Last year, as part of my degree, I spent a year living in Nagoya, Japan. It truly was one of the best experiences of my life, and I’d recommend it to anyone. However, when you are there for a long period of time for study or work, it can be kind of bemusing to know what to pack. I know there are many guides out there that are probably much more comprehensive than mine, but I’d thought I’d share anyway; if it helps just one person then it was worth writing. (Oh and it’s going to be really long, so I apologise in advance…)
First, different packing rules apply to different people, so this is just a rough guide. I’m writing this from a personal perspective; if you think I can add more things that I may not have considered, please don’t hesitate to let me know!
Unless you absolutely must have certain products, there is no real need to take full-sized toiletries with you to Japan. While hair products and shower gel brands are slightly more limited than what you would find in say, a British supermarket (I’m British and therefore slightly biased - sorry!) you can find Pantene Pro V, as well as Shiseido and Shu Uemura in most supermarkets and pharmacies. As for shower gel and soaps, Dove is freely available, as well as the above mentioned Japanese brands, plus other, more cheaper options. My friend had thin hair and complained that Japanese shampoo and conditioner was no good for her hair, so she preferred buying natural shampoo from Lush - alternatively, you could try Body Shop (both shops can be found in some larger department stores). As for soaps - beware. Desperate for a shower and with no shower gel left, I opted to buy whatever was available in my local convenience store. It made my whole body tingle with cold, like covering myself in peppermint toothpaste. It’s probably best not to buy your toiletries in desperation at midnight from the only shop open in a 20-mile radius.
It might be worth bringing a tried and tested hair product or two with you, as the homogeneity of Japan means that most people have a similar type of hair, ergo, not a lot of choice in hair products. You may be able to find specialised products from brands such as Aveda in a local hairdressers, but if L’oreal sells it in your home country for a relatively cheap price then I’d say bring some with you. (You can always get a family member or friend to send you more). A word of warning - no matter what, if you’re a woman, your hair will probably fall out more than usual. Apparently the same thing happens to my Japanese friends here in the UK, too! Oh and guys - sorry I’m not very useful to you - there’s loads of cheap hair wax and gels available in Conbinis and Don Quixote, etc. But if you too need something more specific to your hair type, I’d buy it at home and chuck it in your suitcase.
I think, speaking as a woman, that we can find space in our luggage for something as important as make-up. However, I wouldn’t go crazy, as you can find make-up in all price ranges in Japan. Being Caucasian, I didn’t really pay much attention at the time, but from what I remember, there wasn’t a great deal of choice when it came to skin tones. So if you have darker skin, I’d recommend stockpiling foundation, powder, and concealer. (It’s not just Japan; even British stores don’t really make an effort to cater to their entire customer base.) On the other hand, if you don’t like wearing make-up, then don’t! People get the impression from images of Japan that all women cake on the make-up, but many girls (particularly university students) don’t bother. There’s no pressure there to look like Ayumi Hamasaki or a Lolita - although if you’re applying for a job it may be in your favour to put on a little make-up (sexist, I know, but before we decry Japanese society for sexism we should remember that this is pretty standard practice in most developed countries.)
You’ll find both in Japan, and they are equivalent to products in the West. Some facial moisturisers are a little watery though. To be fair to Japanese products, if gyaru can remove their make-up then so can you! Although, like everything, if you have special requirements then take some with you just in case. I splashed out and bought Chanel make-up remover - if you want more costly skin creams you can find many familiar brands in large department stores.
This will be short and sweet - Japanese deodorant is RUBBISH. Do yourself a favour and bring as much as you can manage; you’ll be thankful during the summer months when you will sweat like a pig. To paraphrase an over-worn internet meme: humid Japan is humid.
This is also short, being as (I personally think that) Japanese toothpaste tastes disgusting. If you like it, good for you; if you don’t mind bog-standard Colgate, then you can find it in Japan; if you have sensitive teeth or are obsessed with whiteners, you may have to bring some with you/set up a regular supply from home. On the plus side, while Japanese people (along with the British) only really bother about the bare minimum of teeth hygiene, mouthwash and floss are available in Japan. I can’t vouch for their efficacy because I am British and therefore have just given up on dental hygiene forever, but if the Japanese stuff’s bad I’m certain you’ll find the odd bottle of Listerine floating about somewhere.
