Matthew is a designer based out of San Francisco, exploring the relationship between ourselves and the world around us through the things we use everyday.
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Matthew Koscica

Matthew is a designer based out of San Francisco, exploring the relationship between ourselves and the world around us through the things we use everyday.

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Exploring Japan: A Designer’s Guide

As an industrial designer, I think its natural to have curiosity about Japan. With its captivating blend of cutting-edge technology and profound respect for tradition, it encapsulates a duality I’ve always been drawn to. Its vibrant neon-lit cities stand tall as testaments to modernity, while simultaneously embracing a profound appreciation for handcraft, simplicity, and culinary delights.

In June of 2023, I finally had the opportunity to embark on my long-awaited journey to Japan. Seizing the moment with nothing more than a backpack, I immersed myself in an unforgettable adventure. This article serves as a comprehensive guide, offering invaluable tips, reflections, and recommendations specifically tailored for designers visiting Japan. Additionally, I will share insights into my meticulous trip preparations, highlight must-see destinations, and divulge the valuable lessons I learned along the way, providing you with essential information to ensure an extraordinary experience.

Matthew’s Google Maps Pins

If you don’t want to follow along with the sage advice and just want my Google map with places and descriptions. Here you go. Take it with a grain of salt though. There are notes with each location and simply mark where I’ve been and what I think is worth exploring. However, you’ll inevitably get lost and find your own pins. I recommend naturally exploring when you’re there and seeing what pins might be near you and assess if they are worth checking out in the moment. Have fun!

Preparation and Packing

One Bag Travel

I’m a strong believer in traveling light. It allows you to stay nimble, worry less about your belongings, and to better understand yourself and your personal essentials. My rule of thumb is that if you can comfortably walk a quarter mile with all your belongings, it’s too much. Whatever you forgot at home, 1, is probably not essential, and 2, can probably be aquired where you’re going and makes for great souvenirs. I’m looking at you, Hong Kong acquired holographic butterfly nail clippers.  If you don’t do this and want to lug around big luggage across Japan, you do you, but look into Luggage Forwarding at the airports and they can deliver your luggage to your hotel for you.

Duffel Bag Technique TM

Speaking of souvenirs, I packed a small deployable duffel bag and kept that in my backpack.  I had plenty of room for small things along the way, but on my last leg of the trip, I opened up the duffel stuffed with non-fragile souvenirs and my clothing and checked it on the plane. I kept the fragile souvenirs in my backpack with me on the plane as a carry on.

Matthew’s Essentials Packing List

I went in the summer which was quite hot and humid and rainy. I’ve adjusted this list to omit my rain jacket and waterbottle. Umbrellas are the way and there are no places to refill your water, while bottled water is cheap and plentiful.

︎ Italisized items were things I wish I brought.
Struck out items are things I didn’t need or never used.

︎ 45L PacSafe backpack - I have had this for years. It's a carry on sized backpack made for traveling. It's alright.
︎ cash holding wallet
︎ pack down duffle
︎ Uniqlo shoulder bag
︎ print outs of itinerary and confirmations
︎ traveler's insurance
︎ Travel partner's emergency contacts
︎ coin purse

︎ packing cubes
︎ foldable water bottle (no place to fill them and bottled water is everywhere)
︎ wristwatch
︎ 2 airtags (one for my day bag and one for my backpack)
︎ 6 pairs of underwear
︎ 6 pairs of socks
︎ 5 shirts
︎ 1 pair shorts sweater for plane
︎ rain jacket
︎ 1 pair easily washable/dryable pants (Lululemon ABC pants)
︎ pair of gym shorts for lounging/PJs
︎ walking shoes
︎ stuffable neck pillow

︎ toothbrush
︎ toothpaste
︎ tongue scraper
︎ floss with sewing needle taped to the back
︎ earplugs
︎ eye mask
︎ mini deodorant
︎ nail clipper
︎ beard trimmer
︎ a pair of daily contacts
︎ sunscreen

︎ power bank & cords
︎ 4 port USB wall plug (no need for an outlet converter in Japan. Just make sure its 2 prong, not 3)
︎ ball point pen
︎ slim sketchbook
︎ point & shoot camera
︎ camera charger
︎ 2 spare camera batteries
︎ extra SD card
︎ USB C hub
︎ M.2 external drive for photo/video backup
︎ small tripod
︎ Bose noise canceling headphones
︎ Odin Lite gaming handheld

Language Barrier

There’s a few words you’re going to need to know, but outside of that, Google translate is your friend. It’s good to know a few key phrases and made my interactions more enjoyable. These are the ones that were the most useful.

Arigato Go-zai-mas - Thank you very much
Sumi-masen - Excuse me    ex.“Sumimasen. ATM dokodeska?”
Toire - Toilet ___ doko deska? - Where is the ___?       ex.”Toire dokodeska?”
Hi! - O.K. or I understand. ex.”-The ATM is there. -Hi! Arigato Gozaimas.”
Kai Kay - Bill/Check ex. Making an X with your two index fingers and hold it up to your waiter. “Sumimasen! Kai Kay. X


Just like communication, Google Maps is indispensable, telling you detailed information about public transit like what platforms to get a less crowded car and get closer to your destination exit.

JR Pass

This lets you travel across Japan on the JR branded rail lines. It’s a great deal and you can get them for 7 or 14 days. Activate it strategically when you’re thinking about going to another city. If you’re staying just in one major city, it might not be worth it.

Suika Card

You’ll have to get one of these for using local subway lines and busses. You can use them at 7-Elevens and vending machines too. There is a premium refundable version one. Consider getting that some and refunding it at the end of your trip.

Pocket WiFi

You’re going to want to reserve a pocket wifi to pick up at the airport. I booked mine through my JR Pass

Cash Is King

Japan is a largely cash based culture. Call your banks to let them know you’re going to be using your cards during your trip. Also, pack a coin pouch with you. You’re going to get a lot of them.

When paying for things in cash, there will be a tray at the cash register. You are to place your cash and count your coins out on it. The cashier will then take it when you give them the ok and place the change and receipt back on the tray for you to pick up.


Tokyo is a vibrant and exciting city, and it's a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to Japan. Some of the top attractions in Tokyo include the Tokyo Skytree, the Sensoji Temple, and the Tsukiji Fish Market. You should also make time to explore some of Tokyo's many neighborhoods, including Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Harajuku.


Japanese cuisine is known around the world for its unique flavors and presentation. Some of the must-try dishes in Japan include sushi, ramen, udon, and tempura. You should also try some of the local snacks and sweets, such as mochi, matcha, and wagashi.



food list

An onsen is a traditional Japanese hot spring, and it's a unique and relaxing experience. There are many onsens located throughout Japan, and they're a great way to unwind after a long day of sightseeing or hiking.



shops list

Bonus Tips

these are the tips that don’t really fit neatly in the above

Hot take, but I’d skip Osaka. After visiting Tokyo and Kyoto, it really didn’t really compare in magic.

When washing clothes, account for extra time to hang dry your clothing. Dryers are uncommon.

The best public bathrooms can be found at department stores and train stations.

Bring a handkerchief for drying your hands off after the bathroom. They don’t have paper towels.

Trashcans are hard to come by. Keep a plastic bag in your backpack to store your more messy garbage.

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