How to travel Japan with a backpack; A minimalist packing guide.

How to travel Japan with a backpack; A minimalist packing guide.

By Chloe Hamilton | 2017-07-18 | 3.3k views
To be honest I didn't consider my packing very minimalist until I heard others reactions to how much I took. I managed to fit everything in a small back pack and a shoulder bag and still had some room to spare. My partner and I were in Japan for 15 days and got by just fine with our back packs. If anything there were a few things I wish I left out  . We traveled in July which is a hot , wet , and humid time. You will need to adjust your gear list according to the weather conditions during your trip. 

Here are the bags we took : 


I had a 26 Litre Dakine back pack. Nothing special , just a bag.  A back pack of a similar size with more compartments would be a better option.


I also had one troop shoulder bag. These are great as they are very sturdy and a good size- you can fit a fair amount in them , but not so much that it will get heavy like a satchel will.  You could use a larger handbag instead if that is more your style .

My partner took his stuff in a bag similar to this . It was very easy to spot in a crowd !


He also had his camera bag with him .

The gear list 


Packing light will mean washing often . However its no big deal in Japan . Most hostels and hotels will have laundry facilities and if they don't there will be a laundromat nearby. For me the choice between lugging around a heavy bag or washing my clothes every now then was simple. I am the kind of person who only has a few outfits they like to wear anyway.

This is what I took :
(my photo)
  • 3 x dresses - one more dressy, two more casual. 
  • 1 x tee shirt dress- a long shirt that can be worn with jeggings , or as a dress with a belt and tights
  • 1x light rain jacket- the kind that folds up very small
  • 1x sweater- one that can be worn open or closed and looks nice over dresses
  • 1x singlet - to wear under if its cold , or wear by itself with jeggings and sweater. 
  • 1x belt
  • 1x scarf
  • 1x converse shoes 
  • 1x foldable flats 
  • 2x sports bras
  • 3x underwear
  • a bunch of tights-  sparkly ones, nude ones, polka dot ones, thick black ones. 
  • 2x pairs of lacy socks 
  • 1x black jeggings - they look tidy and are much lighter than real jeans. Any light pair of trousers would work. 

A friend who lives in Japan advised me to take very short, summery clothes and I am glad I listened to her. I ended up taking a lot of dresses because we weren't doing any serious hiking. 

For shoes I wore converse all stars the whole trip . This will only work for you if you can handle having no arch support. I wear converse shoes basically everyday at home so that's why I took them. The aim should be to find a comfortable shoe that doesn't look to silly when worn in a city . Have a look at athleisure trends to see what kind of sports shoes can be trendy. Another good option for the rainy season would be to pack a pair of comfy water resistant boots like these:


The main thing is to have clothes that are practical and that you feel like yourself in.  I found that skater dresses were a good option as they can be dressed up or down. You can also wear a sweater over top to make it look like a skirt and you can wear different styles of tights underneath to change up your look -tights take up almost no space or weight so you can bring a few, or buy some cute ones while you are in japan. Having dresses means you don't have to worry about coordinating anything, which is great as people tend to dress really nice in Japan and look well put together.

If you go during the rainy season be sure to pack a light rain jacket . You won't need a bulky one as it will still be hot and you can always wear a sweater under it and thick tights if you get cold.

Scarfs are great for traveling too as you can roll them up for a neck pillow or use it like a small blanket on planes. You can also wear them a few different ways to help break up the monotony of repeated outfits.


Find something that will work for you and your style. You will only need about three outfits . Pick fabrics that are light, dry fast and pack down small. Remember to chose things that  are interchangeable  and can be easily layered.

What my partner took  :

(my photo)

2x Running shorts 
1x pants
3x T shirts
3x Pairs of socks
1x Long sleeve shirt
1x Singlet
1x Hoodie
1x Light rain jacket that folds up small
1x sneakers
1x Scuffs
3x Underwear

Guys have it a bit easier as a tidy pair of pants and a shirt are basically socially  acceptable no matter the occasion. Again this is just what worked for us . You will have your own fashion sense to work with.


