Japan Travel Advice: Planning and On the Go
Although it has a reputation for being an exorbitantly costly nation, costs in Japan have recently decreased or at least stabilized, making it a manageable vacation even for those on the bare minimum daily budget (¥8000–10,000). At least 15,000 yen per day is more reasonable when you factor in travel expenses, a few admission fees, lunches at more upscale eateries, and one or two nights in a ryokan or business hotel.
It’s a smart idea to get a Japan Rail Pass in advance if you intend to travel around the nation, but it’s also worthwhile to look into discounted domestic flights. For further information on how to go across the country cheaply, see the array of discount fares and excursion tickets that are offered, as well as overnight ferries and buses.
Discounts on some transportation and entrance costs are available to those who have an International Student Identity Card (ISIC; www.isiccard.com), as well as to youngsters. If you intend to stay in youth hostels for a number of nights, it is worthwhile to get a Hostelling International card (www.hihostels.com), which entitles you to a discount of 600 ¥ on the tariffs (see Tsukiji and Odaiba).
It’s also advisable to visit JNTO’s website (w www.jnto.go.jp) for additional money-saving advice. Some regions of the country, for instance, have Welcome Card programs that provide you access to discounts at specific museums, attractions, stores, restaurants, and transportation services. Ten Welcome Card programs were active as of the time of writing, including the Tokai region and the Tokyo museum pass.
Personal safety and crime
The crime rate in Japan is among the lowest in the world. However, it always pays to exercise caution among large crowds and to store valuables like cash and identification in a hotel safe, a money belt, or inside pockets.
Every neighborhood has a police box (koban), which helps deter minor crimes. Local officers also appear to spend the majority of their time dealing with stolen bikes (bicycle theft is rampant) and directing people to addresses. The Japanese police are renowned for coercing confessions and keeping prisoners without access to counsel for weeks, so this friendly picture is deceiving. Amnesty International has regularly condemned Japan for the way it treats foreign detainees and illegal immigrants.
The police have the right to detain anyone who does not have identification on them; it is best to always carry your passport or ID. However, in reality, they hardly ever stop visitors. The standard procedure is to transport you back to your hotel or flat to get your ID if you are discovered to be without it. Anyone caught using drugs will receive less lenient treatment; if you’re lucky, you’ll only receive a fine and be kicked out of the country, rather than going to jail.
The amount of groping that occurs in crowded commuter trains in Japan reflects the low status of women generally; there are even pornographic movies and comics targeted towards gropers. If you do experience groping, the best course of action is to seize the offending hand, tug it skyward, and humiliate the offender as much as you can. More severe sexual assault is uncommon, but rape, harassment, and stalking are all grossly underreported. Women should take the same precautions wherever they go when they are alone with a man. Violence against women does happen, as evidenced by the killings of English teacher Lindsay Ann Hawker in 2007 and hostess Lucie Blackman at a Tokyo nightclub in 2000.
In an emergency, dial 110 for the police or 119 for an ambulance or fire truck. By pushing the red button before dialing, you can make free calls to these numbers from any public phone. Although Tokyo Metropolitan Cops do operate an English-language hotline at 03/3501-0110, few police know English, so if at all feasible, ask someone to call for you (Mon–Fri 8.30am–5.15pm). Tokyo English Language Lifeline (TELL; 03/5774-0992, www.telljp.com; daily 9am–11pm) and Japan Helpline (0570/000-911, www.jhelp.com; 24hr) are two other helpful options.
Additionally, each prefecture maintains a Foreign Advisory Service, which can be contacted as a last option and contains a range of foreign language speakers (see individual city Listings sections for details).
One-tenth of the world’s active volcanoes and one-tenth of its significant earthquakes are found in Japan (over magnitude 7 on the Richter scale). Every day, somewhere in the region, at least one earthquake is reported; however, the vast majority of these are small shakes that you probably won’t even detect. In the most recent significant earthquake, which occurred in Kobe in January 1995, more than 6,000 people perished, many of them in raging fires that tore through the ancient wooden houses. However, the majority of the more modern buildings, which were constructed after stricter rules were put in place in the 1980s, survived.
