Our Kyoto packing list includes travel gadgets, unique items, and clothing suggestions that will improve your trip to Japan. Everything on this comprehensive ‘what to pack’ will save you money or make your Kyoto experience more comfortable and pleasant.
The first part of our Kyoto, Japan packing list highlights things you never knew you needed that will improve your experience on the long haul flight to Japan (and the Shinkansen ride from Tokyo to Kyoto), while walking miles per day in Kyoto, or during visits to temples and shrines. These things are clever travel accessories that we’ve used and have really improved our vacations, so we’re suggesting that you add them to your luggage.
The second half is Kyoto, Japan ‘style tips’ so you bring appropriate clothing and other attire. Kyoto is known for having four seasons, with extremes in weather in pretty much every direction. Our clothing guide will also help you determine what’s customary to wear in Japan so you don’t stick out like a sore thumb.
Before we get to the list, there are a few things you don’t need. There’s virtually no crime in Japan, so locks, passport protectors, or cables for your camera are not necessary. Nor are things like a neck wallet, fanny pack, or other items for the sake of safety like you might want in Europe–unless you just want them to be stylish.
Finally, this is not intended to be a comprehensive packing checklist with everything you could conceivably need for Japan. There are dozens of posts out there like that, ones that start with plugs for the Japan Rail Pass, travel insurance, money, medications, hotel and airfare reservations, and all sort of minor “no shit” things anyone who has ever traveled should realize they need.
We’re dispensing with the basics, and focusing on novelties and things we find to be somewhat ‘different’ and handy. In other words, don’t forget to pack your underwear just because it’s not mentioned here. If you need someone else to tell you to pack socks or your wallet, you probably shouldn’t leave home, let alone the country.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at what all-season items you should pack for traveling to Kyoto and elsewhere in Japan, and how to take practical items without having to pay a ton in checked bag fees…
Travel Gadgets & Accessories
Reusable Earplugs – If you want to ensure yourself good sleep on a flight and want the lowest cost option, these are great.
Bose QuietComfort Noise Cancelling Headphones – This is arguably a bit excessive given the cost. After having trouble sleeping on long haul flights, Sarah bought these and they’ve been a game-changer for her. She’s convinced should could have a crying baby seated right next to her and still be fine. I just wear regular earbuds and am fine, but to each their own.
Sleep Mask – Another Sarah item, although I can also see the value in this if you happen to be seated next to the one person on the flight who decides to open their window shade while everyone else is trying to sleep.
Inflatable Airplane Pillow – Whatever pillow you get, make sure it’s inflatable–carrying a normal pillow while traveling is a hassle). Sarah swears by this one for surviving long-haul flights. I could sleep on a pile of hay during a death metal concert, so I don’t use earplugs, a sleep mask or a special pillow.
Frogg Togg Chilly Pads – This could be in the seasonal section below, as it’s only really necessary from around May through September, but we love these towels with space age technology that makes them simultaneously dry and cool. No matter where we travel, these are an essential of ours.
Universal Adapter – Japan uses two-prong plugs without a ground pin, so you don’t necessarily need an adapter unless you have devices with three-prong plugs. If so, we like this travel adapter, which also has USB ports.
Compact External Charger – Poor reception in the mountains or train stations and the need to use Google Maps, planning resources, or share photos via social media can be a drain on your battery. We use 3 different external batteries, depending upon how much juice we will need.
- Anker “Candy Bar Sized” Battery – This is commonly known as a candy bar-sized charger and is approximately 2 full phone charges. On our visual below, this is the top charger. This is best if you want something light and compact for your pocket.
- KMASHI “King Sized” Battery – For about the same cost as the Anker, this is double the capacity, giving you around 4 full phone charges. As you can see, it’s about the size of an iPhone. It’s heavier and bulkier, but that doesn’t matter much if you’re tossing it in a backpack.
- Aukey “Brady Bunch Sized” Battery – This is the bottom battery on the graphic below, and it’s slightly larger than an iPhone X. With a whopping 8 full charges, this will get an entire family (or one very social teenager) through a day in Kyoto. You can also use this for an iPad or other device (I charge my camera with it). This charger offers the best bang for your buck.
Hand Towel – There’s a link here to keep things consistent, but you might want to just buy one in Japan. Restrooms also don’t have paper towels or (effective) hand dryers, and most people carry small towels with them. As such, there are some really cool designs you can purchase at convenience stores and pretty much every touristy spot.
Travel Hand Sanitizer – We pretty much always carry this because you never know where you’ll be without a place to wash your hands in public, but it’s especially important in Japan because most public restrooms don’t have soap. Many also don’t have toilet paper, so plan accordingly. (This is more common in Kyoto, especially in areas around temples, than in Tokyo and other major cities.)
