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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, and 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 bikes.
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. Even on the beach, I have never seen a single bikini. A lot of women wear “bathing clothes” that look like leggings and thermal tops, but modest one-piece suits can be seen, especially on the younger generations.
Also, a note about Tattoos. There is still a stigma about tattoos in Japan, and are often associated with criminal activity, 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 cotton. 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 jacket/sweatshirt – 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 of 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 my 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 skincare 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.
>> Have a read of our Lush liquid alternative travel products reviews and our guide to the best toiletries for carry-on travel for some extra toiletry advice.
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), Donki or pharmacy. But, they often don’t have brands I’m used to and the writing on the boxes can be intimidating if you don’t know Japanese. If you don’t speak Japanese, it will be difficult to explain 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.
Makeup 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.
Phone – To stay connected to home, listen to music, take pictures, and… whatever else you do with your phone.
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 supports 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 used to have coverage (through SoftBank), which is what I did the entire time I was living in Japan, Other carriers may have similar options.
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.
Here are plug adapters to use on Apple Products (for Europe, UK, and AUS too). Or here is a good strip adapter for use on multiple devices.
E-reader or iPad– To entertain yourself when traveling between cities or during your downtime.
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
Baby Carrier– Try this moby wrap, this convertible carrier, or this hiking pack for a little more structure.
Small Bag of Toys– Depending on the age of your kids, they may like these baby toys or maybe these wikki stix to keep them entertained.
Stash of Snacks- Japan has some amazing food and plenty of tasty snacks to choose from. But depending on the age of your kids and how picky they are, you might want to bring some of their favorites from home. Snacks in Japan will often look unfamiliar or have flavors Americans (especially kids) are unfamiliar with.
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 in other countries. While in populated or touristy areas you should get along fine, there might be times when no one at all speaks English. Make sure you can communicate your basic needs and know how to get travel information.
Notebook and pen– for writing down highlights from your trip or filling out customs forms, etc.
Here are some of my favorite Japanese Stationery to get you inspired.
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.
P.S. Check out the ultimate female packing list for Japan in spring.
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Are you ready for Japan?
- Book Your Flights– To find the cheapest flights, flexibility is a must. Some great options are Google Flights for the calendars to find the cheapest options, Skiplagged, and Skyscanner. For more options see our resources page. For Japan, check flights for both Tokyo Airports (Haneda and Narita), as well as Osaka (Kansai).
- Find Transportation- Buy your JR Pass for your bullet train and inter-city travel before you leave home. Research a Suica card, the public transportation card you can either buy before or as soon as you arrive.
- Book Your Accommodation– Look at Booking.com, Hotels.com, or Expedia for hotels in Japan. You can also look at AirBnB or VRBO as we’ve had great luck finding inexpensive, large, and clean homes to rent.
- Book Tours and Experiences- Check Klook or Viator for some of the best tours and attractions for a great price for experiences like Tokyo Skytree, TeamLab Borderless, and Universal Osaka. For Tokyo Disney Resort, check my guide here.
- Stay Connected– Order a pocket WIFI for airport pickup if you’re with a family or group, or order a SIM card just for your phone. Check out our guide to staying connected here.
- Buy Travel Insurance- I always recommend World Nomads for insurance. It’s better to protect yourself in case of mishaps. Learn more about World Nomads in this FAQ post.
- Pack Your Bags– Check out my packing lists, or my favorite travel gear to help you remember all of the essentials.
- Learn About Japan– Learn about Japan with guidebooks like Lonely Planet, or, shameless plug, search around my site for more info.
Bring a small hand towel because public washrooms don’t always have a dryer or paper towels.
Yes! That’s a great idea! I always carry one in my bag for this exact reason, and it completely slipped my mind for this list. Though, I do recommend buying a hand towel in Japan because they have so many great patterns and options and it makes a great souvenir.