The best backpack for Japan travel is 30 liters, or smaller, and waterproof. The style and brand are not that important. Instead, I suggest focusing on comfort and practicality.
Bag and Backpack Manners are Important
Overall, the Japanese are very concerned about how their behavior affects the people around them. Japan is the land of etiquette, and how you handle your bag or backpack is very important.
In a survey done by Nippon.com, wearing backpacks and large shoulder bags on trains was the number one most annoying behavior among commuters, followed by noisy conversations.
The issue of bags on crowded trains is such an important matter, that the Tokyo Metro has been making manner posters on the topic since the early 2000s.
There is no issue with the backpacks themselves. The main complaint is that of irritating encounters with passengers that keep their backpacks on while riding crowded, rush-hour, trains.
If wearing a backpack, it is considered polite to either turn the bag around and wear it in front, take it off and put it on the luggage rack, or hold it in front of you. As demonstrated in the video below.
Our Experience with Large Travel Backpacks
Back in the early 2000s, Becki and I traveled the globe with our huge 100 liter backpacks. We took them to South and Central America, Europe, India, China, and Southeast Asia without any issues. Everything was fine until we embarked on Japan.
Shawn in Shanghai 2005 wearing his 120 liter travel backpack
Because wearing a bag or backpack on a crowded train is seen as rude to other passengers, these large bags quickly became a nuisance while traveling around Japan.
We would have to constantly take off our massive bags, carry them onto the train and hold them in front of us. Once at a station, we’d have to carry them off the train, wait for a clearing and then hoist them back onto our backs. Transfers just made this even more of a hassle.
What’s the Best Backpack for Japan Travel
I like to use a 20 to 30 liter backpack that can be used as a day pack while sightseeing, and as an overnight bag when forwarding our luggage. A favorite brand of mine has always been The North Face.
They’re affordable, strong, water-resistant, and they last a long time. However, they don’t condense or expand according to your needs, so you’re stuck with the size you choose.
If you’re looking for something more versatile, then I highly recommend Tropicfeel. The Shell backpack easily transforms from a 22 liter day pack into a lager 40 liter travel backpack. It’s stylish, expandable, and waterproof.
Becki hiking the Nakasendo trail 2019 wearing her North Face Isabella backpack
Becki prefers to travel with a smaller 17 liter North Face backpack called the Isabella. It’s been discontinued by North Face, but can still be found on Amazon.
Whatever backpack you choose, it needs to be comfortable because you’ll be wearing it almost all day. I always look for a backpack that’s lightweight and has a back with some sort of ventilation system.
You’ll also want the material to be pretty durable. You don’t want your bag ripping open, or a zipper busting while you’re out and about. A good quality build is important.
Shawn & Becki with tour group 2019
Also, it rains quite a bit in Japan, so you’re going to want a backpack that will keep your belongings dry. Even when using an umbrella, my backpack still manages to get soaking wet. Which is why water resistance is a must!
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