Japan is situated in northeastern Asia between the North Pacific and the Sea of Japan. The area of Japan is 377,873 square kilometers, nearly equivalent to Germany and Switzerland combined or slightly smaller than California. Japan consists of four major islands, surrounded by more than 4,000 smaller islands. Japan’s topographical features include coastlines with varied scenery, towering mountains, which are very often volcanic and twisted valleys that invite visitors into the mysterious world of nature.
In 1603, a Tokugawa shogunate (military dictatorship) ushered in a long period of isolation from foreign influence in order to secure its power. For 250 years, this policy enabled Japan to enjoy stability and a flowering of its indigenous culture. Following the Treaty of Kanagawa with the United States in 1854, Japan opened its ports and began to intensively modernize and industrialize. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Japan became a regional power that was able to defeat the forces of both China and Russia. It occupied Korea, Formosa (Taiwan), and southern Sakhalin Island. In 1933 Japan occupied Manchuria and in 1937 it launched a full-scale invasion of China. Japan attacked US forces in 1941 – triggering America’s entry into World War II – and soon occupied much of East and Southeast Asia. After its defeat in World War II, Japan recovered to become an economic power and a staunch ally of the US. While the emperor retains his throne as a symbol of national unity, actual power rests in networks of powerful politicians, bureaucrats, and business executives. The economy experienced a major slowdown starting in the 1990s following three decades of unprecedented growth, but Japan still remains a major economic power, both in Asia and globally. In 2005, Japan began a two-year term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Japan’s population is over 126 million. Most Japanese reside in densely populated urban areas. Japan’s capital city is Tokyo. The population of the Tokyo Metropolitan Area including the city, some of its suburbs and the surrounding area is approximately 12 million.
Japanese manners and customs are vastly different from those of Western people. A strict code of behavior and politeness is recognized and followed by almost everyone. However, Japanese people do not expect visitors to be familiar with all their customs but do expect them to behave formally and politely.
A straightforward refusal traditionally does not form part of Japanese etiquette, and a vague ‘yes’ does not always mean ‘yes’. (The visitor may be comforted to know that confusion caused by non-committal replies occurs between the Japanese themselves.)
When entering a Japanese home or restaurant, shoes must be removed. Bowing is the customary greeting but handshaking is becoming more common for business meetings with Westerners. The honorific suffix san should be used when addressing all men and women; for instance Mr. Yamada would be addressed as Yamada-san.
Table manners are very important, although the Japanese host will be very tolerant towards a visitor. However, it is best if visitors familiarize themselves with basic table etiquette and use chopsticks. Exchange of gifts is also a common business practice and may take the form of souvenir items such as company pens, ties or high-quality spirits.
Japanese is the official language. Some English is spoken in Tokyo and other large cities but is less usual in rural areas. There are many regional dialects and there are distinct differences in the intonation and pronunciation between eastern and western Japan.
The government of Japan is a parliamentary government with a constitutional monarchy, where the power of the Emperor is limited, relegated primarily to ceremonial duties. Power is held chiefly by the Prime Minister of Japan and other elected members of the Diet, while sovereignty is vested in the Japanese people. The Emperor effectively acts as the head of state on diplomatic occasions. Akihito is the current Emperor of Japan.
Japan is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST).
The voltage used throughout Japan is uniformly 100 volts, A.C. There are two kinds of frequencies in use; 50 Hertz in eastern Japan and 60 Hertz in western Japan (including Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka).
A convertible type of electrical appliance such as a hair dryer, travel iron and shaver will therefore be handy; otherwise a step-up transformer is required to convert the voltage.
There are no columnar-shaped plugs or 3-pin plugs used in Japan but 2-flat-pin plugs are used instead. It is therefore advised to purchase a plug adapter beforehand.
Except for the Hokkaido area and the subtropical Okinawa region, the weather in Japan is mostly temperate, with four distinct seasons. Winters are cool and sunny in the south, cold and sunny around Tokyo (which occasionally has snow), and very cold around Hokkaido, which is covered in snow for up to four months a year. The Japan Sea coastline also often receives heavy snowfall during winter.
Summer, between June and September, ranges from warm to very hot with high levels of humidity in many areas. Typhoons, or tropical cyclones, with strong winds and torrential rains often hit Japan during August and September, but can occur through May to October. Strong typhoons often affect transport systems, causing rail and air services to be stopped, and there is a danger of landslides in rural areas.
