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December is often an overlooked time for traveling in Japan. Travelers visit for the spring cherry blossoms or the lively summer festivals.
Although it can get very cold in December, don’t let that deter you from visiting. With the right packing list for Japan in winter, you can take advantage of this perfect time for sipping on some hot sake or relaxing in an onsen (a Japanese hot spring).
It’s also the best time of year for winter sports lovers as all the ski resorts are open and you can go skiing, snowboarding, and snowtubing. Not to mention that the crowds will also be less.
However, you do need to be prepared. Think gloves, thermal layers, and warm jackets. That’s why we’ve put together the perfect Japan travel guide for winter.
- Want more lists? See all packing list posts here.
The Weather In Japan In December
It is winter in Japan from December through February.
Japan is made up of islands and the weather varies across the regions. Tokyo (on Honshu island) is usually a little warmer and the temperature rarely drops below 0°C (32°F). Although in some regions, like Hokkaido (the northmost island of Japan), it can get as low as -7°C (19.4°F).
In Tokyo, the winters are sunny with little rain or snow and the daytime temperatures hover around 12°C (54°F). However, in Hokkaido and the Japanese Alps, there will be heavy snowfall and the average maximum temperature is only 2°C (35.6°F). Therefore, if you are traveling the whole Japan region, it is best to be prepared with items that can layer easily and a warm jacket for when it’s very cold.
It’s also a good idea to check the weather forecast before you leave so you are able to better prepare for any unexpected weather changes.
Chelsea’s Packing List for Japan in December
The following is a guest packing list for Japan in winter by Chelsea Baldwin
Being one of the most developed countries in the world, Japan offers a much more clean and comfortable place to travel compared to other countries in Asia.
But in the winter, Japan can get really cold, especially if you’re traveling close to the water in the north. You’ll want to pack plenty of warm items, but make sure you can layer well, as the Japanese like to keep it really warm inside.
Take about a week’s worth of clothes and plan ahead for when you’ll do washes.
2 bras – One skin color and one colored bra worked well for me.
5-7 pairs of underwear – This depends on how frequently you’ll be washing your clothes, and whether you’ll be washing them by hand or with the rest of your clothes.
2 pairs of Jeans – Take durable pairs that are comfortable and stylish for traveling, city excursions, and hiking.
- Check out the debate about the best travel pants for women
1 large scarf – Make sure it covers your head well. Some temples require it as a sign of respect, but it will also keep you warm.
2 light jackets/sweatshirts – If the weather isn’t too cold, this could be your outer layer. For greater packing efficiency, try packing two items that can be layered with each other.
1 heavy jacket – Snow and high winds from the ocean are no joke in a Japanese winter.
7 shirts – Pack a variety of T-shirts: short and long-sleeved, with different styles and different weights. This will be your base layer.
1-2 dressy outfits – Take something cute for going out on the weekends. If you want to wait until you get there to shop for clothes, the Japanese are very stylish.
5-7 pairs of socks – Try to get socks made for freezing temperatures, especially if you’ll be outside a lot.
1 pair flip flops – To protect your feet against grimy shower floors.
1 pair tennis shoes or hiking boots – Take a pair of shoes that will keep your feet dry and warm. Make sure they’re comfortable enough to endure hours of walking through cities or mountains.
- Check out our travel shoes guide.
1 pair flats – Take a cute pair of shoes for going out at night.
In Japan, it is customary to remove your shoes when visiting homes, temples, shrines, and other cultural buildings. Make sure you can get your shoes on and off easily and that you’re wearing good quality socks with no holes in them.
2-in-1 Shampoo/Conditioner – Make sure it’s under 3.4 ounces (or 100ml) if it goes into your carry-on toiletry bag.
Bar of Soap – Put it in a plastic container so you won’t have to worry about a mess.
Toothbrush and toothpaste – Get something to cover the head of your toothbrush.
- Have a read of our Lush liquid alternative travel products reviews and our guide to the best toiletries for carry-on travel for some extra toiletry advice
Deodorant – You don’t want to stink.
Razor – And shaving cream if you’re not comfortable using soap as a lather.
Diva Cup – So you don’t have to deal with going into a drug store trying to decipher Japanese writing on tampon boxes every month.
Medicines – Take an emergency stash of things to treat stomach ache, diarrhea, constipation, colds, and headaches. Buying things from the local pharmacy is a guessing game you don’t want to play because almost nothing is in English. (See our medical kit packing list.)
Birth Control – Just in case.
Towel – To dry yourself off after a shower.
We Recommend a Turkish Towel
Instead of a sarong or a travel towel, the Turkish towel can be a more effective item on your packing list. Absorbent, lightweight, and versatile.
Camera – Take as many pictures of the land of the rising sun as possible. (Or, just use your smartphone!)
Smartphone – To communicate or zone out on long bus or train rides.
