Introduction - Japan is a place of ancient gods and customs, but is also the cutting edge of cool modernity. High-speed trains whisk you from one end of the country to another with awe-inspiring punctuality. In the suburbs of a sprawling metropolis, you can catch sight of a farmer tending his paddy field, then turn the corner and find yourself next to a neon-festooned electronic games parlour. One day you could be picking through fashion in the biggest department store on earth, the next relaxing in an outdoor hot-spring pool, watching cherry blossom or snowflakes fall, depending on the season.
Japan is also a land of great natural beauty. The contrasts range from the snow festivals and lavender farms of the northern isle of Hokkaido to the sun-drenched beaches and turquoise waters of the subtropical islands of Okinawa. Whether you choose to climb volcanic Mount Fuji or wander through the pine forest of Mount Koya, a journey to Japan is unforgettable.
Area: 377,944 km2
Languages: Japanese is the official language. Some English is spoken in Tokyo and other large cities but is less usual in rural areas.
Passport and Visa: Japan offers many nationalities a visa on arrival system as long as the reason for travelling to Japan is not to reside in the country, obtain employment or work in another capacity with remuneration. Japan has 'Reciprocal Visa
Exemption Arrangements' with the following countries: For a period of 6 months or less: Austria, Germany, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Switzerland and the United Kingdom (UK citizens only)
For a period of 3 months or less: Argentina, Bahamas, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Dominican Rep., El Salvador, Finland, France, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Lesotho, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Surinam, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and Uruguay. For a period of 90 days or less: Andorra, Australia, Barbados, Czech Rep., Estonia, Hong Kong, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Monaco, New Zealand, Poland and the USA. For a period of up to 14 days: Brunei. For all nationalities not listed above, a visa must be obtained prior to travelling to Japan. If travelling on business or as a tourist a 'Temporary Visitor's Visa' can be issued at your local Japanese Embassy and usually gives you permission to stay in Japan for a period of up to 90 days. If you are travelling to Japan to work, find employment or live then it is best to call your local Japanese Embassy or Consulate and ask them the best procedure. For more information visit http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/
Health and Safety: Japan has excellent medical facilities on offer across the country; however, these services are expensive and patients are required to make a full payment at the outset. It is therefore essential to carry appropriate travel and medical insurance when travelling to the country. It is best to get a complete health check-up before travelling to Japan.
Certain over-the-counter medications like inhalers may be prohibited in Japan. Travellers carrying such items can be detained by customs officials. If you are carrying medication, check with the Japanese embassy in your country for more details.
Japan is said one of the most safe countries, but you may stumble into crime, trouble or injury.
Religion: Shinto and Buddhism are the majority, but religion does not play a big role in the everyday life of most Japanese people today. Christians, Muslims and other religions is less than 1%.
Social conventions: Japanese manners and customs are vastly different from those of Western people. A strict code of behaviour and politeness is recognised 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 familiarise 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.
Climate: Winter, from December to February, is quite dry and sunny along the Pacific coast and the temperatures rarely drop below 0°C. The temperatures drop as you move north, with the Central and Northern regions experiencing snowfall. Southern Japan is relatively temperate and experiences a mild winter.
Spring is from March to May. Temperatures are warm but not too hot, plus there isn’t too much rain. The famous cherry blossoms are out during this time and there are plenty of festivals to enjoy.
Summer begins in June and the country experiences a three to four-week rainy season during which the farmers plant their rice. It is hot and humid during this time and temperatures are often in the high 30’s. Summer wraps up in August.
Autumn is from September to November and is characterised by light breezes and cooler temperatures of around 8-10oC. It’s during autumn that many exhibitions, music concerts and sports tournaments are held in Japan.
Best time to visit: The best period to visit Japan is the spring, when the whole country waits fervently for the plum and cherry blossoms to begin blooming. When the blossoms begin, the Japanese run into the parks and celebrate with food, drinks, and karaoke. The cherry flourishes last only for a week, but it is one of the most wonderful times of the year, and there are several festivals celebrated the rebirth of nature just in this period.
