Traveling is probably one of the most beneficial experiences you'll ever have in life. Packing on the other hand is the complete opposite, and you'll probably have less hair afterwards.
If you’re expecting to fly to Japan, planning to book a trip there any time soon, or merely reminiscing about the time when you finally can after this global pandemic, exactly what are you going to pack? Japan is generally an easy and convenient destination to travel to, but from my experience, you can never be too prepared.
Traveling Light In Japan
I don’t know about you but I have a tough time traveling light – I mean, how can you pack only five shirts? Especially when it comes to Japan, a country with unpredictable weather regardless of the season, you’re naturally going to want to be extra prepared.
No matter how tempted you are to do that, try not to. The best possible thing to do when traveling to Japan is to travel as light as possible. Leave those heavyweight sweaters and coats – trade them out for cashmere and pashmina as they’re more lightweight and thin. So not only are you cutting down baggage allowance but also luggage space for extra shopping!
If you’re traveling to Japan in any other season than summer, the temperature does drop at night so you definitely want to bring outerwear with you. My suggestion is to have the 3-in-1 detachable fleece type of jacket where you can use it as a waterproof jacket or one to keep you warm.
Keep all your clothes and other accessories neatly packed in packing cubes. Not only are these going to organize that luggage space and keep everything compact but also limit you on the amount of stuff you’re going to bring.
Depending on your flight and the hotel you’re staying at, you might find yourself having a few hours to spare before you can dump your suitcases at your accommodation. Don’t panic and definitely don’t go around with your luggage. Japan has all of that thought out for you.
From the airport itself, you can have your luggage sent to your hotel directly and on the same day. This luggage forwarding service, known as the TA-Q-BIN by the locals, is easily spotted by the red sign “Hand Free Travel” at the airport. Generally, it’ll cost you about ¥1,000 to ¥3,000 depending on the size and weight of your luggage.
Alternatively, you could store your luggage in coin lockers that are available at almost every station – at least in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka. You can leave your luggage in these coin lockers for the whole day for about ¥300 to ¥800 – again, this depends on the size of your luggage and which size of the locker can accommodate that.
There are services that store your luggage for you, like Voyagin Office in Shibuya. Prices can be as low as ¥500 per day. Alternatively, you could drop off your luggage at the hotel reception – most hotels are able to store your luggage for you until your check-in time. If you’re staying at an Airbnb or someplace similar, then there’s a chance you’re not able to do that.
Travel Document Checklist
Before we get into the things that you need to pack specifically for Japan, let’s have a look at the general travel document checklist. This is basically what you already need to have on any travel.
1. A valid passport and visa: you can’t travel without a passport. Your passport has to be valid for at least 6 months with a couple of blank pages. Additionally, for some nationalities who aren’t eligible to get a visa at the time of landing, you would need to apply for a visa in advance.
2. Travel insurance: the global pandemic has set a new normal for all of us, which makes travel insurance even more important than normal. There are tons out there offering various conditions. Generally, travel insurance covers lost baggage, injury, medical attention while traveling, cancellation, and more.
3. Flight tickets: If you’ve started packing before booking your flight tickets, book them now! You don’t have to print them out, usually, but it’s always good to have a copy on your phone.
4. Accommodation reservation: Where are you going to stay when you’re in Japan? When booking accommodation, consider the convenience in location, area, and accessibility. If you’re staying in an Airbnb type of place and you’re expecting to have a few suitcases with you, check if the building has an elevator.
5. Transport reservation: When I say transport, I meant the transfer from the hotel to the airport and vice versa. If you’re okay with taking public transport to and from the airport, then you don’t need to make a reservation. Otherwise, making a reservation in advance for a taxi or shuttle bus is recommended.
6. International driver’s permit: If you think you want to rent a car or go go-karting in Japan, then be sure to apply in advance in your home country before flying.
9 Things To Pack When Traveling To Japan
Now that we’ve got the basics covered, let’s take a look at the specific items to pack when traveling to Japan. It happens to us all – if not most of us – that we’re certain we’ve packed everything but it turns out that there was stuff that we missed.
When traveling to Japan, there are a few things to take into account that you wouldn't immediately think of - like how the voltage in powers sockets aren't the same. Here are 9 things you should definitely not forget to pack in your luggage.
1. Plug Adapter or Power Converter
As I’ve mentioned before, the voltage in Japan is different – it’s 100 volts here. If you’re coming from North America, most of your appliances would be able to work here. However, if you’re coming from Europe and other parts of Asia where the voltage of the country is 230 volts, there’s a chance you’re going to need a power converter.
On top of that, the socket in Japan is different – it’s the 2-pinned polarized outlets where one of the slots is different from the other. If your home country uses 3-pinned plugs, make sure to bring with you a few plug adapters.
What I do is bring a power extension cord and just one plug adapter, so I have all my appliances plugged into the extension cord and have the plug adapter fixed onto that.
One more thing: keep in mind that Dyson appliances, specifically, cannot work in Japan.
2. Travel SIM or Portable WiFi
In this modern-day, being connected doesn’t mean phone calls and writing letters – it’s the Internet. Sometimes we take our convenience of accessibility back home and forget about these things when traveling. Don’t forget to purchase a travel SIM card or reserve a portable WiFi beforehand so that when you arrive at the airport, you can be connected right away.
Some might argue that WiFi is available all throughout the major cities like Tokyo and Osaka – while that’s true, these WiFi hotspots are often slow and untrustworthy. If you’re planning to navigate your way around the city and use Google Maps quite often, it’s best to have connection everywhere you go.