Every seventy or so years, Tokyo has a series of large earthquakes. Since the last one occurred in 1923, the following “Big One” has been anticipated for at least ten years. Tokyo has some of the most advanced sensors in the world, and architects use incredible methods to try to keep the city’s new high-rises upright.
Nevertheless, because earthquakes are notoriously hard to forecast, it’s important to be aware of certain fundamental safety precautions. Long-lasting aftershocks have the potential to topple already vulnerable structures. It should be noted that automobile accidents and fires, rather than crumbling structures, are the main causes of casualties.
East of Mt. Fuji, including Tokyo, the electrical current is 100v, 50Hz AC; west of Mt. Fuji, including Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka, it is 100v, 60Hz AC. Japanese plugs typically have two flat pins, however they can also contain three pins (two flat and one rounded, earth pin). Computers, digital cameras, cell phones, and other devices should work without issue if you are traveling from North America or Canada due to the fact that most of these devices can tolerate voltages between 100V and 240V. Larger devices like hair dryers, curling irons, and travel kettles should function but not quite as effectively; in this case, a converter could be required. Additionally, despite the fact that Japanese plugs resemble North American plugs, there are small changes, so you might need an adapter.
Every traveler needs a passport that will be valid during their whole trip. As long as they are visiting Japan for vacation or business, citizens of Ireland, the UK, and some other European nations are permitted to stay in Japan for up to 90 days without a visa. Three more months can be added to this stay (see Japanese embassies and consulates). Australian, Canadian, New Zealandese, and American nationals may also stay for up to 90 days without a visa, however this period cannot be extended, and you must have a round-trip ticket home. If a person from one of these nations wants to stay longer, they must first leave Japan and then come back.
Certain foreign nationals are required to apply for visas in advance in their home countries. Although visas are typically free, under certain conditions you can be required to pay about ¥3,000 for a single-entry visa. The visa requirements can change at any time, so be sure to double-check with the Japanese embassy or consulate in your area or online at www.mofa.go.jp, the website of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
You must fill two copies of a “Application for Extension of Stay,” which is obtainable from immigration offices, in order to obtain a visa extension (see individual city Listings for details). These need to be submitted, together with passport photos, a letter outlining why you want to extend your stay, and a payment of ¥4,000. You may also be required to provide documentation of adequate finances to cover your stay as well as a valid ticket out of the country. Expect a lengthy questioning from the immigration officers if you’re not a citizen of one of the few nations with six-month reciprocal visa exemptions (these include Ireland and the UK). A brief journey abroad, such as to South Korea or Hong Kong, is a simpler option – and the only one open to citizens of those nations who are ineligible for an extension – though you’ll still have to navigate the immigration system upon your return.
A working holiday visa, which allows for stays of up to one year and entitles the holder to work for a wage as long as your trip is “primarily deemed to be a vacation,” is available to citizens of the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, France, Germany, Denmark, Taiwan, and Hong Kong who are between the ages of 18 and 30. Full details of the program can be found at wtinyurl.com/c2zwhx.
The volunteer visa program, which permits holders to perform volunteer work for charitable organizations in Japan for up to a year, is also open to citizens of the United Kingdom. A letter from the host organization verifying the specifics of the volunteer work to be done and the care the volunteer will receive must be included with your application (pocket money and board and lodging are allowed, but formal remuneration is not). Additionally, you must be able to provide proof of having enough money to cover your expenses while in Japan.
Apply at the local government office for the area where you are staying to obtain alien registration status if you will be staying in Japan for longer than 90 days. Your picture appears on the alien registration card, also known as a gaijin card, which is required to be carried at all times. A re-entry visa must also be obtained in advance if you plan to resume working after briefly leaving Japan while holding a working visa of any kind. Re-entry visas are offered by regional immigration offices.
On www.mofa.go.jp/about, you can discover a complete list of embassies and consulates.
Travelers who identify as gay or lesbian
Travelers who identify as homosexual should have minimal issues in Japan; for instance, it’s quite unlikely that anyone will object if a same-sex pair checks into the same room. Although there are no laws prohibiting homosexual behavior, it is hard to say that Japan is a country that openly supports homosexuality. Many corporations still view marriage as a necessary professional step, which keeps many Japanese gays in the closet and frequently living double lives. Outside of the major cities, the LGBT community is all but nonexistent. Despite this, homosexuality and other different types of sexuality have recently gained acceptance, and a few notable people are openly gay (although mainly media celebrities).
