In our Japan Travel Tips series, we share quick and useful information to help you get the most out of your trip to Japan.
One of the most common questions we get from travelers is about how to pack for a trip to Japan. So we’ve put together a list of our Top 7 Tips on Packing for a Trip to Japan.
Top 7 Tips on Packing for a Trip to Japan
For even more on packing, check out our travel essentials checklist, including recommended books, gadgets, travel bags and more.
1. Bring shoes that slip on and off easily
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.
Many places in Japan – including ryokans (traditional inns), temples, and many izakayas and restaurants – require you to remove your shoes before entering.
As a rule of thumb, if you see tatami mats, you’ll need to take off your shoes.
2. Pack as lightly as possible
Packing light 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 travel light.
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.
What do we define as “a lot of luggage”? Anything more than a small rolling suitcase (airplane carry-on size) and a backpack or duffel.
Japanese train stations themselves are often crowded, and to make matters worse they often don’t have as many elevators or escalators as you might wish, particularly in rural areas.
Japanese shinkansen (bullet trains) typically have a small dedicated area for suitcases, but space is at a premium.
Fortunately, on most shinkansen the overhead compartment is fairly spacious, and perfect for a small carry-on sized suitcase.
Other trains in Japan – especially small local trains and urban subways or trams – typically have much more limited space, and not all have any overhead compartment 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 system
We know not everyone can or wants to pack light.
Fortunately for you heavy packers, takuhaibin – Japan’s incredible luggage-forwarding system – means you don’t necessarily have to.
See our full post, Luggage Forwarding in Japan: the Magic of Takuhaibin!
Takuhaibin (also known as takkyubin) is a fast, reasonable and reliable service that allows you to easily and efficiently send suitcases from hotel to hotel.
While in some instances same-day forwarding is possible, delivery between most destinations within Japan takes about a day, so at times you may need to spend a night or more without your main luggage.
In cases like this we typically recommend traveling with just a small overnight duffel or backpack.
If you’re going to a country ryokan, you won’t need much anyway. While staying at a ryokan you’ll probably spend most of your time in yukata (Japanese-style robe).
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, it can also be very freeing to travel light while exploring Japan’s countryside.
Read one man’s account of how he used takuhaibin while cycling around remote Japan.
How to use takuhaibin?
Using takuhaibin is easy and the front desk at almost any hotel or ryokan can make the arrangements for you.
Make sure to let them know a day or two in advance. This way they can easily make the arrangements for you with enough advance notice.
The price will depend on factors such as luggage size, but expect to pay in the vicinity of US $20 per suitcase per way (this can vary depending on several factors, including the exchange rate).
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.
4. Style & Fashion: How to Dress
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.
In major cities, the level of dress is similar to that in other major cities of the world.
You don’t necessarily need to dress up for every occasion – and casual clothing is fine for urban exploration or rural hikes – but you’ll want to wear something nice if you plan on any fine dining or other sophisticated outings.
At elegant traditional Japanese restaurants there is usually no specific dress code (for example, jackets or ties are typically not required), other than very common-sense regulations such as no hats, flip flops, shorts, etc.
As long as you make the effort you should not have a problem, and it is definitely fine to ask if you are not sure.
5. Packing for the Weather: Seasons in Japan
Japan is famous for the beauty of its four very distinct seasons, and it is essential to pack accordingly.
Since each year is slightly different, make sure to check the weather forecast a couple of weeks before your trip.
If you’re traveling to various parts of Japan, it’s worth checking the forecast for each place, as weather can vary drastically between different parts of the country.
6. Other Items for your Trip to Japan
Here are a few other things you may want to consider bringing with you to Japan:
- 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.
- Pocket Wi-Fi Device: If you rely on connecting to the Internet at least once or twice a day (or more), we highly recommend renting a pocket Wi-Fi device (see our article on Wi-Fi and staying connected in Japan).
- Japan Rail Pass exchange voucher: The Japan Rail Pass isn’t perfect for every traveler, but if it’s right for you make sure to order it in advance. (order here)
- Hand sanitizer: As wonderfully clean as Japan is, public restrooms – despite usually being spotless – often lack hand soap.
- 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 plug you may need an adapter. Thus it is not absolutely essential for everyone, but read here for more about electricity in Japan.
7. Leave Space for Gifts & Other Purchases
Even for people who typically hate shopping, Japan offers an incredible variety of unique modern and traditional goods that may prove difficult to resist.
From traditional crafts to futuristic gadgets – and clothing you won’t find anywhere else in the world – the offerings are such that 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 you’ve found our tips on luggage and how to pack for a trip to Japan helpful!