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Japan Travel Guide

For most people, the image of Japan is an enigmatic one, with a vague notion of geishas and samurai warriors butting up against buzzing neon arcades and frenetic TV game shows. Japan is indeed a nation of contrasts and those who venture there on holiday will gain a greater understanding of the unique ancient culture and traditions of this beautiful country, as well as the chance to experience the modern innovations and infrastructural genius which has made contemporary Japan a powerhouse.

Japan's major cities (Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka) appear on the surface to be westernised, but visitors quickly realise that the sleek modern culture of Japan is expertly blended with millennia of tradition, evident in the Buddhist and Shinto temples sprinkled throughout the urban centres, intricate social rituals for eating and greeting, and other small reminders of Japan's long and proud history.

Once out of the cities, visitors can explore a different side of Japan, climbing one of the country's 200 mountains, soaking in secluded hot springs, visiting ancient shrines and castles, or attending a sumo match. Whether it's for skiing in the winter, viewing the cherry blossoms in spring, or enjoying the sunshine of late summer, a holiday in Japan is a rewarding adventure for all.

Best time to visit Japan

April is considered the best time to visit Japan because of the likelihood of the cherry blossoms being in bloom. Otherwise, the weather in Japan varies dramatically from the north to the south, with the rainy season generally lasting from June to early August. September is typhoon season; however, October and November tend to be a good time to travel to Japan, as the weather is mild and pleasant.

What to see in Japan

-Stroll the spectacular grounds of the Tokyo Imperial Palace.

-Spot traditionally dressed geisha in the Kyoto district of Gion.

-Hike Mount Fuji for stunning panoramic views.

-See a traditional Kabuki play at the Minamiza Theatre in Kyoto.

What to do in Japan

-Sing in a Tokyo Karaoke bar.

-Relax in the hot springs of Noboribetsu on Hokkaido.

-Follow the 88 Temples Pilgrimage Circuit around Shikoku.

-Spend a weekend skiing the slopes of Furano in the Japanese Alps.

Getting to Japan

There are a few direct flights to Japan from the UK, mostly from London, but they don't tend to be cheap. Likewise, direct flights to Japan from the US tend to be pricey and depart from cities on the west coast like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.


Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, and A Year in Japan by Kate T. Williamson.


O-Daiko (Kodo), Kodo (Yoshida Brothers), and I'm Blue (The 5678's).


Lost in Translation (2003), Kikujiro (1999), and The Last Samurai (2003).


Sake (Japanese rice wine)



What to buy

Cloissane and lacquerware, or silk kimonos.

What to pack

Slip-on shoes, as Japanese temples, museums, private homes and even some restaurants will require that visitors take their shoes off before entering, so having non-lacing shoes will save a lot of time and effort.

What's on in Japan

Tokyo turns pink each spring during the Cherry Blossom Festival. See fantastical sculptures at the Sapporo Snow Festival in February. Watch giants face off at Osaka's Sumo Spring Grand Tournament.

Did you know?

It is common in Japan to eat rice at every meal, including breakfast.

A final word

A holiday in Japan combines the best of both ancient and modern attractions, and makes this enigmatic country a delight to explore.


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. Money can be exchanged in banks, post offices and currency exchange bureaux. Banks are usually open Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm. The best foreign currency to take to exchange are US dollars. 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.


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.


Tips and bargaining are not expected in Japan; in fact, tipping is usually considered almost rude and shouldn't be attempted.


The vast majority of visits to Japan are trouble-free. It is generally a very safe country with low levels of common crime and is stable, highly developed, and modern. Travellers should, however, still be vigilant about personal safety and belongings.

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, and earthquakes of varying sizes occur very frequently.


The international access code for Japan is +81. City/area codes are in use, e.g. (0)3 for Tokyo and (0)82 for Hiroshima. 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.


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.

