I have thought about it, I really have. But I seem to get bogged down in the particulars which, when I examine them, seem to have potentially no relevance at all to an incoming person. I thought about including much more detailed information about the schools, the classes, the teachers, then reconsidered because that kind of thing is neither relevant nor particularly prudent to put on the interweb. I thought about making a list of stuff I wish I'd brought or wish I'd known... but even that seems out of date when I look at this blog explaining how you can get the stuff you miss.
I also keep thinking of the questions I want to ask this mystery person for all manner of different reasons. What is your shoe size? How's your Japanese? Are you the sort of person who prefers to inherit a minimum of stuff (clean slate), or that wants a bunch of used stuff to adopt and make your own (taker)? Do you like gardening?
But sidestepping all this for a little while, what I'd like to first do is just make a list of the stuff I import and the reasons for it. When I say "import" I mean ask family and friends for, and/or fill my suitcase with when I make a visit to the US.
- Instant hot cereals. Mostly oatmeal, but also grits. Mostly I import this because it's cheaper and there's a better selection in the US than there is at the internet-international stores I've used so far. That plus the ubiquity of hot water dispensers makes instant oatmeal a wonderful thing on chilly mornings.
- Regular cereal. Again because I'm cheap and lazy... the local grocery only has four kinds of cereal: flakes, frosted flakes, choco flakes, and granola.
- Facewash. Because I know what I like and don't feel like working my way through bottles and bottles of stuff from the drugstore. Same goes for face lotion.. I have a particular type that I like, so I just stick with that.
- Makeup. Because I could maybe find 'dark brown' mascara, but I would rather just use what I know.
- Toothpaste. I hear this is totally unnecessary, but Japanese dental work scares me, and I like to use stuff I know what's in it. I also import toothbrushes, which actually is totally unnecessary, but I just do it because it's easy.
- Another totally unnecessary thing is Bath and Body Works body cream. There is plenty of lotion in Japan, but if you get this thick cream of a smell you really like at 1/3 price during the semi-annual sale, there's no reason not to bring it. You might need a lot of lotion in the cold, dry winter.
- Hand sanitizer in small bottles. It's just useful for all those bathrooms without soap.
- Sunscreen. Again, cheap/lazy.. you can get it here, but the selection and prices are better there.
- Deodorant. I hear you can get good deodorant in Japan these days, but I bought a huge multipack of my favorite kind a long time ago and have just been using it ever since.
- Over the counter painkillers. Your basic Tylenol/ibuprofen stuff, because if I hurt I can't be bothered to navigate the linguistic and cultural differences of my local drugstore. Plus I think it's cheaper back home.
That's the stuff I would regularly refill each year. In the beginning, though, there is plenty of stuff I wished I hadn't brought, basically any products outside of those listed. You only get two suitcases, and you really can get most stuff in Japan that you want to find.
I wish I HAD brought better souvenir presents, more edibles basically. People even told me to bring edible stuff that was small, individually packaged, and preferably specific to that area. I was terrible at this. I think I brought mini bottles of lotion (because I just prefer 'real stuff' to 'snacks' personally as gifts? I dunno) and jelly beans or something, and then not really enough. I wish I had gotten ahold of little packs of peanut brittle or little jars of apple butter or some other such thing as my parents brought when they came to visit.
The problem at the time was partly that I was broke as hell. Getting a job with JET is great, and you will make some decent money doing it, but before you start getting paid, you might not have any money. Not having any money does not match up well with filling a house with new stuff, bringing presents for all the people it is probably appropriate to give them to (here, too, opportunities abound). Plus, unlike in Japan, those gifts can be hard to find or figure out, and that may be time you don't have in the process of packing, saying goodbyes, and otherwise preparing yourself for your whole new life.
Luckily, the local stores are at your service too. It would be best to bring stuff from your own local area, but failing that, anything from the home country is good (mini candy bars might have been a nice touch), and failing that (say, you get in and find yourself with enough to give out at your base school but nothing for your elementary staff-mates!), getting a gift box at a nearby shop is totally okay. I wouldn't necessarily do it, because no one will really mind if you don't pass out presents, but they'll be super impressed if you do.
I am GLAD I brought along an international driving permit. It was more than worth the hasslesome trip to the AAA office in the middle of the summer and the fifteen or so bucks to get, because a car is freedom etc. etc, and I live in a town with no trains.
I'm also glad of all the fake business clothes I brought; you need that kind of thing for official events and to give a good impression early on in your tenure. I wish I had brought more "work appropriate" sportswear for sports day practice.
In the very early days, before you have a life, you might want to have stuff to do to keep you happy or occupied. Books, games, video games, whatever. You can also spend this time exploring. The first week or so can be weird and rough because a lot of the staying JETs around the area are off on their once-yearly summer trip home, so there's all these ropes and no one to show them to you. You also might have to endure a state of internetlessness at the apartment for about a month (although there is some possibility that if you ask nicely, you can use the wireless from next door during that time)... so be prepared for this, as skyping at work is weird and skyping at home perhaps impossible, it might have to be email for a while.
As for furniture.. there can be some, though there need be very little, it all depends on your tastes. There is a recycle shop or four in town, and you can pick our your own stuff there, or buy new stuff, or buy my stuff (discounted extra for saving me the hassle of moving it/getting rid of it).. so are you the kind of person who wants a clean slate, or a mostly-there house?
And. How is your Japanese? Because one of my elementary contacts is really worried he won't be able to talk to you in English.