrive there on time. The fact that I get to walk around in my little green four-wheeled Samsonite carry-on in Tokyo is just an added bonus.

MOVING! Again, it cost me just $100 but I thought it would be more on the free side. $40 for gas, $40 for the "Thank-you" meal and little tidbits like rope, etc. all add up.

I think you get my point... I tried/am trying so hard to budget, forecast and play out a strategy but there are things that just bite you in the ass.

Okay so back to clothes... Suits. That was something that kept popping up. You should wear a suit when you meet the mayor, wear a suit at the town festival if you are asked to make a speech, wear a suit on your first day of class when you introduce yourself to the whole school, of course wear a suit for newspaper interviews. Suit, suit, suit. I have one suit which I bought for my JET interview and that alone, on a 70% sale, cost me $140 CDN (Mexx) excluding the nylons (which were $20). I found 2 suits at Tristan which are gorgeous, conservative but fashionable and the two together total $534.33 CDN and this is with a 50% discount! Dudes! I almost fainted when the woman told me the price. I asked her to put it on hold and spent yesterday running around desperately for alternatives. I found blouses (at Jacob Outlet for 15$!) but all the suits either did not fit me, made me look like I bought something at Croteaux or were significantly more expensive. So today I am going to head over to Tristan and buy the two. That is half of my budget on clothes gone mostly because I never had the experience of shopping for a good suit. The good news is I look dam good in them and in the end, especially because I want to be a CEGEP teacher and do not intend to go to school in jogging pants as some profs do, its an investment in my long-term wardrobe. AND my fear of being photographed twice in the same outfit, which is very Italian of me but is an honest, sincere fear can be appeased.

So this weekend I hit the shops. I wish I enjoyed shopping but I hate changing rooms. Another tall moment: taking off a dress and then burning your hand on the hanging spot lights that are NOT helpful to tall people and then slamming your head into the mirror because your head was caught in the dress but the burn shocked you and you jumped away without looking. Yes, I have battle wounds friends.

What did I end up buying? Well! As you can see, I am in love with my new rain jacket. At Orientation it was highly recommended, almost enforced, that you bring rain pants as well but dear Reader, I tried them on but I could no do it. They are so ugly, so FAUX PAS I knew I would never, ever wear them even if it rained. Antonio encouraged me to buy them but it felt from the moment I saw those absolutely ugly things on the rack that I would not wear them. But I did buy a rain coat on recommendation from a classmate Caitlin to check out Mountain Equipment Co-op. Was it worth it! I left with my sexy blue rain coat which I got on Liquidation for $95, black jogging pants which I would wear on a rainy day while biking to school ($57), and the greatest pull-over ever ($35, black). I am now a proud member of this awesome co-op which cost me $5 for lifetime membership.

Jacob Outlet at Marche Centrale was profitable though it took me so long and the changing rooms were so horrible. But I walked out of there with 4 solid coloured blouses after 2 hours of roughing it with the walls there. Still, considering I was able to find them at $15/20 a piece it compares well with the $50ish price tag I have been seeing at MEXX and Tristan (including their discounts). I can't help but feel like they increase the price for the sales so the discount is the original price. It seems absurd that anyone, no matter the quality, would pay a simple, standard blouse more than $40 at regular price. But that is just me.

Bra shopping was... an experience. I had a really helpful girl at the Vie En Rose but the selection wasn't great. I really wanted a skin coloured bra for the blouses and dresses etc. and finally purchased one at full price for $35 CDN. The women taught me loads - did you know that you can see the bra line when you buy the heart shaped cup because of the position of the straps? That is what I was complaining to the girl about who then had me check out the more V shaped bras and it did make a difference. She said that some woman what the line to show but I think that is ridonk! Most annoying was I tried on other bras on sale in black, light blue, polka dots and none fit. They all said 36B on them but holy shit! one was too small, one the cup had a dent, one the magnet snap put me off, and one was so padded I felt like someone had surgically added another ligament to my body. The best part of this was asking the bf how I looked. "Fine", he would answer... to each one. After pestering him, Ant seemed to think there wasn't much of a difference between the bras with clothes on... Sigh. Yes - a challenging weekend you see!

I totally splurged at Tommy Hilfiger on this thin sweater that just cries out GEEK! Its navy blue with white and purple diamonds on the front - total nerdness. I also bought a navy blue Tommy dress on sale for $35. Again, an outlet at Marche Central its worth borrowing a car for a trip there. Right now, 30-40%  off the last marked down price.

I didn't do so well on the dress front. Everything was too short or too cleavagy or too expensive (I hate being poor). Anyone have recommendations? Usually, I am able to stock up at the Tristan Entrepot but unfortunatly I looked frumpy in everything.

All to say - the War Chest for Japan is close to being complete. Tomorrow I am planning a sister day with the younger sibling Alisha where she will finally get her life long wish of going to American Apparel while I purchase BOGs and struggle into more bras.

This blog post is but the prelude. Only once I am in Japan can I attest to the fact that in retrospect I really needed 7 suits but not so many shoes, or that hiking Mount Fuji with BOGS is awesome, or that going to school with beige nylons is a big nono but nude colour is fine. All these things I can only know when I get there but I need these posts and this blog to remember these thoughts as they happen and not as I remember so that in the end a more accurate, and hopefully helpful to future JETs, assessment can be made.

On a final note, I think a part of my anxiety is not being a part of the majority any longer, of going to a place where I am truly, really an alien. At a friends house the other night, her boyfriend was speaking on the anxiety Anglophones in Quebec have when it comes to them being a minority linguistically. But not only will I be speaking foreign, I will be eating foreign and shopping foreign and thinking foreign. The anxiety of going to a new place alone is enough stress without having to worry whether or not Japanese tampons do absorb enough. I think its a subconscious realization that sinks in slowly the moment you go start prepping for departure. It sure as hell make me appreciate what I have that much more.


  1. Hey Nessie!

    Just so you know - you will be able to find clothes here. Judging by your photo's you're not beyond buying clothing at all. Sure, it's always difficult in certain stores (with only one size.. "F" ARGH!!) but At UNIQLO or many of the other "regular people" stores, there is a wide selection of sizes and styles. Don't stress about clothes - focus on shoes!! You'll be fine. Also consider that this will be the coldest winter of your life (not because of temp, but because of a complete lack of temp control inside). As a Canadian I scoffed at first, but I quickly learned how cold it really is without insulation or heat. Winter coats are a must! Happy packing! :D


  2. Oh God Kat - really!? That makes me so happy!!

    Do I REALLY need a WINTER Jacket? I was thinking of bringing more of a fall coat then wearing a sweater under.

    Also, any more advice on things to bring or buy in Shizuoka, Japan once I arrive to prep for winter. I too am somewhat scared of this winter factor and I am a Montrealer!!