Thursday, 13 June 2013

1 Month To Go: What I'm Packing For My Trip To Japan

Well, believe it or not, another month has gone by and I'm now only 1 month away from my much anticipated, hopefully not over-hyped, trip to Japan!

So since the trip is getting close I though I'd share with you some insight into what I'm packing for my trip in the hope that it might be useful to anyone else planning a trip to Japan especially in the summer.

A little note on summer in Japan ...
Whenever I told each of my Japanese friends that I was planning a trip to Japan in July they looked a little worried and asked me if I knew how hot it is in Japan in the summer. I quickly assured them that I did and told them about a previous summer trip to Japan to stop their worry. Truthfully though, they're right, it is really hot in Japan in the summer. And very humid. I once read that if you wash your hair or do laundry in during the summer it never really dries without the aid of a dryer because the air is so humid! (I've also heard stories of monster mould that grows in bathrooms and dark corners because of the rise in air moisture.) Most guide books warn that high temperatures can make travel unbearable during the summer but the summer season has a lot to offer, lots of matsuri, cheaper air fares, yukata, hanabi and delicious summer food. You also get a sense of camaraderie from the people that you meet on the street, in shops or on the subway as they smile and ask 'Atsui desu ne?' If you can stand the heat and humidity it is truly a fun and interesting time to visit.

So here is a little run down of what I'm packing for my trip to Japan next month...
If you have any comments or suggestions then please add them in the comments below, I'd love to hear them ^_^


1. Clothes
Of course, I'm packing clothes for my trip to Japan. The reasons are that I don't want to wear one outfit for two weeks. Equally I don't want to walk around the Tokyo/Yokohama area naked. However, because it is going to be pretty hot over there (the average temperature for Tokyo in July is a sticky 29°C/84°F and even the average night time temperature of 23°C/73°F is warmer than most summer days here in the UK) I'm choosing what I do take pretty carefully. That means lots of light, floaty summer dresses, cool blouses and t-shirts, skirts, shorts and thin trousers and a shawl to cover up my fair, sunburn-prone skin outside and keep me warm in chilly air-conditioned restaurants and shopping malls.

2. Hankies & Fans
Anyone that has been to Japan in the summer will know that fans, both the flat uchiwa variety often given out as advertising flyers and the fold-up sensu kind, are a very popular and useful accessory to carry. The two in the picture above were gifts from Japan and I'm looking forward to taking them back there and putting them to good use keeping me cool.
Handkerchiefs are also very useful during the hot and humid days of Japanese summers but they are used a little differently than they are here in the West. Rather than being used to wipe a runny nose Japanese people use hankies, or sometimes a small towel (like a face cloth) to dab the sweat from their face and neck. Last time I visited Japan in the summer there were many occasions where I wished I was carrying a handy handkerchief too so I'm popping these two cute bear print ones in my suitcase.

3. Shoes
Again this is quite obvious, of course I'm taking shoes with me but because I like to walk a lot when I'm on holiday (I think it's the best way to see a city, I've happened across so many interesting little sights and places just by wandering around and getting a little lost) I'm making sure that all the shoes that I do take are super comfy. Also, another thing to bear in mind when packing shoes for a trip to Japan is that in several places you may be required to take your shoes off, for example at traditional inns and restaurants, in people's homes and at some tourist spots. In these situations a pair of slip-on shoes that don't require lacing or fastening is very useful.

4. A Practical Bag
Although this bag (a much-loved birthday present from Mr Itsumo Japan) is undoubtedly very pretty it is also very handy for carrying around all those holiday essentials such as guide books, a phrasebook, my purse, my compact camera and maybe a couple of snacks ; )

5. Toiletries
Aside from the usual everyday toiletries like shampoo and shower gel I will also be making sure that I pack a good sun cream (I really recommend Once by Boots Soltan. You only need to apply it once in the morning, unless you go swimming or have a shower, and it protects you all day. I used it on a recent trip to Barcelona and didn't burn once in the hot Spanish sun, something of a miracle for my fair skin!). I also like to take Aloe Vera gel with me on holiday as it is excellent as a cooling after-sun lotion, especially if you keep it in the fridge.

