Preparing for a trip to Japan can seem like an overwhelming task. After going through the hassle of updating your legal documents, sifting through the best plane tickets, and choosing where you want to go, you’ll still have one last thing to do: packing your suitcases.
Do you need galoshes and a poncho if it rains? Should you carry a sweater in case you feel a little chilly? How many extra pairs of socks does it take until you feel ridiculous? Don’t let the vacation jitters have you stuffing your luggage until the last minute!
Here’s our guide on what to pack for a trip to Japan and what to bring while sightseeing.
One thing that can get the best of even the most experienced travelers is toiletries. Thankfully, Japanese hotels offer so many free amenities you can leave most of these at home. Three and four-star accommodations almost always include necessities like razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hairbrushes, and hair dryers. Some might go the extra mile and also have bath salts and facial treatments.
Provided toiletries vary, so you might want to check your hotel’s website before you go. Also note that while luxury resorts might provide products from desirable brands, mid-range options mean mid-range items. It’s up to you what you want to bring, but take comfort that if you forget something or want to lighten your load, you can survive at least one night from the things in your room.
You might know that in Japanese culture, people take off their shoes before they enter their homes. What takes tourists by surprise is how often public places also require you to shed your footwear! Traditional Japanese inns, restaurants, onsens, and temples and shrines all might have areas where you can’t wear shoes. Thankfully, many of these places have clear signs or raised platforms to mark where you should take them off.
If you’re planning on traveling between locations on foot, you’ll need a pair of broken-in walking shoes. Also, consider how long it takes you to put them on and remove them. No one wants to be the person messing with complicated laces and loops while a line builds up behind them. Go for a pair of well-worn sneakers, closed-toe slip-ons, or shoes with a zipper.
According to Japanese law, foreign tourists must carry their passports at all times. You have to, for instance, show it when you check-in to a hotel or if you want to shop tax-free. If you're afraid you might lose it, make sure you also have a high-quality color photocopy. While you’re copying your passport, don’t forget to make additional duplicates of any other documents you might need.
This piece of advice isn’t specific to Japan. Any time you travel to a foreign country, you’ll want extra copies in case of an emergency. If you forget before you arrive, stop by any convenience store to use their machines. Copiers have English guidance and can print in black-and-white or color for a fair price.
It's surprising to hear, but places like coffee shops don't usually provide free Wi-Fi. To avoid this problem, you can rent a pocket Wi-Fi router or buy a SIM Card at your arrival airport. You can also find these accessories at an electronics shop. However, most places can't provide rental services if you don't have a Japanese credit card.
Don't forget your power adapter too. The standard voltage in Japan is 100 V. If your electronics use 110 - 127 V and can fit a Type-A socket, you may not need one. What you shouldn't leave behind, though, is a portable phone charger. It'll be your best friend while you explore the must-visit places in Japan!
When you’re getting ready to traipse around town, you’ll want to add a few items to your “money, keys, passport,” list. First, make sure you have either a coin purse or a wallet with a pouch. With the way Japanese currency works, you’ll be using a lot of change to pay for things. Second, consider bringing an empty plastic bag to store garbage. It’s difficult to find public trash bins, so you’ll probably wind up carrying empty water bottles or snack wrappers at some point.
You’ll also want to prepare for using public restrooms. Restaurants and hotels typically have high-quality and clean facilities, but some train stations and sight-seeing spots leave a lot to be desired. Some don't provide things like toilet paper, paper towels, or soap! Avoid disaster by carrying pocket tissues, a handkerchief, and hand sanitizer.
Most Japanese people study English at some point in their life, but very few use it after graduating from high school. Outside of major cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, your conversations might come down to hand gestures and simple words. To avoid communication breakdown, you might want to learn some Japanese vocabulary, carry a phrasebook, or use applications like Google Translate.
As you explore mom-and-pop shops around rural areas, you'll find using these tools might be the only way to express your wants and needs. Don't feel shy about trying even novice-level Japanese! The locals understand how hard their language is, and they'll do their best to work with you.
For some people, the most challenging part of packing is choosing the right outfits. The weather in summer and winter is pretty predictable. However, spring and autumn temperatures vary by time of day and location. Check the forecast for all of your destinations, and wear multiple layers during these times of years.
As for fashion sense, men and women in Japan tend to dress modestly with high necklines and low hemlines. You don't have to change your wardrobe, but it might help to follow the local fashion when visiting shrines and temples. Although many of these places attract travelers, they're first and foremost places of worship. Wearing unkempt or revealing clothes might seem disrespectful!
While thinking about what to bring to Japan, it’s paramount to consider how you’ll bring it. You don't want to leave anything behind, but you do want to save space for souvenirs and mementos. Well-versed travelers have all kinds of tricks, but if you need a quick solution, try putting a medium-sized suitcase inside of a large one.
Packing a medium-sized suitcase into a larger empty one helps in several ways. For example, if your luggage is over your airline's allotted weight limit, you've got a second one to use. Also, you'll have an entire bag you can fill with presents from Japan!
Reading the trick above, you might realize that you'll end up with two suitcases, a carry-on, and a day bag to haul around town. It might not seem like the most practical way to travel. However, if you plan on riding buses and trains to get around, anything bigger than a shoulder bag isn't ideal either.
Most buses and trains, including the Shinkansen, don't have a lot of storage space. Thankfully, you can use the dependable Takkyubin system to have your bags delivered. For around US $15-30, you can send your suitcases by walking into any convenience store or asking your hotel’s staff. Deliveries usually take around two to three days.
No matter how skilled of a packer you might be, you’ll want that carry-on bag. Depending on how long your flight is, you’ll need to pack a few essentials for the plane. Don’t forget to include your valuables plus a few changes of clothes in case the airline loses your suitcase!
A carry-on also makes life much more convenient while you travel between cities. You’ll be able to board trains with ease and place it on the overhead rack while you ride. If you’re planning on stopping at one station for a day trip, you can easily store it inside of a coin locker while you explore. There are so many benefits of having a little bag you don’t want to leave it behind!