Planning your trip to Japan | Part 4 – What to pack (and not to pack)

This post is Part 4 of the Series: Planning your trip to Japan focusing on what items should you definitely pack, what you can avoid to travel light, and what you should buy once you are in Japan.

Click on below links to read other parts of the series (opens in new tab).
Part 1: When to visit and how to travel
Part 2: Where to stay and what to see
Part 3: What to eat in Japan
Part 4: What to pack (and not to pack)
Part 5: Twelve cultural must-knows

Your packing list will have to be customized based on the time of the year you intend to travel in Japan. Check out my post I wrote a while back on “25 checklist items for a stress-free travel“. I would highly recommend to travel light in Japan especially if you are exploring several cities and towns in Japan – I carried a small backpack and a cabin-sized suitcase for a 3 week trip. There are luggage forwarding services available between cities which I have heard are quite good, but taking a small luggage with you gives so much flexibility for commute (Marie Kondo would be so proud!!).

What you should pack

  • Comfortable shoes
    This is the number 1 item you should put in your suitcase. If you are travelling during autumn, pack a pair of sandals. Since you will be taking on/off your shoes quite often in Japan, pack a pair of slip-on shoes and slippers.
  • Clothes
    Japanese dress rather conservatively – women wear loose tops, sweaters and long skirts. Although you can get away dressing up as a tourist, try to avoid tank tops and ‘super-short’ shorts. Instead opt for tops, shirts, cotton pants, knee-length shorts, and shorts.
  • Socks
    Pack more socks than you think you need. Indoors, you will be mostly wearing socks, and might want to change them more than once a day.
  • Cosmetics and toiletries
    Pack basic cosmetics and toiletries only, because you will want to try all the amazing beauty products Japan has to offer. Also, most places provide basic toiletries such as handwash, shower gel and shampoo. I would at the minimum pack a toothbrush, toothpaste, face wash, makeup remover, cotton pads and tissues.
  • Travel adaptor
    If you have an adapter that is made for the USA, the plug should work in Japan. Otherwise, carry a travel adaptor. Also carry a mobile power bank as trains can get crowded and you might not find an electricity source very easily.
  • Medicines
    It is difficult to buy medicines within Japan without prescriptions, and it also illegal to carry certain medicines into the country without a proper prescription. To be on the safe, carry a prescription with your travel documents for all the medicines you are carrying with you.
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen
    The weather can change quite frequently in Japan. Pack sunglasses, and a tube of sunscreen for those sunny days.
  • Mosquito repellant
    I did not pack, and regretted it instantly when I got 6 mosquito bites within 10 minutes of standing in the rain in Kyoto. Pack a tube/ spray in case you are stuck in rainy weather with a swarm of mosquitoes.
  • Reusable bottle
    Tapwater in Japan is safe to drink. I would advise to carry a reusable bottle that you can use throughout your journey and do not end up spending on bottled water.
  • Coin purse
    You can carry a wallet, but you will realize that you will have to deal with a lot more change than you expect. A coin purse will come in handy especially while shopping souvenirs and at local markets.
  • Extra shopping bag
    Instead of taking a bigger suitcase, carry an extra tote bag or similar which you can fill-up with all the shopped goodies. I would advise to buy the bulky items such as sweets, cosmetic products, etc towards the end of the trip so that you do not have carry them around throughout your journey.

What you should not pack

Here are a few items you can get away with not packing, especially if you want to travel light.

  • Towels
    Towels take up space, and especially if you have a packed itinerary, you might not have time to dry the towel while changing accommodations. Towels are provided for free at hotels, and hostels provide towels for rent at 50-100 yen (less than 1 euro).
  • Hair driers
    All accommodation facilities provide hair driers in Japan, and after you use a Japanese hair drier, you might think of upgrading your person one.
  • Food
    Food is easier to get in Japan than in most countries, there are several 24*7 convenience stores, vending machines, as well as more international supermarkets which stock European and American brands.
  • Shower gels/ soap
    Again, you will have access to shower gel/ soap at your accommodation.
  • Detergent
    Laundry facilities at hostels provide detergent.

What you should buy in Japan

Finally, Japan is shopping heaven to the extent that when if you are not a shopping fanatic, you will be severely tempted. Here, is a list of some souvenirs that you can buy while in Japan.

  • Hair accessories (Kanzashi)
  • Japanese Hand Towels (Tenugui)
  • Folding Fans (Sensu)
  • Sake (Japanese rice wine)
  • Lucky charms (Omamori )
  • Chopsticks
  • Toe socks
  • Green Tea/ Matcha
  • Japanese stationary
  • Spinning Tops (Koma)
  • Beauty products like facemasks from Lululun
  • Sweets (Kitkats, Bulgari chocolates, Mochi)
  • Mangas
  • Cat goods
  • Kimono

You can find many items from this list at Don Quijote, the discount chain all over Japan, as well as local markets.

This ends Part 4 of the Series: Planning your trip to Japan!
Continue reading Part 5: Twelve cultural must-knows

If you would like to see a glimpse of what Japan has to offer (under 4 minutes), check out the video below 🙂