When I opened the email I suddenly felt numb. I was moving to Japan! Now I`ve travelled to many country in the past, but never actually lived in a different country. Now I just needed to decide what to pack in my 30kg of luggage.

Japan is an extremely developed country yet surprisingly many things that we take for granted in the UK or US simply can`t be found here.

Here is a list of what to pack when moving to Japan. A list of things that are hard to get whilst in Japan.

This is an exhaustive list so please feel free to pick and choose what you want to pack. I wish I had this information when I packed for Japan so I hope you find it helpful.

Dressed casually at the rabbit cafe
Dressed casually at the rabbit cafe
Dressed casually for nomihoudai in Sapporo
Dressed casually for nomihoudai in Sapporo

Toiletries

I arrived in Japan knowing the most basic of Japanese phrases like `where is the toilet?` and `how are you?` in hindsight I would have better spent my time learning katakana so that I could read what things are when shopping in stores! Many cities will have foreign shops like Costco where you might be able to find some of these items. If you live rurally like me I`d recommend packing these! You’ll thank me later!

Shampoo

Surely everyone in Japan uses shampoo? Well yes but surprisingly I`ve found the shampoo to be a lot more `clarifying` and less moisturising that shampoos I`ve used elsewhere. Japanese hair is a lot thicker than non-Asian hair so I find that the products tend to be a lot stronger than back home as Asian hair is more resilient.

The water is hard in Japan too and many people find that they get dandruff for the first time in their lives. I`d reccoemdn bringing anti-dandruff shampoo even if you don`t have dandruff, for prevention.

Anti Perspirant

Japan has 4 beautiful and different seasons, and yes that includes an awfully hot and sticky summer season. Surprisingly, Japan doesn`t sell anti perspirant!! It does sell deodorant but I find that it`s near useless in warm weather. Bring a few sticks or cans of deodorant to last however long you will be in Japan. I find that sticks and roll ons tend to last longer than spray anti perspirants.

Toothpaste

You can find fluoride toothpaste here, but it`s rare and you would need to read kanji to identify it! I find that toothpaste here is less powerful than back home so make bring a regular fluoride toothpaste and a whitening toothpaste.

Dry Shampoo

Back home I`m a big fan of dry shampoo, it gives my hair volume and allows me to go an extra day without washing it. It`s also great when travelling. I`ve never seen dry shampoo in Japan so make sure you don`t leave home without a can or two.

Tampons

I`ve since seen tampons sold in Japan, mostly in cities and bigger stores. When I first arrived in my town I was surprised that no stores sold tampons, only sanitary towels! They also don`t sell super and super plus tampons here, so if you need them be sure to stock up before you leave.

Hair Dye

When you first walk in to a Japanese drugstore you will be amazed at the vast array of hair dyes. Most of them are brown shades but you can buy literally any shade, from platinum blonde to purple.

But…..99% of these dyes contain bleach! Why you may ask? Well, Japanese hair is naturally dark, to go even a brown shade most need some bleach to lift the colour. As I said previously Japanese hair is usually thicker than non Asian hair so can withstand harsh treatment. When I used Japanese hair dye my hair turned out a lot lighter than I wanted, was a brassy orange colour and felt so damaged despite me only using a brown dye.

If you dye your hair I`d recommend either dying it to it`s natural shade or bringing an adequate supply to Japan. Don`t think you can go a Japanese hair salon for colour either unless your hair is dark and naturally straight. I went a Japanese salon for colour and they absolutely wrecked my hair and had no idea how to deal with my type of hair. I walked out with patchy, poofy hair and looked a lot worse than when I walked in!

Frizzy, orange, poofy hair courtesy of a Japanese hairdresser!
Frizzy, orange, poofy hair courtesy of a Japanese hairdresser!

Foundation

If your skin is white, dark or pinky toned you might have trouble finding a suitable foundation or concealer here. Most face makeup here are a yellow tone or extremely white (Some Japanese dye their skin whiter or use white products in an attempt to look paler).

Shaving cream

My male colleague informs me that you cannot buy shaving cream here. Most are foaming shaving gels.

Clothes

Japan has so many cheap clothes shops. H&M ansd Uniqlo are everywhere and a lot cheaper than back home. The thing is they are made for the Japanese market so you may find that they don`t quite fit like clothes back home or that they don`t stck the usual size range. Japan is quite a casual place, leave your really dressy clothes at home.

Shoes

You will need so many pairs of shoes if you live and work in Japan. For school I need gym shoes, indoor shoes and the shoes I walk to school in! As you will often slip your shoes off before you enter businesses, schools and people’s homes, I would recommend bringing a few pairs of slip on shoes.

