Easy meal ideas

Gokigenyo ~

For me, Japanese food is just the absolute best. Fresh, light, and so healthy. If you have time to cook. Some days you just get too busy and find yourself eating six packets of dry ramen a day (obviously not me but I know people who’ve fallen as such). 

So I am glad to inform you that there are slightly more nutritious (and super Japanese!) ways to feed yourselves on busy days!

Number one! Rice. Rice is such an important staple of the Japanese diet- and it’s easy to see why! A fantastic source of energy to get you through the day, easy to make in a rice cooker, and oh so very versatile!

First of all, you can use rice to spread a meal further! You’ve made a cup of miso? Eat a mouthful of rice for every sip to make it a meal! Leftover ramen soup? It’s low class to do so- but it can be your next meal (in the privacy of your own home), even taking a mouthful of rice with oden or salad will help it spread.

Another way is to make your bowl of rice it’s own meal. In this case you mix in a Japanese topping with your rice to add flavour.

My recommendations are;

Natto, mixed only with soy sauce instead of the sauces provided (an acquired taste but very healthy, I personally enjoy it).

Ume, sour Japanese plums that are reddish pink in colour, are another good topping- in small doses.

Onsen tamago, an egg very, very softly boiled that is very easy to mix into rice for a protein rich meal. I like to add soy sauce for extra flavour.

Furikake, this is flavouring made especially for rice, and often comes in chicken, egg, and fish flavours. You can sprinkle furikake to make rice less bland. It also has a closely related cousin made of seeds, though I can’t remember what it’s called.

Seaweed, there are many different kinds of seaweed available on the Japanese market, in all different shapes and flavours, that can really help you get your rice down.

Store bought tempura or katsu, placed on too of rice, can cost you as little as Β₯150 a meal.

Please note that all the above toppings are often used by Japanese people for their everyday side dishes, not a whole meal, but I find all you need to add is a fried egg or salted fish and you find it should keep you going.
Number two! Convenience and grocery store meals. This is a really common and well known method, but grocery stores and convince stores both supply complete meals already made up. Though the normal supermarkets will provide these for cheaper than your local 7-11, the later in the day that you go the cheaper the will get (Japanese shops don’t really sell two day old food), so if you’re really lazy, it’s too easy to go but a pack of katsu chicken with some umeboshi onigiri (rice balls with plums) and mini sushi for Β₯560, or a 6 pack of Imari for Β₯150

Bonus recipe, miso!

Miso is also a major Japanese good staple, and so easy to make when you’re time poor! All you need is tofu, shallots, wakame seaweed, miso paste, and bonito flakes (optional for vegetarians)

1. Slice shallots and tofu

2. Scoop one table spoon miso paste into a bowl 

3. Boil water in kettle and mix hot water with paste

4. Add all extras

5. Bam. Done. 

Extra handy hint: miso paste is really quite tasty, I often use it as a dip for vegetables like cucumbers for a light snack.


Weather comparisons

An important part of packing and preparing for your trip is knowing what you can expect the weather to be like. Every time that I have gone on exchange it has been the same time of year, but the climate has been different each time.

It’s important to understand how it affects your clothing, lifestyle and activities, living costs, and so on.

For example, when I was living in Niigata, you could not go outside without snow boots, had to use heating non-stop (thankfully I didn’t foot the bill), could not go for my usual jog, and had to cope with trains being delayed or cancelled, and being stranded away from home because of avalanches and so on. This is because where I lived, Myoko Kogen, often suffered up to minus 20C and 1.5m of snow a day in December to February.

However, a year earlier in Tokushima, I was able to enjoy an Australian like winter freedom (with just a bit of extra snow) at much more bearable temperatures.

Now, whenever I look at the temperatures of the place I wish to travel, I always compare it to the temperature of my home town and think in comparison to that.

Eg. “Oh their winter is 10C and ours is 13C and I only need one jumper at that time so I should be fine in Tokushima without thermals” helps to guide me through packing.

