What to Bring

 

Climate

Japan has four distinct seasons. Summer can be very hot and muggy, reaching as high as 90% humidity. A rainy season (tsuyu) usually occurs from June to mid-July, with a stretch of monsoon lasting perhaps a week. Fall (September to November) and spring are more moderate. In winter the temperature often drops below freezing in early morning and nighttime. If it does snow in Tokyo, it usually won’t last long. Most Japanese homes do not have central heating. Instead they tend to control room temperature in each room separately. If your room has air-conditioner or other equipment, please make sure to know how to use them properly upon your arrival and don’t forget to turn it off when you leave the room.

Electrical Current

Electrical current in Japan is 100 volts. Most appliances made for the U.S., including hair dryers and electric shavers, will work in Japan, but at reduced efficiency. Appliance outlets accept flat, 
two-pin plugs similar to the U.S. and Canada. If you take a three-pronged appliance, 
bring along a two-prong adapter. You could also purchase those adapters in Japan at electric appliance shops.

Most U.S.-based electric clocks will not work well, since they time themselves against the frequency of the current. These clocks will lose approximately 10 seconds per minute. Take along a battery-run clock instead.

Luggage Allowances

For international flights, most airlines allow you to check two pieces of standard luggage, each piece weighing no more than 70 pounds. The maximum size of one piece of luggage usually cannot exceed 62 inches (length + width + height), or 106 inches for both bags. For specific questions about weight and size limitations, it’s best to call your airline. However, restrictions are always subject to change.

You will also be allowed to take one carry-on that must be able to fit under your airline seat. Keep in mind that you’ll need to manage all your luggage by yourself while in Japan. Having someone at home send belongings can be very expensive and is not recommended—you’ll only have to cart all that stuff back home. Try to pack only essentials, leaving enough room in your bags for gifts or souvenirs purchased in Japan.

Some packing wisdom

  1. Travel light! You will have to carry your own luggage, and you’ll regret taking an unwieldy amount. Be sure to leave space in your bags for items you want to bring back from Japan.
  2. Invest in a few covered luggage tags for your luggage and bags.
  3. Pack necessities for at least a two-day stay in Tokyo in your 
carry-on bag in case your checked baggage is lost.
  4. Practice carrying all your packed luggage ahead of time.
  5. Protect valuable items such as your passport, 
traveler’s checks, and cash by carrying them with 
you or in your carry-on bag.
  6. You’ll be walking a lot in Japan, so bring a good pair (or two) of walking shoes. Sizes are generally smaller than in the U.S., so larger-sized shoes may be especially difficult to find in Japan.
  7. Keep in mind that, generally speaking, Japanese people tend to dress more conservatively than Americans.
  8. Bring heavy socks, especially for the winter months. Most Japanese homes do not have central heating.
  9. Because of high humidity, especially in the summer, and the relatively few automatic dryers in Japan, bring clothes that dry easily and don’t wrinkle badly.
  10. Bring proper clothing that matches the climate in Japan. Depending on the season the climate can be a lot more different from that in your own country. Summer could be hotter, winter could be colder than where you now live.
  11. When in transit, keep your passport, other important documents, and medication with you at all times. Do not pack them with your checked luggage.
  12. The U.S. State Department produces a good resource brochure on what you can bring into and take out of the U.S. The booklet is entitled “Know Before You Go.” You may also find helpful information at http://travel.state.gov.

Gift Giving

Gift-giving is an especially meaningful part of Japanese society. Nearly every major train station is lined with gift shops, and entire floors in mega-department stores display only gifts. Businesspeople send gifts to their bosses twice a year, a tradition called Ochugen Oseibo. They do this in late summer and during the new year holiday.

When visiting a Japanese home, offer a gift to show your appreciation. If you are staying with a host family, bring something from your home country to present to your host family.

Offering a small gift is not only highly appropriate; it’s also a great way to share some of the good little things in your life. To keep this custom from becoming a financial burden, select a few small gifts suggestive of your home country to give as occasions arise. Consider small unbreakable items like a regional picture book, non-perishable candy, stationery, coffee beans, pins, perfume, or cosmetics.

You may want to bring a special gift for your host family. You may even want to bring ingredients for your favorite meal (or at least the recipe) and offer to cook for your host family once or twice during your stay.

Be sure to wrap all gifts. Presentation in Japan is often almost as important as the gift itself. For more, see gift giving.

Sample Packing Checklist

Printable version

Clothes

  • 1 pair comfortable walking shoes
  • 1 jacket
  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • 1 dress slacks/skirt
  • 5 shirts (during hot season you may want enough spare shirts to change)
  • 2 sweaters
  • 1 pair slippers (must have for dorm)
  • 2 pairs pajamas
  • 5 pairs socks
  • 5 sets underwear
  • 1 pair gloves

Personal Items

  • Eyeglasses (and spare)
  • Contact lenses, solution (and spare)
  • Toothbrush, paste
  • Alarm clock (battery-run)
  • Motion sickness pills (if needed)
  • Travel mirror
  • Cosmetics, deodorant
  • Stationery, pens
  • Shampoo, soap
  • Hairbrush, comb

Travel Goodies

  • Travel umbrella
  • Travel first-aid kit
  • Two-prong adapter for appliances (see above)
  • Pictures, addresses, email of family, friends
  • Gifts* (see Gift-giving)
  • Camera and film
  • Good map of Tokyo
  • Travel book on Japan
  • Sturdy waterproof backpack
  • Extra sheets (if staying in dorms)

Learning Tools

  • English-Japanese dictionary (an essential)
  • Useful textbook or study material you used in the past

Documents

  • Passport (keep a copy separate from original)
  • Traveler’s checks (keep copy of check #s separate from checks)
  • Airline tickets
  • Picture ID (driver’s license, student ID)
  • Credit card #s, phone #s for lost card
  • List of emergency contact #s
  • Medical info (allergies, blood type, immunization history)