I think I covered most of the important (well, they were important to me, anyway!) points in my original post, but some other random things people moving to Japan might want to do before leaving have occurred to me, so here they are:
- find out your blood type (if you don't already know) as chances are high a student will ask about it; there are varying explanations of the personality type associated with each blood type, so I'm still fuzzy on the personality theory, but my experience is that while all types have positive and negative traits, "O" and "A" are generally perceived more positively than "B" or "AB"
- get high resolution (for printing) image files or scans of holiday celebrations, travels in foreign countries, or anything unique to your area, since you may be asked to show pictures and talk about things (Christmas is an especially popular topic) for a class
- leave photocopies of any documents you bring with you to Japan somewhere safe at home (passport, driver's license, birth certificate, etc.).
- collect any tax-related materials you've accumulated throughout the year (charitable donation receipts, etc.) and a) leave them with a family member to file your taxes for you (you DO have to file taxes while you're in Japan!); or b) bring them with you and leave instructions for a family member to send anything that comes later to you
- it may sound mercenary, but it's a good idea to make friends (and exchange contact information!) with people from your embassy and/or whom you meet during Tokyo Orientation because you never know when you'll be visiting their area and need a place to crash or recommendations for things to do!
(OK, this isn't really too important to think about before you leave, but since I'm giving advice, I figured I'd write this down while I remember!)
- the end and/or beginning of each school term--end of Feb/start of Apr; end of July until mid-late August; late December to mid-January-- is the time when your taking vacation will be the least inconvenient for schools, since they will be probably be too busy to want you around anyway
- according to the JET diary, the only official holiday for New Year's is January first, but since New Year's celebrations traditionally last the first three days of the New Year (Jan. 1-3) chances are high you'll be given three days off--keep this in mind if you're thinking about heading home (or somewhere else) for the holidays! (Christmas Day is NOT a holiday here, by the way, so be prepared to use one of your vacation days if you don't want to be at the office on the 25th!)
- "Golden Week" is a super busy/crazy expensive time to travel within Japan, and I've heard August is another peak season (due to Obon), so you might to travel outside of Japan during these times
As always, keep in mind that every situation (really) is different (ESID).
(For example: My office is particularly busy (ALTs are over-requested, so we actually have to turn down visit requests from schools), so our office really prefers it if we only book vacations after our school visit schedules have been made--and this only happens just before the start of a new term (and sometimes it doesn't happen until after the term has already started)! On the other hand, I know some ALTs in neighbouring cities who can pretty much take their vacation whenever they want. )
I highly recommend that new ALTs get in touch with their predecessors as soon as possible because they are the best source of specific information. (Of course, I'm always willing to give my two cents or talk about my personal experiences.) And don't be afraid to ask lots of questions! We've all been new ALTs, so we can understand the need/desire to know things in the most minute detail!
Another piece of unsolicited advice is to spend the time you have remaining at home wisely, and to cherish it! As much as I enjoyed my work, I really wish I had taken the entire month before leaving off, instead of only taking two weeks.
Oh, and start packing early!! (I recommend suitcases with four wheels for ease of use!) You don't want to spend your last day at home frantically packing when you could be getting that last bit of quality time with friends and family!
And make sure you weigh your luggage. If there are a lot of fellow JETs on the same flight as you, chances are you're not going to be allowed to put overweight luggage on the plane, even if you're willing to pay the ridiculously expensive fees for overweight baggage! (Many a fellow JET did I see opening up luggage and re-packing at the airport check-in counter!) Put things you can live without in last so that if you need to remove something to reduce the weight, you can do so easily and quickly.
Well, that's it for now!!