What To Wear In Japan
To sum it up - Smart casual
- The Japanese dress as Westerners do and are quite conservative on the whole, but the youngsters are very daring and you'll see some mad outfits in Tokyo.
- Shorts are fine, jeans, even strappy vests etc.
- Jeans are not generally popular with men or women beyond their 20's, so for jean lovers we suggest packing black jeans as an alternative to blue denim.
- In Tokyo, black and grey are very popular but outside the capital you will see a far greater choice of colours being worn.
- Women favour high heels, however with all the walking we would recommend saving yours for an evening out rather than a day sightseeing. We love the Lindsay Phillips Switch Flops range - using interchangeable shoe and flip-flop bases with snap-on decorations, you can change your look from day to evening in an instant whilst still packing light.
- If your itinerary includes Kyoto you'll find a more colourful feel to dress than there is in Tokyo - perhaps because it is a popular tourist destination and people are dressed for holidays rather than work.
- Men don't need a jacket or tie unless that is how they dress at home.
- Women don't need dresses or skirts unless they are more comfortable in them.
- The biggest thing to remember for Japan is to make sure your clothes are not tatty looking.
- As the Japanese are very petite, finding clothes to fit in the popular stores can be difficult - so take everything you will need with you.
- Holes in socks are a big no-no, because you spend lots of time without shoes on - visiting temples, shrines and traditional restaurants etc.
- Pack comfortable shoes for walking that can be slipped off easily when visiting religious sites or traditional restaurants. We can't emphasise enough the need for really comfortable well broken in walking shoes (try Hotter shoes, we love their styles and they are just so comfy).
- And take a comfy shoulder bag or day sack to carry your sightseeing essentials.
- If travelling in the winter (December, January and February) take an overcoat, gloves, warm scarf and ear muffs. You won't see many Japanese wearing ear muffs but you'll be glad you packed them.
- Spring (March, April and May) is a great time to be in Japan but the weather can be variable so for March/April we would suggest packing gloves, scarf and a waterproof jacket. Buy an umbrella when you get there.
- Dress in layers because the indoor temperature will be very much warmer than outside - a wrap or shawl works well as it's easy to slip around you if you feel cold.
- Summer (June, July, August) gets very hot and humid, so lightweight natural fabrics such as linen will work best. Make sure you wear sun screen (we love the Riemann P20 range - apply just once a day, even if swimming, for a whole 10 hours protection), a sunhat (or carry an umbrella), and take plenty of water with you when sightseeing.
- It's worth knowing that it rains more in June, so a lightweight raincoat would be worth packing (but save space in your case and buy an umbrella when you get there – there is plenty of choice).
- For women, if you are travelling to Japan on business then a formal, conservative trouser or knee-length skirt suit worn with tights in dark colours works well, but do avoid an all-black look - this is associated with funerals. Also avoid revealing or sleeveless blouses. Japanese women generally do not wear nail varnish.
- For men on business pack dark coloured suits with a blue or white shirt. Other colours are worn, but blue and white are considered the most acceptable. Avoid wearing a black tie as it is associated with funerals. It's also advisable for men to be clean shaven - stubble is generally frowned upon.
- Note that some common medical nasal sprays, which are fine elsewhere, are illegal in Japan. Check your brand if you need one.
- Keep your electrical gadgets (camera, iPad etc) fully charged using a solar powered charger. This one gadget will charge most devices anywhere at any time, and it also cuts down on the number of leads and adaptors you need to pack.
- Surprisingly, Tokyo doesn't have free WiFi in cafes or malls etc, so you may want to take a portable card with you.
- Aside from the younger generation in Tokyo, few people speak English - however everyone is extremely helpful if you look lost or confused. Add a translation app to your smartphone before you go, and learning just a few simple words of Japanese (hello, thank you etc) will be hugely appreciated.
- Japanese etiquette is a minefield, although they are tolerant and forgiving of tourists. Carry business cards, if you have them, and hand them (with both hands) to everyone you meet; be overtly admiring of the ones you are given.
- Japan is famous for its futuristic toilets, with an array of remote controls that dispense jets of water and blasts of hot air. Public loos are always spotlessly clean and there will be hand-washing facilities, however towels or hand-driers are rarely provided - so carry some tissues with you. Also note you'll need to remove your shoes and put on plastic 'bathroom slippers' which are provided outside the door.
- Communal bathing in hot springs (onsens) is a traditional pastime. But apart from in a few mixed-gender baths, you won't need a swimsuit as they are explicitly forbidden (for hygiene reasons). Do pack swimwear (opt for a one-piece rather than a bikini) if you're heading for the pacific island resorts where the beaches rival those of the Caribbean.
- In Japan tattoos are associated with the mafia, and are banned in many places - even a tiny mark may mean you are refused entry. So if you have any, keep them covered with clothing, plasters or special concealer products.
- Trips to climb Mount Fuji are available, but the full ascent can take 6-11 hours so you do need to be fit. Make sure you have sturdy footwear and carry a light day sack with drinks, snacks and warm layers. Climbing overnight is popular, so you can see the sun rise from the top.
- If you would like to give something back on your holiday, the local community projects are very grateful for new materials. See the Pack for a Purpose website for ideas of things you could take.
- For more pictures and ideas see our Pinterest board: What to Wear in Japan, read our blog post What To Wear To Japan, or read about the experiences of one of our readers in her Tips for Tokyo.
- Stay healthy on your trip - travellers' diarrhoea can affect as many as 50% of people travelling abroad. We've tried and recommend Bimuno Travel Aid pastilles to help support your digestive health. And WhatToWearOnHoliday readers can claim a great 10% discount on Bimuno using code WHBIMUA at their checkout.
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We went in late March and your advice was spot on - even the ear muffs were greatly appreciated. We wore everything we took and felt very proud of the small amount of luggage we had compared to others and we never ran out of anything. You were so right about comfortable walking shoes at the end of each day our feet throbbed. Smarter shoes at night were a great tip. I would reinforce what you say about people dressing very smartly even our teenage son smartened up his look when we there! Thanks for the help. - Steve, Windsor UK
Japanese dress very chic, so tourists need to dress smart, if they don't want to look dull. Your outfits do not have to be new, just well pressed, well coordinated and confidently presented. Also having a portable WiFi card is a MUST. In spite of being one of the most sophisticated cities on earth, Tokyo does NOT have free WiFi in most obvious places like cafes or malls. - Radhika, India