What you might want to bring to Japan

Not all countries are created the same, and they certainly don't own, have, create or sell the same products. We will look at some of the things you might want to think about when spending your last 3 pre-flight hours packing frantically because let's be honest, who packs in advance ? Hopefully, this list will save you a little time, and cold sweats !

After having to go through asking friends over in Canada to ship me beloved items in secret packaging through the mail because I had no hope of finding them in Japan, I thought listing a few of the key items you would not want to forget when going to Japan on a short to medium term trip. Girls and boys alike !

This list is also to consider mostly if you will be staying for a medium length stay, which I would consider to be more than two weeks up to 3 months. I suppose then, you would get used to Japan, the products they offer, and could get around to find things there to replace your beloved items you had at home. And in the worst case.... There is always internet shopping.


I found myself going through most parts of Tokyo in search of -the- foundation when I realized I was not going to be able to find the only make-up I always used for years prior (which was a basic, sold everywhere in Canada Maybelline foundation). Maybe reserve some space to bring your most adored makeup items with you and pack a back-up if you empty them (depending on the length of your stay). If you are going long term in Japan, I would suggest finding a place online where you can easily find what you like to be shipped to Japan. But please check the details on importation of some cosmetic products as some higher end products might have ingredients that are not allowed in some countries or formats that cannot be imported (sprays etc).
Of course, Japan does have a wide range of cosmetics and make-up brands of good to very good quality, but the colors (especially for foundation, concealer) are often extremely limited unless you are a very generic pale-medium beige.

Any very pale white person or any shade of brown or darker skinned person will struggle quite a bit to find shades to fit them with Japanese brands. To give you an idea, the available shades of MAC foundation you can find in stores in Japan start at N18 for the palest and go to NC45 which I have heard is not really dark at all for dark skinned, brown and black people.


Japan has such cute and cool shoes for all fashion styles ! One point might prevent you from getting some though... Size. Shoes in Japan are often offered in sizes 22-22.5cm to 25.5 cm for women (around 4.5~5 to 8 US/Canada) and 23 to 28 for men (5 to 9.5 men size US/Canada). Some special shops will have extra sizes (up to 26 or 27 for women and up to 29 or so for men) but they are often more expensive and the styles are limited. Check your shoe size conversion before leaving !
Also, my best advice, is bringing both comfortable shoes, and shoes that are easy to take off (knee high laced up boots ? Maybe re-think that). In some restaurants and tourist places to visit (temples for example, although not all of them) you will have to take out your shoes and put them in small boxes at the entrance. Depending on the season, you might also want to bring an extra pair of socks/footies in your backpack or purse to put on in these situations so you don't end up walking barefoot in a restaurant in the summer because you had sandals on. A lot of places in cities are really easy to access by foot as well if you have the time (and want to save a couple bucks on the train !) so comfortable shoes are also a must. Then, even if you take the train, it might be crowded so you might have to stand anyways.


I'm uncertain about the types of deodorant available in other countries than the USA or Canada, but where I live a lot of people buy and use stick deodorant and antiperspirant. In Japan, either in "conbinis" (corner store, convenience store), the drug store or pharmacy, you mostly find spray deodorant (and even these are not that commonly available). And unless you know some japanese, you will need to make a little guessing game to know which one to choose. Most are antiperspirant and will help with odor. You can easily find american brands on Amazon.jp or at stores like LoFT or maybe DonkiHote in big cities, but you might have to shell out a couple more dollars for those. 
It is common to use cleaning sheets that look and feel like small towelettes or body sheets. Some of them might have a little perfume or even some cooling effect product on them that will help refreshing your body. Available are also some etiquette pads which, yes, are pads for the underarms. You can usually use them to stick to the underarm area of a shirt, or some can also hook to your bra straps. It is very useful, and will keep you dry and looking good ! I wonder why this is not a thing here... 