Fridae (www.fridae.com), GayNet Japan (www.gnj.or.jp), Utopia (www.utopia-asia.com/tipsjapn.htm), and the trilingual lesbian-focused Tokyo Wrestling are all useful online English resources for information on the city’s gay community (www.tokyowrestling.com).
There are no big diseases to be concerned about in Japan because of the country’s excellent standards for health and hygiene. No vaccines or health certificates are required for entry into the country.
High-quality, but occasionally pricy, medical care and medications are available; if you can, carry any necessary medications, especially those on a prescription, with you. Bring a copy of your prescription along as well, and be sure you remember the drug’s generic name rather than its brand name. Some common medications that are commonly accessible in the US and Europe are typically unavailable in Japan. The pill for birth control is available, but only with a prescription.
Malaria is not endemic in Japan, thus there is no need to take any medication, despite the fact that mosquitoes swarm the country during the warmer months. However, it’s a good idea to bring insect repellent and use a plug-in repellant or to burn coils in your room at night.
In Japan, tap water is safe to consume, but you shouldn’t drink straight from rivers or streams. Additionally, due to the risk of parasites carried by the water, it is not a good idea to stroll barefoot across flooded rice fields. You shouldn’t be concerned about eating raw seafood or sea fish, including the infamous fugu (globe fish). However, it’s advisable to stay away from raw meat and river fish.
Asking your hotel to call for a doctor or ambulance in an emergency should be your first course of action. Another option is to go to or contact the closest tourist information office or international center (only in major cities), which should be able to give you a list of nearby medical professionals and hospitals who speak English. Alternately, you could contact the Prefecture’s Foreign Advisory Service or the toll-free 24-hour Japan Helpline (0570/000-911, via www.jhelp.com) (see “Emergencies” in individual city listings in the Guide).
If you need to independently call an ambulance, phone 119 and be sure to answer slowly when prompted for an address. The ambulance drivers will transport you to the closest suitable hospital; however, they are not paramedics. You will have to wait your turn in a clinic before you see a doctor, unless you are dangerously ill when you go to the hospital. You will also need to be persistent if you want the full details of your condition explained to you, as some doctors are notorious for withholding information from patients.
You can visit a drugstore, which is located in most shopping districts, for guidance and assistance with minor illnesses. There are also several smaller private clinics where you can see a doctor for around ¥10,000. Asian medical treatments like acupuncture (hari) and pressure point massage (shiatsu) are another option, though it’s best to try and get a referral to a trusted practitioner first.
Due to the high cost of hospital care in Japan, it is imperative to have a decent travel insurance policy, especially one with full medical coverage.
All around Japan, there are cybercafés, frequently as a component of a 24-hour computer-game and manga center. Free access is occasionally offered (typically at regular cafés trying to increase business or in centers for cultural exchange); otherwise, prepare to pay between ¥200 and 400 per hour. Cybercafés come and go rather quickly, but Kinko’s is a reasonably dependable copy shop with locations all across Japan (some open 24 hours a day); use www.kinkos.co.jp to locate the one closest to you. For information on internet accessibility, consult the Listings sections of the town and city accounts in the Guide.
Every room in many hotels has access to broadband and/or wi-fi, frequently for no charge or for a little daily price (usually ¥1000). Others might offer at least one free computer terminal to visitors who aren’t carrying their own.
Buy a Skyroam Solis, which works in more than 130 countries for a single set daily charge and is paid for on a pay-as-you-go basis, for limitless Wi-Fi on the move while traveling across Japan. Five devices can be connected at once. Starting prices are as low as €5 per day.
A laundry service or, at the low end, coin-operated machines are offered by all hotels. Typically, these cost between ¥100 and ¥300 for a wash (powder ¥30 to ¥50) and ¥100 for ten minutes in the dryer. Additionally, almost all Japanese neighborhoods have coin-operated laundries (koin randorii), which are frequently open late. Most washing machines made in Japan use cold water.