Public Holidays

New Year's Day1 Jan1 Jan
Coming of Age Day13 Jan11 Jan
National Foundation Day11 Feb11 Feb
Spring Equinox20 Mar20 Mar
Shôwa Day29 Apr29 Apr
Constitution Day3 May3 May
Children's Day5 May5 May
Marine Day23 Jul19 Jul
Respect for the Aged Day21 Sep20 Sep
Sports Day24 Jul11 Oct
Culture Day3 Nov3 Nov
Labour Thanksgiving Day23 Nov23 Nov
Emperor's Birthday23 Feb23 Feb
Greenery Day4 May4 May
Autumnal Equinox Day22 Sep23 Sep


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.

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. Expect silence in meetings and don't be surprised if a business associate goes silent and closes his eyes in a meeting - 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 your company's logo are generally well received.

Passport & Visa

All foreign passengers to Japan must hold proof of sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in the country, return/onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.


The Japanese are formal and reserved and visitors are expected to behave politely. Their system of etiquette is one of the most complex in the world, with a strict code of conduct for almost every situation. It is important to avoid causing 'loss of face' by insulting or criticising someone in front of others. Bowing is the customary greeting.

Duty Free

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.


110 (Police), 119 (Ambulance/Fire)

Entry Requirements

US citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Japan. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.

British citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Japan. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days (extension possible), for British passport holders endorsed British Citizen or British National (Overseas). British nationals with other endorsements should confirm requirements with their nearest embassy.

Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Japan. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.

South African citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival, and require a visa to enter Japan.

Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Japan. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days, with extensions possible.

New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Japan. Passport exemptions apply to holders of a temporary or emergency passport who are New Zealand nationals. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days. Note that visa exemptions apply to holders of an APEC Business Travel Card, provided the back of the card states that it is valid for travel to Japan.

Embassy Consulates

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.

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.

Embassy Consulates

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, 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.


The fascinating land of pink cherry blossoms, sushi, and manga comics, Japan is a cultural explosion of historic attractions, neon-lit cities, and exquisite mountainous landscapes. Thankfully, this mystical country retains plenty of its ancient charm resulting in an experience of a lifetime.

Head to the capital of Tokyo for a spot of shopping, sample authentic Japanese cuisine, and maybe even enjoy a little karaoke. Although famous for its glitz and neon glam, this impressive modern metropolis also has ancient shrines and temples round just about every corner, making the sightseeing a wonderful combination of old and new.

Head south to the city of Hiroshima, the country's most famous tourist destination, where thousands of visitors make a pilgrimage to Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park, taking in the museums and lively city that has emerged triumphantly from the horror of the atomic bomb dropped during World War II. Hiroshima is a must for anybody interested in modern history and is a deeply moving place to visit.

Once you have had enough of Japan's cities, visit the countryside and witness picturesque volcanoes, take a dip in the hot springs, and explore the mountainous interior of the islands. Japan is a beautiful country and even in the cities the parks are punctuated with cherry blossom trees and mathematically correct Zen gardens which never cease to amaze foreigners.


The weather throughout the four main islands that make up Japan is generally temperate, with four distinct seasons. The climate varies according to island and terrain, so visitors should be sure to check the weather for the region they are visiting.

The weather can get very hot during the summer months - June, July and August - which can also be humid. In the south, winters are cool but sunny, as one moves further north temperatures drop and snow falls. The island of Hokkaido in the far north of Japan is bitterly cold in the winter, with snow guaranteed. The rainy season runs from June to early August and August, September and October are typhoon season in Japan.

The best time to visit Japan varies depending on desired activities and regions, but April is a wonderful month to visit as the cherry blossoms are usually adorning the trees making it the prettiest time of year in the country.

September, October, and November - the autumn months - are also a pleasant time to visit, although it is typhoon season. Japan is popular year-round as a travel destination because it attracts winter sports enthusiasts in the cold months and sightseers the rest of the year, but spring and autumn are the most comfortable weather-wise.

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