Pack Light: Things You Need to Bring When Traveling Japan
Out of all the countries you will visit, Japan is probably the most formal. When packing clothes it is important to pick casual pieces that look great in any situation. Tokyo is consistently rated as the safest place to live in the world, but always be aware of your surroundings when backpacking Japan.
A note about Japan: There is a very popular myth that the Japanese are easily offended by slight things foreigners do, such as not using chopsticks properly, not slurping Ramen the proper way, and other strange things. This may be true to a small group of Japanese people, but for the most part they don’t care. They understand you are not familiar with Japanese customs and give you the benefit of the doubt; above all also be respectable.
Japan Clothing: What to Wear and How to Dress in Japan
In Japan all the locals layer, because the weather can change as the day goes on. If you are unsure how to pack layers, check out our guide here. Keep in mind that when you should include the clothes you are wearing in what you pack.
The climate in Japan varies depending on the time of year you are visiting, but for the most part your clothing will be the same. There will be snow in the north in the winter and early spring so plan to pack a winter coat. Clothing should be dark or neutral colors and always clean and as wrinkle free as possible. Jeans aren’t very common in Japan, but a nice pair of dark or indigo or black jeans are fine, as long as the don’t look like standard jeans. Having nice shoes is a must in Japan and flip flops or sandals might be seen as offensive.
Although the climate is mostly mild in Japan, you should still pack breathable and moisture wicking clothing if possible. The reason is that you will be doing a lot of walking and you don’t want sweaty socks or damp clothing to make you uncomfortable. A light pair of thermals is recommended to has as back up in case it get’s cold where you are going. The list below is based on a 46L carry on on backpack and should all fit!
- Shirts/blouses. Depending on how long you are traveling through Japan, you will need quality shirts or blouses that can be layered or worn independently. Pack three t-shirts and two long sleeve shirts. Both should look good if worn by themselves. Synthetic fabrics work best but cotton is fine.
- Pants. Consider bringing two to three pair of nice looking pants. They should be stylish and functional, allowing you to blend in while traveling. Dark slacks are the popular look in Japan but a pair of dark jeans is just as good. Consider bringing one of each. What you wear in Japan is similar to what you would wear in a city like San Francisco or New York.
- Shorts and Skirts. Shorts are not worn in Japan, at all. The exception could possibly be in a beach town, but even then most people are wearing their swim shorts to the beach, then switching into pants to visit restaurants and cafes. Shorts are fine for women if a pair of dark leggings is worn underneath them, but skirts are still the prevalent attire of women in Japan.
- Underwear. Five to eight pieces of underwear should serve you fine, but you will need to do laundry if you plan on staying more than two weeks. Instead of packing cotton consider something that can easily wash in a sink and dry in a few hours.
- Shoes. Wearing nice shoes in Japan well add a nice touch to your style. Generally we pack two pair of shoes, a pair of neutral (but still good looking) walking shoes and a pair of nice dress shoes or boots. It’s also smart to bring a pair of cheap flip flops for showers in hostels.
- Sweater. Lightweight sweaters or hoodies are great for Japan. They allow you to layer with style. Bring one lightweight and one middle weight.
- Socks. Wear moisture wicking socks while traveling japan. Five Pairs will do it.
- Jacket. Japan is all about sleek looking jackets. Leather is the most popular but dark denim works as well. Consider bringing a light windbreaker that is water resistant as well. If you plan on going north a collapsible winter coat will serve you well.
- Scarf. You’ll Definitely want one for Japan. Instead of packing one consider getting one while there as a souvenir.
- Swimsuit. Onsens (Japanese hot springs) are very popular and you will likely visit them in your travels. If you have tattoos, you may run into trouble at some bath houses. Some will simply allow you to cover them and others may turn you away.
- Hats and Beanies. Brimmed hats are very popular in Japan as are snap backs. Consider bringing a crushable hat that easily packs into your bag. A beanie is also a great idea as well.
- Going Out Clothes. All your clothes should be going out clothes, but for evenings in Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto you will want to dress extremely nice. For guys bring three nice button up shirts for formal events that are fitted and easy to layer. Two casual flannels for going out and one nice dress shirt will cut it for most restaurants and clubs. For women, rompers and dresses are super versatile with leggings.
Travel Essentials for Japan: Toiletries
Staying hygienic and smelling nice is important in Japan. The locals will avoid you like a plague if they think your are unclean due to cultural reasons. To avoid this pack a basic toiletry kit that includes the basics below.
- Toiletries kit. For a detailed list click the guide to the right.
- Medicine and vitamins. Have any medical conditions translated into Japanese as well as food allergies.