6. Guide Books & Phrase Books
I always take at least one guide book away with me and on this trip I'm taking Time Out Tokyo and Lonely Planet Tokyo. Although the Time Out guide has been criticised for its lack of Japanese translations I already feel that it's far exceeding the Lonely Planet guide in the number of cool and interesting places that it includes, of course I won't truly be able to judge this until I use it in Japan. I'll keep you posted on that. In addition to these two guide books I'm also taking a bilingual Tokyo City Atlas and a folder packed full of print-outs and information about the sights and places that I've found online.
Unless you're fluent in Japanese, which I'm definitely not, you'll also need to pack a phrasebook. I'm taking the Lonely Planet Japanese Phrasebook for the second time as well as a stack of flashcards that I've prepared with useful words and phrases that have popped up during my studies, I talked more about this in my 3 Months To Go: Preparing to Use My Japanese Skill in Japan post.

7. Notebook, Pens & Pencils
I don't want to miss or forget anything from my trip and I'm hoping that it's going to provide me with lots of new material to write about so I'll be taking a notebook, pen and pencils so that I can jot down all my thoughts and experiences, doodle, draw and generally fill the pages with as much 'japaneseness' as possible. I always take scissors and Pritt Stick with me too for a bit of on the go scrapbooking! The notebooks that I've filled on previous trips have always yielded something useful and interesting and serve as a wonderful reminder of the holiday. I'm told that the great Michael Palin writes in his journal every morning when he's travelling and documents the previous day's events. Apparently this is because, in the light of a new day, he can write rationally about his experiences without being influenced by hunger, tiredness or any other stress that might have plagued him. I'm not sure that my trip will be as stressful as some of Michael Palin's epic adventures but it's an interesting idea.

8. Camera Equipment
As an avid amateur photographer I never go on any trip without at least one camera. On this trip I'll be taking two, my Canon DSLR for 'serious' photography and my Nikon Coolpix for occasions when I want to travel a little lighter. In preparation for this trip I've been swotting up on techniques that I think will be useful while I'm in Japan and bought a new lens and a couple of filters. I'm not going to let anything go undocumented on this trip! This holiday is also the first trip that I'll be taking a tripod too. My main motivation for this is that I've never managed to get a good shot of the breathtaking Tokyo night skyline and I'm determined to capture it this time. I'm also hoping to see a hanabi taikai or fireworks display, a quintessential Japanese summer experience, and a tripod will be invaluable for capturing that.

9. Backpack
As well as my lovely handbag I'm also taking a small backpack with me for lugging around cameras, lenses, notebooks and all those souvenirs. In the stifling heat of a Japanese summer you'll want to carry any considerable weight in as comfortable a way as possible and a backpack with padded straps is the best way to do this. Or perhaps get your husband to carry it for you ; )

10. More Books
Yep, that's right, more books! But this time they're novels. Everyone needs a holiday read or two, not least for the 12 hour long-haul flight but also for train journeys, sunny afternoons on the balcony or lazy days on the beach. The books pictured are actually reads from previous trips as I haven't actually chosen anything for this trip yet, if anyone has any suggestions I'd be glad to hear them.

11. iPad
I'm a fairly recent convert to the iPad and now I love it. I've loaded mine up with useful apps like a Japanese-English dictionary (which is saving me a lot of room in my suitcase!), useful links, notes and research, a couple of books and films and some entertainment for the flight like Scrabble and an app that's teaching me to play the hanafuda card game Koikoi. I don't know what I ever did without it!

12. Passport & Tickets 
Finally, and most importantly, I'm taking my passport and all the tickets and travel documents, which are tucked neatly into my smart new Cath Kidston travel wallet covered in pictures of trains (another lovely present from Mr Itsumo Japan), because, quite simply, I won't be going anywhere without them.