Living in Japan
The number of jobs available to foreigners has decreased overall since the Japanese economy collapsed in the early 1990s, but it’s still possible to obtain work, especially if you have the necessary credentials (a degree is required) and visa. In fact, over the past ten years, there has been an increase in the number of highly skilled, Japanese-speaking foreigners working in the country in specialized positions.
Citizens of a select few nations may apply for working holiday visas, which do not require an advance job. Before applying for a work visa, all other foreigners must have sponsorship documents in place from a potential employer; these documents do not need to be obtained in the applicant’s home country (but must be applied for outside of Japan). However, you shouldn’t rely on this. If you arrive without a job, make sure you have enough money to support yourself until you find one. A few firms might be ready to hire you until the right paperwork is worked out. Any visitor to Japan who intends to stay for more than 90 days must also apply for alien registration status.
Teaching English is the most typical career offered to foreign nationals. Before signing any contract, it’s a good idea to speak to other teachers and, if feasible, observe a class to learn what will be required of you. Some of the smaller schools are far from professional operations (and even the biggies get many of complaints). Your chances of landing one of the better jobs will be increased if you possess a professional teaching certificate, experience, and a second language like French or Italian.
Obtaining a spot on the government-run Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET; www.jetprogramme.org), which aims to enhance foreign-language learning in schools and foster global understanding, is an additional option. Graduates under 40 who are preferably certified in language instruction are eligible for the program. Benefits include a sizable income, assistance with housing, round-trip airfare to Japan, and paid holidays. You must be well-prepared for the lengthy process of applying to the JET program.
Application forms for the quota for the following year become available in late September, with an early December submission deadline. Decisions are made in March after interviews in January and February. JETs report to their assignments in late July after undergoing health tests and orientation sessions. Their one-year contracts may be extended for a maximum of two more years with mutual agreement.
Rewriting or editing English translations of Japanese material for technical documents, manuals, magazines, and other publications is a considerably more constrained work option for foreigners. If you know even a little Japanese, it will be very helpful for these kind of tasks. These days, there are also great prospects for foreigners with experience in adventure sports or as ski instructors to work on the slopes, especially in resorts like Yukiguni (Niigata), Niseko, Furano, and Hakuba that cater to tourists from abroad. Other alternatives include modeling, for which having a professional portfolio of images will be helpful, bar tending and hostessing, with the typical warnings about the risks involved with these jobs. Wearing professional attire will provide you an advantage in any job search or commercial dealings in Japan, as will abiding by other standard social etiquette rules.
In addition to the websites below, the free weekly magazines Metropolis and Tokyo Notice Board are the best resources for finding job listings.
Visit GaijinPot at www.gaijinpot.com. English-language instruction is the focus of the classifieds.
Website of the Japan Association for Working Holiday Makers www.jawhm.or.jp assisting those with working holiday visas find employment.
http://jobsinjapan.com/, Jobs in Japan. diverse types of classified advertising.
Employed in Japan daijob.com/en. The biggest multilingual jobs website in Japan.
www.wwoofjapan.com, which stands for “Willing Workers on Organic Farms.” There are opportunities to live and work on organic farms all around Japan, in addition to a few hotels and resorts.
Studying Japanese language and culture
Numerous chances exist to learn Japanese and its culture. You will require different documentation from the school where you intend to study as well as evidence that you have enough money to maintain yourself in order to obtain a student or cultural visa. Although full-time education is expensive, you might be able to work a part-time job once you obtain your visa.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan (MEXT; www.mext.go.jp) provides a number of scholarships to international students who want to study in Japan, pursue an undergraduate degree there, or conduct research there. For more information, visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ helpful Study in Japan website (www.studyjapan.go.jp) or get in touch with the Japanese embassy or consulate in your area.
Numerous Japanese language schools in Tokyo, Kyoto, and other major cities offer both intense and part-time courses. Among the oldest are Tokyo Kogakuin Japanese Language School (5-30-16 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku; t 03/3352-3851; www.technos-jpschool.ac.jp) and Berlitz (www.berlitz.co.jp), both of which have locations across the country. There are advertisements for schools in the monthly bilingual publication Hiragana Times (www.hiraganatimes.com), the listing magazines Metropolis and Tokyo Journal, as well as on the website of the Association for the Promotion of Japanese Language Education, which also maintains a list of accredited institutions.
