One of the most common questions we get from travelers is how to pack for a trip to Japan. So we’ve put together a simple list of our Top 6 Tips on Packing for a Trip to Japan!
Our tips range from the somewhat obvious (for experienced travelers) to the surprising (you’ll see).
We’ve also included some of our favorite travel gear, in the hopes that it will make packing a bit more fun and easier for you. After all, depending on how you feel about it, packing can be one of the most enjoyable — or dreaded — aspects of preparing for a big trip.
Originally published in March 2015, we’ve updated and added to the original article.
1. Bring shoes that are easy to slip on and off
No, you don’t need to wear wooden clogs. But unless you enjoy untying and lacing your shoes every few minutes, it’s wise to bring shoes that slip on and off easily.
As a rule of thumb, if you see tatami mats, you’ll need to take off your shoes. (In these cases, it’s also considered somewhat impolite to be barefoot, so if needed bring a pair of socks with you!).
Depending on your itinerary, it’s usually also wise to bring comfortable walking shoes. Tokyo is a surprisingly walkable city, and for places like Kyoto there’s often no better way to explore than on foot.
2. Pack as lightly as possible
Packing lightly is a useful skill for travel to any country, but in the case of Japan it is especially worth noting. Navigating Japan is much easier when you have a small, easily-portable bag or suitcase.
Most travelers in Japan rely heavily on Japan’s comprehensive and easy-to-use railway networks, but unfortunately Japanese trains and train stations do not cater to travelers with a lot of luggage.
How do we define “a lot of luggage”? Anything more than a small rolling suitcase (airplane carry-on size) and a backpack or duffel.
Japanese train stations are often quite crowded, and to make matters worse they often don’t have as many elevators or escalators as you might wish (this is true in major cities, and even more so in rural areas).
The shinkansen (bullet train) typically has a small dedicated area for suitcases, but space is at a premium and it is not wise to bank on easily finding a spot for your massive suitcase. On the other hand, the shinkansen’s overhead space is just right for small carry-on sized suitcases.
As for other (non-shinkansen) trains in Japan: while some do have some space overhead for small bags, many have none at all.
For all of these reasons, we recommend traveling either with a small rolling suitcase (or backpack), if at all possible.
Not willing or able to pack light?
You’re in luck!
Japan has a wonderful luggage-forwarding service that will make traveling through Japan a breeze, even with loads of luggage…
3. Use takuhaibin, Japan’s incredible luggage-forwarding service
We know not everyone can or wants to pack light.
Fortunately for the heavy packers, takuhaibin — Japan’s incredible luggage-forwarding system — means you don’t necessarily have to.
Takuhaibin (also known as takkyubin) is a fast, reasonable, and very reliable service that allows you to easily and efficiently send suitcases from hotel to hotel.
While in some instances same-day forwarding is possible (for a premium), delivery between most destinations within Japan takes one or two nights, which means spending a night or two without your main luggage.
In cases like this, we often recommend “skipping” a destination, and traveling for a day or two with just a small overnight duffel or backpack. Even though some people don’t want to part with their main suitcase, it can certainly be worthwhile – especially when traveling to remote locations for a day or two.
Not only can traveling in rural Japan be a hassle with a large suitcase (see the section above!), it can also be very freeing to travel lightly while exploring Japan’s countryside. For example, if you’re going to a ryokan in the countryside, you won’t need much anyway, since you’ll probably spend most of your time in yukata (Japanese-style robes)!
Read one man’s account of how he used takuhaibin while cycling around remote Japan.
Pro tip: Share the delivery service with a traveling partner – keep one “shared” suitcase that you forward from accommodation to accommodation, and a smaller bag to carry with you from destination to destination.
How to use takuhaibin
See our full post, Luggage Forwarding in Japan: the Magic of Takuhaibin!
Using takuhaibin is easy, and the front desk at almost any hotel or ryokan can make the arrangements for you – just make sure to let them know a day or two in advance. Giving them proper advance notice ensures they can make the arrangements in good time.
The price will depend on factors such as luggage size (i.e., dimensions and weight) and destination, but you can typically expect to pay around US $15-$30 per item. If your suitcase exceeds weight limits, you may need to separate your items into multiple bags.
If for any reason your accommodations cannot assist you with the arrangements, as is often the case at very budget-oriented properties, local convenience stores can usually assist.
