Country guides Asia
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. 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.
Tips and bargaining are not expected in Japan; in fact, tipping is usually considered almost rude and shouldn't be attempted.
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.
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 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Japan. 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.
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.
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.