I`m a UK 7 (US 9, Japanese 26). Not a big size in my opinion but it`s impossible to find shoes that fit me here. If your`e a woman and my size or over I`d recommend bringing more shoes than you think you will need.

If you are a teacher, the shoes that you wear in school will need to be kept in school. So you can`t wear them outside or for other occasions. That means that two pairs of the shoes you bring cannot be worn outside.

I`d recommend bringing:

1 pair of trainers

1 pair of comfortable slip of flats

1 pair of dressier flats

1 pair of evening mid-height heels

1 pair of sandals

1 pair of flip-flops

Hiking boots if you want to hike or climb mount Fuji

Snow boots if you live up North (or you could just wear hiking boots)

Just make sure all of your shoes are comfortable and relatively easy to slip on and off.

Trousers

At 5`8 I wouldn’t say that I`m particularly tall. However this is Japan and most women tend to be a lot shorter than me. It`s hard finding trousers that fit lengthwise, most reach my lower calf! If you’re tall I’d advise bringing a few pairs of all season shorts, trousers and jeans that will last the duration of your time here.

Bras

Japan has so many beautiful bra shops that are completely out-of-bounds for me. I have a big bust even for the UK so It`s literally impossible for me to find a bra here. Japanese bras tend to be a lot smaller in the back too, so even if the cup fits you the back might be too tight. If you`re over a UK 34B I`d recommend bringing a few daytime bra, an evening bra and a sports bra.

 

Electronics

Japan is the land of electronics. Many places in Japan have electrical store that inhabit high-rise buildings. If you want to buy cameras or other electrical items, buy them here. These are the items you shouldn’t forget to bring.

Laptop

It`s hard to find a laptop with an English keyboard here. Even if you do find one with an English keyboard the buttons will be in a different order so I`s complicated to use. It`s much easier just to bring one from home and just use a plug adaptor.

Hair diffuser

I have curly hair. If I use a regular hairdryer on my hair it turns into a frizzy mess so a diffuser hairdryer is an essential in my eyes. Most Japanese have straight hair and I`ve yet to see a diffuser here, so make sure you bring one with you!

Kindle

My kindle is my life, well I wouldn`t go that far but I do read an awful lot. It`s so handy to have travel guides on my kindle to avoid lugging around heavy books.

In countries like Thailand they have a fairly good range of English books. Here in Japan there are very few English books in circulation and if you find them they are, likely to be random second-hand books someone has donated. For example in my local bookstore there is a tint English book section and it includes trilling reads like `cardiology for beginners` and autobiography of random Japanese people I`ve never heard of. If you forget to bring a kindle you can buy them here and just change the language to English.

Unlocked phone

Most phones in Japan are locked to a specific carrier. Phones are quite cheap to buy but they are near impossible to unlock so you won`t be able to bring them back to your home country or use them abroad.

They may charge you more per month if you use your own unlocked phone, but at least you can use it abroad and have it when you go back home.

Medication

The Japanese health care system is good. You can see a doctor on the same day for just a small fee. But over the counter medication is hard to get here, expensive and not as strong or effective as back home.

I`d recommend bringing a good supply of basic medicines such as ibuprofen, paracetamol, strepsils and cough medicine to see you through. Be aware that phelylalanine is illegal here so make sure any products you bring don`t include it.

The Pill

With a language barrier it would be hard (and embarrassing) to ask for the pill here. Even if you do successfully get a prescription they only give you a month at a time, so you have to visit the surgery each month for a review. It`s also quite expensive.

Copy of your prescription

Having a copy of your prescription makes it easier for the doctors here to know what to describe. Japan seems to offer different types of tablets than back home so don`t be surprised if the doctor ends up giving you different medication. Rather than give one tablet with multiple functions, I`ve found that I usually recive quite a few tablets, each with a different action.

Unlocked phone

Most phones in Japan are locked to a specific carrier. Phones are quite cheap to buy but they are near impossible to unlock so you won`t be able to bring them back to your home country or use them abroad.

They may charge you more per month if you use your own unlocked phone, but at least you can use it abroad and have it when you go back home.

 

Food

Japanese food is amazing. I`ve never been to a country where the food is so fresh and carefully prepared. Japanese people like Japanese food. This means that most of the restaurants here are Japanese or foreign food that cater for a Japanese palate (corn and mayonnaise pizza anyone?!.In the larger cities there are foreign food shops or Costco’s. If you`re in the countryside like me though it`s hard to get your favorite foods from back home. If you love something, pack it in your suitcase. Here are some suggestions of what food is hard to get in Japan.