While takuhaibin is a fantastic service – and very reliable, as most Japanese services are – please make sure to use it at your own risk.
Thinking of becoming a light packer?
Here are a couple of our favorite bags for traveling around Japan:
- Personally, I like Minaal bags. I have this one from 2016 and have used it for long trips to Japan and elsewhere successfully.
- Samsonite Freeform Hardside Spinner 21, Black
- Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45
4. Style & fashion: what to wear
You don’t need to go out and buy a new wardrobe for your trip to Japan. In fact, we recommend the opposite.
If anything, leave space in your luggage so you can go shopping here in Japan, where you will find some of the most unique and best-quality fashions in the world. Tokyo is renowned as a shopper’s paradise, but you’ll find great cutting-edge and vintage styles throughout the country, particularly in other cultural centers such as Kyoto and Osaka, and even in smaller towns like Onomichi.
Even though fashion standards in Japan are generally quite high, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to dress up. People in Japan tend to take care when it comes to appearance, but you will find a huge variety of eclectic styles, ranging from chic to very casual. In a sense, it is comparable to what you might find in places like New York, London, or Paris.
If you enjoy dressing casually, you should be fine in almost all situations – though of course if you have a special occasion (for example, a party or special dinner) then you should dress accordingly.
Typically, formal attire is not required, apart from in formal or business situations. For example, even at most high-end Japanese restaurants, jackets and ties would not be required for men. However, we recommend using your best judgment and dressing respectfully.
Apart from formal western-style restaurants, which may require jackets for men, most high-end restaurants have simple, common-sense dress code regulations: no baseball caps, flip flops, shorts, etc.
As for the weather?
Packing for the weather: the seasons in Japan
Japan is famous for the beauty of its four very distinct seasons, and it is essential to pack accordingly.
This is a good general overview of month-by-month temperatures in Japan — and we also recommend our detailed post on the seasons & when to visit Japan — but because each year varies, the best thing to do is check weather forecasts a couple of weeks before your trip. Any weather site will do, but if you’re a weather geek then make sure to check out Weather Spark.
If you’re traveling to various parts of Japan, make sure to check the forecast for each place you’ll be visiting, as the weather can vary drastically between different parts of the country.
As seasons go, spring and fall are particularly fickle, so around these times of year we recommend bringing layers. The weather in spring and autumn can vary widely from day to day, with conditions ranging from warm (even hot) and sunny, to wet and bone-chillingly cold.
5. Essential miscellaneous items for your trip to Japan
Here are a few other things we recommend you add to your Japan packing list:
- Pocket Wi-Fi device: Even if this doesn’t sound essential to you, we highly recommend renting a pocket Wi-Fi device (i.e., mobile hotspot). Wi-Fi in Japan is not nearly as widespread as most people imagine it will be (read more in our full post on Wi-Fi and mobile in Japan). Even if you don’t plan to check email or upload photos, being able to use Google and Google Maps while out and about exploring is invaluable! We recommend pre-arranging a pocket Wi-Fi device through PuPuru or Ninja WiFi.
- Handkerchief or small towel & hand sanitizer: As wonderfully clean as Japan is, public restrooms often lack soap and/or hand towels (most Japanese people carry their own handkerchief)
- Travel adapter: Most of Japan’s electrical outlets are 2-pronged “Type A” (100 Volt, 50-60 Hz), so if you have a device with a 3-pronged or European/UK-style plug, you may need a travel adapter. Many electronic devices (such as mobile phones, tablets, laptops, etc.) already have transformers, which means you may not need a converter, but make sure to check your items’ voltage requirements. Read here for more about electricity in Japan.
- For a relaxing flight: Sleep mask and rosewater mist
- Small gifts from home: Small local gifts are wonderful for giving to guides and other people you meet along the way. Tipping is not common in Japan, but thoughtful gifts are always appreciated. Gifts representative of your local region or country are especially loved, e.g., a famous local product or local artisanal product.
6. Leave space for gifts & other purchases
Japan is a shopper’s paradise, and even people who typically dislike shopping often end up making unexpected purchases!
Because it may be difficult to resist the level of craftsmanship and incredible variety of unique items — from beautiful crafts, to handmade clothing, and futuristic electronics — we always recommend leaving some extra space in your luggage.
Even if you don’t enjoy shopping for yourself, you’ll find innovative and high-quality gifts for friends and family back home.
We hope our packing tips help you prepare for your trip to Japan!