Have I missed anything? Do you have any advice for other brave travellers planning a summer trip to Japan? Then please tell me about them in the comments below ^_^

I hope this post has been entertaining and at least a little useful to anyone preparing for a trip to Japan. If you want more information about what to expect when you get to Japan or what you might need to pack there are a lot of excellent blogs out there packed full of advice but my favourite is the excellent Surviving in Japan which has a whole page dedicated to packing for Japan.

5 comments :

Hi there!! I'm so jealous you are going to Japan at such a fantastic time in the summer. Best of luck to you and all the matsuris! It does get so icky hot in the summer. One thing you might want to take or buy when you're there is mosquito repellent. The mosquito are brutal in the summer, and every time I go back in the summer, I come back with legs all bruised and bit up.Other than that, looks like you're set. Have fun! がんばって~

I hope you'll have a great trip! ^___^
I'm not sure if this summer is going to be a normal summer, though.
Yesterday we had 36°C(!) in Western Japan and it's only June! Rainy season hasn't started yet.
Some are worried that we'll get heavy rainstorms in July, maybe even floods and some strong typhoons and then an extremely hot summer. Hotter than usually.
I surely hope not! :(
Although this is my 7th summer in Japan, I just can't get used to the heat.

Well, Tokyo is about 15°C colder and rainy at the moment, so if you only plan to stay in Tokyo, it should be ok.

You should get a spray to avoid mosquito bites, but buy it in Japan! Depending on where you go, you'll need it.
I'm sure you know about all the insects in Japan in summer as well and that some of them can be dangerous and consequently how to deal with them, right? :)
If not, maybe you should read this: http://zoomingjapan.com/life-in-japan/insects-and-other-pests/

Other than that I think you're good to go! :)
Just make sure to put on sunscreen, drink enough water and either use a hat or an umbrella that can filter UV and stuff in order to not get a heatstroke.

Hi Leona, thanks for commenting!

It's so nice to hear from someone else who is a fan of summer in Japan, it's such a vibrant and exciting time to visit but is often overlooked in favour of the more popular spring and autumn seasons. The stifling heat doesn't help though : )

Hi Zooming Japan, thanks for your comment too!

I enjoyed/was terrified by your post about insects! It's packed full of info and really useful for anyone visiting or moving to Japan, thanks for sharing it. The weather sounds a bit crazy there at the moment, I was hoping that the rainy season would be pretty much over by the time I get there : ) We will be staying in Yokohama and visiting Tokyo, Kamakura and Kawagoe as well as exploring Kanagawa prefecture a little so I'm guessing, from previous experience, that we won't be bothered by too many insects in the cities. Since we'll be staying in an apartment though I'm mentally preparing myself for the likelihood of seeing cockroaches.

I have encountered some of the insects that you mentioned in your post before though : ( In 2006 we (me and my husband) spent the whole of July in Japan (it was amazing). As part of the trip we went to a little town called Ushimado in Okayama prefecture to experience a more rural, off the beaten track Japan. Although we had a great time I was unprepared for how many insects there were! (I'm am pretty terrified of all insects by the way!) We saw a mukade in the woods nearby (it was dead but still scary), some enormous spiders, some giant things flying past our window which, in hindsight, could have been suzumebachi and plenty of cockroaches. It is an understatement to say that I felt a little uneasy the whole time we were there! Every night a gecko would come out and climb up the walls eating insects, he was my best friend ^_^

Both of you mentioned mosquito spray which is something that I hadn't thought of. I didn't use any last time and didn't get bitten but it is a good suggestion. Do you think it's necessary in the cities?

Thanks again for commenting and for your advice ^_^

I've been a way from Japan for a few years but this summer seems a lot hotter and more extreme than I can remember. We've had temperatures close to 39C here in Nagoya/Gifu and it has been very uncomfortable. Definitely bring a lot of light, loose summer clothes, a few mini towels, sunglasses, sunscreen, coins for the vending machines (need to buy lots of cold drinks), and a fold-able sensu.

Hi Japan-Australia, thanks for commenting!
It certainly does seem to be hotter this year doesn't it? I've been keeping an eye on the weather online so as to be prepared for the extreme heat. As you can see from my article though I am packing all the things you suggested, hopefully I'll survive! : /

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