It happens to all of us at some point: we need something that we are sure we’ve packed (or might have packed) but when we turn our suitcase inside-out, it simply isn’t there. When you are travelling very far to get to Japan, this is one of the worst things that can happen! When you are visiting on holiday, time is usually at a premium, so you don’t want to waste half a day searching desperately through shops for that thing you forgot.
So, what would be the best way to combat the above in order to make sure that your trip goes perfectly? Besides packing the obvious things that you need, such as clothes, your passport and plane ticket, a little bit of research about Japan will make a big difference. Lucky for you we have collected a list of items recommended by seasoned travellers to help you on your trip!
1. Cash and credit card
It is going to sound dreadfully mundane, but a traveller can’t survive without a credit or debit card and cash. Both are equally important. More than a few visitors have discovered to their surprise that you can’t pay for shopping, restaurant bills, etc. with a card all the time – unfortunately, as advanced as Japan is, it still has a cash culture. (Generally, it can be a good idea to have at least 20,000 yen in cash on you.) It would also be recommended to call your credit card company in advance and let them know the dates you will be traveling abroad, so your card isn’t suddenly declined.
For someone with little cash on hand, and a restaurant bill to pay, a second shocking thing they will then discover is that it isn’t always easy to find an ATM which will work with international cards. For the sake of your peace of mind, bring at least half of your spending money in cash. (Some people bring all of it in cash – which obviously raises safety questions as it would be a disaster if it was stolen, but keep in mind that Japan is a very safe country. You just need to apply a little common sense and not keep all of your money in one place.)
If you do need to withdraw money from an ATM then you can usually do this at a 7-Eleven or Japan Post Bank branch. Bear in mind that most ATMs will have limits on what you can withdraw in a single day. Many will limit to around 100,000 yen, however in local areas this may differ.
Finally, note that paying for small items with large bills (e.g. 10,000 yen) in Japan isn't usually an issue. Dollars, Euro and other currency aside from yen are typically not accepted anywhere.
2. Reserve a SIM card or portable wifi
Although you now know where you can withdraw money, a more practical consideration is where you will find a 7-Eleven or Japan Post Bank branch! If you have just brought your mobile phone from home then either you can’t use internet, or roaming fees will cost a lot if you use your mobile internet to access a map app.
An easier alternative to saving locations of 7-Eleven shops before you arrive is to order a sim card or portable wifi, so that you can use the Internet wherever you go in Japan. There are many different providers with reasonable prices, and you can order it before you arrive in Japan, sometimes even with delivery to your hotel. The plus point to this is that you can update your SNS accounts throughout your journey, then your friends can see what a great time you are having in somewhere like Tokyo!
3. Download useful apps
Another plus point to having access to the internet wherever you go is that you can use a translation app or phrasebook. It is best to download this before your arrival so that you can get used to using it, ideally before you are desperately trying to communicate with a hotel owner in the middle of nowhere, but you would be really taken aback to see how much these apps have progressed these days. For someone who doesn’t know a single word of Japanese it is a real lifesaver.
Using an app will also allow you to experience the Japanese language; you might even pick up some easy words to help you on your journey such as:
・Sumimasen (excuse me)
・Arigatou gozaimasu (thank you)
・Onegai shimasu (please)
・...wa doko desu ka? (where is...?)
・Ikura desu ka? (how much is it?)
In addition to a translation app, other useful apps can include:
・Transit maps (e.g. Google Maps or Japan Navitime)
・IC cards and train reservation apps (SuicaEng, EmartEX)
・Ride hailing app (e.g. JapanTaxi)
・Earthquake alert (e.g. Yurekuru Call)
・Messaging (e.g. Facebook Messenger)
・A visual sushi dictionary
4. Electrical adapter and power bank
Your mobile phone battery will go down pretty quick when you are using internet and apps, never mind any other electrical goods that you might have which you want to use, so an adapter is really an essential thing to pack. We all have this vision of Japan being a country where you can get any electrical item you want, whenever you want it, but actually you will struggle to find a Japanese adapter that works with a Spanish or British plug – especially in the countryside or at 3am in Shibuya, Tokyo. It is really something that none of us can live without.
