Japan is a well-developed country with high quality services and infrastructure and so it’s quite possible to travel with close to no baggage. Still, it’s advisable to know what to pack to avoid annoying and unnecessary incidents on arrival.
Photo by iseelazers
Obviously, in order to enter the country you will need to bring a passport (or other travel document) and, depending on your nationality and purpose of stay, a valid visa (the standard visa issued is the three-month tourist visa). If you plan to drive in Japan, you should also bring an International Driving Permit (IDP). If you have one, your Japan Rail Pass Exchange Order is essential to take and look after as once in Japan, you have no means of replacing it or getting a refund.
Japanese people don’t usually travel with large suitcases on public transport and so there usually isn’t a lot of space to store luggage in trains or coin lockers. It is thus advisable to keep your luggage small if you plan to travel across the country. That said, you might get lucky and be able to book a space in one of the rear-most seats of the shinkansen, where there is often a small gap for bulky baggage.
The Japanese climate ranges from tropical Okinawa to subarctic Hokkaidō, however, most of the country exhibits temperate climate with clearly-defined four seasons akin the United States or most of Europe. Although it is not uncommon to see people wearing yukata, or in recent years, even kimono, most Japanese are using Western style clothes for day-to-day activities and you are welcome to wear anything you do where you come from. As it is customary in Japan to take off your shoes indoors, you may want to bring a pair that you can slip off and on easily, as well as nice clean socks or tights. If you have relatively large feet, a pair of slippers may be useful to pack if you are staying in a host family, or small ryōkan, who might not be able to provide you with suitable slippers.
Photo by JapanDave
The outlets in Japan are usually identical to the ones in the United States and Canada (A, B). If you come from countries with incompatible plugs, you will need to purchase an adapter—but don’t fret about buying this in your country of origin if you can’t find one as they are available all over Japan.
The voltage in Japan is 100 V, compared to 120V in North America, or 220–240 V in Europe, Russia, and most of the rest of the world. While some equipment may still work (although often less efficiently), more power-hungry appliances may not, unless you have a voltage transformer (which you can purchase at the airport or in most electronics stores).
The frequency of electric current is 50 Hz in Eastern Japan and 60 Hz in Western Japan but the difference should only affect very sensitive equipment.
Medicine & personal hygiene
Over-the-counter drugs are different in Japan so be sure to bring anything you need with you. Note that Japan has very strict health-related laws and some of your medicines may be actually illegal and not allowed to be imported into the country. If you are found with any such products, you may be detained for up to several weeks, so be sure to check with your local embassy in order to avoid any misunderstandings.
Japan is a cash country and most Japanese rarely use credit cards even when making online payments. Thus, ATMs are few and far between, international credit and debit cards are often not accepted, many don’t have instructions in English, and most are closed on weekends and during the night.
You should not rely on your credit, debit or cash card to make your purchases. Japan is an extremely safe country and you should not feel concerned about carrying around large amounts of money with you.
Giving gifts is a big part of Japanese culture. Expect to be the recipient of a fair number if you have any kind of meaningful interaction with Japanese people. It’s advisable to take a small supply of something from your home country that you can present to show you gratitude to somebody. It doesn’t have to be big or substantial; foodstuffs often go down well, especially if they’re something not usually available in Japan.
What do you pack when you head to Japan? How does this differ from other worldwide destinations?