Are you hoping to travel to Japan someday? If you have a trip planned or are just dreaming for a future date, this post is for you with packing ideas, shopping spots, traveler tips, and inspiring photos..
I asked my dear friend Jeanne Chan to do a guest post for me on her recent trip to Japan! Some of you might know Jeanne, as she has been my partner in crime for many fashion events and fun things I have shared here. Jeanne had a trip to Japan planned with her family for a while, and due to the country’s strict Covid restrictions, it has been postponed a few times.
She finally went this past month and I asked her to share what she packed, pictures of how people were dressing and some of the customs. I also highlighted some of her best tips and tried to find similar items to share at the end..Japan has been on my list of travel destinations for a long time, and I am sure many of you hope to go too.
So without further ado, here’s Jeanne’s travel packing tips and more in her words…
March 2023, Japan at last! Our trip was two years in the planning (due to the country’s closure over Covid-19) and since we had so much time to plan, we began our trip with quite a long itinerary in hand! It had been almost a decade since our last trip, and that one included our now grown son and daughter and my father.
My parents were both from Hiroshima, Japan and while not totally fluent in Japanese, I can get by conversationally and that alone definitely helps make traveling easier. This trip, other than my son and daughter in law meeting up with us for two portions of our trip, my husband and I are on our own and with just the two of us, we are covering quite a bit of ground. From Tokyo to Kanazawa; Osaka to Kyoto; Okayama to Hakone and back to Tokyo!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, packing for the trip! Our family rule: carry-on only!
Traveling light and we can cover more ground and faster! So are you getting an idea of how we travel? Yes, we pack a lot of activity in our days. So in order to travel light, I need to pack smart. I always go with neutral colors when I pack for travel, plus two pairs of shoes (one a pair of sneakers and a pair of black slip-ons which can be dressed up). Note on shoes: you’ll visit a few places that require you to take off your shoes, so it’s helpful to choose a pair you can easily remove and slip back on.
Back to the packing list…a long dress, black travel skirt with zippered pockets, two pairs of travel pants, two t-shirts, one nice blouse, one cardigan and one pullover, a very light sweater, and one jacket I wore on the plane. All the pieces I packed were interchangeable and can be layered. Doing some fashion research, I had heard that not many people wore jeans and actually that turned out to be true for the most part! The jeans that I did see were worn mostly by retirees, and the occasional teen/20’s person not yet working in the business world. Working men and women, wore black or grey, white shirts and flat shoes (so much walking in Japan!). This is the uniform of the “salary-man”.
Outfit that I noticed and loved: Long fluted or pleated skirts paired with chunky boots, and since the weather is chilly and rainy, trench coats or lighter weight spring coats.
Note: you will not see any “exercise” wear in public…so no leggings, running shirts or running shorts. Those clothes are saved for the gym.
I needed to hit the stores! Roaming around in Ginza (highly recommend doing this, the stores are amazing and Japan is such a safe place to stroll about in), I came across a store called Comme Ça. I loved the fabrics and the proportioned sizes. I bought two jackets that I could wear with my pants, skirt and layered over my long dress….(The shop window, below.)
Another fabulous store to explore, Takashimaya department stores. You’ll find them in many major cities, and they have the most wonderful food floors where you can buy food to take or dine in. And if you’re in Tokyo you must shop at the 12-floor Uniqlo Ginza! There’s even a café for a much needed refresher to fuel your shopping.
Shopping Success! Now I can continue on with my journey looking sharper!
As you can see from the photos that I stealthily took (!) I think the younger crowd dresses so sharp and so fashionably. It’s still relatively conservative outside of the edgy Harajuku area and besides the “cosplay/anime” look that a few of the younger crowd wear, altogether very minimalist chic! As I mentioned before, loved the long skirts and the trench/rainwear, and the coats…
The weather was still quite cool, still the majority of the women wore those long flowing skirts, but with high socks or leggings paired with sneakers or chunky boots. The feminine skirts together with an oversized hoodie or unstructured, loose jacket can transition in the warmer weather. Replace with a lighter cardigan over a tee shirt and it’s perfect with a pair of sandals.
I loved the young men wearing such stylish slacks and jackets as well, with a few of them also wearing those long coats.
It’s a country of the new and the old -the current fashion and the traditional kimono. You’ll see both looks at any given time, even in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. It was Cherry Blossom season, and in honor of the spring blooms many young and old, visited gardens and temples in full traditional wear. It is popular to rent them and I loved how the younger set embraced their heritage! Of course much of it was for posting on social media, but still so cool to see.
Groups of girlfriends, couples- young and young-at-heart, strolled through the shopping streets and gardens of Kyoto or lined up at the numerous shops that sell matcha ice cream or “mochi-dango” (round, sticky rice cakes on a skewer). The city of Kyoto, in particular, had many people dressing in kimonos, strolling through the tea and geisha districts of old.
We also went to Osaka and that’s a different experience all together! It’s known as a foodie’s paradise and they’re right about that! In the touristy “Dotonbori” district there are food stalls and izakayas (bars that sell inexpensive snacks and bites) selling the flavors that made Osaka famous…Kushikatsu, takoyaki, yakisoba. Osaka is at times beautiful, intensely neon bright and loud, gritty, and touchingly connected to its past. The fashion here, well you won’t see anything crazy, but it’s definitely not as conservative as Tokyo. You can be free spirited and casual here! In Osaka, they say anything goes and at times it felt like San Francisco.
