Japan travel info
The electrical current is 100 volts, 60Hz in the west (Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Hiroshima); 100 volts, 50Hz in eastern Japan (Tokyo, Sapporo, Yokohoma). Flat two- and three-pin plugs are used.
Japanese is the official language. Most Japanese people will have studied English at school, but few can speak it well or understand exactly what is said to them in English.
The currency is the Japanese Yen (JPY). Major credit cards are accepted in the larger hotels and stores, but most Japanese operate with cash. Credit cards are not widely accepted outside major cities. ATMs are common but do not accept all credit and debit cards; only the international ATMs in post offices, airports and some major stores will accept foreign cards. Money can be exchanged in banks, post offices and currency exchange bureaux; the best foreign currency to take for exchange purposes is the US dollar. Banks are usually open Monday to Friday, 9am to 3pm.
Tips and bargaining are not expected in Japan. In fact, tipping is usually considered almost rude and shouldn't be attempted.The thinking is that that by dining out or drinking at a bar, patrons are already paying the establishment for good service.
No vaccination certificates are required for entry to Japan. Long-term travellers, staying for more than a month in rural areas, should consider getting a Japanese encephalitis vaccination if they are travelling between the months of June and September.
Medical facilities are very good in Japan, but medical assistance can be very expensive and visitors have to pay the whole cost upfront. Travellers should ensure that they have adequate medical insurance before travelling.
Vicks inhalers and other common medications used for allergies and sinus problems are banned under the strictly enforced anti-stimulant drugs law, and visitors are advised to check with the Japanese embassy if in doubt.
It is always best to take prescribed medications with you when you travel, in the original packaging and with a signed and dated letter from your doctor detailing what the medication is and why you need it.
Japan is generally a very safe, stable, highly developed country with low levels of common crime, and the vast majority of visits are trouble free. Travellers should, however, be vigilant about personal safety and belongings.
Visitors should be especially careful in the Kabukicho, Roppongi, Shibuya and Ikebukuro entertainment districts of Tokyo, as foreign nationals have been targeted for extortion, robbery, assault and sexual assault in clubs and bars. There have also been reports of drink spiking and credit card fraud, often in combination.
Typhoons are common, particularly from August to October, and travellers should take note of storm warnings along the coastal regions if travelling during this period. Japan is in a major earthquake zone; earthquakes of varying sizes occur very frequently.
The Japanese are formal and reserved, and visitors are expected to behave politely. Their famously complex system of etiquette has a strict code of conduct for almost every situation, with the purpose being to create harmony, which is very important in Japan.
Among other things, it's important to avoid causing 'loss of face' by insulting or criticising someone in front of others. Bowing is the customary greeting, and the amount of respect shown increases with the depth of the bow and the length for which it is held. Bending to around 15 degrees is enough for a quick informal bow, but bending the torso to a 30-degree angle is necessary for a more formal situation. The deepest bow should be to a full 45 degrees.
Visitors should remove their shoes when entering someone's home, and it's important to avoid shaking hands and hugging when meeting with loved ones. It's polite to make the slurping sound when eating noodles.
Business in Japan can be highly formal and greetings are usually rather ritualistic due to the hierarchical society. A third-party introduction is useful. Central to doing business in Japan is the notion of kaizen, which represents the drive for constant improvement. Japanese business culture is very formal in dress code and conduct.
It's important to always greet in order of seniority, first by bowing and then offering a handshake. A polite bow is customary; the more senior the person, the deeper the bow. Foreigners must expect silence in meetings and shouldn't be surprised if a business associate goes silent and closes his eyes in a meeting, as it indicates reflection. As with many Asian countries, it is important to avoid being too direct, while still illustrating sincerity and honesty. When deflecting difficult or embarrassing questions, vague forms of expression are key.
Relationship building is central to business culture in Japan. Meetings often include excessive small talk as a means of building rapport. Calm, introverted and humble personality types garner respect. However, sober attitudes are suspended during social activities; evening drinks with business associates is an important part of solidifying business relationships in Japan, and whatever happens during the evening drinks is never repeated or spoken about during business hours.
Business cards are exchanged often, using both hands. It can be useful to have cards printed with both English and Japanese, and one should present the card with the Japanese side facing the recipient. English translators are vital when conducting business in Japan as Japanese tends to be the language of business. Office hours start at 8am and finish at 6pm throughout the week. Business wear is formal and gifts, although not expected, are appreciated. Small items branded with the visiting company's logo are generally well received.
Travellers to Japan over 20 years do not have to pay duty on 3 bottles of alcoholic beverages; 400 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500g tobacco; perfume up to 60ml; and gifts and souvenirs to the value of ¥200,000.
Prohibited items include all types of firearms and ammunition, narcotics, pornography, meat products, counterfeit money, all plants and vegetables with soil, fresh fruit, vegetables and plants or parts thereof.
The international access code for Japan is +81. Hotels, cafes, and restaurants offering free WiFi are widely available. As international roaming costs can be high, purchasing a local prepaid SIM card can be a cheaper option.
Passport & Visa
All foreign passengers to Japan must hold proof of sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in the country, return or onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. It is highly recommended that travellers' passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for the duration of their stay in Japan. A visa is not required for stays of up to 90 days.
British citizens must have a passport that is valid for the duration of their stay in Japan. A visa is not required for stays of up to 90 days.
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for the duration of their stay in Japan. A visa is not required for stays of up to 90 days.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for the duration of their stay in Japan. A visa is not required for stays of up to 90 days.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for the duration of their stay in Japan, and a visa is required to enter the country.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for the duration of their stay in Japan. A visa is not required for stays of up to 90 days.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for the duration of their stay in Japan. A visa is not required for stays of up to 90 days.
Useful contacts110 (Police), 119 (Ambulance/Fire)
Embassies / consulates in other countries
Japanese Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 238 6700.
Japanese Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7465 6500.
Japanese Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 241 8541.
Japanese Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6273 3244.
Japanese Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 452 1500.
Japanese Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 202 8300.
Japanese Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 473 1540.
Embassies / consulates in Japan
United States Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 3224 5000.
British Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 5211 1100.
Canadian Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 5412 6200.
Australian Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 5232 4111.
South African Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 3265 3366.
Irish Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 3263 0695.
New Zealand Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 3467 2271.