Your computer / Laptop 

Even though Japan is a master of technology and they have an incredible selection of tablets, laptops or computers, PC and Mac alike, you might want to bring yours for the simple reason that finding the software/Windows/iOs in your language, or with a keyboard to which you are used to might prove difficult. All laptops will be able to work in Japan with a simple adapter to fit the 3 prongs plugs or other types of plugs that you can also find easily. Obviously, if you can find the specific adapter that fits your country, you'll be able to use your equipment as soon as you set foot in Japan. (most cafés, McDonald's included have good wifi you can use until you can get some internet set up if you are staying a little longer.
I recommend trying to get your adapter before leaving for Japan in your own country to save you the run and get-lost-in-a-Yodobashi-Camera experience. I do understand Japanese to a certain level, but trying to fix or go around programs in Japanese in the event of an issue with the software might become a whole other type of fight. Of course, you can still shop online for this, but if you are only coming temporarily, it is worth the luggage weight and space to bring your own.

If you have a tablet or smartphone, I do suggest looking up the rental services at the Airport you will be landing at. They can either rent you a smartphone, or only a SIM card that can be used for your trip. The process is made in english, often by a simple online form and is very easy and affordable. Of course this is better for a shorter term stay since it might become a little more pricey on the long run. There are a couple companies offering this service but I am most familiar with SOFTBANK, from which I have rented cellphones for my past trips and never had a issue with them.

Casual medicine

For specific prescription medicine, there are rules for bringing them in Japan, which I am not yet that familiar with. Just make sure that if you come for a quite short trip and take prescription medication, that you bring them in their original bottles, and bring a copy of your doctor`s note as well. For people who have to carry needles (diabetics, or other people who need other types of injection) you might want to do more research on how to bring them over, if there are any restrictions or laws for documentation necessary. Some information can be found here 
Also, bring some protection for mosquitoes ! (Spring, summer time travel). They are absolutely ferocious and will most likely eat you alive. I have been a victim of these monsters way too many times and had to visit my university's doctor to ask for some relief.
I have heard of people trying to get some Advil or Ibuprofen in Japan and not feeling the effects as much, so you might want to bring a couple with you as well, just in case. They are readily available though, so I wouldn't stress too much about it. They have "Bufferin", "EVE" and a couple others that would be your go to for a similar pain relief.  Just check out for the key words

 itami - 痛み (pain), haita -歯痛 (tooth ache), zutsuu - 頭痛 (headache), hatsunetsu - 発熱 (fever)

And last but not least : MONEY. Bring cash. A lot of it. It will save you from so much trouble. Plan ahead and get your money changed in yen before departure as the exchange rate offered by airports is often ridiculous. Most restaurants and smaller shops will only accept cash as payment, even though hotel chains and some department stores will accept major credit cards nowadays (like VISA, or MasterCard). And don't worry about carrying a lot on you. Combinis will accept payment with a 10000 yen bill even for a very small purchase, so don't sweat it ! It is common for japanese people to walk around with their wallets full of cash. 

Honorable mention : 

If you have any type of food allergies, ask a japanese person to write you a note on your smartphone or a written one you can keep with you to show restaurant staff. A simple list of things you cannot have will do. For example "I am allergic to shellfish. I cannot have [example of shellfish], nor broths or ingredients that include them or I might get very sick. I do love meat !" (If you can, suggest something that you can safely have as an option for the staff to know what to offer you as an alternative !Vegans, vegetarians, celiac people, and any other type of food allergy, plan ahead !

~ Not Worth It !~

  • A non-foldable umbrella - Unless you have an umbrella that can be thrown in your purse or backpack, don't bring it. You can simply walk in a combini at your arrival, spend 200 yen on an umbrella that you can simply leave in an umbrella rack at your hotel or nearby combini when you leave. 
  • Hair products or body soap - You can find all your necessary general hygiene products in combinis or pharmacies everywhere. It is not worth the luggage weight ! 
  • Winter clothes - If you come from a country where winter is harsh and you visit Japan during winter, plan some spring coat. Get light on the winter clothes. If you visit the southern area of the main island (Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima~), you most likely will not need it much. It is very humid, and often windy, but the temperature isn't too low at all. 
  • Tourist books and maps - leave these at home. We're in 2017. Check your smart phone, or internet ! In the worst case, take the train and get lost ! That's an adventure :)
So plan ahead, don't pack to heavy and have fun ! And take a lot of pictures ! 
Any other suggestions of things to bring ? Things to leave at home ? Leave them in the comments !


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