9 things to bring when traveling Japan

Are you visiting Japan for just a short time? Here’s a quick list of things that I think are important to bring to make your stay less worrisome and more enjoyable. If you have any suggestions that I didn’t mention, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

  1. Debit Card and $100 – Many people say bring cash because many places don’t accept credit cards. This is only kind of true. I say bring $100 and your debit card instead. At the airport you can minimizeย  exchange rate fees by changing only $100 into Yen. This way you’ll have cash on hand and can buy some things from the vending machines and pay for transportation when you arrive. Major stores will take a debit card if it has the Visa or Mastercard logo on it. To get money, you can withdrawal using your Visa or Mastercard from almost any Japan Post Office (no ATM fee) or 7-11 (~250 Yen ATM fee). Very fair exchange rates are set each day by Visa or MasterCard, and depending where you bank you’ll be charged 1% from Visa or Mastercard, and 1% or more from your bank. And you’ll have a withdrawal limit of $500 USD per day most likely. And many major stores will accept credit cards as payment.
  2. Deodorant – It gets hot and humid during the summer, and sometimes public transportation cranks up the heat in the winter. To stay dry, you should bring some antiperspirant/deodorant. I haven’t seen it for sale that frequently in Japan. When I did buy it in Japan I had to go to a few pharmacies until I found a Ban Rollon for about 500 Yen. It’s small and lasts maybe 3-4 weeks. Costco sells Speed Stick deodorant (non antiperspirant) but I don’t think it works very well. I really recommend taking at least 1 bottle of Certain Dri Roll-On Anti-Perspirant which almost stops you from sweating.
  3. Hand Sanitizer – I haven’t seen this for sale in Japan. You’ll be touching a lot of things including doorways, bus or subway handles, money, and then it’ll be time to eat! Sometimes it’s hard to find places to wash your hands. Many bathrooms are missing two things… soap and paper towels. When you go to a restaurant they’ll usually give you a wet towel, but I think bringing a small bottle of hand sanitizer will help you stay healthy and give you a piece of mind.
  4. Handkerchief – There’s usually no towel or air dryer in the public bathrooms, and you might need it to wipe sweat from your face in the summer. Something cheap is fine. When you’re in Japan you can hit the shops and find a nice one for 500 yen or a Burberry or Calvin Klein for 1000 yen or less.
  5. Digital Camera – Sure, Japan is known for electronics and gadgets, but they’re not cheap. I find that many things in Japan cost the same or more than in the US. And all Sony products have only Japanese language menus. When you’re capturing memories, it’s better safe than sorry.
  6. 3 Prong Travel Outlet Adapter – Almost all outlets are 2 prong only. So if you have any 3 prong electronics like your laptop, bring an adapter. You could buy one here, but you’re exploring Japan so why waste time looking for one?
  7. Over the counter allergy meds – Seasonal allergies? Allergic to dust, or anything else? You should bring some Clariton or Zyrtec. It’s not sold OTC here, and the OTC meds are expensive and cause drowsiness.
  8. Aspirin – You should bring a small bottle of aspirin or Tylenol. It costs maybe $1-2 in the US for a travel size. If you need to buy it in Japan it’ll cost you around 700 Yen for 20 aspirin pills. If you need to buy some here, look for “Bufferin” or ask for it by the brand name.
  9. Earplugs and Sleep Mask – I recommend this because walls are thin in most buildings, so it might be hard to sleep at times.

89 thoughts on “9 things to bring when traveling Japan

  1. Hi! I noticed when I was in Tokyo earlier this month (Shibuya), there were girls handing out tissues free of charge. How cool is that!

  2. I just wanted to say: It’s peace of mind, not a piece of mind! Personal pet peeve ๐Ÿ˜€

    Still a very useful article! Why don’t they sell deodorant? Don’t Japanese people stink too? Weird!!

