Japan is located in Located in East Asia with the Sea of Japan along the west coast and the Pacific Ocean along the east coast. Its closest neighbours are South Korea, Russia, and Taiwan. Japan is a big, vibrant and cultural country, one that everyone should, at least, visit once! When you do, there are a few essential things to keep in mind.
Geography & Weather
One of the first questions you may ask when visiting a new or unfamiliar destination is: ‘what’s the best time to visit in terms of weather’?
Japan is deceivingly big, covering about the same land mass as Germany and stretching all the way north (close to Russia and to the South Pacific) which has a similar latitude to the Bahamas. Made up of over 6000 islands, approximately 400 are inhabited. The country is broken into the five main Islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and Okinawa.
Weather wise Japan experiences the four distinct seasons. Late spring (March to May) and late autumn (September to November) are generally the best times to visit Japan. There is little rainfall, skies are clear, and temperatures are mild.
What’s more, the delicate cherry blossom of spring and vivid hues of autumn leaves are visually stunning. Japan can have very hot summers which can be stiflingly humid. So, if you visit during this time, make sure to keep hydrated.
Japan can experience Typhoons and they can be strong. These events are well forecasted . We visited during the Rugby World Cup and experienced the tail end of one. Thankfully, we were moving in the opposite direction.
Safety, Foreign & Commonwealth
Safety is always a priority. We recommend that you continuously check for Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel warnings.
Visit the FCO website for travel advice and relevant information including news on local laws, customs, safety and security (incl. crime or terrorism warnings), entry requirements and health information. It is a good idea to register with the FCO for updates on all of the above on any destination.
Visa & Passports
Tourism in Japan generated approximately 16.72 trillion Japanese yen of direct travel and tourism GDP (2017) with nearly 30 million annual visitors. Up to 68 nationalities including visitors from Ireland, Canada and the United States can stay in Japan for up to 90 days without a visa. Other nationalities can confirm visa requirements from their local embassies.
As with any travel arrangements, ensure that your passport is valid for the duration of your trip in Japan. We usually make photocopies of our passports, driving licences, insurance etc and keep them separately from the originals. This can be helpful if the originals are lost while abroad.
Health & Safety
Japan is a super safe country with low levels of crime. This is the one travel destinations, we felt the most safe in. Our biggest concern was if we were ‘lining up’ correctly.
The quality of healthcare in Japan is very high and expensive. We recommend taking prescription drugs with you. Note that it is not allowed to take certain medication into Japan. Any drugs with 1% Codeine Phosphate and 10% Pseudo-ephedrine (like Vicks inhalers) are prohibited but it is possible to buy it in Japan. For other prescription medication, bring a copy of the prescriptions and keep the medication in the original packaging. Japan has a zero tolerance policy on the use of prohibited drugs and narcotics – be warned.
Watch out for:
Although the majority of Japan is safe, it is worth mentioning that there are some bars in the kabuki-cho area of Shinjuku, Tokyo and Roppongi, where certain unscrupulous bar promoters will try coax young affluent-looking men into with the offer of a free drink.
This is certainly a scam to swindle money from you. Be street-smart and on your guard wherever you go.
The tap water in Japan is safe to drink.
Currency and Costs
10 Euro € – 1,200 Japanese Yen ¥
For us, we always perceived Japan to be uber expensive – this really isn’t the case. In fact prices in Japan are comparable to most Western European cities. You can find accommodation to suit any budget. We recommend you budget 20,000 yen per day including accommodation for two. A meal at a good restaurant costs roughly between 1,500 and 3,000 Yen and inexpensive meals can be found on the go at one of the many convenience stores.
Money and Expense
Japan has a cash-dependent culture, (thanks to the low crime rates). The use of credit cards are rising, though. So, you do not have to be afraid to carry cash as Japan is an honest country.
In terms of day-to-day living expenses, allow £40 – £70/$65 – $110/€60 – €100 per person per day for basic daily expenses (drinks, meals, etc.). Credit cards can of course be used to pay for larger purchases, such as hotels and restaurant bills. Some shops will ask if you would like to pay for your goods ikkai, or once in full, which is recommended.
Not all ATM’S Accept foreign Bank Cards – The 7/11 Convenience store chain has ATMS which do accept all major cards. It is necessary to carry cash . Despite the country being very technologically advanced many attractions and food vendors may only accept cash.
