How to sightsee in Japan in the summer
Japan is lovely in the spring, when everyone finds a tiny bit of square under trees loaded with cherry blossoms and proceeds to get drunk, and in the fall the color of the leaves is downright electric. And in between, in the summer, Japan is…really, really hot. And humid. And kind of wet.
The rainy season is supposed to be June, but last year it stretched into half of July, and this year it hasn’t really shown up yet. After the rainy season, the sun can be intense and the humidity sticks around.
So you’ve got to plan for high heat and humidity, whether you’re bopping between museums in Tokyo or hiking up a mountain to visit a temple.
I'm sure I'll refine my system this year, but here's what I'm planning for my daypack while traveling this summer in Japan.
NB. I didn’t include a wallet or phone or phone chargers/ external batteries, because I assume you know to bring those things.
a) Sunglasses! Japanese people don’t often wear sunglasses, but you’ll want them. They do, however, have great sunglass cases.
b) Hat. Hats are everywhere, for men and women, part of the Asian tendency to keep sun off all parts of the body at all times. I’ve bought them from Daiso in the past, but I ended up upgrading to a more expensive one. This one’s really packable.
c) Water bladder/ Water bottle. If you go the bottle route, definitely get the double-walled kind that will keep water cold for a long time. Tap water in Japan is drinkable, but not very tasty. You can buy water in a konbini (convenience store) and refill your bottle from that. But last summer in Japan was what finally pushed me to get a water bladder. Climbing up a mountain with camera in hand makes it hard to drink enough. Also I’m lazy. So I’m 100% here for something that delivers water to my mouth with minimal effort on my part.
d) Backpack! I mean, you do you, but it’s hard to top backpacks for all-day comfort. This year I’m rocking a packable bag by Eddie Bauer, and it works okay with the water bladder.
e) Passcard holder! In Japan you take trains all the time— subway, private local lines, JR lines, Shinkansen— and you are going to want an IC card, even with a JR pass (which doesn’t cover everything, and definitely doesn’t cover the subway in any city). IC cards work on buses, too. You’ll notice Japanese teenagers have giant key chains hanging off their bags; one of them is a passcard holder. Probably. Having it attached to your bag makes it 1000% harder to lose your IC card. Sugoi!
f) Fan. Everything has air conditioning, but crowded places (like the subway) tend to heat up anyway. And sometimes certain historic places like castles don’t have anything close to adequate air conditioning. Having a fan just makes everything a little bit more pleasant. Plus, it’s a classic Japanese souvenir. I also have a little fan case here, because everything in Japan has a special little case, and it’s best to just accept that.
g) Camera bag and camera! Yes, I have a separate camera bag. Yes, I wear it around with the backpack. While traveling I keep the camera bag in the backpack, but when I’m at the destination I pull it out for easy access. It’s also useful to have a smaller bag. Museums usually have free lockers, and sometimes it’s nice to shove your heavy backpack in a locker and just wear your slightly less heavy camera bag/ purse around.
h) Body cooling wipes! All Japanese restaurants will give you either a wet wipe or a damp washcloth when you sit down, but sometimes you stop by the hostel before going out for dinner and all the showers are full and you just need to get some gross sweat and dust off before consuming sushi. Japan has a variety of “cooling” body wipes that help you to at least not have to smell yourself. Honestly they’re pretty great.
i) Towel! Are you a hoopyfrood? Do you know where your towel is? If you’ve always wanted to hit the galaxy like Ford and Arthur, have I got some good news for you. Everyone in Japan carries a towel around. They don’t even have paper towels in public restrooms because everyone has their own towel (so prepare for wet hands if you DON’T carry one). Japanese tourists often carry bigger ones in summer, and they wear them around their neck or on their head. To absorb sweat? I have no idea. But I do know “I wonder if I look stupid with this towel on my head?” has never been thought by any Japanese person ever.
j) It’s an umbrella! It’s a parasol! Get you a thing that can do both! A westerner might feel weird walking around under a parasol at first, but once you realize it’s significantly cooler under one, you’ll be a convert. Useful for standing in outside lines at Universal Studios and Disneyland, too. Trust me. Less sunburns make everyone happy.
k) Notebook! Write down important things in case your phone dies, yaddayaddayadda, you know how to use a notebook. But in Japan, most tourist sites have their own stamps, especially museums and castles. It’s fun to find the stamp and stamp your book. The stamps are pretty large, but you can have a much smaller notebook than this one.
L) Trash bag. Look. Japan just doesn’t have trash cans (and if you do find one, it’s called a dust box, for reasons that have never been adequately explained to me). You can walk for miles and only find recycling bins for PET bottles. Japan’s recycling and trash system is extremely complex and requires a full page of full-color explanation and it’s still confusing af. But assume you’re always going to have to pack your trash. So it’s helpful to have a dedicated trash bag. I have a friend who actually has a trash pocket in her purse, because she is on top of this.
The good news is, almost all of this is easy to buy in Japan for minimal amounts of money. Bring your backpack, your camera, your sunglasses, and your water container of choice. For everything else, hit Daiso, Seria, Loft, Tokyu Hands, or 3 Coins Ooops! (or a convenience store, of course)
And then you’ve got a ton of awesome souvenirs!
Laurel has lived in seven countries and is currently living in Japan. You can follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Tumbler under Merythapy.