There are some things that are pretty obvious when it comes to things you should bring to Japan. Of course you will bring clothes to change and very likely you will also bring a toothbrush.
Other things are more surprising or easily forgotten. Here’s a list of eleven things you should take with you on your trip to Japan.
1. Adapter and multiple plug
Japan’s voltage is 100V and the form of the plugs is the same as the one’s used in America. So if you are an American, since electrical devices usually have no issues with lower voltage, you’re good to go. If you are from a different country, like I am, make sure to bring an adapter. If you want to connect multiple electrical devices at the same time, it’s also wise to bring a multiple plug.
2. A compatible phone
When I came to Japan for the first time in 2009, my mobile phone didn’t work there. It was a Motorola Krzr and not capable of UMTS. Unfortunately, that was the only thing available in Japan at the time. Today, most smartphones are compatible to Japanese 3G and 4G networks. However, if you want to be on the safe side, Japanese carriers typically use 3G UMTS 2100 MHz, 3G CDMA2000 800 MHz and LTE band 1. Click here for more information on Japanese phone networks.
3. Offline apps
For those of you that do not have a contract that includes roaming in Japan, significant charges may occur. That’s why it’s a smart move to get some offline apps onto your phone before starting your trip or while connected to a Wifi network. Some of my favorite offline apps are MAPS.ME for maps and Makimono as a dictionary.
4. JR pass voucher
The Japan Rail pass is a ticket that allows to you to travel on many JR lines with no extra cost. It is available for 7, 14 or 21 days and can be a huge money saver if you’re doing are visiting many cities. However, it cannot be purchased in Japan. What you need to do instead is go to one of the official vendors in your country and purchase a it there. You will then get a voucher which you can change to a JR pass once in Japan. Take a look here for more information on the JR pass.
5. Small gifts
A great way to show your appreciation is to bring small gifts when you are visiting someone. It’s especially nice to bring some traditional goods from your home country. However from my own experience I can tell you that it can be a bit difficult when you are bringing food. When I went to stay at my girlfriend’s family’s house in November 2014, I thought I brought some highly regarded German ginger bread called Elisenlebkuchen, which is pictures above. It turned out that many Japanese people don’t like cinnamon and my girlfriend doesn’t like ginger. Of course they didn’t display their dislike and so it took me some time until I found out that my present wasn’t actually as well received as I thought it was.
6 Your visa (or passport)
Countries like Germany have an agreement with Japan that allows their citizens to receive a tourist visa upon arrival. These are usually valid for up to 90 days and all you need to provide is your passport. If you are not sure whether your country is one of these, please make sure to check in advance and apply for a visa in time. Then, when traveling to Japan, remember to bring it as well.
7 A credit card
Exchange rates are often the cheapest when either changing money in Japan or just getting it from an ATM. Therefore, make sure to bring your credit card. Also keep in mind that ATMs in Japan are often placed inside of banks and consequently closed at night. Nonetheless you can always get some money at 7 eleven convenience stores.
8 A small towel
Japanese public toilets do not provide towels or tissues to dry your hands. That’s why most Japanese people always have a small towel with them when going out, a so called ハンカチ (hankachi). The name says all about the size, it’s like a handkerchief-sized towel.
9 A collared shirt
After some time you may get to know some Japanese people and are invited to their house, go out eating with them or similar. In any of this cases a collared shirt or blouse can be of great value. The day on which I was most happy to have a one with me was when I was told that we were going to make a family photo for my father in law’s 66th birthday (which is apparently a big deal in Japan).
10 Your chopstick skills
Chopsticks are to Japan what knife and fork are to the west. Everyone uses them, all the time. You have the choice to either always ask for a knife and fork or to be prepared before you go and blend in like a native. If you want to know how it’s done, click here!
11 Space for souvenirs
When packing your suitcase, make sure you leave a lot of empty space for souvenirs. On the image above is a part of the heap of stuff I brought with me when coming home in December 2014. Everything was packed and I was wearing five layers to have my luggage stay under my airline’s weight limit.
While I’m sure the list above is not complete, I hope it is helpful. Now please feel invited to share your personal must bring items in the comments.