17 Top Japan Packing List Items + What NOT to Bring (2018 Update)

What should I bring with me on my Japan trip?

Japan is one of my favorite countries in the world. It has a climate, a culture, and a history all its own, so be prepared for a truly unique and memorable experience.

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.

This list of items you need for Japan should help you, as well as the list of what NOT to take. There’s also a guide to the custom of gift-giving which may be unfamiliar to new travelers to Japan.

1) Slip on shoes: Women and Men – You’ll find yourself stepping in and out of your shoes a lot in Japan, so it’s worth it to bring shoes that are easy to get in and out of. Visiting temples, friends homes, and sometimes even restaurants will require you to take off your shoes.
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2) Activated Charcoal – Japan’s food scene is incredible, but it’s also quite foreign to many people. Add that to the stress of travel and exposure to other new things, and stomach upset is a common problem. Activated charcoal is a very effective and simple way to shorten the duration of digestive issues. It works by absorbing toxins in your system so that your body can get back to its normal function, and you can get back to enjoying your travels.
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3) Universal power adapter – You can get away with plugging US style two-pronged cords into Japanese outlets, but any devices you may bring that require three-prongs (such as laptops) won’t work. It’s a good idea to bring a universal adapter to prevent any trouble and then you’ll be able to also use it if you travel to any other countries.
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4) Travel insurance – It’s a bummer to think about, but sometimes bad things happen while traveling. Medical emergencies, theft, and other troubles can’t always be avoided, so it’s best to be well-protected by insurance. Many medical insurance plans don’t cover certain incidents in foreign countries, so it’s especially important to verify your coverage and get a travel plan to fill in any gaps before you depart. Plan to cover anything of value that you bring with you, plus your own health so that you’re not out of luck if an accident should happen.
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5) Universal Waterproof Phone Case – With a variety of climates and attractions to experience, you never know what your phone will be exposed to in Japan. It’s always a good idea to step up the protection of your devices while traveling, and this phone case is an effective, affordable way to do so. It protects against scratches, dirt/dust, water, and minor impacts. At under $10, you really can’t go wrong.
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6) Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger – You’ll be out and about taking part in activities and seeing sights all day, so you really don’t want to be obligated to return to your accommodations if one of your devices runs out of “juice.” This portable charger holds multiple charges so you can use it several times before having to plug it back in. It uses standard USB charger cables, and it can be actively charging your phone, camera, or other device even while tucked away in your bag when you’re on the go.
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7) Rolling suitcase – You’ll be doing a lot of walking to and from your accommodations when you arrive in Japan or move from place to place. It’s much easier to navigate these treks if you have a bag that rolls smoothly behind you instead of having to be hefted on your arm or back. What I like most about this particular bag is that it can be rolled when convenient, but it also has a handle to allow it to be carried when that makes more sense.
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8) Travel towel – Did you know that many Japanese restrooms don’t offer a method for drying your hands? That’s where having a compact towel comes in very handy. This one is compact, super absorbent, and quick to dry so that you don’t have to worry about carrying around a damp cloth in your daybag. It also comes in very handy if you find the towels at your accommodation less than ideal.
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9) Passport pouch – It’s a good idea to keep your ID documents on you when you’re traveling, and it’s also bst to keep your money and payment cards stored safely in a place where they can’t be accessed by pickpockets. A passport pouch is nice because it hangs beneath your clothing, out of sight and away from danger. It also helps you avoid looking like a tourist since it stays out of sight until you’re ready to take it off.
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10) Jet Lag relief – Don’t let the long flight and time change weigh you down. Jet lag can put a serious damper on your trip, so you should prevent it if at all possible. This natural jet lag relief will help you prevent the condition before it happens, and can also treat it after the fact if needed.
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11) Nice daybag – You’ll need to have a bag with you to carry the things you’ll need day, and it’s more fun in a place like Japan to have one that looks nice. This small tote is big enough to hold the items you need – camera, phone, water bottle, etc. – but small enough to be cute and unobtrusive.
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12) Packing cubes – Organized packing makes traveling much easier. Packing cubes like these keep all of your belongings tucked neatly away in individual compartments so that you never have to go digging around for what you need. Everything stays compressed and easy to find, plus the smaller bags can be switched from your suitcase to your daybag and back.
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13) Virtual Private Network (VPN) – If you’re planning to stay connected while traveling, it’s highly likely that you’ll be using the internet to do so. In some countries 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. I speak from experience when I say that you do NOT want to risk having your private and financial information stolen when you log in to a foreign network. VPNs can help prevent this simply by giving you a private “shield” of data encryption with the touch of a button. Plans are very affordable, so it’s well worth it.
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14) Japan Guidebook and Japanese Phrasebook – I don’t often travel with a guidebook, but I’m glad I had one in Japan. Whether it was an important custom, what food to try, or what to see, the guidebook was great to have. Tourist information can be limited, and not many people outside of tourist centers speak English, which is why a Japanese phrasebook and dictionary is also a great idea.
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15) Windproof travel umbrella – Dealing with rain in Japan is easy enough if you have the right gear. Bring a dependable, packable umbrella with you, and keep it in your backpack or daybag so that you always have it on hand if a rainstorm or even a light drizzle pops up.
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16) Scarf or shawl – With as many religious sites and other conservative areas as there are in Japan, it’s a good idea to keep a scarf with you in case you need to cover your shoulders to respect a dress code. A scarf is also handy to wrap up in case of a chill, and it’s a great fashion accessory as well.
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17) Hanging toiletry bag – When bringing a lot of toiletries on a trip it’s best to have them stored in a way that allows you to get to them quickly if the need arises. What’s great about toiletry bags like this is that you don’t have to fully unpack them in order to use your items – they store things in compartments so they’re always organized and accessible.
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Other packing list items for Japan


