two people in front of kinkakuji golden temple in kyoto, japan
Japan

Packing for Japan: what you need to know and pack

Exciting! You’re creating your packing list for Japan!

I’m excited for you, honestly – I’d like to visit Japan again. And then again. I just fell in love with the country – and the food, a lot. There’s so much we didn’t get to try!

Japan is quite a special place to go to. It’s quite its own world – there are strict rules and values. It’s just not as open and modern as many other places in the world. Therefore, it’s easy to offend people, and that’s very much not what you’d like, right?

So make sure to read up on what you should know before going to Japan. At the end of this article, I’ve listed some basics on how to dress in the country of the Rising Sun and what to watch out for. It’s not a complete list, of course, but it should help with packing for Japan.

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Packing for Japan

First things first – as in other packing lists, I’m not putting any numbers – I’m not telling you how much stuff to take. That’s a very individual thing, in my opinion. There are people who prefer to change their clothes many times in the same day, and on the other end of the spectrum are people who can go in the same t-shirt many days in a row.

And second, first I’m giving you the basics that you should take with you no matter what the season, and then – items that you should add depending on the season that you’re visiting.

Note: try to pack as light as possible, as there is not a lot of space for storing luggage on Japanese trains. Or you might want to check out luggage forwarding services. Of course, for an extra cost.

Ok, so let’s dive in!

Basics to pack when going to Japan

Essentials

The main things to take when packing for Japan are, obviously, all the travel essentials – things like documents, which includes your visa, toiletries, first aid kit etc. You can check those things out – and get a printable packing list! – in my article on things to take to all your trips.

I’ll list some of them here as well because I like repeating things. Oops.

Shoes and socks

After the essentials, the most important thing to take is comfortable walking shoes. Since there are so many amazing things to see in Japan, you will have to walk a lot. It’s not pleasant to have blisters so make sure to pack comfortable shoes!

And ones that are easy to take off as well – in many places, for example, restaurants, shrines, and temples, you’ll probably have to leave your shoes at the door.

For the shoes, I’ll even recommend a number! It’s better to take two pairs of walking shoes with you so that if one pair gets wet, you have an extra pair to wear.

I like the barefoot type of shoes because they’re very comfortable and light. Not too many of them are waterproof, though.

This brings me to the socks – I’ll talk more about them a bit further down, but since you’ll have to take your shoes off in many places, make sure that your socks don’t have holes in them or any rude writings/signs.

Clothes

I’ll cover most of the rules on how to dress in Japan at the end of this article, but basically – smart casual is your best bet.

As for the specific seasons – again, I’ll cover them in them later. But in short – it’s a good idea to pack layers. The days during spring and autumn can get quite warm and the evening – rather chilly. As for the winter, it’s warm inside and cold outside, of course, so maybe better just pack the warm winter jacket so you don’t have to struggle with taking too much stuff off.

Day pack

A small backpack where you can stow a water bottle, money, phone, the extra layers, etc. etc. is a lifesaver when you have to walk around a lot.

And, if you’re visiting Hiroshima or Nara, storing your passport somewhere far away in the backpack will help against it getting eaten, haha!

Plus, it’s much more comfortable to stow your souvenir purchases away so your hands are free for taking pictures!

Sunglasses

Whatever the season, it’s not nice to be blinded by the sun.

I know it’s typical to pack them for the summer holidays, but even in winter, the sun can get quite bright!

Japan Rail pass

The most convenient way to get around Japan is travelling by train.

Japan Rail Pass is the most cost-effective solution for long-distance rail travel in Japan, meant only for foreign tourists to the country. It pays off the best when using Shinkansen for long-distance trips. 

The pass allows unlimited travel on all JR-operated trains, except for the fastest category of Shinkansen (called Nozomi and Mizuho). It comes in a 7-, 14- or 21-days validity. You can use it even for inter-city travel for example in Tokyo.