Where to shop:
Remember pack light when you head to Japan because you will be shopping!!
- Ginza! Ginza is the place to shop…lots of luxury and flagship stores , beautiful storefronts and stunning architecture as well as many art galleries and traditional Kabuki theater. Venture here in the evening too, when the buildings put on quite a show with their sparkling lights! Bonus: the main street down Ginza is closed to traffic on Saturdays, which only adds to the fun of shopping and exploring the neighborhoods (don’t forget to explore the little alleyways and side streets of Ginza for cute little cafes and boutiques).
- Aoyama/Harajuku neighborhoods. Lots of edgy boutiques in Harajuku. Designers like to drop their upcoming designs in Harajuku to test the market. In Omotesando Hills in the Aoyama district, your head will be spinning amidst the people watching and the Europeon luxury brand shops that line both sides of the main street there.
- Rappongi Hills is the pricey business district of Tokyo. You’ll find many beautiful stores and museums and cafes! Of course that could be said of much of Tokyo!
- Shinjuku, everyone has to go to Shinjuku when in Tokyo! And try Isetan department store, the “Bergdorf’s of Tokyo”
- Off the beaten path, there is a town called Kojima near the city of Okayama where you will find “Jeans Street.” Here you will find handsewn, Japanese designed denim clothing that are known worldwide for their excellent craftsmanship, using the indigo dye that Japan is famous for. If you have time, treat yourself to an outfit, some stores will even custom tailor just for you!
- Whether in Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka, one of my favorite places to shop is Takashimaya. They have the well-known designers from Europe and America there, but I love the made in Japan designs as well. It is in Takashimaya that you will find the tailored navy and black clothing that’s very popular in Japan, but what I appreciate is the uniqueness of the designs…tailored at first glance but with the fabric being cut or sewn in ways that allow the clothing to fall just right! And you’ve got to check out their restaurant floor and food court! Unlike anything you’ve ever seen outside of maybe Harrods in London!
Top 10 tips to make your life easier when traveling in Japan:
1. Public restrooms almost never have paper towels (to cut down on waste) so remember to carry a little handtowel or handkerchief with you. Collect then as mementos of your travels, you’ll find them for sale at stores and souvenir stands. I think I’ll adopt this habit all the time!
2. Pack light with the toiletries! Hotels, especially if there’s a spa/onsen on site, offer these items to guests in plentiful quantities.
3. Get comfortable and wear slippers provided in your room AND in store dressing rooms (yes, even the ones in Uniqlo). You do need to wear the slippers, its expected! Some hotel rooms even have separate bathroom slippers. Personally I love it!
4. Japanese stores, especially the small food booths or souvenir shops only deal in cash (or prefer to) so you’ll be dealing with a lot of coins. Some coin lockers in train stations and museums will only take a 100 yen coin, not to mention those beloved vending machines on every corner and station in Japan! So buy yourself a cute souvenir coin purse to hold all those yen!
5. Did I mention travel light? This tip is not only because you’ll need space for items you will buy, but rather in several train stations you will invariably run into stairs! Especially the local lines. Most have escalators but again you will encounter those stations that only offer an elevator tucked into an obscure corner as an alternative. And that elevator often has a line.
Also, the bullet train or Shinkansen does not offer unlimited space for oversized luggage. You may have to check them in at the station and then will have to pick them up at your arrival station. Not always convenient to do especially if you happen to hit rush hour (and warning…try hard to avoid rush hour or you WILL be squished) .
6. Speaking of trains, public transportation can be confusing and intimidating. The system in Japan is ultra reliable and except in the rural and smaller towns, announcements and schedules are in English (along with Chinese and Korean). If you need help, ask station staff and they are so very helpful!
7. Convenience stores in Japan are on a whole other level! They call them “combinis” (short for convenience store). There is a Lawson, a FamilyMart, or 7-eleven on practically every street corner and in between. Go check them out….they are heaven! I can’t travel in Japan without them and we go to one every day. Trust me, you’ll find out why!
8. Trash cans. You will not find them on every street corner, in every store or station. In fact it can be very hard to locate a public trash can. It wasn’t until this trip that I learned the real reason behind this fact. Back in the mid 90’s there was a sarin gas attack carried out in a Tokyo subway station, and since then Japan has removed public trash cans in most places to cut down on terrorist attacks. So be ready to hold on to your trash! And as you can see from the photos…everyone carries a tote!
9. Another reason you don’t find trash cans on public streets is because people who live in Japan just don’t eat on the go! They have their coffee in the café, their food at the restaurant, or as takeaway to eat later at work or at home. Instead, take little breaks at the many darling cafes you will see everywhere!
10. In keep with the little breaks at the cafes, I would encourage everyone to explore outside the typical tourist areas of the cities, some are only an hour outside of Tokyo. Find a little town where time stands still. The locals are so friendly, and you will find lots of spots to explore!
Thanks so much Jeanne for letting us travel along on your amazing trip and for the wonderful tips and advice..and great photos. I can’t wait to plan an adventure there.
A few things that are Jeanne style or similar…Great travel pieces.
I included a great black skirt with zip pockets that Jeanne and I both have from Athleta..her Cole Haan sneakers she wore, that I actually shared last weekend. Also you need a crossbody like she took that with her everyday.. I tossed in a few shoe options and a light jacket and easy black pants and versatile tops. Click on photos for the link..
You can also follow Jeanne on Instagram where she posted more of the trip, some great food spots she discovers and wonderful baking she does!
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All photos property of Jeanne Chan.