Being one of the most developed countries in the world, Japan offers a clean and comfortable place to travel. But Japan in the summer has its own set of challenges. With high humidity, long stretches of rain and possible typhoons, and higher crowd levels, many choose to visit Japan other times of the year.
But, I don’t want to put you off of traveling to Japan if that’s the time you have available or you’re set on summer weather. Summer in Japan has many positives: beautiful flowers, great festivals, a lush green landscape, perfect for spending time in nature.
With the challenges brought on by summer, knowing what to pack can also be difficult.
Note About Clothes in Japan:
Despite what you hear about the crazy fashion in Tokyo, Japan is a modest nation. If you plan on visiting smaller towns or religious sites you need to cover up a bit. I rarely see exposed shoulders even in the hottest weather and often, women wear long sleeves or special UV blocking cover-ups while out walking or riding their bike.
I often see women wearing nylons or even leggings with shorts, skirts, and dresses. They tend to wear looser, flowing tops and rarely show cleavage or tummy.
That being said, if you like wearing tank tops and shorts, you’ll be completely fine as long as you’re not at a religious site or somewhere very traditional which will have higher expectations of modesty. Most of the time it’s easy to spot the tourists and unlike some other “modest” cultures, the Japanese aren’t offended by tourists showing a little more skin. They just don’t want to themselves.
As I said, the Japanese consider pale skin beautiful and will wear long pants, sleeves, hats, and even gloves when it’s over 100F with 80% humidity. They even carry umbrellas. I literally live on the beach and it’s packed on weekends with steady traffic during the week and I have yet to see a single bikini- most women wear “bathing clothes” that look like leggings and thermal tops but I have seen some very modest one-piece suits.
Also, a note about Tattoos. There is still a stigma about tattoos in Japan and are often associated with criminal activity, and specifically the Yakuza. As a typical tourist, you shouldn’t have any problems day-to-day if you have visible tattoos, especially if you don’t look Japanese. But there are some old-fashioned people in old-fashioned restaurants or businesses who may turn you away, so doing a little research might help you decide if you should cover up for that day.
The only places that I’ve come across that are very strict about tattoo policies are bathing houses and onsens, beaches, gyms, and pools. Most of these locations will have signage that says what is or isn’t allowed. I’ve seen signs where if you have a small tattoo (that can be covered by a palm-sized sticky material) you will be allowed entry. Some say you can wear a t-shirt to cover your tattoos, and others say you will not be admitted under any circumstances. So just keep this in mind during your travels.
You’ll want to pack quick-drying fabrics that contain little cottan. Between sweat and the rain, your clothes will constantly be soaked. So be prepared to do some laundry (even if it’s in the sink). Seriously. This is the most important advice I can give you.
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3 bras – One skin-color and a couple of sports bras for your winter hikes or skiing. If you’re looking for a way to keep your underwear, and specifically your underwire bras, check out this travel organizer.
5-7 pairs of underwear – This depends on how long you’ll be traveling and how frequently you’ll be washing your clothes
2 pairs of Jeans – Take durable pairs that are comfortable and stylish for traveling, city excursions and hiking.
1 light scarf – Make sure it covers your head well. Some temples require it as a sign of respect. Plus, it could shade you from the sun and add something extra to the t-shirt you’ve been wearing for multiple days.
1 light jackets/sweatshirts – Depending on where you are in Japan, the evenings could still be hot, or they can be significantly colder. A jacket or sweatshirt will make sure you always have something to throw on, or to get cozy in your hotel room with the refreshing AC.
7 shirts – Pack a variety of shirts: short and long-sleeved, with different styles and different weights. This will be your base layer.
1-2 dressy outfits – Take something cute for going out on the weekends. If you want to wait until you get there to shop for clothes, the Japanese are very stylish.
5-7 pairs of socks – This will obviously depend on your footwear. But for long days of walking around cities, or any mountain hikes you will want comfortable shoes that will most likely require socks. But for short walking days or relaxed days at the beach sandals are the way to go.
1 pair flip flops – If you’ll be staying in hostels or capsule hotels these are good for walking around inside or heading to the bathroom.
1 pair tennis shoes – Take a pair of shoes that will keep your feet happy and healthy. Make sure they’re comfortable enough to endure hours of walking through cities. Even better if they look stylish to double as a casual outfit for a lunch or dinner out.
1 pair flats – Take a cute pair of shoes for going out at night.
Sandals- As I said, this is personal preference, and if I’m not walking miles every day I prefer to slip on some sandals, like my favorite Birkenstocks.
Shampoo and Conditioner – Make sure they’re under 3.4 ounces (or 100ml) if it goes into your carry on.
Bar of Soap – Put it in a plastic container so you won’t have to worry about a mess.
Face Wash– Bring all of your favorite face care products with you. I recommend looking at some of the amazing skin care products Japan has to offer but it’s always good to bring your own.
Toothbrush and toothpaste – Get something to cover the head of your toothbrush.
