Two years ago, I visited Japan for the first time.
I was amazed by how many different landscapes, cities and culinary experiences I could cram into a week.
What I wasn’t prepared for, though, were the variations in temperature I experienced during that week. Especially while traveling around the island of Honshu!
I hadn’t packed nearly enough warm clothes for the trip.
To get the most out of your trip to Japan, there’s one vital factor you need to consider: What exactly you are going to take?
Where You Go in Japan Impacts What You Pack
Japan isn’t a massive country, and its extensive rail and air network makes it seem even smaller.
However, it does offer some drastic weather extremes, and a number of cities each offer a distinctive micro-climate.
Generally, locations in the west and south are warmer. The north is cooler, with the exception of the Japanese Alps in Central Honshu. It’s important to think about your destination and activities when packing your bags.
Here are some of the most popular destinations and climates for travelers.
Kyoto offers a pleasant, temperate climate all year. You’ll experience hot and humid summers and moderate winters, with occasional dustings of snow.
It isn’t a terribly sunny city, but despite this, it still offers relatively warm temperatures.
Hokkaido is located in the north of Japan and has an average winter temperature of just 25°F. It’s on the same latitude as Vladivostok in Russia and is one of the snowiest areas of Japan.
If you’re looking for a true winter experience, Hokkaido will fit the bill. But the summers are surprisingly pleasant, too!
Okinawa is a sub-tropical island, with gorgeous, warm weather all year round. It rarely drops below 48°F.
If you’re looking to find a little slice of Hawaii in the Japanese archipelago, Okinawa is for you.
Tokyo tends to be a wet city, with lots of rain throughout the year. June is the rainiest month, and January the driest.
It does snow in Tokyo, but it’s technically in a subtropical climate zone—so expect warm, humid summers.
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The Seasons in Japan Have an Impact, Too!
As well as considering where you’re going, you need to think about what time of year you’ll be visiting. This factor impacts not only what you need to pack, but also the cost of your travel.
High season during summer is very popular with tourists, as is cherry blossom viewing time in spring. Remember, it can get busy on Japanese national holidays, too. These are all important things to consider when visiting.
Spring in Japan is from mid-March to May. This is one of the most beautiful times of year in Japan, when the 桜 (さくら) — cherry blossoms are in bloom. Many people plan their travel solely for 花見 (はなみ) — cherry blossom viewing, so make sure you book early!
If you’re going in early spring, you’ll need take a coat, because it can still be quite chilly. Layering will be your best option during the rest of spring. And take a packable raincoat in case any rogue rain showers hit!
Summer in Japan is from June to September. It’s hot and often very humid, usually averaging around 79°F.
Make sure you wear breathable clothing. Loose fitting cotton or linen is very popular. You can also carry a small fan, as many of the locals do.
This is one of the most lively times of year, with lots of festivals and outdoor activities to enjoy. Due to the humidity, it can also get quite rainy, so I recommend a light raincoat.
Autumn in Japan is from mid-September to early December.
Autumn is the most pleasant season to visit Japan. Plus, the crowds of spring are less of an issue—although it can still get busy. It’s also known for hosting vibrant, changing 紅葉 (こうよう) — foliage.
Like in spring, dressing in layers is best. And you’ll still need to take a warm coat.
Winter in Japan is from December to mid-March. Winters can be very cold, with an average temperature of 41°F. While this can be off-putting for some, you’ll have the opportunity to experience the magical 温泉 (おんせん) — hot springs in the snow.
Make sure you bring a warm coat, plus a ski jacket-style raincoat for rainy days. A warm hat, woolen layers, gloves and a scarf are must-have items.
From Tokyo to Okinawa: What to Pack for Japan
So you’ve answered the “where” and “when” questions. Now it’s time to prepare for departure.
What to Pack for Japan
You’re going to need something to pack everything in, and the lighter, the better.
Japanese hotel rooms aren’t known for their ample space, so you’re better off taking a mid-sized suitcase rather than something giant. If you use the train network, a lighter bag will be easier to carry on and off with you, too.
We recommend the Samsonite Freeform 28″ Spinner, or if you prefer a soft bag, the Delsey Cruise Soft 30″ Trolley Duffle.
Make sure to take a small backpack, like this one from Marmot, for day trips.
It doesn’t really matter what time of year you visit… Layers will be best!
- Pack lots of cotton, merino, linen or other natural fabric clothing to layer. You can always remove layers and stick them in that small backpack if necessary.
- A lightweight rain jacket will be suitable for most of the year, but in winter, you’ll need something a bit warmer.
- A merino jumper or cardigan is always handy to take with you, is resistant to smells and can fold down to fit into your backpack.