Chargers & Adapters – Make sure your valuable electronics always have juice.
Tablet or Kindle – To entertain yourself when traveling between cities or during your down time.
Laptop – Only if you really need it.
Visa – If you go for 90 days or less as a tourist, you don’t need it. If you’re going for another purpose, get all the paperwork straightened out before you get on the plane.
Editor’s note: Citizens of the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, most countries in Europe, plus several others do not need tourist visas for 90 days or less, you simply need your passport. Check with the embassy to verify if you need a visa.
Earplugs – For peace and quiet on the plane.
Eye mask – Get as much sleep as possible on the plane, and help yourself get over jet lag.
- See a list of items to pack to help you sleep
Japanese phrase guide – English is not as widely spoken in Japan as other countries. Make sure you can communicate your basic needs and know how to get travel information.
- See also language tools for female travelers
Some Japan Travel Essentials From HPL
We love Chelsea’s Japan Travel Checklist, but you know we have to add some HPL essentials to the list too.
If you are planning on going to a snowy region in Japan, like Hokkaido, in December, make sure the jacket that you pack is insulated and waterproof. The Patagonia Women’s Down With It Parka is a great option. There’s nothing worse than getting soaked the first hour of your five-hour hike and having to spend the rest of the day in soggy clothes.
You don’t want to miss the opportunity to visit an onsen (a Japanese hot spring). The more traditional hot springs do not allow any clothes at all (yup, that means going in naked with a small towel for modesty) but others do allow a swimming costume, so make sure to pack one.
Here at HPL, we love merino wool! There are so many reasons to pack merino wool items for December in Japan. Merino wool is temperature regulating. This means it keeps you warm when you’re outside in the cold and cool when you’re inside and the heating is on.
It’s also quick-drying and breathable.
Some merino wool items we recommend are:
- wool& Mazama Travel Pant
- wool& Aspen Full-Zip Hoodie (perfect for layering under your jacket if it’s really cold)
- wool& Holly Interlock Top
wool& Mazama Travel Pant
wool& Aspen Full-Zip Hoodie
wool& Holly Interlock Top
Pack some gloves if your hands get cold. Especially if you’re planning on spending a lot of time outdoors. We recommend the Isotoner Women’s Spandex Touchscreen Cold Weather Gloves with Warm Fleece Lining. Not only will the fleece lining keep your hands warm, but they also have water-repellent protection which will keep your hands dry.
If you want to save space in your suitcase, you can also purchase heat packs or packet warmers, also known as kairo, at most Japanese convenience stores. Once you remove the packaging and squeeze or rub the heat pack it should warm up to about 40°C (104°F), perfect for keeping your hands warm.
One of the best tips for keeping warm when it’s freezing outside is to wear a properly insulating base layer. This means thermal underwear is essential! Bring at least two pairs even if bag space is at a minimum so that you can wear one pair and have the other pair drying in your hotel room.
When shopping for thermals choose fabrics that are moisture-wicking. Some fabrics to look out for are bamboo, merino wool, spandex, and lycra. Cuddle Duds is a great brand if you aren’t sure where to start looking. You can get just the thermal leggings or a thermal two-piece set.
Things to Consider When Packing for Japan in December
Japan is quite a traditional and conservative country when it comes to appearance, especially in the smaller towns. You might, however, find that city centers like Osaka and Shibuya are a bit more relaxed with bright hair colors, multiple piercings, and visible tattoos on display.
In December, this won’t be a huge issue, as you will most likely be pretty well covered but still take note of how other people are dressing around you as you want to be respectful.
You may also have to cover any visible tattoos when visiting traditional places like temples or shrines. Bring some waterproof bandages to cover tattoos at the onsen. You can also buy these at pharmacies in Japan and some of the onsen resorts will also have them. If you have a very large tattoo that can’t be covered you may have to book a private onsen.
Also, take into account your itinerary when you are packing. If you are planning to go to ski resorts and spend your holiday skiing and snowboarding, you may want to bring some of your gear along.
We know that packing light is harder in winter because you have to pack so many more clothes! Jackets, long pants, and extra layers all take up precious space in your bag. But it is possible. To pack light with ease, check out the Handbag Packing Masterclass.
P.S. Check out the ultimate female packing list for Japan in summer
Book a Viator Tour for Your Trip to Japan in Winter
Cycle past a mix of Kyoto’s most-famous sights and its lesser-known secrets during this half-day ‘Hidden Kyoto’ bike tour.
Discover Tokyo at your own pace on this 4- or 8-hour private, custom tour with guide.
About Chelsea: Chelsea Baldwin is a professional freelance writer who is constantly looking forward to her next plane trip to a new, exotic land. Although she’s been to a handful of countries, she’s never traveled for pure tourism. Instead, she’s traveled for work, internship opportunities, or volunteer community development work. Connect with her via her travel blog, Twitter, or her website.
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