Camera and equipment

Michal taking pictures with his canon
Taking pictures all the time, haha

Japan is such an incredible country; you’ll definitely want to take tons and tons of pictures! At least we loved it!

So make sure to check that your camera and any other gear is there when packing for Japan.

Electronics adapters

The electrical outlets in Japan are like in the USA with two flat pins (types A and B) and they have 100V AC electricity in them. So make sure you have the correct adapters for your devices with you.

Cash

Even though Japan seems like such an advanced country, many places still only accept cash.

Withdrawal fees can get quite hefty (although, some banks like Revolut allow you to withdraw some sums without a fee) so make sure to get some Japanese yens before your Japan trip.

Travel insurance

Another one of the things that are covered in my essentials packing list article, but it’s so important that I love to repeat it.

I know all of us think that nothing will ever happen to us, especially when we’re on a vacation, but that’s just simply not true. Your luggage can go missing on the way, the suitcase can get damaged (actually happened to us on the way to Japan), or you might get hurt.

It’s always a good idea to get travel insurance before your trip! And they’re generally not even that expensive. But medical care in Japan is.

So make sure to get that 20 euro insurance for your vacation! It’s better to not use it and “lose” 20 euros than not have a thousand euro bill for a medical check.

What to add to your Japan autumn packing list

Kyomizy dera temple in Kyoto in autumn folliage
Japan is breathtaking in autumn (Kyomizu Dera temple in Kyoto)

The weather in Japan in autumn is quite mild and pleasant. It’s not exactly shorts and t-shirt weather, but it is pants, t-shirts, and a light jacket weather. Of course, unless you go at the end of November like we did (yey for autumn foliage!) – in that case, it’s a good idea to have some warmer stuff with you as well just in case.

Our itinerary shows you how to see the best of Japan in 10 days!

Since it’s autumn, there is a huge chance of having rainy days so make sure you pack something waterproof when packing for Japan – a waterproof jacket or a raincoat. It’s not pleasant to be all wet.

And of course, waterproof shoes. Keeps your socks (and feet, of course) all nice and dry.

What to add to your Japan winter packing list

hakone ropeway with snowy mountains and steam from volcanoes
And it’s incredible in winter as well. (Hakone ropeway)

Since we accidentally got to enjoy Japan in winter as well, I can tell you what to pack for Japan in winter, haha!

Well, winter in Japan means snow and low temperatures, so make sure to pack accordingly. You will need a hat, gloves, a scarf, a winter jacket, and maybe even a warmer middle layer so that you’re not cold. And of course, make sure to have waterproof shoes so that your feet don’t get cold.

As I mentioned before – layering up in the winter might not be the best idea because then you have to struggle with loads of stuff when you go inside.

For me, cold weather means that my nose gets runny. If you’re similar, make sure to pack some napkins with you. And make sure to wear a medical mask if you get the sniffles – in Japan (and many other places in Asia) masks were worn before it became “cool” in the rest of the world.

What to add to your Japan summer packing list

Summer in Japan is very hot and humid, with occasional monsoon-type rains, so pack your clothes accordingly. That means, instead of jeans opt for some lighter fabric (linen is pleasant in the summer).

As for the rain, it’s nice to be prepared as well. Of course, a rain shower in the summer feels much nicer than in the autumn, but still, pack your rain jacket or a raincoat so you don’t have to walk around in wet clothes.

And of course, don’t forget the sunscreen. Burns during a vacation? What can be worse?

As for the bug spray – what can be worse than having to fight off a ton of mosquitoes? For that matter, make sure to bring some anti-itching cream as well. Just in case. 

What to add to your Japan spring packing list

  • Scarf
  • Jacket
  • Gloves
  • Layers

Aw, the cherry blossom season! Spring is one of the most popular times to visit Japan because of the beauty of Sakura in bloom. That means – there’s going to be crowds!

As for the weather, march can bring some rain showers and may is the warmest month with the temperature highs being around 23C but the lows going quite low around 10C.  

