Updated on January 17, 2020 by Asher Fergusson
The most important items to pack for a Japan vacation
Most travelers to Japan do a variety of activities, so it’s important to pack smart and to avoid taking anything you don’t need or forgetting anything you do!
Below you’ll find the top 17 items, what to wear in Japan, what NOT to bring, and I also include FAQs to help you understand the cultural dos and don’ts. Plus I have a bonuse guide to the custom of gift-giving which may be unfamiliar to new travelers to Japan.
11) Virtual Private Network (VPN) – In countries like China, the internet is highly restricted and monitored, so VPNs are required if you’d like to enjoy unrestricted access, but fortunately Japan allows fairly comprehensive access once you get connected.
What you should absolutely use a VPN for, however, is the extra layer of data security it adds. After having my credit card number stolen on an unsecure WiFi at my Airbnb I’ve learned the hard way why you need this for travel! A good VPN like NordVPN will give you a private “shield” of data encryption with the touch of a button. Plans are very affordable, so it’s well worth it.
Other packing list items for Japan
Sterile toothbrush cover
Mini hairbrush or comb
Feminine products (Thinx or Menstrual cup)
Medications and vitamins
First aid kit
Stain remover wipes
How should I dress in Japan?
Layers are always good, as are shoes that you can slip on and off easily – remember you’ll be taking them off and putting them back on frequently. Be sure to bring a light rain jacket if you’re visiting in a rainier season!
We mentioned this above but it’s worth repeating: it’s considered rude to go barefoot inside most places and flip-flops are a no-no, so bring plenty of comfy socks to wear or carry with you!
Fashion in Japan offers quite a broad spectrum of different looks and trends. Cleavage is considered to be ‘revealing’ but legs are widely flaunted without much concern – so show them if you so choose! Dress a bit more conservatively when visiting temples, or when you spend time with local families. Shoulders are also considered to be inappropriate with the older generations, so it’s best not to pack strapless dresses or even tank tops with very thin straps.
Slip-on shoes are crucial since you’ll be taking them off and putting them on repeatedly. For dressing up, bring your kitten heels or a pair of dressy sandals. For the warmer seasons, you’ll do well with a crisp white t-shirt, a statement belt, and a pair of skinny jeans for dinner. In winter, you’d definitely need a thicker parka and a chunky scarf for the northern parts of the country.
Generally-speaking, Japanese men tend to dress more conservatively, so stick with a more muted, modern look. You will still find plenty of Western inspiration wherever you go, so you shouldn’t stand out like a sore thumb. In the bigger cities, you’ll find more fashion-forward attire, but you can’t go wrong with the clean-cut a sophisticated look no matter where you are.
Think khakis, nice slacks, tailored button-downs or sweaters, and nice-looking footwear. Shoes should include walking shoes, for sure, and maybe a trendy pair of suede sneakers or leather loafers for nicer occasions. Any footwear should be fairly easy to remove and put back on – you’ll be doing it a lot. During colder months you’ll need warmer sweaters and a heavier jacket.
You’ll find that the Japanese way of life is easy to love, and the culture is fascinating. Pack light because you’ll definitely want to shop, but be sure to select a versatile wardrobe that will allow you to switch between exploring, shrine visits, shopping, and semi-formal dinner outings.
SPRING – March, April, May:
Mild and pleasant weather plus blossoming trees make this an ideal time to enjoy Japan. They are also what make spring such a popular tourism time, so prepare for crowds. Rains can happen, and you’ll see some fluctuation in the weather so be prepared with good layers that can be easily added and removed.
SUMMER – June, July, August:
Most places in Japan are hot during the summer, with humidity that makes it worse. Tourism is a little lighter this time of year.
Pack clothes that will keep you cool in the heat, but try to remain respectful and tasteful when possible. Light fabrics, pretty blouses, breezy skirts, and a sun hat will serve you well. Mountainous regions of Japan are less hot and more enjoyable. Temperatures average between 65°F to 80°F (18°C to 27°C).
FALL – September, October, November:
This is typhoon season, but when there are no storms the weather is generally mild and pleasant, albeit a little unpredictable.
Pack for any weather: comfortable pants and skirts, blouses and sweaters. Bring a rain jacket that can also keep you a little warm – anything that can be used for multiple purposes will save you room in your luggage.
Temperatures average between 55°F to 65°F (13°C to 18°C).
WINTER – December, January, February:
Winters in Japanese high country areas are snowy and gorgeous. Lower elevations still see some snow, but mainly enjoy crisp and cool days that you’ll still need warm gear for.
Gourmet Food: Japanese food…There is so much to say and so much to experience. From delectable sushi platters to richly flavored Soba and Udon Noodles to Tonkatsu and Yakitori. The Japanese take great pride in their cuisine and food culture is something that many social activities revolve around. Also, don’t be afraid to dine alone – it’s actually quite a common practice in Japan!
This is the country that has the most Michelin-awarded cities. There are 304 places to choose from in Tokyo alone, but this doesn’t always mean you have to dress up. It’s best to do your homework so that you don’t show up to a street stall wearing your finest garb. For casual dining, you don’t have to worry much about what you wear, but some establishments will ask you to remove your footwear. Nicer clothing is never bad, though, so air on the well-dressed side if you’re unsure.