Here, I will display the comparisons of the two towns in question;

Brisbane averages

From Australia.com

Compared to Shimonoseki (note, their seasons are reversed);


One of the benefits of Shimonoseki is that the weather is very similar to Brisbane and makes packing a whole lot easier- here I only display the weather, but for other places you should check the snow fall (Shimonoseki does not snow).
For more weather information, try the Japan meteorology agency

It’s really simple enough to create your own comparison chart for wherever you are going, so I hope that this helped πŸ™‚


Centerlink for exchange

Hello everyone! For many students, centerlink can be the absolute core of our finances, and thankfully, is still available (and sometimes only available!) should you go away on exchange. This is only eligible for students who will gain credit towards their degree while they are away, and there are a few things you must do to ensure that you do not have your centerlink money cut off while you are away (it happens too often). So,

To start, You must provide a letter from the university stating the details of the exchange (specifically the dates and that it counts towards your degree). Just ask your exchange unit to send you this letter when you recieve your acceptance pack from your host university. You must submit this to centerlink online- make sure they have it and approve it before you go!!!

Then, Change your profile to receive the ” away from home” rate, which can be more than those who receive centerlink while living at home πŸ™‚
Unfortunately, rent assistance is not available for those going overseas, so can actually become a drain. 

I also recommend that you give authorisation to a parent or guardian to be able to access (though not edit) your account while you are gone, this can be useful in cases such as you’re not receiving money, etc) this can even have an expiry date so that your elected person will be locked out from the day you arrive home πŸ™‚

Finally, ensure that you have, and know the password to, your centerlink online account (mygov) so that you can moniter your payments while away. 

Final note!!!

Centerlink will only pay for 10 days before or after your exchange, if this is important to you and your finances, don’t spend too much extra time in the country. 

Get funded

Going to Japan, while everyone’s dream, can seem out of reach and unaffordable. When I ask my classmates if they plan to go on exchange, the most common response is “I would love to but I can’t afford it.”

Personally, I think that it’s a real shame that people do think like this-especially when there are so many options! Japan is a very cheap country to live in (if you’re not in Tokyo or Kyoto) and many people can use their savings to fund themselves.

But for people who live away from home, have no part time job, or just can’t save to save themselves, easy money is available.

1. OS-help loans; these loans are provided by the government to add on to your hecs loan (to pay back when you have a steady job). As the government is very keen on improving relationships with Asia, any one wanting to study in Japan may apply for two loans (per semester, you can only apply for OS-help twice, ever)

Type one, general OS-help. You can claim up to $7500 (for Asia only, this is the highest amount of all the OS-help loans available) on your hecs, however, your university will decide if you receive the full amount (some smaller universities are only able to give $1000 or so, depending on funds available),

Type two, $1000 loan to support language classes in the language of your host country, this can be used overseas or in Australia, at institutes like IML,
These loans are guaranteed and not competitive, so that is a very easy way to fund yourself. BUT, these are not your only options;

Asia bound scholarships (amongst others) are available to students of merit to study in Asia, worth $5000 per semester abroad,  the condition being that you must write an article detailing your experiences for the government to use as advertising (it’s not guaranteed that they will use it, but it is likely to turn up on your university website).

The Asia bound scholarship is more likely to be granted to students at strategic partner institutions and universities in Japan that have a lower exchange student population.

There are many other options available if you know where to look. Try looking for other government scholarships, your own university scholarships (general, discipline, as well as school and facilty scholarships are available. If your university has a department equivalent to ‘UQ abroad’, that is also worth looking up ), or community groups in the area. Groups like Rotary and Lyons provide scholarships to young people to facilitate exchange, and many members of scouts and girl guides, etc, are also eligible-though they can also help you run a fundraiser (like a BBQ), or you can do it yourself.

Finally, for those of you on centerlink payments, these can still be paid while you are studying towards your degree at the “living away from home” rate, although rent assistance is not available for overseas.

No matter what you choose, I think that making your Japan dreams a reality is very achievable, and I believe that you can all do it too πŸ™‚


Further reading

Study in Asia- government website
University of Queensland exchange scholarships

Voting overseas

For any of you over 18, this is absolutely the easiest to forget. Last time, I forgot myself and ended up receiving an angry letter from the AEC (Australian Electoral Commision) demanding that I explain my absence. Although being overseas at the time of the election was an acceptable excuse- the whole experience left me rather flustered (as you get fined without an acceptable excuse).

To avoid this, you have two options!

(Though both involve filling out the forms from the below links, forms can be mailed, faxed, or scanned and sent via email)

QueenslandΒ information

Federal information

1. You fill out the necessary form (overseas voter form) with the intention of not voting while you are away. Forms are in the links above.

2. You fill out the same form with the intention of voting overseas
Now, with the first option you just forget about reading this article and go on with your lives, but for option two (that I only take for federal elections) you have the choice of sending in your vote via mail from your overseas location, or you may visit a polling booth that will be set up at various airports, embassies and consulates. The list of locations will be available a week or so before an election.