What’s more is that many rural areas in Japan won’t have this accessibility to WiFi – do you want to try your luck?
At major airports, you can still buy travel SIM cards and rent portable WiFis, but keep in mind that the prices will be jacked up as compared to getting them in advance.
3. Cash & Credit Card
Trust me, you’ll shop quite a lot in Japan. You don’t think that you will but when you see a cute keychain and then a souvenir T-shirt, and then a few sake cups for cheap, you’ll soon realize that your souvenir purchases are stacking up while the stack of notes in your wallet is getting slimmer.
Convert some yen back home first – the exchange rates would be way better than if you’re going to do it in Japan itself. I would exchange way more than I expect and then keep the rest for my next trip.
Alternatively, you could bring both yen and your home currency, just in case. Depending on where you come from, it might be difficult to find a currency exchange that takes your currency. If you have US Dollars, British Pounds, or European Euros, you’re probably fine.
4. Shopping Bag
Speaking of souvenir shopping, bring a foldable shopping bag that’s light and easy to carry around. Since July 2020, Japan has been charging for plastic bags to reduce their plastic usage. Why not contribute and play your part by bringing your own bag when you shop?
That isn’t the only reason you should bring your own – imagine carrying tons of small plastic and paper bags around when you can just have one big foldable shopping bag as you go around the city. You’ll be cutting down on plastic usage and doing your part in Japan's fight against plastic waste.
5. Comfy Footwear
I have to warn you: there will be a lot of walking in Japan. It’s true that the train and bus systems in the big cities are convenient, but they’re not going to get you everywhere.
Because of that, I highly recommend bringing some comfortable footwear. The streets of Japan aren’t all that smooth either – you’re going to be walking on bumps, humps, going uphills, downhills, and literally by the sides of the roads where there are no sidewalks.
Sure, you can walk in heels the whole day, but you’re going to be sore for sure. If you’re planning to have a night out, maybe have some slippers in your bag in case you want to switch out of those stilettos into comfy footwear – I do this loads of times.
6. Appropriate Clothing
Remember when I said that Japan has quite unpredictable weather? Yup, every season is pretty unpredictable. The summer can get brutally hot and humid while the winter can get extremely cold, dry, and windy. Be sure to do your research on the weather for the dates you’re traveling to Japan.
Drug stores are everywhere in Japan, but trying to navigate around to get the medicine that you’re looking for will definitely take a huge chunk out of your already limited time. Bring any and all sorts of medication you think you would need – painkillers, flu, cough, headaches, stomachaches, diarrhea, and hay fever are just some of the common ones you should keep in mind. Just be sure to check our guide on what medication you can bring to Japan here.
If you’re prone to jet lag, it’s good to have that packed as well. Your first few days in Japan won’t be so fun when you’re struggling to stay awake and not feeling the best.
8. Appropriate Apps
If you’re traveling to big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, chances are you’re going to be fine without knowing any Japanese. If you’re planning to travel to other parts of the country, you might find yourself struggling a bit.
Even if you don’t have any knowledge of the language, you should still prepare in advance – to do that, download all the necessary apps like Google Translate or dictionary apps like Imiwa. These apps are sure to ease your journey so much more.
Other apps to download include taxi apps like JapanTaxi – Uber in Japan is not really big, so you would need to go through some other local-only apps.
9. JR Pass or IC Cards
This is not really much about packing in advance, but more about making sure you have in mind for your travels to Japan. Transportation is crucial in any country, so make sure you have the appropriate cards and tickets to get on them.
In Japan, you can get around using IC Cards like Suica, Icoca, and Pasmo. You can use them on trains and buses – you can even pay for stuff at convenience stores and other shops.
Depending on how long you’re traveling in Japan and where you plan to go, you might want to get the JR Pass. This will cut you a lot of costs, especially if you’re traveling to more than one city.
3 Things Not To Pack When Traveling To Japan
So now we know what to pack, what about what not to pack? There are a few things that you should keep in mind when planning your trip to Japan. Here are the three things you should take out of your luggage right now if you have them!
First of all, toiletries. I know, I know, you might be thinking, “What? That’s the first thing I pack!”. Whatever makeup, sanitary items, and skincare stuff you'll need, pack them. However, remember that you want to free up your luggage space and allowance as much as you can for all your shopping.
Leave out the shampoo, conditioner and body wash – almost all hotels and other accommodations in Japan provide them. Toothbrushes as well are provided, but if your accommodation does not, ¥100 shops like Daiso and Seria have them for ¥100!
Literally, anything that you can cut out from your luggage, you can buy for cheap in Japan and then bin it afterward.
2. Revealing Clothing
A thing to note about Japan is that they’re all about modesty and being conservative. Visiting holy places like temples and shrines in a tank top is highly not recommended. As much as you can, leave the mini skirts and spaghetti strap tops out of your luggage.
The perception of this has been changing, especially in the capital city of Tokyo. You do see tons of ladies walking around with sleeveless tops and shorts, especially in summer. So it’s not a strict no, but let’s all be respectful when it comes to visiting sacred grounds by covering up with a scarf or jacket.
While the weather can get unpredictable, don’t bring your umbrella. Leave it at home and just buy one here. Remember, it’s all about cutting down as much stuff as you can to make space for the stuff you’re going to buy.
The bottom line is, when it comes to packing for Japan, you need to keep in mind the weather, the day-to-day events, and the local manners. But hey, you’ve read till the end, so you’re all set to start chucking in some season-appropriate clothing and travel adapters into your suitcases. And anyway, what you do forget to bring, you can just buy at ¥100 shops!