I took travel containers full of foundation , sunscreen, shower gel , shampoo and conditioner.I actually wouldn't bother with this as you have to deal with airline regulations . Its so easy to buy when you get there and that way you get to try new stuff. Most places we stayed at ended up providing shower gel , shampoo and conditioner anyway.

I took one tube of mascara , a mini eyebrow pencil, and a lip balm.  For make up lovers who want to pack light , try to only bring the essentials. Chances are you will want to buy new products in Japan , you can stock up while you are there and buy a cheap bag to fly it home in . This is still easier than taking a big suitcase there in my opinion.

Deodorant, baby wipes and a toothbrush are the main things to worry about. Anything else is easy enough to find. 

You can also purchase little ready made bags which are quite handy if you would rather have things with you. 



  •  Some power banks 
  • Cellphone 
  • Camera 
  • Chargers for everything
  • An adapter 


  • Your passport 
  • Your JR rail pass exchange card (if you have one)
  • Your wallet - debit/credit card and ID. 
  • Mesh laundry bags or clear zip lock bags -to organize your back pack 
  • A travel towel (most places will have free towels , but just in case) 
  • A plastic bag for carrying any rubbish- there are barely any public rubbish bins in Japan. 
  • Some reusable bags for shopping or carrying laundry.  

Traveling with a small backpack makes you feel like less of a tourist . You don't have to struggle with heavy suitcases or large duffel bags on trains or up staircases . I think this is the best way of doing things because when you arrive you can simply hop off the plane with your bags. You don't need to worry about anything getting damaged or lost by baggage handlers . If you end up buying alot in Japan then simply buy a cheap bag while you are there too.  It is always a good idea to save any shopping untill the end of the trip so you have less to carry around. 

 I think I could have used the exact same things to travel for a longer period of time. For winter I would have simply needed to add a big jacket, some thermal leggings and some boots.  I think this would still fit as carry on provided you wore the bulky clothes on the plane.  

Just remember that to be minimal you will have to do some washing  and if you ever need something chances are you can purchase it in Japan. The sense of freedom is well worth it in my opinion . 

So what do you think? Will you try packing light on your trip to Japan? Do you have any other tips I may have missed ? Let me know in the comments. 

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    Sebastien Fournier
    2017-07-17 12:28:03

    That's pretty much what we packed when we went in April for two weeks. The only problem is no space to bring souvenirs back haha. We ended up buying a suitcase there in a don quixote store for very cheap to bring back our haul. Being able to just have everything ready off the plane was the best thing about just bringing a carry. We had just an hour and a half to go through customs, pick up our JR pass and get to the shinkansen before we missed the last train to Hiroshima. Having everything on us was a big help. Plus a tip for picking up the jr pass would be to use the offices at stations other then the airport. They have smaller lines, you will get your pass so much quicker. Something we found very useful to pack was a water bladder (typically found in biking backpacks). With this, we didn't need to carry water bottles around. It slid neatly in our backpacks and we had more then enough water to keep us hydrated all day, specially on those hot days.

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    Kirsten Wood
    2017-07-18 11:30:37

    Thanks for this article Chloe!! I am heading to Japan in September and this was extremely helpful!

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    Chloe Hamilton
    2017-07-18 11:51:00

    Yes I fully recommend saving shopping till the end ! They have some really nice backpacks in Japan too so its a good place to buy one anyway. I didn't need a suitcase to take back as I basically just brought candy haha. My partner brought one though for all his figurines and PS4 games . I still think buying a bag at the end is worth it rather than taking one. Most people fly out from Tokyo which has basically anything you could want to buy before you go , so why haul a big bag around the whole time? Good tip with the ticket office. The airport office was pretty empty when we were there. That may be because we went during rainy season (it actually barely rained ) . April would have been madness with the cherry blossom season I imagine ? Those water bladders are great . I have used them when tramping (I think other places call tramping 'hiking' ) . We didn't think of that in Japan and just made the most of vending machines - definitely not the healthy option ! A water bladder would be awesome for doing Mt Fuji or other strenuous activities.