- First-aid kit.
- Small towel/washcloth. A dark travel towel and wash cloth will be needed if you are staying in hostels.
- Hairdryer, Curling Iron, Straightener. (Optional)
- Cologne/perfume. Smelling good is never a negative.
- Condoms. Japan is an ultra modern country but they are a bit behind when it comes to provocativeness. Bring these from home as they may be hard to find.
- Tampons/Feminine Hygiene.
- Wet Wipes/Moist Towelettes. We love these things for long travel but hate the effect they have on the environment. Dispose of them in the trash and not the toilet.
Travel Necessities and Essentials When Packing for Japan
These accessories will help you out on your trip and should be in every travelers kit. They are convenient travel items that will allow you stay organized, travel easier, and overcome unseen obstacles that come up as you travel. If you plan on traveling to other cities besides Tokyo, consider investing in a JR Pass before you arrive. It’s also a great idea to rent a portable wifi, this makes traveling around Japan extremely easy when paired with Google Maps.
- Small day pack. These small collapsible packs allow you to pack an extra sweater, water bottle, and camera for touring cities like Tokyo, Osaka, or Nara.
- Stuff Sacks. They will keep your dirty and wet clothes separate from your clean ones.
- Water bottle and Water Purifying. The water in Japan is good but you will save money by packing your own bottle and filling it up.
- Headlamp. It can get dark in some of the capsule hotels and hostels so having a headlamp is great to if you need to get something out of your bag and can’t see. Also great for night hikes.
- Inflatable neck pillow and earplugs. Great for those long flights and train rides across the country.
- Tiny locks. Tiny locks will deter thieves and better secure your equipment. Japan itself is pretty safe however it’s generally other travelers who take your stuff.
- Sewing kit. For snags and breaks.
- Duct tape and zip ties.
- A good book. Specifically one by a famous author about the country you are visiting. “Almost Transparent Blue” by Ryu Murakami is an excellent book. Also try out some Manga (Japanese comic book) while you’re there. Even if it’s not your thing, it is a staple in Japanese culture and will give you greater insight.
- Seal-able plastic bags.
- Bandanna. These are great for handkerchiefs and hiking.
- Pasmo Card. You will pick this up when you get to Japan. It allows you to travel on the subway system and buy drinks and snacks from an array of awesome vending machines.
- Japanese Rail Pass. The cost to take a train from Tokyo to Kyoto one way is about the same cost as a one week JR pass for tourists. We suggest picking one up.
What to Take for Touring Japan: Extras
These miscellaneous travel accessories are more focused on convenience and comfort. You may decide you want to forgo them, only to realize when you’re stuck on a 20 hour flight you wish you brought that neck pillow, or when your clothes are soaked and smell and you wonder why you didn’t invest in some stuff sacks. Packing for travel is all about being low maintenance and comfortable, so why suffer when you don’t have to? Below are great travel items that you should in everyone’s backpack.
Tips on How to Carry Documents and Money Traveling Around Japan
Japan is relatively safe but you should still secure your documents and protect yourself. Ensure to bring the below items.
- Money belt. Hides your cards and yen from thieves.
- Money. Yen is the currency here so carry a lot.
- Documents. It’s a good idea to make copies of your passport in case you need them to rent or use something in Japan
- Travel Insurance. Japan is super safe, but we still recommend travel insurance to protect yourself. World Nomads is who we use because they are affordable and always have our back..
- Maps and Guides.
Packing Tips for Backpacking Japan: Electronics
Japan is a technology rich country, and carrying a laptop, smartphone, or tablet is not really a big deal. In fact, Japan is a very wifi rich country, and it’s easy to find hot spots everywhere. In fact, all the vending machines you’ll see around town are free wifi hot spots. These items are totally optional and may take up needed space in your pack.
- Smartphone/mobile phone. Pairing a smartphone with a pocket wifi in Japan is just smart. It will allow you to get around on the trains with ease and there are apps that translate Kanji.
- Pocket Wifi. You rent them for however long you need them, sync up your electronics to them, and off you go. This is especially great for navigating as Google Maps is extremely accurate at predicting train times and navigating you around.
- Digital camera.
- Tablet. (Optional)
- Laptop. (Optional) If you need to do work in Tokyo these are great.
- Plug adapter(s). They use type A and B outlets in Japan. It’s best to pick up an international converter.
Japan Packing Checklist Summary
Japan is a very formal country, so pack clothing that is business casual or higher fashion. Be respectful but don’t worry too much about offending the Japanese people, for the most part they understand you are a tourist and don’t care. Follow the list above and you’ll have no problems adventuring around. For more information on traveling Japan check out check this out.