Spring and autumn are generally mild throughout the country, and offer spectacular views of pretty sakura cherry blossoms and colorful autumnal leaves, respectively. Rain falls all over Japan throughout the year but June and early July is the main rainy season. Umbrellas are a daily essential during this season. Hokkaido, however, is generally much drier than the Tokyo area. For weather updates, including information of when and where cherry blossoms are expected to bloom and typhoon trajectories, check the Japan Meteorological Association website (www.jma.go.jp/jma/indexe.html).
CLOTHES TO WEAR
In Japan, lightweight cottons and linens are required throughout summer in most areas. To avoid sunstroke and sunburn it is advisable to wear a hat. According to the region, light to medium weight clothing is best during spring and autumn; whilst medium to heavy weight clothing is recommended for winter months. A light rain coat or jacket is useful during the rainy season in June and July. Much warmer clothes will be needed in the mountains all year round. Thermal innerwear is recommended if trekking, climbing or skiing. It’s best to purchase all necessary clothing before arriving in Japan, as it can be difficult to find larger sizes.
Entry & Exit Requirements:
You must have a valid passport and an onward/return ticket for tourist/business “visa free” stays of up to 90 days. Your passports must be valid for the entire time you are staying in Japan. U.S. citizens cannot work on a 90-day “visa free” entry. As a general rule, “visa free” entry status may not be changed to another visa status without departing and then re-entering Japan with the appropriate visa, such as a spouse, work, or study visa.
For more information about the Japanese visa waiver program for tourists, Japan’s rules on work visas, special visas for taking depositions, and other visa issues, you should consult the Consular Section of the Embassy of Japan at 2520 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202) 238-6800, or the nearest Japanese consulate. Please visit the Japanese Embassy’s website for location details. The U.S. Embassy and U.S. consulates in Japan cannot assist in obtaining visas for Japan.
An application for landing must be filed at a port of entry or departure in the procedures specified by the Ordinance of the Ministry of Justice. A foreign national intending to file an application for landing must provide an immigration inspector with personal identification information (fingerprints and a photograph of his/her face), except for cases where the provision of such information is exempted under laws and regulations. For further information, please visit the Immigration Bureau of Japan’s website.
If you are a U.S. citizen entering or transiting Japan, you should ensure that your passport and visa are valid and up to date before you leave the United States. Occasionally, airlines mistakenly board U.S. citizens coming to Japan even though their passports have already expired. The U.S. Embassy and U.S. consulates cannot “vouch for” you without a valid passport, and passport services are not available at the airport. In some prior instances, travelers have been returned immediately to the United States, while in other cases, they have been issued limited “shore passes” and required to return the next day to Japanese Immigration for lengthy processing.
Many Asian countries require you to hold a passport valid for at least six months after you enter the country. Airlines in Japan will deny you boarding for transit if you don’t have the required travel documents for an onward destination in Asia or if your passport is not valid for six months. For the entry requirements of the country you’re traveling to, visit the State Department’s Country Specific Information website.
Airlines in Japan will deny you boarding for onward flights to China if your passport does not have a valid Chinese visa. U.S. citizen travelers who are not legally resident in Japan have reported difficulties in obtaining a Chinese visa during a short stay in Japan.
U.S. Embassy in Japan
1-10-5 Akasaka, Minato-ku,
Tokyo 107-8420 Japan
Telephone: + (81) (3) 3224-5000
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: + (81) (3) 3224-5000
Fax: + (81) (3) 3224-5856
Embassy of Canada to Japan
7-3-38 Akasaka, Minato-ku
Tokyo 107-8503, Japan
Telephone: +81-3-5412-6200 (International)
While medical care in Japan is good, English-speaking physicians and medical facilities that cater to U.S. citizens’ expectations are expensive and not widespread. Japan has a national health insurance system which is available only to those foreigners with long-term visas for Japan. National health insurance does not pay for medical evacuation. Medical caregivers in Japan require payment in full at the time of treatment or concrete proof of ability to pay before they will treat a foreigner who is not a member of the national health insurance plan.
U.S.-style and standard psychiatric care can be difficult to locate in major urban centers in Japan and generally is not available outside of Japan’s major cities. Extended psychiatric care for foreigners in Japan is difficult to obtain at any price.