Deodorant – We said we would gloss over the basics, but we think this is semi-important to include because deodorant is not something you’ll want to buy in Japan. The gels and sprays sold in convenience stores are ineffective against hearty American B.O. 😉
USB Wall Charger – One of our top recommendations used to be the travel power strip, but we have found more and more that we charge devices via USB. Whether it’s our phones, external batteries, or even cameras, many devices charge via USB nowadays. This is great because it’s very compact, with a space-saving design that makes it easy to pack.
Mini USB Power Strip – Not only can this power strip charge standard items, but it has 2 USB charging slots and is super-compact and cordless! With all of the electronics we have charging in the room at the same time, a power strip is quite useful. If you only need USB ports, this is a great travel-sized alternative.
Moleskin Padding Roll – After a couple days walking around Japan, your “dogs will be barking” as the kids say (what, the kids don’t say that anymore?!). Seriously, this stuff works miracles, and can save your feet significant discomfort and pain.
Brita Filter Water Bottles – If you don’t want to spend as much money or don’t care about the space-saving design of the collapsible bottle, this is the best option, hands down. It’s inexpensive and durable (we’ve had ours for a few years!) Plus, it makes fountain water taste great, is BPA-free, and dishwasher safe.
Packing Cubes – These are perfect for organizing, and make it easier to to manage your luggage. I love this 4-piece set as they’re the perfect size for organizing a carry-on size suitcase.
Compression Bags – Instead of packing cubes, Sarah prefers space-saving compression bags as she thinks packing cubes are inefficient and take up extra space (I disagree–they’re so thin that you don’t notice them). Which works better for you will be a matter of personal preference, so we thought we’d present both options.
Packable Duffel Bag – There’s a modest chance you’ll buy a lot of souvenirs, antiques, collectibles, etc. on your first trip to Japan. While you could purchase a bag in an ekinaka (train station malls) this is so much easier, cheaper, and faster.
Kyoto Clothing & Accessories by Season
Quick Dry Shirts (All-Seasons) – This might seem like a summer thing, but moisture wicking shirts (like this or Nike Dri-Fit) make a good base layer any time of year. Even in winter, there are times you’ll be active–or crowded onto a hot train–that you might sweat a bit. This shirt takes care of that problem.
Touch Screen Gloves (Winter) –These gloves will keep your hands warm while allowing you to use your touch-screen smartphones. Post photos of temples to Instagram or use Google Maps without removing your gloves. Priceless.
HotHands Hand Warmers (Winter) – An absolute essential during Kyoto’s cold and snowy winters. These cheap hand warmers are especially nice when you’re waiting around for a bus or sitting at a temple.
Mountain Hardwear Windstopper Hat (Winter) –You can find cheap knit winter beanies at the 100 yen (dollar) stores in Kyoto, but this one is serious business. I’ve worn it in the mountains in sub-zero temperatures and it has kept me warm–I love it.
Thermal Shirt (Winter) –Packing a lot of cold-weather clothes can take up a lot of room in your suitcase, so instead of heavy coats and thick sweatshirts, we recommend inexpensive and lightweight means of keeping warm. Thin thermal shirts that keep your body heat close to you and can be worn under another layer of clothing are a great option. We recommend this one for men and this one for women.
Thermal Long Underwear (Winter) – A good pair of thermal long underwear is a must. These are thin and lightweight, but trap body heat to keep you warm surprisingly well.
800-Fill Down Coats (Winter) – This is specifically an 800-fill goose down coat because it compresses and takes up barely any room in your luggage or backpack. It’s more compact and warmer than fleece, and although more expensive, these last a long time and are perfect for cold weather.
Convertible Hiking Pants (Spring/Summer/Fall) – This one is entirely optional, and depends upon to what degree you’re a “function over form” person. The downside is that these look very dorky, and there’s no way around that with convertible hiking pants. The upside is that Kyoto has a lot of mountains (the city is surrounded by them on three sides), and you’ll invariably visit a mountain temple–Kiyomizudera is one–where you get hot on the walk/hike up, and then cold once you’re at the higher elevation. Unless we’re visiting Kurama and Kibune, we mostly just wear jeans.
Frogg Toggs Rain Suit (Summer/Fall) – When it rains, which is often, every street in Japan is a sea of clear umbrellas. It’s almost like a scene out of Blade Runner. If you plan on using an umbrella in Kyoto, it’s pretty convenient to buy a cheap clear umbrella at 7-11 or Lawson.
If you want something higher quality, more versatile, and that will keep you totally dry, this rain suit is great. The material is lightweight and breathable, so you won’t get too hot. Even though it looks (admittedly) a bit silly, I use and like this. It’s better than an umbrella during torrential downpours, and makes navigating busy sidewalks far easier.
UltraSlim Travel Umbrella (Summer/Fall) – If you want to pack your own umbrella, this windproof travel umbrella is a great option. Unlike the ones sold at convenience stores in Japan, it won’t be ripped to shreds by a strong gust of wind.
