Packing Light for 23 Days in Japan

Packing light has never been something I’ve been good at. Wearing one outfit twice in one trip rarely happened, but remembering how I felt when I struggled to lift two full-size suitcases (essentially my entire wardrobe) onto an escalator in the London Underground made me re-think how silly it all was.

I always knew that I wanted to pack light for Japan and enjoy the freedom of not fussing with huge bags. In 2015, Simon and I spent ten days travelling through Germany, Switzerland, and Italy with only a single backpack each, and it worked surprisingly well. Packing for twenty three days to visit Japan in spring with unpredictable weather was a much bigger challenge, but I'm happy to report that not only did we do it, but we wouldn't have changed a single thing! Here’s a breakdown of every single item I took.

WHAT’S IN MY SUITCASE?

1. MUJI 33L Carry-On Suitcase

I’ve had this MUJI carry-on suitcase for a while now, and it’s the best I’ve ever owned. It’s a simple and sleek hardshell case with spinner wheels and a handy wheel lock to stop it from rolling away. Perfect for travelling on the Shinkansen where you don’t want to take up valuable space or disturb others.

2. MUJI Travel Neck Cushion

The best thing about this neck cushion is that it isn’t overstuffed, making it softer on the back of the neck. Plus, it can be used as a ‘log’ if you prefer resting it on your shoulder or side.

3. Herschel Packable Duffle

There’s no way I’d be able to bring home much stuff in just my carry-on luggage, so I used this packable lightweight duffle to fill with as many souvenirs as possible.

4. Dress Shoes

My comfy sneakers won’t get me far in fancy restaurants, so I had no choice but to pack a lightweight pair of dressier shoes. These are my Kate Spade Saturday loafers which I adore. Unfortunately, the Saturday sub-brand is no more, but I love these loafers from Everlane, too. 

5. UNIQLO Ultra Light Down

Spring in Japan can be unpredictable, especially in the north. We took a detour to Jigokudani in the Nagano Prefecture to see the snow monkeys, and our UNIQLO Ultra Light Down packable jackets really came in handy.

6. Coordinated Clothing

Polyester shirts that dry quickly overnight with a common colour theme (white, black, navy) made planning outfits and washing clothes a lot easier. Two pairs of trousers and a denim skirt were all I needed to mix and match. Some of my favourite crease-free shirts are 100% polyester blouses from UNIQLO.

7. MUJI Hanging Travel Case

This MUJI hanging travel case fits all of my toiletries, mostly decanted into MUJI pots and tubes. My favourite space-saving kit is a Bobbi Brown eyeshadow and blush palette with tiny travel-size brushes. I also adore the even smaller MUJI customisable palettes—unfortunately only available to purchase in Japan at the time of writing.

8. ExOfficio Travel Underwear

A couple of pairs of these award-winning travel undies by ExOfficio are all that’s necessary when they’re so quick and easy to dry. Plus, they look great.

9. Gifts

No trip to Japan is complete without bringing a few small gifts for gracious hosts. We picked up some small treats at Harrods or other unique food products from England.

10. MUJI Garment Cases

These brilliant garment cases from MUJI are similar to “packing cubes” from other brands. They fold up into a neat pouch when not and use and are perfect for keeping everything organized in your suitcase. 


WHAT’S IN MY BACKPACK?

1. Fjällräven Rucksack No. 21 Small

This Fjällräven backpack is only 15L, but anything bigger would tempt me into packing even more stuff I don’t really need. This holds my running gear and anything needed for in-flight comfort.

2. Nike Dri-Fit Running Gear

I’ve got a soft spot for Nike running gear, mainly because their Dri-Fit fabric lives up to the hype of drying quickly. They're the perfect companion to pack when you know you’ll be running regularly.

3. Mobile Photography Gear

I made a decision to shoot iPhone only on this trip, so my Moment Wide lens was an absolute must-have. Since I didn't travel with a laptop, we backed up all our photos on a Seagate Wireless Plus 1TB hard drive, which we could connect to even without wi-fi.

4. JR Rail Pass Exchange Order

A passport goes without saying, but if you’re travelling by rail in Japan, don’t forget to get your JR Rail Pass exchange order which can only be purchased in your home country before you travel. We ordered the 21-day pass and activated it a couple of days after arriving in the country.

5. Kanji Flashcards

While iPhone flash card apps are great, sometimes it’s nice to use the traditional paper flashcards for memorising kanji. My favourite are the key ring memo blocks by MUJI, which is no surprise.

6. Apple Watch Sport Edition

Although I've since switched to the Garmin Forerunner 235 which I think is superior for dedicated runners, I enjoyed tracking my runs around Tokyo on the Apple Watch Sport Edition, which also looks great for daily wear. 

7. Sony Noise-Cancelling Headphones

I considered the Bose QuietComfort headphones, but the £50 price tag on these Sony headphones lured me in. The sound isn’t fantastic but the noise-cancelling is, which is all I needed for the long flight.

8. Ladies Nike Zoom Pegasus 32

For neutral runners, I can’t recommend the Nike Pegasus range enough. Since visiting Japan I've worn these out and moved on to the 33 model—also brilliant. For even lighter trips, I switch to my Nike Free Flyknits—they hardly take up any space at all and are as light as a feather.

9. Reading material

I packed a book for reading, my Japanese notebook for studying, and a book to get me out of any potential language problems (The Original “Point and Speak” Phrasebook).