That means, bring layers. During the day a t-shirt might be enough, but in the evening it’s better to have a jacket. For me, 10 degrees mean a scarf (or a shawl wrap, which I personally prefer) as well.

Other useful things to have during your trip to Japan

  • E-book reader
  • Music app such as Spotify with a playlist downloaded
  • Japan-specific apps
  • Netflix with your favorite shows downloaded
  • Things so you can study or work

These things here are mostly for those long flights or train journeys so you have something to do.

Of course, most of the times you might be enjoying the view out of the train window. But sometimes, it’s not really that possible – for example, at night or when the rain is going like crazy.

So you will need some entertainment!

E-book reader

I used to be quite sceptical about having a specific device for reading books. Like, is it worth it? It wasn’t that bad to read my books on the phone.

But boy was I wrong!

I now carry my Kindle everywhere. It’s just so much more convenient to read on it! Much less pressure on the eyes.

Music app such as Spotify with a playlist downloaded

Take your music with you. For the downloads, you need a premium membership, but it’s quite nice to have your own music to listen to on long journeys.

Netflix/Amazon prime/other streaming service with your favourite shows downloaded

Another thing you can consider is catching up on some movies or shows! Most of the streaming services allow you to download the shows for offline watching.

Japan-specific apps

Ok, this one is not for train journeys, but just to make your Japan trip easier.

Some useful apps to have are:

  • Japan wifi auto-connect which helps you automatically connect to wifi all around Japan.
  • HyperDia for your train journeys. On this app, you can see timetables, routes, and even buy tickets.
  • Google Translate – kind of a lifesaver in a lot of situations since English is not that popular in Japan. I love the photo-translate function.
  • And, of course, Google Maps. Download the maps for offline use!

Things so you can study or work

Much less pleasant to think about than watching movies or reading books, right?

What those long Shinkansen journeys – or flights, actually – are really good for is catching up on some studying or working.

Just make sure to take everything you need with you!

How to dress in Japan

how to dress in Japan - people in miyajima
Comfortably, a bit conservatively, and in layers

In a word – conservatively. Or at least smart casual.

Of course, as a tourist, you will not be held to the same standards as locals, but still, it’s better not to offend anyone, right?

Cover up

In general, you will not see Japanese women exposing their shoulders or cleavage.

It’s generally ok to wear booty shorts, but do not have a spaghetti-strap t-shirt in your Japan packing list. It’s considered underwear there.

A simple t-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, or sweater is the best bet. Don’t forget to pack a jacket as well, though, as it tends to get chilly in the evenings, even in the summer.

No tattoos

I’ve mentioned it in other articles already, but tattoos in Japan are associated with Yakuza (mafia) and are actually not allowed in many establishments. Most notably, in onsens – even big expensive chain hotels that have onsen might deny you entry to their hot spring baths if you have a tattoo. And no, covering it up in an onsen is not an option, neither with makeup, nor clothing or Band-Aids.

And it’s not just onsen, but other swimming areas and even nightclubs that don’t allow tattoos.

So, make sure to find out in advance what are the rules regarding tattoos in the places you want to visit if you have some art on your body to not have your travel plans disturbed.

But don’t get too scared! There are many places, including temples and shrines, that do allow tattoos, though. Just find out in advance if you should cover them up or if it’s not necessary.

No sports clothes unless you’re in a gym

Were you planning to take your extra comfy leggings with you?

Well, unless you want to go to a gym, you can leave them at home.

It’s considered rude to wear sports clothes outside.

Your socks better be nice

Are my socks nice enough? haha

Many places in Japan, especially temples and shrines, but also many restaurants, will require you to leave your shoes at the door. (Yes, it’s safe to do so).

That’s because of the (very correct) belief that the outside contains dirt, so why would you want it inside?

So make sure that your socks are clean and hole-less. And probably better have matching ones on, just in case.

Your clothes shouldn’t be shabby

That means they shouldn’t be creasy, dirty, and old.

I know it’s not easy to keep them neat during travelling, though. But hotels in Japan usually have irons available – or at least a service where they press your clothes. And quite often it’s even for free!