Tipping is not a standard practice in Japan and is not expected. Service workers like waiters and taxi drivers are paid relatively well . This really helps with budgeting your trip.
Metro fares range from 170 to 310 Yen, depending on how far you travel.
Compared to EU voltage: 220v; and North American voltage: 120v.
Japanese electrical plugs have two, non-polarised flat pins.
Wi-Fi and Communications
Most modern phones such as iPhones or smart phones work in Japan. Roaming charges can be hefty. We recommend that you check with your provider to see what the charges are.
Wi-Fi hotspots are widely common and nearly all hotels offer wired or wireless connections. It is also possible to hire a LAN cable from reception.
- Japan Wireless pocket Wi-Fi: The best tool to use and limit costs, is the pocket Wi-Fi service from Japan Wireless. Imagine a pocket sized internet router, which you can carry in your bag and connect any device to Wi-Fi while exploring. We loved having a pocket Wi-Fi and could use mapping tools and social media apps like Instagram on the go. We recommend to arrange a pocket Wi-Fi before you depart for Japan. The router can be delivered to your hotel and it is very convenient when the device is waiting for you at reception.
- Another option is to rent a compatible Japanese handset to use with your own SIM card and the usual international call charges will be applied to your monthly bill or taken off your prepaid credit. Limit expenses by pre-ordering a rental handset online or from the airport. The handset can be used for the duration of your trip.
- Prepaid cards for mobile phones are also available and work in much the same as pay-as-you-go cards. The phone company keeps a record of your credit cards details and will usually charge your card once your trip is over.
Apps to Download
An excellent offline app to use around Tokyo is CITYMAPPER. Live, public transportation information is available in real-time without a mobile network or roaming.
- Hyperdia: Great for checking live train times.
- Tokyo Metro Map: Plan routes on the go and see points of interest too. The best part – use it offline!
- Maps.Me: Our go-to App for navigation everywhere in the world, offline.
- Google translate: Can be fickle but an ingenious app for taking a photo of a ‘menu’ or sign and the app will translate. On a good day, it works a treat.
The international code for Japan is +81. Remember to drop the (0) off if calling with the international code.
The Japanese Rail network rightly enjoys a worldwide reputation for the speed and efficiency of its train services. The majority of the services are operated by Japan Rail (JR), including the famous “shinkansen” and super express trains, which travel on special tracks from Hokkaido up in the far north all the way through to Kyushu in the south. These ‘bullet trains’ have platforms in a separate sub-section of the major stations, and you will need to proceed through a second ticket barrier to get to your train.
The subway system in all major cities left us in awe. The network is so efficient and so quick and once you get the hang of it you will find it easy to navigate. You can literally set your watch to the punctuality of the trains.
Buy a PASMO CARD – a re-usable, smart card that can be used in place of a metro/bus ticket (or cash) and even for small purchases in convenience stores or vending machines in Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Osaka. The card can be topped up the same. It is very useful for travelling Japan.
Taxis can be quite expensive and we only used them once, however when we did the experience was great. Japanese taxis have automatic doors. You do not need to open or close it, the driver does this. Cabs are spotless and the driver will be well presented – often wearing a suit and white gloves.
Things you MUST know
- A strict code of manners and politeness is observed and followed by almost all Japanese.
- It is customary to remove shoes indoors. This is clearly marked by a raised step and a shoe rack. Hotels and Ryokans provide indoor slippers in exchange. Separate bathroom slippers are also provided. Don’t mix them up.
- Slurp away! You know the principle ‘When in Rome’? Now, ‘When in Japan…’
- One thing to avoid (in most Asian countries), is to leaving your chopsticks sticking up vertically in your rice bowl. This is considered bad form.
- Japan is GMT + 9 Hrs which can really add to “Jet Lag” depending on where you are travelling from.
- Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and 90% of the population own a mobile phone. In line with the fact that they put the group needs ahead of the individual there is no talking on the phone in public. It is considered inconsiderate and rude to do so.
- The Loo’s are not quite the same – Most Hotels and public spaces have western style toilets albeit supercharged. A control panel of buttons that heats, washes , spritzes and even plays a tune. Toilets are normally spotless! In more traditional places, Asian squat toilets are the norm.
- Earthquakes can occur as Japan is located along the “Pacific Ring of fire”. The majority of Earth’s volcanoes and earthquakes take place along the Ring of Fire. Remember Drop , Cover, Hold On.