U.S. prescriptions are not honored in Japan, so if you need ongoing prescription medicine you should arrive with a sufficient supply for your stay in Japan or enough until you are able to see a local care provider. Certain medications, including some commonly prescribed for depression and Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), are not widely available. Please see the section https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/japan.html entitled, “Confiscation of Prescription Drugs and Other Medication,” regarding the importation of medicine into Japan. Also see information on importing medicines into Japan and a list of medical facilities in Japan with English-speaking staff. Some medications may not be permitted in the country. Please check if the medication you are bringing is permitted in the country you are visiting.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_ diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
BANKS AND CURRENCY
Japanese Yen (JPY; symbol ¥). Notes are in denominations of ¥10,000, 5,000, 2,000 and 1,000. Coins are in denominations of ¥500, 100, 50, 10, 5 and 1.
Credit cards– American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa and other major credit cards are widely accepted in major cities and towns. A pin number may be required to process the transaction. The Japan Post Bank, Seven-Eleven convenience stores and international banks accept foreign credit cards.
Japan Post Bank ATMs at main branches of the Post Office accept foreign cards Mon-Fri 0005-2355 and 0005-2100 on Sundays and holidays. ATMs at Seven-Eleven stores also accept foreign cards and are accessible 24 hours. International banks accept foreign credit or debit cards, and these are hard to find outside of major cities. Bank ATMs are generally open Mon-Fri 0700-2300, Sat-Sun 0900-1900, though some only operate during normal banking hours and on Saturday mornings. Citibank machines are the most likely to have ATMs and also to accept foreign credit cards (and are usually open 24 hours).
Japan has a strong cash culture, and it is usual to see people carrying large amounts of cash with them because of the low crime rate. It is only recently that credit cards have begun to become more popular. However, travelers may still encounter difficulties with foreign credit cards. Traveler’s cheques can be exchanged at most major banks, larger hotels and some duty-free shops. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travelers are advised to take traveler’s cheques in Japanese Yen or US Dollars.
Prepaid cards are used in public telephone booths for international and local calls and city transport.
Cell Phone Usage:
Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.
Food and Drink:
Japanese cuisine involves fresh, delicate flavors based on seasonal ingredients. Rice, miso (fermented soy bean) soup, tofu (soy bean curd), pickled vegetables and fish are the traditional staples of daily Japanese cuisine. Traditionally, meat was not eaten because of Buddhist beliefs. However, beef, chicken are now also staple ingredients. Fresh seafood is highly valued and Japanese will travel far to eat crab in winter, for example, and unagi (eel) in summer. The variety of ingredients, the intensive preparation methods, and the meticulous presentation found in Japanese cuisine is highly impressive.
Sushi, pieces of raw fish on vinegared rice, has become synonymous with Japanese cuisine. The easiest place to try sushi is at a kaiten-zushi restaurant, where many varieties pass on a conveyor belt and diners can pick up what they fancy without any language difficulties, and at reasonable prices. More traditional sushi restaurants serve higher quality fish but also charge much higher prices.
The most luxurious dining in Japan is kaiseki cuisine – a multi-course banquet that was originally intended to accompany the tea ceremony. Kaiseki cuisine is exquisitely presented, reflecting the aesthetics of the seasons and traditional ceramics. A typical banquet will begin with light appetizers and soups before progressing to various steamed, grilled and fried dishes, and ending with a simple rice dish.
A variety of international restaurants are also available, catering for every taste and budget, from French and Italian to Chinese, Indian and Thai. Western dishes in expensive places are usually excellent, but cheaper diner-style restaurants may disappoint. While sake (rice wine) is still regularly served, beer is by far the most popular alcoholic beverage.
- Teriyaki (marinated beef/chicken/fish seared on a hot plate).
• Tempura (seafood and vegetables deep-fried in a light batter).
• Sushi (slices of raw fish and seafood placed on light and vinegary rice balls).
• Sashimi (slices of raw fish and seafood dipped in soy sauce).
• Ramen, soba and udon (varieties of noodles, which can be served hot or cold, in soups or with dipping sauces).