Related: hotels in Tokyo

And your hygiene should be on point as well

It’s not just clothes that should be neat, actually. Japanese people appreciate that all of you – from head to toe – is neat, including the hair. So better be ready!

And make sure that you are clean and wearing a deodorant. Just don’t go overboard with a perfume – a little goes a long way.

Make sure you check the dress code

If you plan to go to a fancy restaurant or have an event to attend, make sure to check out that there’s no dress code.

Even high-end Japanese restaurants tend to not require formal attire, but there are loads of Western-style places that might have a black-tie dress code. So be prepared!

Luggage and packing tips for Japan

How to pack, what not to pack, what to do

Pack light

packing for Japan not a lot of storage space on trains
As this lovely phone picture shows, there’s not too much space

As I mentioned before, there’s not too much storage space for big suitcases on the trains in Japan. So make sure to pack as light as possible – there are airplane cabin bag sized storage spaces in the overhead compartments.

If you can’t manage to pack the minimum (no judgment, I’m the same, haha) consider using a luggage forwarding service. We didn’t use it, but I’ve seen it mentioned in many places with good reviews. The only problem with that is that it usually takes one or two nights to get the bags to the next destination.

Consider using packing cubes for packing your suitcase

Packing cubes are helpful for organizing your suitcase and using less space to pack more.

I still haven’t gotten around to ordering them (procrastination is awful sometimes!) but pretty much all of the nomad travel bloggers that I know and trust use them.

There are luggage storages in many places in Japan

If you have some time between the checkout in the hotel and your train that you’d like to use for, well, not sitting in the station and guarding your bag, use luggage storage.

Mostly, you’ll find them in the bigger metro or train stations.

It’s not just manned ones, but locker types as well. We used such in Kyoto.

Note: almost always you need cash for these

It’s really convenient to store your bag and just have the daypack!

Many hotels have luggage storage available as well, but unless your hotel is close to the station or the place you want to visit is close to the hotel, it might be a waste of time to use it.

Leave space for souvenirs!

Not a tip you’ll usually find on a blog, right?

But really, quite often I’ve found that I want to buy that bottle of wine (plum wine for Japan has a special place in my heart, btw) but just don’t have space where to pack it.

So make sure you have some space in the luggage.

Plus, the electronics in Japan are quite a lot cheaper than in other places.

Leave those heels at home

Generally, heels are not really worn in Japan, unless they are really low or a platform.

Keep in mind that you’re going to walk a lot – it’s much better to wear comfy shoes for that.

Pack light fabrics for your layers

a woman enjoying a footbath in a ryokan in gora, hakone
This jacket was nice and warm, but took a lot of space.

Things such as merino wool or fleece for the winter and linen or cotton for the summer. They take way less space in the suitcase.

There are laundromats in many places

If you’re worried about not having enough clothes, know that there are places where you can wash them. Some hotel rooms even come with washing machines in them!

Just make sure to pack your own washing powder or liquid.

If you need to take prescription medicine with you, make sure to check it’s allowed

You might need to apply for “Yunyu Kakunin-sho” (import certificate).

Keep in mind that certificate approval by the Japanese government may take several weeks to process and should be received before bringing the medication or medical devices to Japan.

And some medicine that is allowed in other countries might be prohibited in Japan. It doesn’t matter that you need to take it regularly – you can’t take it with you if it’s prohibited. If you try to, you might get detained.

Check for more information on everything, including the list of prohibited medication, on the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare website.

Conclusion about packing for Japan

Packing for Japan is not that much different than packing for any other place in the world, is it?

The main difference is that you should pack more conservative clothing, as that’s the norm in Japan. And it’s one of the few places in the world where they might actually care about how your socks look, haha.

I hope you found this list helpful! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments or drop me an email!


Kristine is the owner and main blogger of Wanderlust Designers. Her main goal is to show everyone that you can travel and see the world even when working full time.

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