Deodorant – You don’t want to stink.
Sunscreen- Any time you’re planning to go outside you should put on sunscreen, but you probably know that already.
Razor – And shaving cream if you’re not comfortable using soap as a lather. I like Billie razors. If you do too, try their travel case to keep your razor, and your fingers, protected.
Brush/Comb and hair ties – For the best packing efficiency, you can forego the brush and just pack a wide-tooth comb. (Try a headband, too.)
Diva Cup or Tampons/pads – So you don’t have to deal with trying to decipher Japanese writing on tampon boxes. In my experience feminine products are easy to find. You can stop in any convenience store (7-11, Lawson, Family Mart) or Donki or pharmacy. But, they often don’t have brands I’m used to, the writing on the boxes can be intimidating if you don’t know Japanese, and it might be difficult explaining your needs to someone who might not understand English.
Medicines – Take an emergency stash of things to treat stomach aches, allergies, colds, headaches, motion sickness, and cuts or scratches. Buying things from the local pharmacy is a guessing game you don’t want to play because almost nothing is in English and if you need medicine, you’re most likely not in the mood to search for long. (Also check out this travel first aid kit.)
Towel – If you’re mostly staying in hostels or capsule hotels you might need to bring your own to dry yourself off after a shower. If you’re staying in regular hotels you most likely will never need one.
Make Up or Beauty Products you love.
Camera – Take as many pictures of the land of the rising sun as possible. If you’re traveling light, most phone cameras are more than capable of taking great pictures but if you want something middle of the road, check out this great point and shoot that I use for photos and video.
See our Family Travel Camera Gear Guide.
If your phone is unlocked you can get SIM cards from SoftBank or Rakuten at the airport or in any shop (they’re located in most malls, shopping areas, and standalone locations especially in Toyko.
Headphones– Ones that have noise cancellation are even better, they can be used on planes to help drown out the engine noise or the sound of chatty passengers. They can also be used at night if you’re in a noisy hostel or capsule hotel.
This Sakura Travel SIM can be picked up at major Japanese airports.
And this portable Wifi device can be picked up at major airports and supposed up to 5 devices.
You can also get a Pocket WIFI if your phone is not unlocked or you don’t’ want to deal with changing it out.
You can also talk to your cell phone provider to see if they have coverage in Japan. In the U.S. Sprint has coverage (through SoftBank) and you can add on a Japan plan for $5 per month to get all of the same benefits and coverage as when you’re in the U.S. (including free calling to U.S./ Canadian numbers and the data plan you’re on).
Chargers & Adapters – Make sure your valuable electronics always have juice. Japan uses the same outlets as North America but it uses a lower voltage. So if you’re coming from North America all of your electronics will work but you still might need a converter to make sure they’re charging/powering up properly. Most electronics have built-in converter (ex. the large square iPad chargers or Macbook chargers) that change the voltage automatically to protect your electronics so you may not need a separate one.
But for things like hair dryers, curling irons, or electronic shavers, you might have issues.
Laptop – Use hotel or cafe wi-fi to check your email, upload travel pictures, or talk to friends and family back home on Skype. Again, if you’re traveling light this isn’t essential.
Your kids will, of course, need all of the same clothes you will, PLUS some extras depending on how young your kids are and how prone to mess they may be. My kids are currently 2 and 4 and seem to attract messes. So for a long trip I bring 2 extra outfits each.
Plus you’ll need all of their snow and cold weather gear. Here’s a post dedicated to that.
You’ll also need:
Car Seat– If you plan on driving.
Pack n’ Play– You may be able to find one in your hotel but it’s not guaranteed.
Bottles or Sippy Cups
Stash of Snacks- Japan has some amazing food and plenty of snacks to choose from. But depending on how picky your kids are you might want to bring some of their favorites from home as the snacks here may not a little quirky or have odd flavors.
Visa – If you go for 90 days or less as a tourist, you don’t need it. If you’re going for another purpose, get all the paperwork straightened out before you get on the plane.
Editor’s note: Citizens of the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, most countries in Europe, plus several others do not need tourist visas for 90 days or less. Check with the embassy to verify if you need a visa.
Earplugs– For peace and quiet on the plane or in hostels or capsule hotels.
Eye mask – Get as much sleep as possible on the plane, and help yourself get over jet lag.
Japanese phrasebook – English is not as widely spoken in Japan as other countries. Make sure you can communicate your basic needs and know how to get travel information. (See also language tools for female travelers.)
Beach gear- If you’re heading to the beaches you’ll obviously need your swimsuit, a towel (if your hotel isn’t providing them), and all of the goodies you like for the beach, like a good book, and some snacks from 7-11.
But you’ll likely want to bring your own coat, ski pants, boots, and under layers. You could rent them at some places but supply is never guaranteed and sizing might be an issue. Also, it’s always nice to have the gear you’re comfortable with.
P.S. Check out the ultimate female packing list for Japan in spring.
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