If you are coming from the United States or Canada, most electronics can be used as-are: Japan runs on a 100 volt current that keeps them happy. Be aware, however, that 3-prong outlets are not, for the most part, available in Japan and that you may want a slim adapter if bringing a laptop or other device.
Finally, you may also wish to consider bringing a portable USB power bank to keep your devices juiced when you’re on the go. If you do not yet have one, these are also available for reasonable prices at most convenience stores.
5. Japan Rail Pass
If you are more of a gung-ho traveller who just arrives in a country without planning your stay, then you might become a bit unstuck when you realize that a Japan Rail Pass is one of the most cost- and time-efficient ways to travel around the whole country. The reason being the fact that you need to buy the pass before you arrive in Japan.
While it may be possible to buy a Japan Rail Pass at a few stations in Japan, but these are more expensive than buying online before you arrive. (Buying and reserving beforehand really helps make your journey so much simpler – especially if you intend to visit several places around the country and not just stay in the Tokyo area.)
Passes are sold as either one week, two week or three week tickets, and they allow you to use the Shinkansen to travel the whole length of the country, as well as all JR lines in Tokyo – plus the Narita Express train between Narita airport and Tokyo.
Before you pick up a pass, though, it's best to run your itinerary through a service like Google Maps or Hyperdia, noting prices of different transportation options in order to make sure that a Japan Rail Pass makes sense. One of the easiest considerations is that if you will be going from Tokyo to Kyoto, then explore around the Kansai region for a short while before heading again to Tokyo, then the Japan Rail Pass may make sense for you. If however you intend to stay around a certain area - e.g. just around Osaka/Kyoto or Tokyo - then a day pass or regular train tickets might make the most sense.
6. Right clothes – and layers – for the weather
It sounds like common sense to say that clothes are essential, but actually for Japan you have to think quite hard about weather and clothes.
In the summer it is really hot, and in the winter it is quite cold. During the winter there can be heavy snow in the north but mild temperatures in the south. It can even be confusing if you are just staying in one place: for example, if you are in Tokyo when it is cold the obvious thing to do is dress warmly, but then you get on a train and you start to feel uncomfortably warm!
There can be quite a temperature difference between being outside and being inside, trains and department stores in particular seem to maintain a quite high temperature – which is bit of a nightmare for someone padded out in several layers of clothes. The best advice is to check what the weather is like during your stay and bring clothes which can easily be taken off.
7. Suitcase space
Japan is a culture which is big on gift-giving, especially if you travel on the shinkansen you are bound to notice the sheer number of gift shops at stations. So, if you are in Japan to visit friends, and more importantly if you are going to meet your friend’s relatives, then you need to make room in your suitcase for a few small gifts. Japanese people are very grateful when they receive a gift, and will be quite proud if you give them something unique from your country.
Bringing gifts to Japan will aid one last important thing to include on your list of items to take to Japan or rather a necessity for when you leave Japan, although technically speaking it isn’t an item – space!
Japan is heaven for shopaholics, but even shop-resistant travellers will find themselves buying traditional crafts, delicious sweets and more. However, if you bring a fully packed suitcase then you will struggle to bring anything home, and you don’t want to not buy something you really want just because you are thinking about suitcase space all the time! Make sure you just bring what you really need and nothing else, because you will certainly be going home with a heavier suitcase than the one you arrived with.
8. Right Footwear for the Occasion
As opposed to many other countries, where shoes are typically worn indoors, you'll find that shoelaces impose something of an inconvenience during your stay in Japan. When going to a traditional Japanese restaurant, you'll probably take off your shoes. When staying at a ryokan, you'll be taking them off as well. Going inside a temple? You get the idea: you'll encounter many other occasions in Japan where having a pair of shoes you can easily slip on or off without worrying over laces is such a convenience.
Also, keep in mind that you'll want a pair of comfortable walking shoes. Many visitors remark that they walked more during their stay in Japan than they typically do in their home country. Accordingly, wearing a pair that's kind to your feet will help keep your trip very happy indeed. (The same goes for socks: be sure to bring a warmer pair for winter months and a thinner pair for summer - or even a pair of sandals!)
A top tip by seasoned travelers: if you buy new shoes for your trip, be sure you walk around with them plenty ahead of time in order to get your feet used to them. (It's sometimes better to wear a pair of shoes that are already worn in!)
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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