UPDATE: Japan is considering opening its borders for foreign tourists in April 2021 on a trial basis as a preparation for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next year. However this has yet to be confirmed by the government. For latest Coronavirus (COVID-19) advisory information for Japan travel, please visit the official website of Japan National Tourism Organization or JNTO.

What to Really Pack for Japan: The Complete Travel Checklist


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You will see many general advice online on what to pack for Japan travel, from overstuffed high fashion wardrobe to minimalist capsule wardrobe. But two things will dictate what you will pack for your trip to Japan at the most basic level: Where in Japan you are traveling and the weather you’d expect during your stay. Once you figure it out, it will make packing lighter and much more manageable.

Another essential point to consider is to expect rain at any time of the year when traveling in Japan, except in the northernmost in Hokkaido. We recommend visiting the Japan Meteorological Agency website at https://www.jma.go.jp/en/yoho/ for detailed daily weather forecasts and recent earthquake information.

What Should You Wear And Not Wear In Japan?

Some prefer not to look like a tourist in Japan and instead try to blend in. That is, at least as much as a foreigner can in a nearly homogeneous society. We often see foreign backpackers wearing clothes that look ready to go trekking through the Amazon jungle. Cargo pants, heavy backpacking boots, and a fanny pack while sightseeing in Ginza’s modern and high-class fashion street. Now, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just that you’re going to look a bit out of place. Leave your flip flops at home as they are considered very unstylish and underdressed by Japanese people unless you are going to the beach. However, in a somewhat weird contradiction, Crocs or foam clogs are considered perfectly acceptable.

Japanese women prefer to wear skirts and heels far more than their western counterparts regardless of the weather but are more conservative when it comes to tops. They wear more revealing bottoms in shorts and high skirts, along with a long-sleeved high neckline blouse. So for women, avoid wearing spaghetti straps or blouses, or shirts with a plunging neckline. Some may tell you it’s okay since you are a foreign tourist, but you will be treated with respect by Japanese people around you if you dress appropriately. You’re also unlikely to see many Japanese men walking around in shorts outside of the beach here. For men, wear a blazer or jacket when going to a restaurant or nightclub, especially if you plan to go to a fine dining restaurant or an upscale omakase sushi bar. Avoid wearing all black. It’s strongly associated with funerals.

How To Pack Light

Spring and autumn in Japan have unpredictable weather and vary from day-to-day. If you are traveling in early March, you will still feel freezing, especially in the morning. So take a versatile jacket such as an interchangeable waterproof jacket with a removable liner that’s usually a fleece. These jacket types are commonly called as 3-in-1.

Below are some tips to save space and weight in your luggage:

  1. Leave your chunky or heavyweight sweaters or scarves at home. Cashmere sweaters and pashmina scarves are great alternatives. They’re incredibly lightweight and thin for the level of warmth it provides.
  2. Pack a couple of lightweight travel pants instead of jeans, preferably black for versatility.
  3. Pack your clothes using the roll-up method and load them into packing cubes. Packing cubes keep your clothes compact and organized, which allows for more luggage space.

How To Travel Hands-Free in Japan

Most hotels in Japan have a check-in time of 3-4 p.m. If it’s an Airbnb or budget accommodation, they will often not allow you to store your bags. So you have three options to avoid walking around with all your luggage:

  • Luggage forwarding service. If you can’t pack light and have several pieces of luggage, you’re in luck. You can have your luggage delivered from the airport to your hotel, the same-day. Every airport in Japan has a luggage forwarding service or TA-Q-BIN, as the Japanese call it. Just look for the red sign, “Hand-Free Travel,” as they are the ones that will deliver the same day. Make sure the luggage being forwarded doesn’t have the items you need for traveling. The cost varies between ¥1,000-¥3,000 per bag, depending on the size and weight.
  • Coin lockers. Coin lockers are everywhere in Japan but can always be found at train stations. They come in small (¥300), medium (¥400), and large size (¥500-¥800), though the per-day prices may vary.
  • Luggage storage service. Another option is to leave your luggage at the Voyagin Office in Shibuya. There’s no size restriction. Their prices may change, and if it’s during the off-season, it can drop to ¥500 per day, so make sure to check the current price here.

5 Essentials You’ll Need For Your Trip To Japan

There are specific instances that are somewhat unique to Japan that you’ll undoubtedly encounter. Above all, pack light and bring the most comfortable pair of slip-on walking shoes. You’ll understand more later as we progress, so let’s take a closer look.