Remember that the state and federal levels operate together, so you need only send one form πŸ™‚

Also note:

While on your exciting adventures, it can be hard to keep track of these elections, so I recommend that you sign up to the AEC email reminder list to make sure you are up to date with dates, which parties are involved, etc.

If you have not enrolled to vote before you go, send in your original enrol to vote form alongside the forms for overseas voters, and even a silent voter form, easy.

Bringing medicine to Japan

Now, Japan has very strict medicine control systems that require a certificate called the “Yakkan Shomei” to bring any prescription or non-prescription medicine into the country. This certificate is not required for up to one months dosage, but is compulsory for anything more than that.

This is very important as customs will need to view this certificate in order to allow you to bring in this medicine for YOUR OWN PERSONAL USE.

It’s rather simple and straight forward, but please allow yourself adequate time to provide these documents and receive a reply.
In general you can bring a months supply of prescription medicine and two of non-prescription medicine without clearance. To take larger quantities, or medicines that are thoroughly policed in Japan (such as injectable medicine), you will require government approval in the form of a “Yakkan Shomei” certificate.

To get the Yakkan Shomei, you must make contact with the Pharmeceutical inspectors office (in Tonyo).

See more detailed information here

The above link goes through a Q and A, gives you a sample of how to fill out this form, and the form itself.

Contact Details for applying;

Email: yakkan@mhlw.go.jp (For Tokyo arrivals)

Email: kiyakuji@mhlw.go.jp (For Osaka, Chubu, Kansai, Fukuoka and other areas of Western Japan arrivals)

Information needed;

  • Name (of the person actually taking the medication to Japan)
  • Name of medication wanting to take to Japan (and the amount if possible)
  • Contact details (email and/or fax)
  • Date of departure
  • Port of arrival (Narita, Kansai, etc.)
  • Length of stay in Japan
  • E-ticket or itinerary detailing arrival to Japan

All contact can be made in English. The Pharmaceutical Inspector will try to respond to all inquiries as fast as possible. If further approval of a particular medication is necessary, the response time may take a little longer (this often applies to injectables).

The Embassy of Japan, Australia website also has various information regarding this topic;


These were the contacts I used myself, they were most helpful and obliging;

Email: economic@bb.mofa.go.jp

Web: www.brisbane.au.emb-japan.go.jp
I received my approved and stamped Yakkan Shomei in less than 24 hours, and as a direct response to my email (which had all the necessary information), the Yakkan Shomei itself is just a stamped and signed copy of the first page of your application form that you may present at customs.
I hope this helps πŸ™‚


You’ve been accepted, now pack!

Packing for a long term exchange can be horrifically painful, between balancing weight allowances, deciding what are the necessities, and taking in weather factors (one suitcase for a summer and winter wardrobe!?) can stress out any fashionista, or just anyone who doesn’t want to wear the same three outfits for the next year. 
This struggle is even greater when you are going to a country that doesn’t give you many options for shopping there. This pain is truer for me than Issie, as I have struggled in the past with being a six foot female who is most certainly not proportioned like any Japanese person ever. Because of this, I will share a sample packing list for those with a 30kg suitcase allowance (as well as carry- on) to help you survive your own personal “Sophie’s choice”.

Sample list


  • Tshirt x3
  • Shorts x3
  • Jumper x 2
  • Bikepants x 3
  • Leggings x4


  • Tshirt x 6
  • Black pants x3
  • Green pants x1
  • Three quarter jean x1
  • Singlet x3
  • Button up shirt x3
  • Dresses x 12
  • Long black skirt x 1


  • Leather
  • Red knit
  • Green turtle kneck
  • Pink heart
  • White fluffy
  • Pink jacket and under jumper


  • Winter x2
  • Summer x2
  • Sleepover x1


  • cute
  • Sports
  • Sleep
  • Fine stockings
  • Stocking x3


  • Petticoats
  • Thermals x 2


  • Good x3
  • Sleep x1
  • Crop top x1
  • Strapless x1


  • 2/3 pretty
  • 2 sneakers or practical shoes (slip on!!!)
  • Joggers


  • Hair accessories
  • Scarves
  • Beanies x2
  • Jewellery
  • Belts


  • BB Cream
  • foundation
  • Eyeshadow
  • Mascara
  • Lipstick and lip gloss


  • For uni
  • For friends


  • Swimmers
  • Converter
  • DS and 3 games and charger
  • Brita bottle and filters
  • Some thermals
  • My coat
  • Hats x2
  • Glasses x2
  • Pencil case *******


