Travel Necessities – What to Bring to Japan?

What to pack? A big question before any trip. Our guide will run you through everything you need, and everything you don't, when traveling to Japan!

Photo Credit: Do8y via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Do8y via Flickr cc

You’re on the verge of your first trip to Japan, you have no idea of what to expect, no idea what to bring and no idea what to leave behind. This is surprisingly common, but fear not, this handy guide will steer you through the packing process as painlessly as possible. 

First, you need to be aware that there are many articles which you are prohibited from bringing into Japan (Click here for more information). Don’t get caught out. 

Money

Photo Credit: Japanexperterna.se via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Japanexperterna.se via Flickr cc

How much money to bring? It is hard to state an exact amount, as this is largely dependent on your traveling style. If you are on a tight budget, you can choose to live on bread and rice balls (onigiri) from convenience stores or pre-made meal boxes from supermarkets, which can be as cheap as 100-500 yen. If you have more money to spare, you can dine in restaurants and izakayas where prices can get as high as 10,000 yen for a single meal. In terms of accommodation, you may want to check prices online prior to your trip on websites such as Booking.com, AgodaHostelworld and Airbnb. If you travel alone, staying in hostels can be a rather reasonable option, with prices starting around 1,500-3,000 yen per night. If you’re traveling in a group, you will get a better price from Airbnb. Hotels are, of course, available with prices starting from around 3,000 yen per person per night. Public transport costs are also an important expense to keep in mind, but obviously dependent on how much you plan to use it and what option you go for. In most places, value options designed with tourism in mind are available, such as the 500 yen bus pass in Kyoto or city-wide day-passes in Tokyo. In general, you can expect to spend at least 500 yen per day on transport (get a better idea by using Hyperdia). Making a rough estimation of your transport costs is a good way to help you estimate your overall budget. 

Overall, the amount of money you bring should always be based on the length of your stay and your personal needs and habits. Japan is expensive in comparison with many other countries but there are always ways to cut down on costs. Though do remember to always leave an extra amount for emergencies. 

Should you exchange money before your trip? Exchanging cash in advance will prevent you from being ripped off at the airport currency exchange counter and save you a considerable amount of time trying to find a place to exchange or withdraw money in the city, and is thus strongly advised. Japan is a safe in terms of street crime and (partly consequentially) very much a cash-based country, it being common for people to carry a lot of cash around with them at one time. Though obviously, still be careful with your cash. Also note that it is useful to keep some coins and small notes (1,000 yen or 5,000 yen) with you at all times to pay for vending machines, buses and trains. 

How easy is it to withdraw money, exchange money and use cards in Japan? Though it is possible to withdraw money and use travelers cheques, it is certainly not something you can do everywhere. You should also expect to be charged a foreign transaction fee for debit and credit card usage. Please click here for more detailed information. 

Pack light!

Photo Credit: highwaysagency via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: highwaysagency via Flickr cc

Japan has an extensive public transport system and expensive private taxis. This directly impacts how you should think about your luggage, as you’re pretty much guaranteed to have to navigate the permanently busy transport hubs with your bags in tow. If your bags are too cumbersome you are not going to have a particularly enjoyable experience when in transit. Furthermore, with plenty of interesting souvenirs on sale in Japan, you may want to save some space in your luggage for shopping. 

Pack as light as possible. Try to limit yourself to one suitcase (preferably with four wheels) or a big backpack. Usefully, Japan is extremely convenient, you can buy almost anything you neglect to bring with you at reasonable prices (think 100 yen shops). 

In case you still feel the need to bring a lot of luggage, you can utilize coin lockers, or the Yamato luggage sending service (Takuhaibin), which costs maximum 2,500 yen per bag depending on destination, size and weight. Many big stations, hotels and hotels will also offer to store your luggage for free or for a small fee. Moreover, when traveling from city to city, you may consider riding buses that have a big trunk instead of trains with limited luggage space. 

Believe me, traveling light will make your trip much more enjoyable!

Clothes

Photo Credit: Dov Harrington via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Dov Harrington via Flickr cc

Clothes and accessories are likely to take up most of your luggage space, so it is important to carefully consider what you bring.

Washing clothes in Japan: First, ask yourself this question – how often do you plan to wash your clothes? Should you plan to do laundry once a week, bring enough clothes to last for one week and bring less if you wash more often. Simple, isn’t it?

You can easily wash your clothes at hostels, hotels or public coin launderettes. All hostels and hotels in Japan offer coin operated washing machines and sometimes clothes dryers as well. If your accommodation doesn’t have a laundry service, a good option is to look for a coin laundry shop in your area. The price is approximately 100-500 yen to wash and  100-600 yen per 10-minute cycle to dry.  Keep in mind that each shop sets their own price and the size of the machine also affects the price. Regarding the detergent, it is normally provided at hotels and hostels free of charge or for a small fee. Otherwise, you can buy small packs of detergent from any convenience store. 

