There are two crucial elements to bear in mind when putting together a packing list for Japan, according to the adventure-loving Flash Pack team and an extended panel of seasoned travel pros, who’ve collectively been back and forth to the country many times.
First, less is more. This is the birthplace of the minimalist movement: hotels are small, toilets are compact and train travel is ubiquitous. You’ll want to ensure you only bring the essentials to Japan, so beware of overpacking. Secondly, shopping in Japan is second to none. So, whether you’re looking at electronic gadgets or indy boutiques, you can easily buy on the move.
Crucially, whether you’re travelling to Japan for a few days or two weeks, you’ll need a Japan travel essentials on your packing list. Comfortable and lightweight shoes are an essential, whether walking in big cities or further afield. If you plan to hike in national parks like Hokkaido or mountainous regions like Mount Fuji, you’ll need some sturdy hiking boots, too.
But what to pack for Japan in summer? If you’re visiting in summer, you’ll need to pack lightweight, breathable fabrics, such as linen and cotton. And, in the colder months, you’ll need thermals, especially in areas like Hokkaido, where the temperatures can drop to below zero. For spring and autumn, pack layers for warmer days and chillier evenings.
But, if you’re looking to arrive prepared, here’s what to pack for Japan…
"Less is more"
Says Flash Pack's adventure planner Tino Roco
Packing light in Japan is a useful skill. The Metro, bullet trains and rail system are the default ways of navigating the country, so having luggage that’s light and easy to carry helps. The area for suitcases can often be full and a lot of stations can become crowded, with less access to elevators or escalators.
“Uber and taxis are so expensive in Tokyo,” says Tino Roco. “You’ll want to be able to move freely enough to navigate public transport”.
Travelling with a small carry-on suitcase or backpack is really our top tip. But, if you’d rather not travel light, Japan has a luggage-forwarding service that makes travelling even more of a breeze when you’re criss-crossing the country.
"Buy a camera in Tokyo"
Says Flash Pack founder and former photojournalist Lee Thompson
“The vintage clothes scene is huge in Japan, so you’ll want to have space as they have loads of second-hand clothes shops full of amazing stuff,” adds Flash Pack co-founder Lee Thompson. Tokyo is at the helm of the vintage scene, with Shimokitazawa being an awesome neighbourhood for thrifting.
The same can be said for not overpacking tech. Lee, a former photojournalist, says: “Don’t take much tech with you – buy a camera in Tokyo. I saved around £200 on a Canon model purchasing it out there instead.”
Jamie Lafferty, a contributing SOLO writer and roving photographer, who’s visited all of Japan’s 47 prefectures, adds: “Get a spare charger, a universal adapter and more memory cards than seems logical.”
"DOWNLOAD YOUR CULTURE FIX"
Says Flash Pack CEO and co-founder Radha Vyas
“I totally agree that being shrewd with your luggage allowance in Japan is essential,” says Flash Pack CEO Radha Vyas, who’s visited Japan many times on recce trips. “You don’t want to be weighed down when you’re hopping around the Shinkansen (high speed trains),” she adds.
Happily, some of the best things you can take don’t weigh anything at all. “For complete cultural immersion, download a translation app like Google Translate,” says Radha. “And a series like the Netflix documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about senior sushi master, Jiro Ono. If that doesn’t make you hungry for a Japan adventure, I don’t know what will.”
"Comfortable clothing is key"
Says Japan nerd and Flash Pack customer experience expert Andy Jackson
As a general rule, if you spot a tatami mat in the space you’re stepping into, you’ll need to take your shoes off. Many places including some ryokans (inns), temples and restaurants require you to remove footwear. However, it can be considered impolite to go completely barefoot.
For this reason, it’s best to bring shoes that can easily slip off – matched with a respectable pair of non-holey socks. As the cities are quite walkable, make sure your shoes are comfortable, too.
A lot of dining is floor-based, as are tea ceremonies, so along with your appetite, bring smart clothes that are comfortable and allow flexibility for sitting on the floor. Some of the best places to eat can be found in unassuming places, so overall comfort is key. “Perfection is how I would describe Japan,” says Andy Jackson, Flash Pack’s self-proclaimed Japan nerd.
“You can walk into a Metro station and find a Michelin-star restaurant. You can’t really find bad food — everyone takes such pride in what they’re producing. Even in the 7/11s and Lawsons convenience stores, the food and drink is weirdly great.”
"Pack layers for Hokkaido in winter"
Says former Japan resident and Flash Pack adventure pro Henry Cheer
“If you’re heading to the ski resorts – or anywhere in Japan in winter – it might sound obvious to say, but it’s very cold.” says Flash Pack adventure pro, Henry Cheer, who lived in the country for two years. “Like, windy, bone-chillingly cold.”
So, what’s on Henry’s packing list for Japan in winter? Thermals, base- and mid-layers, puffer jackets, windproof and water-resistant clothing, snow boots with good tread, a woolly hat, touch-screen gloves, hand warmers and a power pack, to start with.
“Bring a water bottle, too – the air is dry and with the heating inside, you’ll shrivel up and need to keep hydrated,” he adds. If you forget anything or get caught short, Japan’s conbini (convenience stores) sell the winter basics.
On the other hand, Henry notes, that Japan’s onsens (hot springs) traditionally don’t allow for any clothing. Bringing a small towel and toiletries to thoroughly clean yourself beforehand is recommended. “For smaller more traditional onsens, don’t get caught out without body wash. If you’re not squeaky clean before you go in, you won’t be making any friends, and products aren’t always provided at the less touristy spots.”
"Save space for sake in Kansai"
Says Japan-loving Flash Pack writer Tamsin Wressell
“I spent a few weeks exploring the Kansai region in the south of Japan’s largest island, Honshu, and found that with all the beautiful mountains and forested hills of Tokushima, having decent hiking boots and a waterproof jacket were real saviours,” says Tamsin Wressell, a Japan-loving writer for Flash Pack.
There’s plenty of hiking routes through Kyoto, Tamba and Ayabe, including steep ones, so good-quality hiking poles could be your friend here. “There are also incredible sake distilleries in this area, so my final tip would be to leave room in your bag to bring plenty home.”
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