Crocs Classic Sandal (Summer) – For the longest time, I hated Crocs. Then, we were in Kyoto last summer during a typhoon that brought with it several inches of rain, ruining my shoes. I purchased Crocs as replacements, and immediately fell in love. Like the rain suit, they look dorky, but they’re versatile, comfortable, and perfect for rainy days.
SPF Sun Hat (Summer) – Kyoto seems to alternate between totally clear, sunny days and torrential downpours in the summer. This hat is a great option for the former, and Sarah uses hers often. It’s pretty common for Japanese to use parasols, so that’s another option.
Finally, if you disregard our advice, or don’t do proper research before leaving on a trip to Japan and are surprised by Kyoto’s extremes in weather, you’ve got a couple options. For nice items (down jackets, GORE-TEX layers, hiking pants, rain suits, moisture wicking shirts, etc.) there’s a great outdoor gear store called Montbell with a couple locations in Kyoto, including one near Kyoto Station. We have purchased from them many times and love their stuff.
If you’re on a tighter budget, you can find pretty much any clothing you need at UNIQLO. It won’t be high quality, but it’ll get the job done in a pinch. For accessories like winter hats or gloves, Daiso or other 100 yen stores are satisfactory options.
Whatever you buy in Japan, be sure to try it on before purchasing. Sizing in Japan is smaller, and in most cases, you’ll need to size-up a bit–sometimes two sizes.
What to Wear in Kyoto: “Style” Tips
You’ll see many Kyotoites and Japanese tourists wearing yukata and other types of kimono. This is more prevalent during certain seasons and events, but it’s far from a rare sight year-round. (It’s much more common in Kyoto than in Tokyo.) If you want to wear one of these, we’d recommend renting one for a few hours from one of the many shops aimed at foreign tourists.
While you may have concerns about cultural appropriation, this is mostly a preoccupation of Westerners. By and large, such practices are embraced by the Japanese. So long as you’re wearing traditional attire with a sense of respect and appreciation, rather than turning their culture into a caricature, you’ll be fine.
We’d discourage visitors from dressing head to toe in faux samurai garb for this reason (and because we’ve seen people do it and it just looks foolish), but a kimono is perfectly acceptable. With that said, you will stick out if you rent a yukata/kimono, and there’s a good chance younger people will ask for photos with you. If you don’t want to attract attention, renting a kimono is not a good idea.
Speaking of attracting attention, if this is something you want to avoid, plan to dress conservatively in muted color schemes or earth tones. Japan is traditional and modest, and this is even more so the case in Kyoto than Tokyo or other major cities. Avoid tight-fitting clothing, short shorts, or anything else that leaves less to the imagination.
Conversely, wearing bright colors is a way to stand out, if you don’t mind that. You might notice my vibrant green and blue coats in photos above, which are what I often wear out in Japan. This makes it incredibly easy for Sarah to spot me in crowds at the train station or temples if I run off to take photos. As these places can be a sea of people, this has its advantages.
With that said, dress how you would to meet your significant other’s grandmother for the first time. For some people, not attracting attention is not quite as easy as wardrobe. If you’re extremely tall, have blonde hair, light eyes, or comport with Western standards of beauty, don’t be surprised if you’re approached for photos. This is becoming less common, but it does happen.
With the explosion in popularity of UNIQLO, Japan is becoming less high-fashion and style oriented. If you’re unfamiliar with UNIQLO, it’s a fast fashion retailer that is ubiquitous in Japan (there are several in Kyoto–stop into one!) that emphasizes low-cost, everyday, and timeless styles. Think of it as Japanese Old Navy, except nicer and a bit preppier.
This is to say that what people are wearing in Kyoto is going to be pretty comparable to what people wear in similarly-sized cities in the United States. There’s not a huge emphasis on footwear (this isn’t Paris!) so we’d recommend wearing your most comfortable walking shoes, as it’s pretty common to be logging 5+ miles per day.
Ideally, we’d recommend packing this all in a single roller-bag and a backpack. This is especially true if you’re doing multiple cities in Japan, or will be taking the Shinkansen between Tokyo and Kyoto. Navigating Japan’s public transportation can be stressful, and that’s doubly the case with luggage. We’ve seen the looks of horror in traveler’s eyes while dragging two suitcases and trying to dodge commuters during rush hour at Tokyo Station. Even during our long trips, we always limit ourselves to one carry-on suitcase each, plus a backpack.
If you’re planning a trip to Japan that includes Kyoto, we recommend that you start by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other places to visit!
If you’ve visited Japan, what essential things would you recommend packing? Anything clever that isn’t covered here and first-timers might otherwise overlook? Items on this list that you think are not necessary? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Any questions about what we’ve covered here? Hearing about your experiences—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!