  3. a couple of comments –
    – I prefer cash – you can control the exchange rate that you buy yen at and don’t have to pay any bank fees (which can add up a bit on international exchanges)
    – hand sanitiser is definitely a must – I ahve seen it in some pharmacy and convenience stores but it can be hard to pick on the shelf if you don’t speak/read Japanese

    The Japanese are very friendly and the first time I went I ended up talking with all sorts of people – on the train, in the park on the ferry….the next time I went back I took little kangaroos and koalas to give to the people I met and I made some little business cards with my email address so I can keep in touch ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Went to Japan for the second time 2 years ago and they took my credit card most places. You can buy your rail pass on line. I ordered my yen from my bank which is Chase bank it didn’t take long at all.

  5. For a country where folks wear face masks, interesting that hand sanitizer is not a huge seller.

    Folks who are worried about money, don’t be. the 7-11s are EVERYWHERE, at least they were in Tokyo.

  6. Hi
    We have been reading your blog – every post with great interest! Cathy will be in Japan in September for a couple of months with her kids. They will be doing their school work through the internet. However some of the apartments that they will be renting do not have internet, and to go to a cafe or Mcdonalds – isn’t the best for doing school work. Is it possible to purchase in japan a”net stick” from one of the local providers? (USB internet stick)
    Have any suggestions?

    I look forward to more posts! (and any advice on internet connections)

    S

  7. I’ve seen deodorant, just not antiperspirant. So you end up sweating a lot and even with deodorant you’re going to smell in a few hours and have lovely wet spots under your arms.

  8. My daughter will be going to Japan on a school trip and we just got her a debit card, which happens to be a mastercard debit card. Is this really unusable in Japan? Can it be used at ATM’s?

    Also wondering how expensive things are. Everything is paid for except lunches and such. How much is the average lunch?

    Thanks for the help.
    Shana

  9. You can use a MC debit card at big shopping places and some grocery stores. Best ATM to get money from is the Japan Post Office. A lunch can cost 400+ yen. I usually average 500-1000 if I eat out for lunch.

  10. Try finding a internet cafe. I go to Sendai, Japan every summer, and there are internet cafes…not all of them are expensive, despite what you may hear. Just make sure not to get the “boxed” rooms…see if they have the open-area computers; those are significantly cheaper.

  11. Maybe it’s just here then (Toyama), but hand sanitiser is a huge seller! Besides the fact that you can buy it anywhere, it’s available for all customers at shopping centres, supermarkets etc, right near the entrance.

    Japanese deodorant is a waste of time, and having traveled on busy trains at different times of year, it seems to me that most people don’t care. I’ve been here 3 years and i would recommend bringing a good anti-perspirant with you, as well as getting it shipped out from time to time from the folks back home.

    Regarding a lack of fibre in foods here, if you’re going to stay for a while, i’d recommend buying oatmeal from one of the online sellers, like foreign buyers’ club (check google). They also have a bunch of different foods, in case you have cravings for a taste of home!

  12. You can visit a Softbank store. They offer a net stick at a monthly fee, but I’m not sure the price or contract requirements.

  13. Great idea! I was without internet for 6 weeks in 2009. I ended up working from an internet cafe using my laptop. They often have deals if it’s early in the morning and sell time by the hour or packages (like a 5 or 10 hour package).

  14. You can get deodorant, but it’s not as strong as in the US.

    You need an alien registration card to get a cellphone. I’ve heard of people not needing this, but legally the phone company must require it. It’s a post 9-11 thing. However, you can rent phones from companies that rent them. It’s expensive, though. Your cellphone company might have phones that will work in Japan and a plan that allows international roaming. Verizon has this.

    In eastern Japan, electricity is 50 cycles, in western Japan it’s 60. It’s also 100 watts, vs 110 in the US. I found that my curling iron didn’t heat up as hot as I’m used to. But things like laptops are fine.

    Be careful about over-the-counter cold and allergy meds — some are illegal here, for the same reason that you now have to ask the pharmacist for them in many states.

    If you will do a lot of traveling on trains in a short period of time (a few weeks) a rail-pass will save you lots of money. You must buy the voucher for it outside of Japan, then convert it into a pass which you can do at Narita.

    The earplugs and face mask will be great for the flights over and back as well.