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    Chloe Hamilton
    2017-07-18 11:58:29

    No problem ! Have a great time in Japan . I can't wait to go back :) I didn't mention this in the article but I also highly recommend getting pocket WiFi . With wifi and google maps its very easy to get around and work out trains . Its really simple to rent pocket wifi at the main airports when you arrive. I was so worried about getting lost as it was my first time overseas, but wifi made all the difference.

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    2017-07-18 16:27:38

    Your clothes are adorable!! May I know where you got the blue dress, the T-shirt dress, and the sweater? Thank you

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    Susan Gavin
    2017-07-19 17:22:10

    Chloe, all the details and photos you included here are great! Thanks for the tips- and even though you mentioned this was your first trip overseas, you pack like a pro. I agree about the pocket wifi- it's invaluable. I've rented from one of the many shops at Narita Airport as well as rented a device at home and brought it with me. (Renting one at home was cheaper than getting an international plan through my cellphone carrier.)

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    Johanna Forsberg
    2017-07-19 22:38:40

    Graeat article! Thanks for sharing everything in such detail. I try to pack less and less stuf when I travel nowadays, right now I'm traveling out of Japan though (since I live here). Be aware of the cold if you travel during wintertime, maybe it's ok in most hotels but at cheaper hostels and when you live here it's so freaking cold inside. Being from Sweden I'm used to cold winters outside, but you can stay warm inside- that's unfortunately not the case here in Japan.

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    Chloe Hamilton
    2017-07-20 02:51:27

    Oh thank you ! At home I travel by plane to visit my partner who lives in New Zealand's north island quite often (I live in the south island). I don't own that many clothes in the first place and I always leave packing till the last minute. Throwing a few outfits into a carry on bag the night before has worked out for me enough times that I figured it would work for Japan too! Although, obviously I put a bit more thought into as it was my first big trip . I didn't realize you could bring wifi from your home country . Thats awesome ! Data and wifi are a total rip of in New Zealand anyway , but I am glad you worked out a better deal for yourself.

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    Chloe Hamilton
    2017-07-20 03:09:01

    I actually made the outfit photos using polyvore . I took similar items but not the exact ones pictured. Most of my clothes are second hand finds because I am a cheap skate haha. If you want to see where all these specific items are from you can view them here : The blue dress is here : The tee shirt dress is here (looks like they are sold out of green) : Similar items can be found in New Zealand at stores like Glassons , Farmers, the Warehouse and even Kmart. I am not sure about overseas stores sorry. I picked styles and colors that are good basics and easy to mix . You can find great ideas for building a minimalist wardrobe by searching 'capsule wardrobe' or 'french 5 piece wardrobe' .

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    Chloe Hamilton
    2017-07-20 03:22:11

    Yes packing light is great but way harder in winter. And yeah I have heard that Japan doesn't always have the best heating or insulation. We actually have similar issues in New Zealand. Even though it does not get as cold here a lot of people live in older homes with single glazed windows and no central heating. This can make NZ winters pretty rough as I learnt while living in less than ideal student flats. You can rug up with as many blankets as possible but still feel horrible when you wake up because the air you are breathing in is cold. It is really terrible. Seems crazy that you come from Sweden and still have a hard time with the winters there . Thats definitely something to think about. Maybe a hot water bottle wouldn't be a bad idea to take with you for hostels ? Merino wool thermals and thick socks would help too.

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    2017-07-23 13:58:02

    Great article for light travel. For the electronics I would like to suggest getting the 20100 mah power bank from Anker (or whichever reliable brand which watt hours doesn't go over 100 as suggested in flight guidelines for Lit-ion battery packs). Charge lasts for days and you'd never have to worry about running out of battery while travelling. Another is getting a portable WiFi. It's really affordable and that way your phone battery would last longer by not using LTE connection. You can avail in advance and pick it up at the airport. Odigo bookings suggest Ninja WiFi. I haven't tried it personally but it should be as reliable as most rental wifi devices.

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    Tyrone Howarth
    2017-07-23 17:52:47

    Great article.

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    Chloe Hamilton
    2017-07-25 05:39:39

    Yes good points ! Power banks and pocket WiFi are true life savers when traveling .

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    Luise W
    2017-07-29 13:32:21

    Sounds great, I will definitely try this out when I'm going in September!

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