Buying clothes in Japan: Japan is known as a fashion paradise where you are free to express your style and personality openly. Therefore, in Japan, you can find clothes from American casuals and luxury brands to vintage and Lolita dresses. The bigger the city, the more choices you have -buy cheap clothes from Shimamura, GU, Uniqlo, H&M, Forever 21 (500-2,000 yen per item) or more expensive clothes from department stores, local shops and luxury brands (3,000 yen and up per item). 

Even though you can easily find American brands like Gap, H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle anywhere, be aware of the size differences. Japanese people, in general, have different body sizes than Westerners, so their clothes sizes tend to be much smaller. For example, M size in Japan can be S or XS in the West. Therefore, if you are tall or have a bigger body, it may be hard for you to find clothes that fit perfectly.

Seasonal clothes: Japan has four distinct seasons but the weather can be unpredictable. Please click here to check the month-by-month weather in several locations in Japan. It’s strongly advised you check the forecast for your trip regularly so you can plan accordingly. 

The summer is generally hot and humid with a rainy season from June to July. During these months, waterproof shoes are great to keep you comfortable. In the autumn, the weather is neither hot nor cold, so a few short-sleeved shirts and thin jackets may do the trick. The winter, however, is so cold that you will need proper boots, scarf and sweater to keep yourself warm. Since buildings, department stores and trains are air conditioned, you may want to layer your clothes so they’re easily removed if necessary. In spring, the weather is capricious, so bring clothes that you can layer and adapt to whatever is thrown at you. 

Clothing style: In general, Japanese people pay a lot of attention to their appearance, hence, wearing pyjamas or extremely casual clothes will definitely make you stand out. For guys, a simple T-shirt and jeans or shorts will do just fine. For girls, you want to show off your legs? That’s fine. Your cleavage? No! You’d better leave your tank tops and spaghetti straps home.  

Swimwear: Bring your swimsuit with you if you’re planning to go to the beach or water parks. Japanese swimsuits can be ridiculously expensive and the designs are very different from what you might be familiar with. You may be able to rent a swimsuit in some places but definitely not everywhere. 

Shoes:  As many restaurants, shrines, traditional guesthouses and store changing rooms require people to remove their shoes before entering, a pair of shoes that are easy to slip on and off will be the best. Untying and lacing up shoes once or twice is fine, but doing that several times a day is not fun at all! Furthermore, you will have to walk a lot in Japan so you are likely to have problems with uncomfortable shoes. Leaving your high heels home is a smart choice. 

Therapeutic sock: It is a good idea to bring therapeutic socks or buy some at the drug stores in Japan. These socks will save your feet after a long day walking.

Lingerie: This only applies to women who are going to be living in Japan for a long time. Otherwise, skip this. You may want to stock up on lingerie from your home country before coming for two reasons. The first, the design of Japanese lingerie is quite different from other countries: very girly with a lot of laces and pastel colors. That being the case, if you are not into cute lingerie, bring your own! Secondly, the sizes are quite small so you may have problems finding stuff that fits.   

Toiletries

Photo Credit: einalem via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: einalem via Flickr cc

Shampoo, conditioner, body soap: Unless you have special requirements, there is no good reason for you to bring  shampoo, conditioner or body soap to Japan; they are space-consuming, heavy and redundant and hotels and hostels in Japan never fail to provide any of these. Even if they don’t, or if you are not satisfied with the quality, you can easily purchase a travel-size set from any convenience store or buy them from supermarkets, cosmetic, and drug stores. Though it will cost you around 1,000 to 1,500 yen, you can always share with other people to reduce the cost.

Tissues: When you first come to Japan, having some tissue with you may come in handy. However, keep in mind that tissue packs can be bought anywhere in Japan and are even given out for free in many major stations as a means of promotion.  

Hand sanitizer: Unlike in the US and Canada, Japanese bathrooms normally have hand dryers instead of paper towels. If you are fearful of germs, it may be useful to bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer and handkerchief with you or simply buy them at a convenience or drug store when you arrive.  

Deodorant: There are a variety of deodorant types in Japan, though it’s advised you still bring your own! Japanese people are blessed in that most of them do not have significant body odor, resulting in fairly weak deodorants.

Body moisturizing cream: Body, hand and foot moisturizers will help your skin survive the winter in Japan or retain moisture should it need to. Some hotels or hot springs may provide these but there are no guarantees. Moisturizing creams are available for purchase in many cosmetic shops and drug stores.

Toothpaste and toothbrushes: Some people claim that Japanese toothpaste is not particularly strong, though others say that it works just fine. You may just have to figure out if it is good enough for you or not. Regardless, if you’re traveling, there is no need for you to bring theem, again, they are widley available at convenience and drug stores. If you floss, bring it with you, as it is not widely available in Japan. 

Feminine products: Pads can be found everywhere with a wide range of options so it is not necessary to bring these. However, tampons are not as common and are much harder to buy, so better to bring your own. 