Cheese

Japanese cheese tastes like play dough. It`s flavorless, bland and quite disgusting. Cheese is probably the number one thing that I miss from back home. When I visited the UK for Christmas I made sure to pack a few blocks of strong cheese in my suitcase.

Peanut butter

When I first saw `peanut butter` here In Japan I was surprised at how cheap and small it was! I opened it and was greeted with a sort of peanut jelly. Urgh. They do not have peanut butter here in Japan (well apart from Costco and a few foreign food shops). So if you love it, bring it!

Teabags

Japanese teabags are horrible. I never knew that a simple cup of tea could taste so bad! They do have Lipton teabags in some places but I cannot find them in my town. Bring a few boxes of our favourite teabags for a nice taste of home.

Decaffeinated tea or coffee

I`ve yet to find decaffeinated Tea or coffee here. If you prefer decaf, you`ll need to pack it.

Porridge

Back home porridge seems like a necessary evil. I`ll eat it if I have it but I don`t really miss it otherwise. Once I moved to Japan, porridge seemed to symbolize home and comfort. There`s nothing better than a hot bowl of porridge when you’re feeling a bit homesick and in need of comfort. Yopu can get it here but I`ve not seen it very often.

Enjoying a massive bowl of Ramen!
Enjoying a massive bowl of Ramen!

So that’s a long list of things I would recommend packing when you move to Japan! Of course everyone’s different and needs different things to survive. If you can think of any other items I should have included, please let me know in the comments section.

18 thoughts on “What to Pack when moving to Japan

  1. I am moving to Kyoto in one week for an internship of 6 months, and your article is very helpful !! 🙂

    1. Oh lucky you Mathilde! Kyoto is probably my favorite place in Japan! A beautiful city steeped in history and so close to funky Osaka! Let me know if you have any specific questions xx

  2. A lot of these cross over with China as expected, I really wish I had brought more sachets of instant porridge, the flavoured ones like blueberry and raspberry, even though I can get oats here to make my own.

    1. I got a bit of negative feedback when I posted this on a Japan Facebook group, people said I had listed too much! I thought I`d include absolutely everything I could think of. Everything I wished that I knew when I moved here last year. Where are you living in China?

  3. This is so helpful, will kep in mind i dont forget anything from the list when I head to Japan

    1. I`ve lived here for a year now! I was so surprised at how hard it is to find some things in Japan. I hope this list helps people who are moving here in the next few months

  4. I would of never had thought about their toiletries being different! So good tip even for those travelling there. I moved to the Czech Republic three years ago – even though it is still in Europe there are a lot of similar things you have listed that I wish I had packed. Luckily i visit home regularly enough in the UK to bring back some goodies of things I miss or can’t buy here!

    1. I was surprised that the toiletries were different too! It was certainly a shock the first time I used Japanese hair dye that bleached my hair! Yeah the good thing about living so close to England is that it`s just a few hours away. I`m so far away from the UK but I managed to buy some UK products from Boots in Thailand!

  5. Thanks ever so much for this post! I’m moving to Nagoya in a month and I’ve not really found much from other UK people moving over so this has been super helpful! Do you have any advice in terms of socialising out there? As much as I loved it, I missed out on some awesome things in Tokyo being by myself! Thank you :3 x

    1. Hey Cara! Good luck in Nagoya, I’ve never been but I hear that it’s a great city. I find meetup is a great way to meet new people, also try and attend the Nagoya events on Facebook.

  6. This is wonderful! I’m so glad I stumbled across your blog. I’m moving to mito, ibaraki in a month and this has helped me immensely, especially being from the UK. I’m so surprised about the tea! I absolutely love a good cuppa, and will definitely pack as a few boxes of twinings now I’ve read your tips. Question – did you pack everything you needed In one suitcase or did you mail a few things over in advance?thanks again!

    1. Hello Jada, I used to live in Ushiku in Ibaraki! I packed everything I needed in a suitcase before I left. I ended up taking too much and had to wear most of my clothes on the plane to avoid paying baggage fees….

      The main things I’d pack would be *Enough shoes to last you (remember you need indoor shoes too), *Teabags, *Shampoo, *Dry shampoo, *trousers/skirts and dresses if you are bigger than Asian sized. Most tops in Japan fitted me.

      Please let me know if you have any more questions 🙂

  7. Super helpful article, thank you so much!
    I will be moving to Tokyo at the beginning of next year and this is a great initial guide on what to bring with me from the UK (especially shoes! 🙂 )

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