- If you’re traveling in the cooler months, you’ll want to take some cozy bed wear with you. Some hotels and inns can lack heating!
- A thin scarf or wrap is great for covering your shoulders on a spring or autumn evening, or to keep your neck warm under your coat. Remember, the Japanese tend to dress rather conservatively—so take this into account, unless you want to stand out!
Take at least one pair of comfy shoes. They should be breathable, light and easy to slip on and off. You’ll be visiting lots of temples, and you’ll need to remove your shoes before entering.
- I recommend Allbirds. Made of New Zealand merino, they’re like wearing slippers!
- It’s also useful to bring flip-flops if you want to visit a beach.
- If you plan on hitting the trails, you’ll want to pack a pair of supportive hiking boots. Salomon are my favorites, particularly their hybrid sneaker-boots.
Japan is a beautiful country, and you’ll want to capture every minute of it. Make sure you take your camera and any accessories you commonly use, plus chargers.
- If you travel with Apple products, a PlugBug multi-charger is a great buy.
- We also recommend a good e-reader for the train journeys. You usually zoom so quickly through the countryside that you won’t see much. If you want to improve your language skills, make sure you purchase one that can display Japanese characters, and download a few books to read through while traveling.
- A portable battery pack is also very handy, and it’ll keep you connected even if your phone battery runs low.
If you want to invest in a Japan Rail Pass, you typically need to order this before you get to Japan. Rail passes are for seven, 14 or 21 days, and they apply to most classes of train.
You can buy a pass online from Japan Rail, and you can swap the printed confirmation of payment for the actual rail pass once you’re in Japan.
Most medications are easy to get hold of in Japan. But if you have anything that requires a prescription, take enough for your whole trip and carry a copy of the script with you.
In some 旅館 (りょかん) — traditional inns, they won’t supply you with any toiletries. If you have specific Western items that you prefer to use, we recommend taking them with you. They might be hard to track down in Japan!
- It’s best to take a small supply of shampoo/conditioner, soap, toothpaste and a toothbrush with you, plus any skin care products you use.
- I recommend you take a small travel towel or tissues with you too, as many public bathrooms don’t provide a way to dry your hands.
- To save space in your luggage, as well as help the Earth, we recommend Lush solid shampoo and conditioner bars.
- Alternatively, if you’re low on space, you can always grab the basics when you arrive at a local 100 yen store. (More on those shops later on!)
Your Travel Documents and Essentials
Maybe you travel all the time and know which essentials to take. However, it’s always best to write a list. You never know when you’ll forget to pack your passport or to order travel insurance..
- You’ll need to make sure you have travel insurance to cover the whole of your trip. There are numerous quality insurers, but a safe bet is using World Nomads, who are the travel experts.
- Taking your smartphone is always a good idea. Load it up with helpful apps, like FluentU. FluentU teaches you Japanese through fun, authentic videos. Spend your time on the metro watching Japanese game shows and news programs! You might even like to download some flashcard apps that will help you memorize Japanese vocabulary.
- Your passport is obviously a top priority!
- It’s a good idea to take a screenshot or written copy of your accommodation for when you arrive in Japan. Sometimes language can be a barrier between you and the hotel employees.
- Lastly, given how rainy Japan can get, a Blunt umbrella is worth its weight in gold!
What Not to Pack for Japan
There are lots of items in Japan that can be purchased easily and cheaply, so you don’t need to overload your suitcase.
If you’ve been saving up to buy electronics, for example, make sure you hold off until you get to Japan. They’re a lot cheaper to buy there!
A Ton of Socks and Underwear
Japanese goods are of an excellent quality, and if you end up needing a few spare pairs of socks or underwear, duck into a Uniqlo to grab some cheap but well-made basic clothing items.
You are far better off taking an e-reader with you. And your luggage will be a lot lighter!
If you really crave a real book to read while in Japan, most major bookstores in the cities have an English language section.
Too Many Electronics
Japan is one of the cheapest places in the world to buy Apple products.
Just make sure you check the voltage and get an adaptor when purchasing so you can use your items at home.
Everything but the Kitchen Sink
Have you ever heard of a 100 yen store? These little gems are everywhere in Japan—and they sell every item you can imagine.
Sticking plasters? A new water bottle? Replacement shoelaces? Beautiful stationery? Chewing gum? You’ll get them all at the 100 yen store, which is like an American dollar store.
Basically, whatever you need, you’ll probably be able to find it… and a whole lot more stuff you didn’t know existed!
From bustling cities to gorgeous green landscapes, Japan is one of the most exciting travel destinations on Earth.
If you’ve been itching to immerse yourself in Japanese language, culture, food, art and architecture, get booking!
Most importantly, follow this packing guide to make sure you are completely prepared for your journey. You’re going to have an amazing time!
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