What to wear in Japan

The Japanese are open-minded about fashion and don’t expect tourists to know their customs. You can wear pretty much whatever you feel comfortable in, including shorts and tank tops as long as they’re not too revealing (and the weather permits). It’s still best to air on the side of conservative apparel when possible.

Layers are always good, as are shoes that you can slip on and off easily. Be sure to bring a light rain jacket if you’re visiting in a rainier season!

Seasons in Japan

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. Bring a light jacket and comfortable pants and tops to keep you warm but breezy. Temperatures average between 40-55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Summer – June, July, August: Most places in Japan are hot during this time, with humidity that makes it worse. Tourism is a little lighter. 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 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Autumn – 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: 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 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit.

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. Layers, layers, layers! Sweaters and a jacket or coat are needed, plus gloves and hat if you feel you’ll need them (most people do). Temperatures average between 25-35 degrees Fahrenheit.

What NOT to take to Japan

1) 🚫 DON’T PACK heavy books or too many books: Most bookstores carry books in English that you can pick up along the way, or you can bring a Kindle. Don’t weigh down your pack with too many books (easier said than done, I know)!
2) 🚫 DON’T BRING spray tan or heavy bronzer: Sun protection and healthy skin are fashionable in Japan. Nothing bad is gonna happen if you lay on the bronzer, but you may get a few funny stares, and you’ll stick out in a crowd.
3) 🚫 DON’T TAKE too many electronics: Japan is the land of electronics, but even so it’s nice to disconnect. Outside of city centers you’ll find peaceful villages and beautiful nature. Leave any non-essential electronics at home, and try to keep your connectedness to a minimum!
4) 🚫 DON’T PACK a sleeping bag or camping gear: Unless you plan on doing a lot of backcountry hiking, this isn’t necessary. Hostels are equipped with sheets, and even some of the hiking trails have small guesthouses along the way. These items just add bulk and weight.
5) 🚫 DON’T TAKE lots of cash: Credit cards are accepted in most major towns, though you’ll still need cash in some places. However, there are plenty of ATM machines to resupply. Carrying loads of cash is a risk not worth taking!
6) 🚫 DON’T BRING an Asia-wide guidebook: Getting a guidebook that’s not Japan-specific won’t give you the detail and guidance you’re looking for, and you may find yourself frustrated and missing out.

Gift guide to Japan

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?

Yes, in most places in Japan the tap water is safe to drink. However, if you’re worried about mercury you can pick up bottled water at one of the many 7/11s, or carry your own filtered water bottle to resupply with fresh water when free opportunities to do so are available – the filter should set your mind at ease.

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.

However, people are still very friendly and will try their best to help you even if they don’t understand. This is where a Japanese phrasebook comes in handy!

3) When is the best season to visit Japan?

September/October are ideal for pleasant weather. You’ll find that April-June months are good for the cherry blossom festival (if you can catch it – it’s evanescent!). Of course, if you’re there for skiing I’d recommend December-March, and the summer months if you want to do some island-hopping.

4) 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.

If you plan on traveling to more than a couple of locations, the rail pass is definitely worth the investment, and much cheaper than buying individual tickets in Japan.

5) 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!

6) Where should I eat in Japan?

Everywhere! The food is delicious! Osaka is a foodie paradise and has a lovely market where you can sample interesting cuisine. You’ll find Ramen bars dotting the streets in any city you go to with people standing up to slurp their noodles. Katsu curries, sushi, and soba noodles are also abundant.

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!

7) 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.

8) 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.

9) 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 a piece. 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!

10) How can I travel on a budget in Japan?

Japan has a reputation for being expensive and compared to China or SE Asia, it certainly it is. But there are many ways budget travelers can enjoy Japan. The people are very hospitable so Couchsurfing can be a lovely experience (though apartments are small so be prepared to sleep on a sleeping mat on the floor). You can also find cheap hostels or business hotels which will have either a small single room with a mattress or a tube with a bed you can sleep in. These hostels and business hotels go for about the same rate as you would find in North America.

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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