Moving to Japan? Read this first

My days of packing for Japan were quite stressful, and my questions endless. I bombarded everyone I knew in Japan with a constant stream of questions (yes, worrying a little too much). I had NO idea what I needed or didn't need, and only few of my questions were every truly answered. I googled, read forums, bought books, and still found myself wondering even more. So, to anyone like me frantic for some answers, and to anyone about to embark on your own journey to Japan, wondering what in the world to toss in your suitcase, this list is for you.

You may also want to check out Packing for Japan Q&A for further information.

What you DON’T need to bring

Toothpaste – Toothpaste with fluoride is readily available here – if not in your local drug store, then online. Again, unless you are extremely attached to your particular brand/kind, just bring a tube to start with. If you are into more natural toothpaste, like myself, Tom’s of Maine is available via, Foreign Buyer's Club and iHerb (you can use this code for a discount at iHerb: ACI278). Read this guide to toothpaste in Japan.

3 to 2 prong adapter – If you’re from North America, and you bring electronic items with 3 prong plugs, you will need adapters. However, you can buy them in Japan, both online and in electronics stores. As for other countries on other continents, any readers out there have advice?

Pads/Sanitary Napkins – Ladies, don’t worry about pads - they have everything here. I've written a guide to sanitary napkins in Japan.

Hair products – Once again, unless you are really attached to what you are using, you have a wide variety of options here in Japan. Read how to find haircare for more.

Vitamins/minerals/supplements – Bring what you need for the first month or two until you’re settled. Don’t worry about stocking up, you can easily find stuff. See this post for more.

Disposable razors – Gillette, Schick, etc. are in Japan - razors are easy to find.

Aloe – I mentioned sunscreen below, but don't do what I did and bring or send a giant bottle of aloe. Everyone had told me how difficult it is to find Aloe here, although I soon found it really isn't. Not every store carries it, but it is available online and in many local drug stores.

Floss – Most local drug stores carry it, though it is often one to three brands/types. More recently though I've seen more types and brands (often western brands). You can order floss through, though the selection may not be as wide as you're accustomed to.

What you COULD bring

Deodorant – Unless you are extremely attached to a particular kind, keep in mind that it IS possible to get deodorant in Japan. Check out this post for more. (At least bring one stick to start out with though).

Advil/ibuprofen/Tylenol – Rest assured, you can buy ibuprofen and Tylenol in Japan. Some say it’s not the same as Advil, although the percentages of ibuprofen per dose are typically similar. Bring some Advil or Tylenol with you, and whenever you run out you can look for more here (unless you have some sent to you). See, how to find ibuprofen in Japan and how to find Tylenol in Japan.

Outdoor gear – If you have well used gear, you may as well bring it. Keep in mind there are plenty of outdoor/recreation stores in Japan if you are looking for stuff here, although, on the expensive side. See how to find outdoor gear in Japan.

You can also order online at several places, as well as from REI (they won’t ship certain brands overseas though) and Sierra Trading Post (a great outlet store!).

Tampons – Some women say they are hard to find, others say it’s easy. I’ve never had any trouble finding them in local stores, although it may depend on the location. See a guide to tampons in Japan for more info. You can also order them from, The Flying Pig, and Foreign Buyer's Club. See this post for more.

Face wash/products – All types and kinds of face products exist in Japan, but I know how it feels to be attached to certain skincare products. If that's you, then of course, bring your own. Or, bring some to last you the first couple months, and look into the available options. See how to find skincare in Japan for more info about this.

International Driver’s Permit – Check out your local Automobile Association and get yourself a driving permit before coming. Not too expensive, and allows you to drive in Japan up to a year before needing to get a license. This may come in handy if you find yourself out in the sticks, far away from civilization and regularly running transportation.

Camera – If you have a camera, by all means bring it. Do you need to buy one? No. You can easily find cameras here - everywhere. Akihabara in Tokyo is a great place to check out if you are coming to Tokyo (first) for whatever reason. Electronics stores and camera shops exist all over Japan, so you won’t have any trouble finding something good.

Sunscreen – There's a wide variety of sunscreen products here, including Nivea, Shiseido and Biore. Keep in mind that sunscreen is typically sold in small tubes and bottles. Sun-protectant clothing is quite popular as well, thus not needing actual lotion. Bring at least one tube/bottle to start with. *Update: I just found Coppertone sunscreen at a Circle K near my apartment. And aloe, so really these shouldn't be difficult to find. See: A guide to sunscreen in Japan for more info.

What you SHOULD bring

Laptop – If you have a laptop, might as well bring it. It’s difficult to find laptops here with English/American keyboards (for more info about this, see how to find a laptop with an English keyboard).

Clothes – Well, obviously. Bring your basics, and bring work clothes that fit well if your job requires nice dress. If you need more basics, Uniqlo carries a wide variety of inexpensive clothes (they also have some plus sizes online). Anyway, do a quick search online for more info on this – plenty of people have discussed this in a variety of places on the web.

Shoes - Here's a chart for women's conversion. A quick look on Amazon shows difficulty finding women's shoe sizes above 25 (Japan size), although there are some options up through 29 (very small selection). And for the men, conversion chart. My husband says 26-26.5 is about the size that borders difficulty. A quick look on Amazon also showed some difficulty, although a slightly larger selection than that for women. I would recommend bringing shoes you need - work shoes, athletic shoes, indoor shoes, etc. If you can't find shoes here due to size, you can always order online too.

Medication – Well, of course, you say. Why wouldn’t I bring medication? There are some requirements to bring in prescription medication, so check your local embassy for more info. Many of the same medicines can be found in Japan as well so you don’t necessarily have to bring a year’s worth of drugs with you, unless of course you want to. Things like birth control or prescription allergy medicine are easily found here. So bring at least two or three months worth, and your prescription information to start out with. Take the prescription info to a doctor in Japan, and they can help you determine whether the medicine is available or not. (If the first doctor says no, don’t be afraid to try another doctor… or three or four. Some can be a bit stubborn.)

Also see a guide to birth control pills in Japan

Foundation/face cosmetics – While it’s easy to find makeup here, everywhere, I’ve found it difficult to find foundation colors that work on my face, as most foundation in regular stores are for a certain range of skin tones. This isn’t too much of a problem for me since I don’t wear much makeup anyway, but I know it can be for others. Some brands may offer more colors online than in stores. I plan to do more research on this for a future post. If anyone has ideas or tips (those of you more experienced with finding cosmetics here) feel free to leave a comment.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, feel free to add your input in the comments section (or over on facebook). Also check out Packing for Japan Q&A.

So, folks already living in Japan, what do you think? Any other advice as to what people should bring? Or maybe don’t need? For those of you moving to Japan, do you have a more specific question, maybe about something not covered here? Feel free to ask.

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