What to Pack

// This post was originally written back in August. I’ve tweaked it a little bit to update it with what I’ve learned after being here a few months. To summarize:

  1. Layering!
  2. Don’t overpack
  3. And ship the rest of your clothing over later. For example, you’re going to Japan in summer? Have someone from home mail fall/winter clothing to you. Or just buy new clothing as the seasons change. 
  4. You can buy a lot of things in Japan — their clothes are made for the weather and lifestyle there
  5. Unless you have huge feet, that’s troublesome
  6. Think about personal items/toiletries 

Original post below–

This is a guest post that I’m doing for Illaura, who will be studying abroad at Japan Women’s University. Make sure to check out her blog!

I leave for the JET program this weekend, so I just finished packing myself. This will be my second time in Japan, and although I went during the winter months last year (January through March), I’ve had to change my mindset a bit since I’ll be going into the hot, humid months and will be there for a whole year instead. So here’s what I thought about while packing.

Seasonal — Layering from Winter to Summer

If there’s one thing I learned while in Asia, it’s that layering works the best. If you have good basics, from tank tops to long sleeves, you can use them year round.

Bring versatile clothing you can wear in any season, since Japan gets all kinds of weather, including all 4 seasons. Japan also experiences an extra season: typhoon and rainy (tsuyu) seasons.

Really, my best advice would be: Don’t overpack. If you’re like me, you’re going to want to do some shopping over there anyway. You can always buy clothes there, and there clothes are made for the weather and lifestyle there!

Winter — Stay warm under layers

One good jacket or coat. You really only need one, reliable jacket. I brought two with me, but ended up using one 95% of the time. It was semi-long, hooded, and reached mid-thigh. If I needed to, I would layer a hoodie under it. Depending on the extent of the cold, I would also wear a thin long sleeve shirt with a tank top underneath.

Leggings and tights. Even if you don’t have them or only bring a few with you, you will finds tons of Japanese shops selling socks (from knee-high to thigh-high, simple to lacy), tights and leggings. I bought so many leggings and tights in Japan, even a few simple leg warmers. When it’s freezing out, I also layered tights or leggings under jeans. Japan also sells lots of thermal underclothing, tops and bottoms, soon as summer ends.

It’s also just a good idea in general to have good, clean socks without holes. Especially because you will be taking off your shoes when you enter people’s homes and they will be seen.

That’s another thing — Shoes! If you have larger feet like I do (a US size 9), it’s very hard to find shoes that fit anywhere, so bring all the necessary shoes you need. I got lucky and was able to squeeze into an XXL ankle boot when I was in Tokyo, but that was a rare occurrence… and not worth the ¥10,000 in the end. Japanese shoe sizes are in centimeters, and if I remember correctly, the highest size is usually 23-24 cm/US 7-8. Ones that are easy to slip on and off are nice for when you are visiting people’s homes. Not necessary, I would say, but I’ve caught myself feeling like I was holding people up because I had boots that required lots of lacing up. Depending on where and when you’re going, you might want to think about boots that are waterproof and can handle the snow.

Keep those shoulders covered! One thing I was warned before going to Japan was don’t wear shoulder-revealing tops like tank tops or spaghetti straps. Or at least put something over like a cardigan. I studied abroad in a rural, small town university, so I think it applied more there. People won’t necessarily say anything to you about it, but you might get a few stares since it’s not very commonly seen. However, It seems to be fine if you’re out in the bigger cities and you’re young. For more business-like or other formal situations, it’s better to put something over it.

Summer — Layering is still your best friend

Since I’m headed to Japan in August, I’ve been thinking more about warm weather clothes.

Thin, breathable material, like linens. Tank tops that can be layered under knit tops or cardigans. Cardigans also transition well to cooler, fall weather or an extra layer in the winter months. If you see a UNIQLO when you get to Japan, they’ve got good undershirts and other great basics, and even a UV Cut collection.

Thinner leggings or more sheer tights to wear under skirts or shorts. I’ve bought more flowy skirts recently. Since I’m going to be in a more conservative, rural area, I got skirts around knee length or maxi skirts.

Another thing I was advised was to have undershirts to wear under your normal shirts. Although it may be hotter, I’m told it’s better to have that undershirt sticking to you in that humidity, rather than your actual shirt. If you don’t have these, drop by a UNIQLO once you’re in Japan. They’re great for stocking up on basics. I bought a lot of tank tops when I arrived in Japan. If you also buy a few of those knit tops, then you’re set because they cover up your shoulders and are breathable over  tank top.

In general, I tend to wear long tops/shirt-dresses over tights or leggings, which transition well from summer to winter, as I have leggings of various thickness and I can easily put on a jacket over. They also are just easy to pack because they take up less space. Currently, my two suitcases are mostly filled with those, plus jeans, short sleeve tops, tank tops, 3-4 knit tops, a thin jacket, a cardigan, a blazer, some button up shirts, skirts, and my shoes (1 pair each of rainboots, ankle boots, heels for work, and 2 pairs each of flats).

I’m basically all packed… except those omiyage

Other things to think about when packing

Toothpaste and deodorant, since you may find the ones in Japan may be weaker or just not to your liking. Japanese toothpaste also doesn’t have as much fluoride, and their water doesn’t have fluoride unlike back home, so your teeth are more susceptible. I don’t like the toothbrushes or floss in Japan either. All other toiletries, shampoo, conditioner, soap, facewash, I just buy in Japan (their hair products are amazing!). Brands you prefer may be available, but they’ll be more expensive, like I saw Clearasil, but they were often double the price. Also just be aware that a lot of the facewashes have products to lighten your skin. I had no problems with pads over there, but for those of you who prefer tampons, there are few choices available, and they may be smaller than what you are used to.

Well, this post ended up being longer than I intended, but I hope it can be a little helpful!


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