Electronic Goods

Photo Credit: Alan Levine via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Alan Levine via Flickr cc

Laptops: There are many internet cafés in Japan but they are potentially confusing for the uninitiated and computer access in hotels and hostels is not guaranteed. Therefore, if you are likely to need a laptop, you should bring your own. Or, alternatively, you could consider purchasing one whilst here. Japan is a haven for electronics and gadgets, which are often sold at prices far below those in Europe or the US. Stores like Bic Camera, Yodobashi Camera and Yamada Denki Labi are the best options should you go down this route. Though laptops will come with a Japanese keyboard and operating system as standard, in popular tourist areas especially, English options may be available. 

Digital Cameras: You will surely need one to record your adventure! If you don’t have one already, you can always buy one in Japan. Japanese digital cameras are highly developed, have excellent quality and are reasonably priced. As some cameras may not have an English menu, don’t forget to check first.  

Mobile Phones and Pocket Wifi Devices: It is unlikely you’ll be able to get network signal whilst in Japan, though smartphones will be able to pick up WiFi signal. For short-term travelers, you have three choices: renting a portable WiFi device, renting a sim card or roaming (For more information, please read our articles about sim cards and pocket wifi). For those planning to stay longer in the country, there are two more options. Firstly, signing a 2-year contract with one of the major providers such as Au, Softbank or Docomo. This is the simplest option but can be pricey (at least 7,000 yen per month for smartphones). Secondly, MVNO mobile phones like Iijmio, Rakuten Mobile and B-Mobile are available for a much cheaper price but are harder to understand and tricky to set up for newcomers.

Japan Plug Adapters: The outlets in Japan have only 2 prongs, so if you have any 3-pronged electronic devices, you should bring an adapter. Furthermore, the electricity in Japan operates on 100V 50-60Hz  so your electronic gadgets may not be compatible. For more detailed information about the electricity differences, please click here. Many tourists find bringing a multi-adapter helpful for their trip in Japan, which are available in the larger electronics stores. 

Portable Battery Chargers: A battery charger is a must-have if you’re a habitual gadget user. Battery chargers are also available for purchase in all electronic stores and convenience stores for roughly 2,000-6,000 yen depending on the capacity.

Hair dryer: While most hostels and hotels in big cities provide hair dryers, hostels in smaller cities or more remote areas may not.

Books

Photo Credit: Stuart Chalmers via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Stuart Chalmers via Flickr cc

Books: Reading material in English or in other foreign languages is limited in Japan, but bringing books is going to add significant weight to your luggage. Perhaps bringing a Kindle or trying your luck once you arrive might be your best option. 

Phrasebook: As English speaking ability in Japan is patchy, a phrasebook from The Lonely Planet may turn out to be a life saver. If you want to save money, take a look at our article for some basic Japanese words and expressions, or simply download a free phrasebook or dictionary app to your smartphone!

Food

Photo Credit: Leonard Bentley via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Leonard Bentley via Flickr cc

There is absolutely no need to bring food to Japan as a tourist. With so many Japanese dishes on offer, you’re not likely to miss food from home at all! If you’re moving to Japan, you may want to bring some special seasonings or traditional foods from your country, but most things are available to buy in stores like Costco and Kaldi Farm or online. 

Keep in mind that there are certain kinds of foods that won’t be allowed past customs, such as meats, dairy products, vegetables, seeds and so on.

Medicines

Photo Credit: Jamie via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Jamie via Flickr cc

Medicines: Japanese medicines are likely to be weaker and less effective than the medicines available in your home country. Moreover, drug stores and hospitals have fixed business hours, making procuring medicine last minute or in an emergency difficult, what’s more, some drugs may not be available at all. 

Purchase all essential medicine prior to your trip and, if you should have one, it may also be a good idea to bring a prescription from your doctor as well.

Glasses and Contact Lenses: If you are here long-term, bring enough to last you the duration, because glasses and contact lenses are quite expensive in Japan and can be difficult for people who do not speak Japanese to buy. 

Be aware! Some common medicines may be considered illegal in Japan. Please read through this page on bringing prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medication into Japan. 

Drugs: No! Don’t even think about it! It is illegal and the penalties are severe. 

Other stuff

Gifts: Bringing some small gifts from your home country, they may be a good way to introduce yourself to people or make friends in Japan. Anything would do. Candy is common. 

Japan Rail Pass Exchange Voucher: If you purchased a Japan Rail Pass prior to your trip, don’t forget to bring the exchange voucher with you. If you are not sure what a Japan Rail Pass is, please click here.

Earplugs and Sleep Mask: Walls in Japan are very thin so they come highly recommended, especially for light sleepers. You can also buy them from convenience stores. 

Train Maps: Highly useful, especially for the big cities. You can also download train apps for your smartphone.  

Cosmetics: Japan is a paradise for beauty products, where you’ll find many international and Japanese brands.

Linh Duong

Hello from Compathy Magazine! I'm Linh Duong. We truly hope we can be your most trusted travel companion :)



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