So, your trip to Japan is booked. Your passports are up to date, you’ve learned the basics of the culture and a few key words. The time has come to pack your bags. While the cities are about as cosmopolitan as you can get, there are still a few things to keep in mind as you pack that can make your trip much smoother. When it comes to what to pack for Japan, make sure you’ve got these key items covered, so you don’t find yourself shopping for these things that you easily could have brought from home or reserved ahead of time. Save that money (and a little suitcase space) for some incredible souvenirs!
13 Crucial Things to Prep and Pack for Japan
With Japan’s incredibly efficient public transit system, there’s absolutely no need to have a car in town. While utilizing the rails, you’ll be doing quite a bit of walking, so comfortable, stylish shoes are a must. With the culture in Japan dictating that you don’t wear your shoes inside many places, you’ll be in and out of them quite frequently. Be sure that your comfortable shoes are easy to get on and off, so you’re not left fumbling with them. Slip ons are ideal – I favor the Vans Classic Slip-On for a casual look and the quintessential travel shoe, the virtually indestructible and extremely versatile Turkish Sabah. You’ll almost always find both of these in my suitcase.
I always recommend travel insurance, especially if you’re doing any adventurous activities at your destination. Heading out to hike in the hills? Skiing in Nagano or Hokkaido? Make sure you’re covered in case something happens. I’ve had great experiences with World Nomads on several trips, but whoever you decide to go with, double check the coverage details and make certain your planned activity is covered, and adventure with confidence!
This is not something to necessarily pack for Japan, but it’s something to make arrangements for ahead of time. Navigating the rail system, especially in the unimaginably massive city of Tokyo, can be completely overwhelming. Google Maps will be your best friend for getting around. Put in your destination, and it’ll tell you what station to head to, which line to take, where to transfer, etc. Doing this, however, requires cellular or wi-fi access.
Pocket Wi-fi units are super common in Japan, and are often offered as a perk of various AirBnB accommodations. Be sure to check to see if it’s an amenity available where you’re staying, and if not, reserve one with a company like Ninja Wifi, where you can pick it up right at the airport on arrival.
While using your phone to help you navigate your way around Japan, and snapping loads of pictures, chances are, you’re going to run out of power, and trust me when I say that you do NOT want to lose access to that Google Map navigation. Throw a power bank like the Anker 10,000 mAH Power Bank in your bag, which has enough power to fully charge an iPhone about three times, and always have plenty of juice to get you home safely.
The weather in Japan can vary widely from morning to night, with it being quite damp and chilly in the morning (or downright cold in the winter) to significantly warmer during the peak of the day. As you pack for Japan, be sure to bring layers that you can add and take off during the day to stay comfortable, no matter what the weather throws at you.
Japan is, essentially, a country made up of islands, so needless to say, rain happens. You’re definitely going to want to be prepared with either an umbrella or a raincoat. A packable raincoat is awesome, but if you’re there in the spring or fall, consider a lined raincoat like this classic yellow one from Joules that can serve as both a light jacket and a raincoat.
For umbrellas, you can get a sturdy, clear straight umbrella just about anywhere in the country. They might be too large to bring home, though, so if you’re looking for something packable, check out my go-to umbrella that won’t break the bank (mine is going on 3 years of fairly heavy use and counting…).
Space in most of Japan is tight. You’re not going to want to have your biggest suitcase with you, (especially if you find yourself staying in one of Japan’s famous capsule hotels for a night or two), so the more multi-use clothing you can bring, the better. I’m a fan of having a few key super versatile, high-quality travel staples that can serve you well no matter where you go and which culture you find yourself in.
My personal favorites are the Mountain Hardware Dynama Pants. These are technically rock-climbing pants, so they have GREAT stretch, but look like a tailored pair of pants, completely appropriate for the office.
While we may have visions of the famous Harijuku girls, or the colorful classic Kimono when we think about Japanese clothing, the reality is, almost everyone is wearing shades of black and gray. Even the high-fashion “mode” style is comprised of mostly black and other dark colors. If not sticking out like a sore thumb as a tourist is important to you, pack your dark neutrals.
Japan is home to some of the absolute best cuisine in the world, and while the food and water is safe here, a sudden mix of new meats and fish can definitely upset your stomach. A few charcoal tabs in your bag can ensure that you’re back on your feet and tasting more delicious new things in no time! In fact, I strongly recommend just making these a part of your standard travel kit.
I’m a HUGE fan of a good travel scarf. It’s a bit of a Swiss Army Knife in my travel kit. It helps keep you warm when it’s chilly and covers your shoulders in places you’d like to be more conservatively dressed like temples. It also serves as a makeshift blanket for the plane if you get a little too cold, and covers all of those rumpled clothes from a long-haul flight. Some, like this one from Amazon, even offer SPF protection, so you can throw it over your skin if you find yourself in the sun without SPF.
Long before COVID-19, face masks were a common sighting in and around Japan. It’s common for the locals to wear masks when they’re sick, or if there’s a sickness going around, or if they just didn’t want to wear makeup or show their face that day. Japanese culture is built around a consideration for others, so doing your part to not get others sick is expected. Pack a few face masks with you and pop one on when you’re in crowded public spaces like trains if you catch the sniffles.
Japan’s outlets put out 120 volts and utilizes a 2-prong plug, so if you’re coming from North America, your devices should be just fine in Japanese plugs. The only exception to this is if you have any plugs that require that third “grounding” prong. You’ll need to bring along a travel adapter. If you’re from Europe or elsewhere in the world, chances are, your outlets put out 220 volts, and you’ll need a step-down converter as well as a plug adapter. For more details, check out my full rundown on power converters and travel adapters here, so you’ll know exactly what you need to pack for Japan.
Japan, especially in the cities, ESPECIALLY in the transit system, is crowded. A suitcase you have to drag behind you increases the actual floor space that you take up pretty significantly, and when you’re weaving through the mayhem that is Shinjuku station, you do not want to need more space than necessary.
I’ve made the mistake of having two big bags on a trip to snowboard in Nagano, and between the two bags and me, it was a nightmare trying to navigate through the trains and streets. Trust me on this one, if you don’t have one yet and it fits in your budget, pick yourself up a great spinner suitcase. You won’t be sorry you did.
The Travelpro Crew line is well priced and will last you an eternity (there’s a reason that just about every member of cabin crew uses Travelpro luggage). If you’d like the true gold standard for luggage, check out Rimowa for a suitcase that is equal parts lifetime purchase and status symbol, and for something stylish, lightweight and hard-sided, Away suitcases are hard to beat!
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