Autumn is another wonderful time to visit Japan, when the leaves change to red, gold, and scarlet. The Japanese are very proud of their four seasons, and autumn is one of the country's best. The days are delicious and cool, and you will be able to appreciate many autumn and harvest festivals.
Rain falls throughout the year but June and early July is the main rainy season. Hokkaido, however, is much drier than the Tokyo area. Rainfall is intermittent with sunshine. Typhoons are only likely to occur in September or October but rarely last more than a day.
Clothing: The Japanese dress as we do and are quite conservative on the whole, but the youngsters are very daring and you'll see some mad stuff in Tokyo. Shorts are fine, jeans, even strappy tops etc. Jeans are not generally popular with men or women beyond their 20's. If your itinerary includes Kyoto you'll find a more colourful feel to dress than there is in Tokyo perhaps because it is a popular tourist destination and people are dressed for holidays rather than work. The only thing to remember for Japan is to make sure your clothes are not tatty looking.
For women,if you are travelling to Japan on business then a formal, conservative trouser - or knee length skirt suit worn with tights in dark colours works well but do avoid an all-black look - this is associated with funerals. Also avoid revealing or sleeveless blouses. Japanese women generally do not wear nail varnish. Wear flat shoes only. Use minimal accessories. For men on business pack dark coloured suits with a blue or white shirt. Other colours are worn, but blue and white are considered the most acceptable. Avoid wearing a black tie as it is associated with funerals. It's also advisable for men to be clean shaven - stubble is generally frowned upon. Do dress conservatively if visiting a temple or shrine.
Money: Japanese Yen (JPY). Notes are in denominations of Yen10,000, 5,000, 2,000 and 1,000. Coins are in denominations of 500, 100, 50, 10, 5 and 1. American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa and other major credit cards are widely accepted in towns. ATMs are available with many branches of the Post Office and 7-eleven stores having ones that accept foreign cards. Otherwise, only international banks accept foreign credit or debit cards, and these are hard to find outside of major cities.
Currency exchange: All money must be exchanged at an authorised bank or money changer. Travellers cheques can be exchanged at most major banks, larger hotels and some duty-free shops. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in Japanese Yen or US Dollars.
Currency restriction: There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding Yen1,000,000 or equivalent must be declared.
Getting around towns and cities: Getting around Japan can be an exciting experience in itself. Japan possesses one of the most exceptionally developed transportation systems in the world. The rail service comprehends virtually all possible destinations. Besides, there is a national highway service and domestic air service. Public transportation such as taxis and buses offer links twenty four hours a day in the cities, while ferries link up Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe with the main ports of Hokkaido and Kyushu. Catching a city bus in Japan can be confusing for any non Japanese speaking person, as the bus system is mainly used by locals all of the signs will be written in Japanese. In contrast the subway system does use a mixture of both Japanese and English, hence the reason the subway is favoured by tourists. Fares systems are highly automated, and passes are usually available. Especially if you're travelling over a distance in the countryside and suburbs, you'll pay on exiting the bus, depending on the distance you have travelled.
One of the best ways for any tourist to get around Japanese city’s is by train. The local trains are fast, efficient and always on time. The main problem any non Japanese speaking tourist may find in using the train system is a lack of info written in English at some stations, so its best to be a bit prepared to know where you are going before you travel. Japan is well know for the world’s most efficient and convenient rail service, the Shinkansen or Bullet Train is the jewel in Japan’s rail crown, this tightly scheduled, safe, punctual and super fast service is an amazing service and the best way to travel long distance throughout Japan.
Japanese taxi drivers are very professional, but rarely speak English, so it is advisable for tourists to have their destination written out in Japanese, or to be able to point to it on a map. A peculiarity of all Japanese taxis is that the rear doors are operated automatically by the driver - visitors should not try to open or close the doors themselves. Tipping is not customary and could offend.
Police - 110
Fire - 119
Ambulance - 119
Tourist Information: (07)24 566 025