Next month the two of us are off on a fortnight’s self-guided tour focusing on Traditional Japan. It should be a beautiful time of year as the autumn foliage will be out but temperatures will be chilly.
Our tour operator Nathaniel has already advised us that, “packing light will make travelling around Japan a breeze. As fast and efficient as the transportation is here, it is not geared towards foreigners with multiple large suitcases. It can always be managed, but having fewer/smaller bags makes things much more relaxing.
“Only major stations have escalators and lifts, the smaller stations only have steps. And there is little space for overhead luggage in Japanese trains and buses.”
We’re going to take his advice and aim to squeeze all our travelling essentials into a medium size and a very small backpack each. As we’ve got older we’ve learnt to travel more lightly but this is going to be our biggest challenge yet.
There is however by all accounts a very reliable ‘Forward Luggage “service (takkyu-bin) to send all but your overnight bag to your next destination and it is reasonably priced. We’ll use this whenever possible so we can just hop on a local bus or train with just our small backpack containing overnight essentials.
We’ll be eating casually and spend most of our time away from the big cities so we expect that we don’t need to dress up. But the bottom line is that we don’t want to look scruffy as Japanese people highly value cleanliness and are tidy dressers.
On the plane: We’ll wear some of the bulkiest items, our jackets, jeans and sturdy walking shoes on the plane so they won’t take up room in our luggage as well as compression socks. I’ll pack an additional light and smarter pair of sneakers.
Socks: In traditional accommodation the custom is to remove your shoes on entering so our socks will have to be clean! But there is no need to take slippers as these will be provided.
For visiting temples I’m taking a thicker pair as you have to remove your shoes. Temples may well not be heated inside so it could be cold underfoot.
Merino Layers: In the cold autumn weather layers of clothing are best. We love merino as it doesn’t get smelly easily so can be worn for several days. We’ll take a merino singlet and several merino jerseys. I’ll add a couple of cotton T-shirts which can double as PJ tops, and a couple of cotton pyjama bottoms and a sarong.
Dressing Gowns: In some of our accommodation we’ll be sharing a bathroom with other guests so John wondered if he would need to take a bath robe or whether they are supplied. At 6ft3 and a size XL he is also larger than the average Japanese person. He asked our tour operator for advice.
Nathaniel replied, “in Japan traditional accommodation along with most hotels as well provide Japanese yukata to use while in the room or in public areas of traditional accommodation. Lots of places these days offer large sizes when checking in or if you ask but it is not possible to always guarantee that the correct size will be available. In Japan you normally need to go a size up to find something that fits. So a western XL would be a Japanese XXL.
“In my experience you can always find a robe large enough to keep you modest when standing upright, but when trying to sit down you might find the yukata’s to be a little on the revealing side.”
Rain: Showers are inevitable at this time of year. Umbrellas can be bought very cheaply in Japan so no need to take but we will pack a light rain jacket.
Scarves and Hats: As well as a woolly scarf I’ll pack a couple of lovely light ones which weigh next to nothing but look dressy. And I like to keep my ears warm so am packing a woollen beanie.
Undies and Socks: We have a difference of opinion here. He is taking only 3 pairs of socks and 3 pairs of undies and is sure he can wash them and dry them on the bathroom rail in our hotel room overnight.
But I’m not skimping on these! I’ll be packing to last the distance without having to worry at every stop if they will dry in time for the next leg of the journey. And I’ll add a pair of merino leggings for extra warmth.
Toiletries: That little stash of tiny shampoo and conditioner bottles which we have collected from various hotel rooms over the years will be put to good use! And should we run out, toiletries are easy to buy in Japan.
By all accounts public toilets are scrupulously clean in Japan and there will be handwashing but not hand drying facilities and toilet paper may well not be provided so we’ll pack a toilet roll and some tissues.
Medication: One of the annoying things about getting old is that we have to carry a few more of these than we used to. There are strict rules about what you can and can’t bring into Japan. This site gives a very clear explanation.
Swimming Togs: No need to pack! In traditional Public Japanese bath houses (onsen) you strip off, then rinse off before having a relaxing soak. We haven’t skinny dipped since we were young but what the heck! Thankfully 99% of onsen are gender segregated and in any case once you are submerged no-one can see your wrinkly body.
Camera, Cell phone and kindles, their chargers, and an adapter plug won’t be left behind. I much prefer to read books while my partner always reads on a kindle. But this time instead of half a dozen I’ll only take one or two and download some novels onto my Kindle Fire which is my constant travel companion. Not only is it very user friendly but you can send and receive emails on it, read Facebook, and keep up with the news by surfing the net Most hotels should have WIFI access. We’ll only use our cell phone when really necessary.
Passports, copies of passports and Travel Documents and our Tour Itinerary: Essential of course. As well as our tickets, and vouchers for our accommodation Nathaniel had provided us with incredibly detailed information about exactly how and where to catch buses and trains, and the best and most reasonably priced places to see and eat. So we can leave our Lonely Planet Guide behind.
Shopping: I have made a rule for myself, no shopping until the last place we visit which is Kyoto. (But rules are made to be broken aren’t they?) Still there just won’t be room so it will have to be small indulgences. In Kyoto we can if necessary bundle up souvenirs for family and friends and mail them back home.
Looking over our packing lists it’s obvious that there is a male/female discrepancy. I don’t think I could ever achieve my partner’s level of minimalism. It’s probably yet another example of how women come from Venus and men from Mars.
By Lyn Potter. Read more here.