Being one of the most developed countries in the world, Japan offers a clean and comfortable place to travel. But in the winter, Japan can get really cold, especially if you’re traveling in the north like in Hokkaido or anywhere in the mountains. You’ll want to pack plenty of warm items, but make sure you can layer well, as the Japanese like to keep it really warm inside. Take about a week’s worth of clothes and plan ahead for when you’ll do washes.
In my experience, the climate varies greatly depending on where you go, so you’ll need to tailor your packing list to how much time you’ll be spending in the mountains and the snow, or how much city time you’ll have as most of the major cities don’t often have much snow, though they can be extremely cold.
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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 large scarf – Make sure it covers your head well. Some temples require it as a sign of respect, but it will also keep you warm.
2 light jackets/sweatshirts – If the weather isn’t too cold, this could be your outer layer. For greater packing efficiency, try packing two items that can be layered with each other.
1 heavy jacket – Snow and high winds from the ocean are no joke in a Japanese winter.
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 – Try to get socks made for freezing temperatures, especially if you’ll be outside a lot.
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 dry and warm. Make sure they’re comfortable enough to endure hours of walking through cities. Even in winter, it’s not often that Tokyo or major cities in the south to get snow. So you’ll want a warm, comfortable shoe, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be made for heavy snow.
1 pair flats – Take a cute pair of shoes for going out at night.
Snow Boots– If you’re coming to Japan in winter, chances are you’re going to find snow. To ensure you’re comfortable and your feet are warm and dry you’ll want a warm, waterproof snow boot. These are my choice.
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.
Lotion– Winter in Japan is extremely dry. You’ll want to lather up as much as possible to avoid uncomfortable itchy dry skin. Bring face lotion, body lotion, and definitely hand lotion to help keep your knuckles moisturized after all of the hand sanitizing and washing.
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.
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.
See also: Hygge Travel Essentials
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.)
Ski Gear- If you’re going to ski you’ll obviously need ski gear. Depending on your airline, you might bring your skis or snowboards with you, or you can rent gear at most ski areas.
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.
See also our list of best ski areas in Japan.
P.S. Check out the ultimate female packing list for Japan in summer.
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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.