    If you can read some Japanese, http://kakaku.com/ is great for finding low prices on all kinds of things. If you know the model of camera or computer you want, you can find the hole-in-the-wall store in Akihabara that sells it for much less than the big electronics stores.

  15. There’s a lot of discussion here, (from the many great ideas posted above ๐Ÿ™‚ ) and I guess this was posted a year ago, but I want to clarify some things that I’ve already researched and written about over on my blog.

    Debit cards – actually many post office ATMs will not accept them, even if Visa or Mastercard. I wouldn’t risk it, bring cash or traveler’s checks instead. Some places do accept credit cards, but they don’t always work (I’ve tried, many times). It might work more often in places like Tokyo, but in the non-metropolis areas, not so much.

    Deodorant – actually quite easy to find in Japan, but if you are just traveling, it’s probably easier to bring your own anyway (not sure why you wouldn’t?) –> http://www.survivingnjapan.com/2010/07/how-to-find-good-deodorant-in-japan.html

    Hand sanitizer – sold in every drug store now, though it was difficult to find two years ago. The whole flu thing suddenly made everyone want to buy it.

    Ladies pads – they are not smaller than western sizes, so it’s interesting when people say that. The overnight ones you can get are actually huge, bigger than what I found in the U.S. Look for the dark blue or black packaging with moon/stars on it and usually it will have numbers like 300, 350, 400, etc. Larger the number, larger the pad. But really, bringing pads is unnecessary. Same with tampons.

    Allergy meds- if traveling yes bring your own because it’s easier, if moving here you can usually find your prescription or kind but it depends on what you use. i wrote up a post about this too. You can bring most meds in, except for tylenol and a few others. Oh and for aspirin, you can bring in ibuprofen, but you can also find it quite easily too, just depends on if you feel you need it or not.

    Per the internet stick – Softbank does offer an internet stick and essentially you pay for a monthly plan that costs about the same as an iPhone data plan. 4000-6000/month (or per packet, but if you’re using the internet a lot it would make more sense to pay the flat rate, although some plans will cap out at the max rate.) I’m not sure if you can only do it for a few months or not, as I only asked about pricing.

    I would also suggest for the list above bringing floss. Of course, you can find it here, but if you like or use a particular kind, you won’t find too many options here. Don’t worry about toothpaste, as that’s easy to find (yes, with flouride). Might also consider sunscreen – although they do have it here, the types may not work for you. All in all it’s quite easy to find most things here in Japan but if traveling a lot of things make more sense to pack in small amounts so you don’t need to spend time locating stuff. But, at least you know if you run out they are possible to find! ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Thank you so much for posting this! I’m travelling to Japan to backpack for two weeks with a friend of mine and this information has been very helpful in terms of figuring out what to pack and not load ourselves down. Thank you so much for all the posts and tips!!!

  17. I AM HOPING THIS WILL GET TO SOMEONE. I WILL BE GOING TO JAPAN IN DEC, TO SEE MY SON AND GRANDSON AND TO SPEND XMAS. I AM TAKING A NARCOTIC AND WONDERING IF ANYONE HAS HAD TO GO THROUGH SOMTHING LIKE THIS. I AM TOLD THAT I HAVE TO GET PERMISSION TO BRING IT INTO THE COUNTRY AND IF SO HOW DID IT WORK OUT FOR YOU, I HAVE BEEN TOLD THAT I NEED TO FILL OUT ALL THESES PAPER IN ORDER TO GET INTO THE COUNTRY. DOES ANYONE KNOW IF ANYONE HAS BEEN TURNED DOWN FOR AN APPROVEAL TO BRING IN MEDICATION WHICH IS A NARCOTIC. PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF ANYONE HAS EXPERINCE THIS. THANKS FOR ALL THE HELP!!!

    THANKS,

    SHEILA

  18. can i bring my personal lap top in japan.
    because some of my friends told me that lap top is not allowed to bring in japan.
    im only a tourist
    pls.reply thank you.

  19. use cold because the heat is what damages the hair. your hair has many layers to it. and when you blow dry it it destroys the cuticle. which is what gives you dead ends. and yes it can cause balding. it just depends how often you blow dry it…dont do it too much!