•Kushikatsu(crumbed fish, meat and vegetables deep-fried on skewers)
•Yakitori (skewers of grilled chicken)
• Okonomiyaki (grilled savoury pancake made with shredded cabbage, seafood, pork and noodles)
• Champuru (Okinawan style stir-fry usually cooked with goya bitter melon)
• Obanzai (Kyoto home-style cooking based on vegetables, tofu and fish)
• Shojin-ryori (traditional Buddhist cuisine using vegetables, tofu and rice with very light flavoring)
Most traditional Japanese cuisine is eaten with chopsticks. Restaurants have table service and in some places it is customary to remove footwear. There are no licensing hours. Drinking is subject to long-standing rituals of politeness. The host will pour a drink for the visitor, and will insist on the visitor’s glass being full. It is bad manners for a visitor to pour one for him or herself.
- Green tea is extremely popular. The quality of the tea varies greatly from houjicha(a common brown-colored tea) and sencha(standard green tea), to genmaicha (green tea roasted with brown rice) and matcha (a bitter green tea used in tea ceremonies).
• Sake (rice wine served hot or cold).
• Shochu (strong vodka-like spirit usually mixed with soft drinks to make cocktails).
• Popular brands of beer are Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory.
Tokyo has an abundance of cinemas, theatres, bars, live music venues, coffee shops and nightclubs. A wide range of bars is available, from the up market and stylish to cheap street stalls where patrons stand to drink, with the key areas in Tokyo being Shibuya, Roppongi and Shinjuku. Izakaya, drinking halls that are similar to pubs, are patronized by everyone from university students to office workers and usually have a lively atmosphere. Karaoke “boxes”, venues with small private rooms where customers can be served food and drinks while they sing, are one of the most popular forms of entertainment in Japan.
In summer, rooftop beer gardens are also common all over Japan. Be wary of clubs with “hostesses” – companions who expect to be bought drinks and snacks. There are thousands of other bars and clubs that do not charge entry and do not offer hostess service.
In Tokyo, there are concerts of all styles of music almost every night. Foreign opera and ballet companies, orchestras and rock/pop stars visit Japan all year round. For those who would like to see the traditional Japanese performing arts, there is kabuki and noh theatre in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya and other major Japanese cities. Check the Japan Arts Council website for details of venues and performances (www.ntj.jac.go.jp).
The English-language magazines Metropolis (www./metropolis.co.jp) in Tokyo and Kansai Scene (www.kansaiscene.com) in Western Japan are good sources for finding out what’s on. It is advisable to purchase tickets in advance because shows are quickly sold out. Osaka is also renowned for its nightlife as is Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido and Fukuoka on the southern island of Kyushu.
Shoppers will encounter a blend of quintessential Japanese goods and sophisticated sales techniques in Japan, particularly at the big department stores which are usually located near major train stations and commercial districts. Department stores, which are more like exhibitions than shops, almost always have extremely attentive and highly trained staff. Smaller specialty shops, which sell traditional goods and have often been in business for hundreds of years, also provide a unique shopping experience and offer a high level of service. Special purchases include kimonos, mingei (local crafts including kites and folk toys), Kyoto silks, fans, religious articles such as Shinto and Buddhist artifacts, paper lanterns, ceramics, lacquer ware, cameras and other electronic equipment.
Colorful souvenir shops stocked with high-quality hand-made and region-specific goods are ubiquitous. Fans of Japanese popular culture will be able to purchase the latest fashion and character goods from their favorite manga and anime in all major Japanese cities; in particular, Akihabara in Tokyo and Den-Den Town in Osaka. Outlet stores for brand-name goods manufactured in Japan are becoming increasingly common, and are often located near international airports.
Bargaining is not usual; however, there are significant discounts available during sales in summer (June-July) and winter (December-January).
Tax exemptions are available in authorized tax-free stores. Certain items costing more than ¥10,000 are exempt from tax. Remember when buying electronic goods that they may not be compatible with UK or US voltage.
Shopping hours- 1000-1900 every day of the week and on public holidays.
Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.
Gratuities are not included as a part of our service. However, we would like to reiterate that tipping is NOT mandatory and is entirely at your discretion, based on your level of satisfaction for the services that you have received. Having said that, most service providers do expect gratuity. We are pleased to provide you with the suggested guideline, that you may use at your discretion.
Ask your hotel front desk if there is a laundry nearby and they will point you in the right direction. They also might have a few machines on site.
PHOTOS & VIDEOS
In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.
USE OF DRONES
The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.