Beaches: Japans’s unique structure offers plenty of coastline on either side of the country, and this means fun in the sun! Sunbathing and swimming seasons differ hugely from south to north and it’s said that the best beaches to visit are found in Okinawa (south) but there are other spots that offer some tropical vibes too. Bikinis are a natural choice for women, and as long as they’ll stay on during any of your chosen activities, they’re perfectly acceptable. Bring a cute cover-up for when you come up from the beach. Men tend to wear anything from speedo’s to board-shorts, so it all depends on your taste.
Baseball: Baseball was first introduced to Japan in 1872 and is probably one of the most popular spectator’s sports in the country. The highest level of professional baseball in Japan is the Nippon Professional Baseball League. The first of each 144 regular season games kicks off in March each year, and a 7-game contest series in October determines the winner of the Nippon Series.
While both March and October are probably not the warmest of months, you’d do well in jeans, canvas sneakers and comfortable hoodies and sweaters. You might also want to refrain from wearing anything related to baseball from other countries – purely out of respect. Expect sunny days in March and October, so bring along a pair of sunglasses for outdoor games.
What NOT to take to Japan
Most commonly, you will be asked to remove your shoes at certain public establishments and the homes of people you visit. Bare feet are not okay in most places, so bring socks! Avoid flip-flops. Most homes and public places have a small vestibule called a ‘genkan’ where shoes are removed and kept. In some cases, slippers are provided.
This rule also applies to most shrines and temples. Dressing appropriately when visiting these religious sites is imperative.
Other than that, you are all set to head out on a stunning adventure in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Gift-giving: How to follow Japan’s gift customs
While tipping is generally frowned-upon in Japan, giving gifts to your hosts is common practice. Here are a few things to be aware of:
- The numbers 4, 9, and 43 can mean bad luck! Don’t give gifts in these numbers.
- Hand the gift over with both hands (gifts should also be received with both hands).
- Food (especially sweets), flowers (but not lilies, lotus blossoms or camellias which are associated with funerals), and alcohol are the best kinds of gifts to give.
- Food or alcohol from your home country is even better (ie. Maple syrup from north-eastern America).
- If the gift is wrapped, your host will probably not open it right away, this doesn’t mean they aren’t excited, it’s just the custom, and a sign of respect.
FAQs about travel in Japan
1) Is the tap water in Japan safe to drink?
2) How prevalent is English in Japan?
Not very prevalent. In hotels, hostels, and tourist attractions people will speak English, but outside of that, I wouldn’t count on it.
3) Is Japan safe for women and solo travelers?
Yes it is. Thanks to its diverse and accepting culture, tourists don’t tend to have problems in Japan. If anything, you may find that you get a little too much excited attention if you stand out as a tourist! However, standard practices should absolutely be followed. Don’t walk alone at night, don’t carry excess cash, keep your valuables close and to a minimum, and always know where you’re going.
Scammers and pickpockets do exist so do your best to avoid being a tempting target! Carry yourself confidently and show plenty of respect to the locals, and you’ll more than likely avoid any problems. However, make sure you look at travel warnings about your destination before booking your trip, just in case!
4) When is the best season to visit Japan?
5) Is it worth getting a Railpass?
Yes! I actually failed to get the rail pass before I went, and was slumming it on overnight buses and local trains to recover the cost.
6) Do I need to tip in restaurants in Japan?
There is generally no tipping in Japan. Sometimes a tip may even be refused. Instead, slurping your noodles and making appreciative noises show you’ve enjoyed your meal!
7) Where should I eat in Japan?
Trying an Izakaya (an informal pub-type place which offers small tasting dishes) is a great way to experience local culture. The Japanese are passionate about their food and aim to find fresh ingredients. It’s hard to go wrong with the food!
8) What is the best way to get around Japan?
The train is the easiest way to travel. It’s comfortable and reliable. However, busses are also clean and comfortable, though slower.
9) Do I need a visa to visit Japan?
Most countries will get a visa stamped on arrival but check with your embassy’s website to determine what requirements there are for your nationality.
10) How can I watch Sumo in Japan?
I recommend finding the dates of the Sumo tournaments online. To see a sumo match without breaking the bank, arrive at the stadium at 10 am (or earlier) the morning of the match. You will then stand in the most organized rush ticket line you’ve ever seen. Everyone stands quietly and orderly and proceeds in the queue. They’ll then sell all the remaining tickets for the day at around $20 apiece. Just be sure to get there early to avoid disappointment!
P.S. One of the excellent things about sumo matches is that you can bring in your own food and drink!
11) How can I travel on a budget in Japan?
Going to markets or cheap restaurants/ramen bars is a great way to save. I found that for around $10 (US) I could get a very tasty meal. Of course, you can also cook your own food and if you stay with a host I’m sure they’ll be happy to share their favorite recipes with you! Even take-away sushi or noodles from the supermarket is as tasty as what you’d find in a lot of Japanese restaurants back home. Slow travel is also a great way to make any trip more affordable.
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