  1. The right luggage. A backpack or a duffel is the best luggage for travel in Japan. You can easily carry it up and down the stairs and at train and bus stations. Backpacks are preferred because you are going to encounter a lot of stairs in Japan. But if you need wheels to save your back, it’s best to get a wheeled backpack. Japanese trains and buses don’t have much space for large pieces of luggage, so if you have a backpack, please take it off when boarding and place it between your feet or on the overhead storage rack. An enormous suitcase will also take up a lot of precious space in your hotel rooms, which are small compared to western hotels. So pack light! Only take one piece of check-in luggage and a carry-on for your items. We have a guide to help you pick the best bags for you here.
  2. A pair of comfortable shoes. When traveling in Japan, you’re going to walk a lot! Take your most comfortable pair of casual shoes for sightseeing, preferably with memory foam. They are beneficial in relieving pain and soreness. If you are traveling during the spring and summer seasons, take a waterproof pair. Many places in Japan also require you to take your shoes off, such as genkans (the entrance of a home), izakayas (Japanese bars), restaurants, ryokan (traditional Japanese inns), and temples. Slip-on shoes or simple-laced shoes will serve you well in these situations, so make sure your socks don’t have holes in them. Our favorite casual shoes are from the Skechers Go Walk series, which are slip-on sneakers. Many tourists who traveled to Japan swore by the Skechers brand as well. If you plan to go to a fine dining restaurant, take your dress shoes as well.
  3. A portable hotspot device or data SIM card. We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have a reliable internet connection while traveling in Japan. If you haven’t reserved a portable hotspot device, book it here. If you’re traveling solo and short-term, it’s cheaper to get a data SIM card.
  4. Cash. Despite being a very high-tech nation, Japan still relies heavily on cash for many transactions. Exchanging your currency for Japanese yen money in your home country is unnecessary because withdrawing cash from ATMs in Japan gives you a better rate. After getting your luggage and getting through customs at the airport, make sure to pull out money from the nearest ATM. You can also withdraw cash from any Japan Post ATMs and ATMs in convenience stores such as Lawson, 7-11, Ministop, and Family Mart.
  5. IC card. Buying a reloadable prepaid IC card will make your travel in Japan so much easier and convenient. The primary purpose of IC cards is to avoid getting tickets from a ticket machine every time you ride a train so you can simply swipe and go. You can also use it to pay for buses and taxis and even pay for most vending machines and convenience stores. You can purchase either a PASMO or Suica IC card from any central train station. The initial cost is ¥2,000, including a ¥500 card creation fee and the ¥1,500 for use and you can charge it at any train stations. The ¥500 will be refunded to you if you give the card back at a JR office when your trip ends.

Travel Documents Checklist

  • A valid passport and visa. Check your passport if it’s valid for at least 6-months and has a couple of blank pages. You should check with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan website if your nationality requires a Japan visa.
  • Travel insurance. COVID-19 has created a new normal for travelers, and in many countries, they make travel insurance with COVID-19 coverage mandatory. Before the pandemic, my US friends have used and recommended RoamRight. But in these changing times, it’s best to speak with your local travel agent to see which travel insurance provides COVID-19 coverage.
  • Flight tickets. If you’re planning on showing your flight tickets through your mobile, make sure you have downloaded a copy on your phone.
  • Hotel or Airbnb reservations. If you’re riding a taxi, it’s good to have your hotel’s address in Japanese. It’s also important to remember the nearest train station to your hotel so you’ll know where to go upon landing. Lastly, depending on where you’re coming from, having a hotel reservation could make your immigration time a bit smoother.
  • Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass). If you are traveling extensively in Japan for 7, 14, or 21 days, consider buying a JR Pass online. You can only buy the JR Pass outside Japan and through an authorized online distributor. To activate and use it, you need to exchange your email voucher at a JR office at the airport or main train stations. To learn more about JR Pass and whether it’s for you or not, click here.
  • Airport to hotel transfer reservation. If you don’t have the JR Pass, book your transfer from the airport to your hotel. Not only will it save you time and money, but it’ll make your arrival easy and hassle-free. It’s more comfortable and convenient to take a shuttle transfer from the airport rather than train based on our experience. These shuttles will drop you off directly at your hotel or a train station near your hotel.
  • Debit cards and credit cards. To save money, bring a credit card that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees. And a debit card that reimburses international ATM fees. Make sure to contact your bank about your travel plans to avoid disruptions with your card.
  • Passport and credit card photocopies. In case of emergencies like losing your passport or credit cards, it’s good to have copies of your passports and credit cards in your email or on your phone. All you have to do is take a picture of your passport’s bio page and your credit card’s front and back photos using your phone. Do this for your entire family traveling as well.
  • Confirmation tickets in Japan. If you book tours or activities, make sure to save the confirmation email on your phone or have it printed out if required by the travel agency. In Tokyo, we highly recommend booking a Mt. Fuji day tour, local food tours, tickets to Ghibli Museum, or Grand Sumo Tournament. If you’re visiting Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, it’s essential to book your tickets online as they sell out quickly at the gate.
  • International Drivers Permit. If you plan to rent a car or go-karting, you need an International Drivers Permit or a Japanese driver’s license to drive in Japan.

