You should have no problem obtaining a balanced diet. You may fight the impulse to buy the plethora of junk foods that are every where. For the diet conscious, there are not so many of the usual 'lite' or 'fat-free' foods available here as at home. Artificial sweetener and Diet Coke (called Coke Light) are available, as well as good quality fruits and vegetables all year round.
At larger grocery stores you can buy prepared foods at the deli section. There are hundreds of restaurants and fast food places as well. A good Western style pizza is hard to find, but it does exist.
Miyazaki is far from major metropolitan areas, so availability of exotic imported foods is very limited. You can mail order organic and natural foods through Tengu Natural Foods and case lots of American food and products from Foreign Buyers Club.
There are fewer vegetarian-friendly foods here than may be available in your home country. Tofu, dried beans (different varieties than you may be used to), peanut butter and grains are readily available. For those who aren't vegan, yogurt, cheese, milk and eggs are available everywhere. Many vegetarian specialty foods (garden burger mix, tabouli salad mix, lentils, etc.) are available only through mail order.
The vegetarian or person with serious food allergies will have no problem cooking and eating on their own, but may encounter difficulties at enkais (eating & drinking parties), invitations to dinner, restaurants and school lunches. In these cases, you will need to make your needs known, again and again. Also plan for such occasions by eating a little in advance or carrying your own school lunch. Let your supervisor know about any diet restrictions before you come or as soon as you arrive, since most likely they will be planning your welcome party.
For Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program participants:
AJET publishes a helpful guide called Being and Remaining Vegetarian in Japan with information about eating in restaurants, shopping for veggie foods and great, easy recipes. It should be available at a low price at the Tokyo Orientation.
Before you pack and ship all you wonderful cookbooks, be advised that your kitchen may only be equipped with a one or two burner gas stove and a toaster oven. Therefore, stove-top and non-baked recipes are the best. However, ovens and microwaves are available.
DRINKING (not water)
Drinking is a favorite activity of the adult population and a definite part of the culture. If you are a drinker, beer, whisky and the local potato & rice distilled delight, shochu, are easily obtained, even in vending machines on the street. If you are a non-drinker, you will need a strong will to fend off offers and encouragement to drink. Ultimately, the choice to drink or not is yours, and your office mates and friends will accept your decision. If you do drink, you may find that it is a challenge to convince your hosts that you really have had enough. The custom of constantly pouring drinks for others, and receiving drinks poured for you, ensures that you have no idea how much you've consumed. The trick is to keep your cup full, or accept a drink from someone and pour it out into an empty glass or ashtray. Both practices are employed by Japanese party-goers. Many Japanese women don't drink and religion and sports training are good excuses for not drinking.
Drinking serves an important role in Japanese society. Through the ritual of drinking together and pouring drinks for each other, coworkers and friends are allowed to communicate more freely and honestly than is normally permissible in this society. Thus, whether you drink alcohol or not, the ritual of pouring drinks for others (expressing gratitude, appreciation, goodwill) and receiving drinks from others (allowing them to express these feelings to you) is quite important. Accepting a refill of orange drink allows for this exchange of sentiment and therefore is preferable to refusing a drink outright. If is also good form to pour for those from whom you received refills.
Be forewarned that if you drink you MUST NOT drive. The blood alcohol level acceptable for operating a motor vehicle is 0%. If you are driving after drinking and are stopped by police or have an accident, the repercussions are serious. These repercussions may limit your job opportunities here in Japan. Please don't drink and drive.
For JET Program participants: The JET Memo, a calendar and bilingual pocket bible for daily life in Japan, includes a glossary of quick reference medical terms. It's not exhaustive, but it's helpful. You'll get it at the orientation.
It is probably a good idea to have a medical and dental check-up before you come, and for women to have a gynecological exam. This will at least assure you of a clean bill of health before you arrive, since you body will probably undergo a few changes due to different food, climate, emotional stress, jet lag, etc. Overall, you do not need to worry about finding adequate facilities here, but a good physical condition will ease you through the transition.
Over the Counter Medicine
A variety of remedies can be bought over the counter. For common illnesses, pharmacists are trained to recommend the appropriate medicine. Drug stores do not stock prescription medication, you get that directly from the doctor. Because the label is all in Japanese, you may feel happier bringing you own favorite aspirin, throat drops, vitamins, allergy medicine, antacid, etc.