  • Toothpaste*****
  • Deodorant x2
  • Perfume
  • Medicine
  • Asthma Puffer
  • Asthma preventer
  • 8 Months tablets
  • Doctors letter for all medicine

On the day- carryon 

  • Passport
  • Visa
  • Certificate of eligibility
  • Copy of birth certificate
  • Yakkan Shomei
  • Tickets
  • Photo ID
  • IPhone
  • IPhone charger
  • Laptop
  • Laptop charger
  • Calendar
  • Hairbrush
  • To do list
  • Pen

******** Low priority can buy in Japan

Other tips:

Buy an extra light suitcase, mine is an American Tourister and weighs 3kgs, so it gives me a lot more space for my own clothes πŸ˜€ It even features flexible wheels to help it glide. I really recommend this brand.

Don’t be afraid to buy a second, small suitcase for an extra ten or so kilos, sometimes you really do just need to bring extra.

Always take an extra month or two of medicine, just in case you lose some, or there are delays. On that note, many medicines are not permitted to enter Japan, and require you to have a doctors letter detailing your need for all of the medicines you are bringing with you. I have personally never been checked, but please visit your doctor to receive this letter before you go, so you can apply for a Yakkan Shomei. Include all medicines, even asthma puffers, panadol, and antibiotics.

More info on medicine

If you are pushed for space, wear your heaviest clothes (that are not your ski boots!!!) on the plane, no matter how uncomfortable it is, it is always easier to wear a jumper and a coat, have all of your passports, money, and your laptop strapped to your person that it is to leave behind those two jumpers and your laptop, and all those extra socks.

Place the least essential items on the top, if you end up at the airport and are 0.5kg over the limit, the easiest thing to do is just grab that extra T-shirt that you didn’t even want anyway, but just brought in case, from the top and hand it to your family, than it is to rummage through your bag, in front of everyone, and then choose on the spot.

Think of what you can actually buy at your destination (look out for our related blog post coming out soon!), do you absolutely have to bring your favourite moisturizer? Do they have YOUR shampoo in Japan? (If it’s Tresemme, then yes!!!). This mainly applies to toiletries and beauty products, which are easy to find in most countries.

If you have friends in Japan that don’t live in the area you will be, though you intend to visit them, buy them presents from your local area to give to them instead of hauling 50 clip on koalas all the way from Australia. Reserve the koalas for the people you will meet initially!! (I did this when I visited Tokyo and Fukushima while staying in Niigata, it really helped!)

Bring clothes for the weather, you WILL need thermals and Fleeces in the Northern parts of Japan in December-March, but leave them at home if you will be going lower than Tokyo.

Japanese toothpaste can be pretty gross (in my opinion), if that’s important to you, consider bringing your own.

NEVER FORGET PRESENTS- even people that you don’t think are that important often require presents.

Cultural notes:

Japanese people wear slips, petticoats, and camisoles for modesty. If you are going to wear skirts, slightly see through t-shirts, or any dress, I would recommend you buy a few yourselves, while this is not mandatory, it is very normal and almost expected of Japanese girls. Especially with seeing bra lines through your shirts- if you think a camisole is too girly, then wear a singlet.


Be aware that cleavage and bra straps are close to taboo in Japan, you can wear absolutely mini skirts, show off your entire upper chest area, but once you show cleavage or brastraps, it becomes awkward. Honestly, just leave the spaghetti strap singlets at home and you’ll have no other issues with dressing- remember, you are not doing yourself any favours by insisting on wearing these kinds of clothes- this actually lends to a harmful stereotype that all Foreign girls are promiscuous! The only exception to this is the beach, but many girls will wear sundresses or a T-shirt and shorts over their swimwear until they are ready to enter the water (regardless of what anime may portray) and going off the beach (let’s say to 7-11) in your swimmers is a no-no.