Towels are everywhere and there are multiple brands/types etc in the supermarket. I personally can’t vouch for the quality since I don’t use them, but I never heard any of my friends complaining. I’d bring a few with you, just in case, but any more than a box is unnecessary I think. As for tampons, I’ve heard people say they could never find them in Japan, but where I lived, they were sold everywhere, even in the conbini. Maybe people weren’t looking hard enough. I mean, in 12 months I only saw one brand of tampon in the entire country. From what I remember, there are only two strengths, but they worked fine for me, I had no problems whatsoever. If you like using tampons without applicators (to each their own I guess…) you won’t find them, I don’t think.
Hair Removal Stuff
Guys, you’ll need to double check the voltage of your razors/clippers to see if they fit the Japanese standard. You’d probably be best buying one out in Japan. Disposable razors are available, and I also remember seeing razors for the downy hair on your face and also for eyebrows, though I’m not sure what use many of you will get out of those…(!) As for decent non-electric razors and replacement blades, men may not have much of a problem finding them but women may…so I would advise bringing a Venus/Wilkinson razor with you as well as some replacement blades. As long as they’re not packed in your hand luggage you should be fine! As for waxing, I can’t really say. I’m sure you’ll find some wax strips somewhere, or at least a beautician who does waxing for a reasonable price.
(Wow this is getting really long…sorry guys!!)
Take painkillers with you. Try to take as many as you can without looking suspicious because Japanese painkillers are really weak. Also, they don’t even sell painkillers in conbinis so if you need pain relief at 5am like I did, you’re outta luck. The only things they sell are tablets for indigestion, constipation, etc (illnesses that the forty-year-old conbini employee hilariously mimed to me when I just wanted paracetamol. It was less hilarious at the time, when I was in pain.)
Don’t bother. Japan is rife with mosquitoes but it also sells plenty of mosquito creams, sprays, and other anti-mosquito paraphernalia.
This is something that doesn’t get mentioned a lot but should be, because many people have found issue with the sizes of Japanese sun cream bottles. Japanese women (particularly those above thirty) are obsessed with avoiding getting tanned skin, so much so that they use parasols at the first sign of any UVAs and wear weird fabric covers over their forearms (ironically so much more uglier than slightly tanned skin). This preoccupation with the face and arms, but not the rest of the body, means that sun tan lotion comes in tiny, expensive bottles of factor 50, with no option to buy a lower factor in a larger, more reasonably priced bottle. It’s also kind of thin and gloopy, so you should probably avoid it if you can. While you could probably scour department stores for upscale brands like Clinique, it’s worth bringing a bottle with you because you’ll probably only need that one bottle for the whole summer (that is until your foreigner friends find out about it…)
I don’t have much knowledge about this, but I’d imagine that if your Japanese is bad and/or you need to ask for something embarrassing, it might be better if you anticipate your condition and bring the cream from home. Of course, conditions can come unexpectedly, but it’s worth noting that a lot of Japanese pharmacies tend to stock more beauty products and toiletries than medicine, so the people working there may not be the most helpful. For instance, I had a bit of eczema flare up on my eyelids (weird I know), and the women in the shop, instead of recommending me a medicinal eczema cream, sold me a beauty serum that apparently repaired skin. While my eczema cleared up, I can’t help but think that it was due more to my complete avoidance of eye make-up during my condition than anything else.
Again, I’m not much help, so other guides may be better, but I’ve heard that you should take at least 2 months supply with you to Japan. Unfortunately I’ve only heard bad things about Japanese doctors from friends (particularly females) so it may be worth trying to bring as much as you can. However, Japan is a very advanced country, so if you really have to face a Doctor I’m sure you can find the medication you need. But of course, it is vital that you check before you leave what you can take with you and what you can get in Japan. Also, barely anyone takes the pill in Japan so I don’t know how easy it is to get - I’m sure many forums will be able to advise you better than I can.
Try to bring as many contact lenses as you can, because I can’t imagine it will be very fun to get your eyes tested with a Japanese speaking optometrist. I took 12 months worth with me which took up hardly any room. As for solution, bring the bare minimum. You can find it in any chemist for a reasonable price and in many brands. Just double check if you have lenses that require special solution/care.
God, this went on for ages. I’ll probably continue in a part two if there’s any interest. Oh and if you have any questions or comments don’t be afraid to visit my ask! （問い）I don’t bite!