As far as birth control is concerned, condoms are the most common method. They are readily available (as with everything else in Japan, sizes may be small!). It's a good idea to bring your own pill prescription, since the contraceptive pill is only prescribed on health grounds, and the dosage is very strong. Currently there is discussion about legalizing a low-dose pill for birth control, but at this time it's all talk, no action.
Things like shampoo, soap and cosmetics are of course available. The brand name products will go for two to three times than they would be at home. If you have a favorite brand of shampoo, shaving cream or lipstick, by all means, bring it with you.
ODDS & ENDS
Don't be overwhelmed by this list. The pre-departure packing frenzy is stressful enough. If you arrive in Japan and find that you cannot live with out food items or cosmetics from home, take heart. The Foreign Buyers Club (FBC) and Tengu Natural Foods can mail-order a huge variety of fresh and prepared foods, books in English and personal products. However most brands are American, so you Brits, Aussies and Kiwis may be disappointed.
-Japanese vitamin drinks and over-the-counter cold remedies often contain caffeine and nicotine.
-Some Japanese toothpaste does not contain fluoride. Check the label for fuso (fluoride in Japanese). Mouth wash, plaque destroying mouth rinse, dental floss are available.
-Vitamin supplements are available, but the dosages are small and the prices are big. Vitamins are worth bringing with you.
-Despite their "love of nature", most Japanese do not feel strongly about environmentally friendly products. At this time, only a small number of 'green' cruelty-free products are available. If you feel strongly about products that do not harm the planet and were tested without cruelty to animals, bring your own, or arrange to have them sent. Large cities (not Miyazaki) have Body Shop stores.
-Contact lens solutions are available for heat systems (Bausch and Lomb is the most common), and for cold systems, whether you wear soft, hard or gas permeable lenses. If you are worried about being able to decipher the Japanese on the labels, bring a supply with you to tide you over while you find suitable products.
-If you feel the need to use anti-perspirant deodorants, bring them too. Deodorants are available, but they may not be the same kind of extra strength product that you are used to.
-"Caffeine-free" is not a popular concept in Miyazaki. Decaffeinated coffee is scarce. Herbal teas are available, but may be limited and expensive.
Japanese love giving and getting little gifts, however it's not necessarily expected that the new employee come bearing gifts. Little gifts are always appreciated and they can help you smoothly become a part of your environment. So it's nice if you can bring something simple from your home town, state or province to share with your new colleagues.
Your gift should be easily shared among all staff members (perhaps 10 to 20 people).
Bring something that travels well. It's hot and humid in Japan in August, so bring a snack that can stand the heat. (Chocolate may not do well).
Expense of gifts seems to have little to do with how much it's appreciated.
Whiskeys and other liquors are appreciated by male colleagues. Shochu, the liquor of choice in Miyazaki, can be easily and cheaply purchased locally.
People seem to appreciate most "the little things" that say something about your home town or country. Small picture books, photographs, locally-made candies or cookies, small airport-type souvenirs, etc.
There is no need to worry about finding yourself in a situation in which you need a gift but don't have one. In Japan, shops specializing in omiyage are EVERYWHERE!
Some apartments have Japanese style toilets, others will have Western style toilets, and everyone will have Japanese style bathtubs. Most bathrooms also have showers.
You take a hot bath not only to wash yourself, but to relax comfortably in the hot water. You do not wash yourself in the bathtub, but you wash and soap outside of the tub. After washing and rinsing, get in the tub and sit with the water up to your chin. Thus, your nerves can be soothed as your muscles relax and you unwind in the pleasant warmth of the water. In a family, the hot water in the bathtub is used by more than one person. Living by yourself, you can use the same water for a couple days, if you like.
The Japanese style toilet has no stool, unlike its Western counterpart. You squat astride it, facing the hood and watch your aim! In the toilet room, change into the slippers provided. When you leave there, you change from the toilet slippers to the ordinary ones. If your apartment has a Japanese-style john, don't despair. Toilet converters that make your squatter into a sitter are readily available at discount super stores.
Japan has an expensive telephone installation fee called a telephone bond. You can purchase a telephone bond that can be sold when you leave Japan or you can rent a telephone bond for about 2,000 yen per month.