Gadgets and Electronics

  • Electronics. Tablets, mobiles, laptops, cameras, etc., do not check these in. Get a carry-on bag that is big enough for your electronics but still within your airline’s requirement. Check out a list of international flight-approved carry-on bags here or consider an underseat luggage.
  • e-Reader. Carrying books will only increase the weight of your luggage. An e-Reader such as a Kindle would allow you to read your favorite books. That’s if you find the time too!
  • Chargers.
  • Power plug adapter. Japan uses Type A and Type B plugs and sockets, just like in the U.S. and Canada. If you’re not from North America, get a universal power adapter, preferably with Type A & B sockets, we recommend this one.

Medications

  • Vitamins and supplements. If you have one.
  • Jet lag remedies. These jet lag relief pills are beneficial if you’re coming from a different time zone.
  • Prescription medications. Some common prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs in the United States are illegal in Japan. Notable decongestants such as Sudafed and stimulants such as Adderall are illegal. It does not matter if you have a valid U.S. prescription for a medicine/drug illegal in Japan: if you bring it with you, you risk arrest and detention by the Japanese authorities. For more information, ​click here​.

Personal Items and Toiletries

I’ll leave this up to you since each individual varies. If you have a preferred choice of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant, etc., it is best to bring it with you. It is not likely that you would find the same brand in Japan. It may also be challenging to find similar products because the ingredients are in Japanese. For liquids, pack them into squeezable TSA-approved leak-proof travel containers like this one.

Long-Haul Flight Essentials

  • Packable travel pillow. Check out this best-selling packable travel pillow here.
  • Noise-canceling headphones or earphones. For added comfort, you can get a pair of noise-canceling headphones like this.
  • Lip balm. I find the travel-sized petroleum jelly works best than Chapsticks.
  • Effective hand sanitizers. Bring a travel size one.

Optional Items But Recommended

  • Coin purse. You can easily find these in 100 yen stores in Japan, but if you already have one, bring it with you as you will get a lot of coin change.
  • Power bank. Your mobile phones are going to be running throughout the day because of continuous connectivity. Power banks are expensive in Japan and only provide a small mAh capacity, so get it from your home country. Our favorite power bank is this one. You may also consider the newer model with an enormous mAh capacity.
  • Collapsible water bottle. Tap water in Japan is safe to drink, and you can find drinking fountains pretty much everywhere. Taking them with you is not only good for the environment, but you will save you a ton of money during your sightseeing journey in Japan. Collapsible water bottles are affordable in Walmart and Amazon.
  • A spare packable bag. To avoid buying additional luggage while in Japan, which can be expensive, make sure to pack a spare bag. Souvenirs, Japanese instant noodles, milk tea, weird Kit Kat favors, and chuhai — if you fall in love with Japan’s flavors or culture, you will need extra storage space! To view our recommended duffle bags, click here.

What Not To Bring To Japan

  • Meat products, plants, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Firearms and pocket knives.
  • Illegal drugs and narcotics. For more information, click here.
  • Umbrella. These are very cheap to get in convenience stores in Japan.

RELATED READ:

Last Minute Essentials for Your Trip to Japan

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2 thoughts on “What to Really Pack for Japan: The Complete Travel Checklist”

  1. I recommend water bottle too! Preferably, the one that’s packable and with filtration to improve taste. I got mine from an outdoor store. We saved a lot of money in Japan!!

    Reply

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