  20. Hi, I am going to Okazaki and Kyoto as an exchange student in a couple of weeks and I was wondering if you had any good ideas on what to buy if my budget is $100 to $200 dollars. Thanks!

  21. Can you be a little more specific? If you’re looking for things to buy before you go to Japan you should take a look at the list and the comments. Also shoes are a good idea too!

  22. Thanks for posting this! I didn’t realise some of those things were hard to buy in Japan…
    But, since I’m living there for a long time for military reasons, do you have any suggestions for what to buy for long period stays? Say, three of four years?

  23. Thanks for the post!
    I’m traveling in December for the World Cup soccer tournament. I will be there for 10 days and would like to know what would be the best way to travel between these cities; Nayarita-Nagoya-Toyota. If by train is the only way, should I by the Japan Rail Pass and how much would that be (more or less)

    Thanks,

    Tizoc

  24. Nice article. I’m hoping to visit Japan next year if things with my job go according to plan and it’s good to have a rough idea of things to buy.

  25. I know this is a late reply, but East Japan (Tokyo/Yokohama/Shizuoka and points east) runs on 50Hz. West Japan (Osaka/Kobe/Kyoto and points west) are on 60Hz like the USA. All Japanese equipment is required to accept both 50/60Hz to be sold across the country. Stuff you bring from America may not run as expected on 50Hz though, so you do need to check if your power supply can handle 50Hz if you’re in the eastern parts. Nagoya I believe is on the 60Hz… but not sure.

  26. Hi All, could anyone tell me exactly what is minimum wage for a foreigner (Filipino) on a full time visa, while working for a 1 year contract?

    I apply as a photographer and was hired. Unfortunately my rate per month is about 70299 yen plus free lodging. Foods not included. Do you guys think this is fair enough i have a family and 1 kid who will be in grade 1 this school year. I am from the Philippines

    Thanks!.

  27. 3-4 years? No idea, and that’s some advanced planning! You might end up saving money if you buy things from overseas as you need them.

  28. I’m not sure what the minimum wage is, but I assume it’s the same for nationals as well as foreigners. Is that 70299 yen enough to live off and save? This depends on where you live, what you eat, and if you get your own room you don’t have to share with anybody. Having a small 1 bedroom apartment/flat could run 30,000+ yen per month and that doesn’t cover utilities, internet, furniture, or appliances. So you can figure out how much your living conditions are worth and add it to your salary to get an idea on how much the true value of the job is. You’ll have to budget your estimated cost for food for your family and the transportation, as well as school expenses.

  29. Thanks Steve

    Approximately 70,000 yen is my NET and i think its in Akihibara..The guy told me i will get my food allowance in this amount and between 15,000-30,000 yen for the cost of living.

  30. I’m here in Japan now for two weeks (1 week for work, and 2 week for travel). I exchanged $500 into yen at about a rate of 78 yen/dollar. I am a little concerned that I’m going to run short on cash. Many small restaurants will only accept yen, and that is really draining my supply of cash. I just went into a local 7-11 and loaded my basket with food for my hotel room. The sign said they accept Mastercard, but when I got to the counter, they told me that they only take Japan-based Mastercards. So I was left to pay for the whole thing with cash – over 2000 yen. Many attractions are not going to take credit cards either, so if you want to visit a museum a shrine, use public transportation, or eat at a local establishment – then take plenty of cash with you.

  31. 78 yen/dollar hurts doesn’t it? When I moved to Japan it was 120 yen/dollar. 35% drop since then… it’s a killer. I’m amazed how plastic isn’t widely accepted. Sometimes when I use it at a large department store they are surprised.

    7-11 ATM accepts my Master Card from the US. Also any post office takes my non-Japan Visa and MasterCard. Daily limits are $500 US on the card (39,000 yen) so if you need a lot you can use multiple cards or hit the ATM in the A.M. then in the P.M.

  32. Carry bran flakes in zip lock baggies. A couple of teaspoons in a glass of water is all you need daily .

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