Checklist before you go

Do you have;

  • A passport valid for the length of your stay (extra six months not required)
  • A valid student visa
  • Extra passport sized photo/s
  • University acceptance letter
  • Flight and itinerary information
  • Accommodation booked
  • Copy of passport, birth certificate, etc. on your person and left at home
  • Copy of itinerary at home
  • Registered as overseas voter 
  • Map of route to your new home (even if you are being picked up)
  • Presents
  • Packing done
  • Dental and medical check up
  • Enough medicine and Yakkan Shomei, if applicable
  • Alert work of your circumstances 
  • Alert centerlink of your circumstances, if applicable (also change to “away from home’ rate)
  • Insurance sorted
  • Registered new address with university, centerlink, etc.
  • Overseas SIM card, if you want
  • At least Β₯30,000 in cash on your person
  • Seats, food and entertainment all paid for flights
  • Airline is aware of any dietary requirements
  • Your planned address on your person
  • Registered with smart traveller (Japan is prone to volcanic and earthquake disasters- this way the Australian government knows where you are to help you in an emergency)


Student visas for Japan

Applying for a visa can be a complicated, and seemingly overwhelming task for those looking to start their long term studies in Japan. But once you deconstruct the separate components it becomes a lot more simple.

Here, we’ll provide a guide for Australian citizens planning to be students on a University exchange, though much of this will apply to other applicants.

*Note: Visas are only required for Australian citizens planning to work or stay in Japan for over 90 days.


1, Certificate of eligibility

2. A valid passport

3. One passport sized photo

4. The Visa application form

In detail:

  1. This must be applied for using forms sent to you by your sponsor, in the case of Exchange students, the sponsor will be the University where you intend to study, your home (Australian) University should supply support for completing the forms, although they are very straight forward. Be aware that this should be a three page document, depending on the format, so don’t make the mistake of only printing out one of these forms! Once you have received this certificate back from your sponsor (signalling their acceptance of you as an exchange student) you are ready to apply for your visa.

Photo source

       2. You must present your passport to the local consulate, or embassy, and be prepared to leave it there until your visa has been processed and approved, be aware that this is standard policy, so don’t be alarmed when they ask you to do so.

3. Choose wisely, they photo they will put on your visa will be in a bad quality black and white scan, you may end up looking like a zombie. Here’s an example I pulled from the internet.


      4. The Visa application form is also straight forward, the only real confusion can be who the sponsor is (as it asks for ages, etc.) and your address. Now, for this form the sponsor is still the university as a whole, so just ignore or mark ‘n/a’ in the sections that would only apply for an individual. At the time of applying, we didn’t yet know our addresses, so we were required to provide the street address of our university- we must register our address once we arrive in Japan. For more help, see the link to the consulate of Brisbane Visas page, and click on the ‘Student and long stay visas’ for an example.

Find a sample of the application form here

Other things to keep in mind (for all official documents) is that you must always write in black or blue pen, double check that yo have answered ALL of the sections, also that you have the correct information.

Visa processing for a student visa should only take three working days, but the consulate or embassy worker that you submit your application to will provide you with a receipt to present when it’s time come to reclaim the passport, this receipt should have a collection date on the front.

Once you have collected your visa, note that it is stapled into your passport, and also ask for the staff member to supply you with any extra information that you may need to register yourself once you are in Japan (eg. Information about how to apply for a residence card).


See also:

Embassy of Japan (in Sydney)

Consulate of Japan (Brisbane), and information regarding visas


γ”γγ’γ‚“γ‚ˆγ† and welcome to our blog!

We are Brooke and Issie, who will be going on exchange together in two weeks time.
Hello, I’m Brooke, and this will be my fourth time on exchange to Japan. I started studying Japanese in year 9, and since then I have lived in Tokushima, Saitama (while going to school in Tokyo), and Niigata. I’m excited to start my studies in Yamaguchi, as it will be my first time to that prefecture πŸ™‚ I am studying education and languages as a second year, and hope to one day be a language teacher in Japan (and anywhere else ;))

I will do lots of how to guides for applying for exchange and surviving Japan, I really want to use my experiences to help others going through all of this.

Hey! Issie here, the newbie. This will be my first exchange, my first time living away from my family  and my first big challenge in terms of improving my Japanese language. Wish me luck!! I’ve been to Japan just once for 10 days on holiday to Tokyo, so this is all going to be new to me. I’m super excited to give everything a go and will be sharing our experiences from a newbie’s fresh eyes πŸ™‚ I’m studying Japanese and communications so hopefully I improve my language and make lots of memories on this adventure!
We look forward to sharing our experiences and guides to studying in Japan, and hope that you do too ~
We look forward to hearing from you and hope that you enjoy our blog ~



~Brooke and Issie