There are post offices (ybin-kyoku) all around Japan, and they are immediately recognized by their red-and-white signage, which feature a T with a parallel bar across the top, the same symbol as on the red letterboxes. Japan’s mail service is extremely quick and efficient. If it is properly printed, all mail can be addressed in Western script (romaji).
For postal and banking services, there are separate counters in urban post offices with English signage; in central post offices, you may also exchange money at rates that are comparable to those in banks. All post offices supply reasonably priced specialized envelopes and boxes for packaging if you need to send larger products or parcels home. A foreign package can only weigh 30 kilograms in total (less for some destinations). Surface Air Lifted (SAL) mail, which travels most destinations in three weeks and costs somewhere in the middle of the two, is a decent middle ground between expensive air mail and slow sea mail. Visit the Post Office website at www.post.japanpost.jp for English-language details on postal services, such as postage costs.
The majority of other post offices only open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the exception of central post offices, which are typically open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, and 9 a.m A handful of the larger locations might also be open on Saturdays from 9 to 3 and offer express mail and package delivery after hours. Along with other urban regions, Shinjuku has significant post offices that are open every day and all hours. Use the excellent, affordable takuhaibin (or takkybin, as it is more generally known) or courier delivery services to send packages and luggage around Japan. These services can be booked at most convenience stores, hotels, and certain youth hostels.
These services are especially useful if you need to transfer luggage (normally up to 20kg) on to locations where you’ll be staying later in your tour or to the airport to be picked up before your departure. They typically cost under ¥2000.
The Japan National Tourist Organization offers four travel guides that cover the entire nation as well as Tokyo, Kansai, and Kyoto. These work well for the majority of purposes and are freely available at JNTO offices abroad and at the TICs in Japan. Local maps are typically offered by tourist bureaus in other locations. Most bookshops carry maps if you need something more specific, but you’ll only find English-language maps in the major cities. The most helpful bilingual maps are those produced by Kodansha or Shibunsha, which are sold in specialty stores outside of Japan. A must-have for anyone visiting more than a few days in the city is Kodansha’s Tokyo City Atlas, while the best road atlas for driving around is the multilingual Japan Road Atlas from Shibunsha, albeit being a touch out of date. The best hiking maps are those in the Yama-to-kgen series, which is equally published by Shibunsha but is only available in Japanese.
Be aware that in Japan, maps on signboards, like a map of the footpaths in a national park, are typically oriented in the direction you are facing. So, for example, if you’re facing southeast, the top of the map will be southeast and the bottom northwest.
The yen is the name of the currency used in Japan. Coins appear in values of ¥1, ¥5, ¥10, ¥50, ¥100, and ¥500 while notes are available in denominations of ¥1000, ¥2000, ¥5000, and ¥10,000. All other notes and coins reflect their value in Western numerals, with the exception of the ¥5 piece, a copper-colored coin with a hole in the middle. Visit www.xe.com for the most recent exchange rates.
Even though credit and debit cards are increasingly used, Japan is still mostly a cash nation. The best cards to have with you are Visa and American Express, followed closely by MasterCard, then Diners Club; you may use these at establishments like hotels, restaurants, shops, and travel agencies that are used to dealing with tourists. However, a lot of merchants only take cards that are issued locally.
Using a credit or debit card to make an ATM withdrawal is the simplest way to get cash in Japan. The post office and Seven Bank, whose ATMs are found in 7-Eleven stores, both run ATMs that accept cards that were issued abroad. With English instructions, post office machines accept Visa, PLUS, MasterCard, Maestro, Cirrus, and American Express. 7-Eleven ATMs also accept all of these, with the exception of foreign-issued MasterCard brand cash cards and credit cards (including Cirrus and Maestro cards). The card issuer and your credit limit will determine your withdrawal limits. Try again with a smaller amount if the machine doesn’t let you withdraw money the first time.
ATMs from Seven Bank are typically open 24 hours a day. Post office ATMs are also available in stations, department stores, and other locations around the major cities; they are recognizable by a sticker that reads “International ATM Service.” Though none of them are accessible around-the-clock, their ATMs have more limited hours than the Seven Bank machines, however the ones at large post offices can be accessed on weekends and after the counters close. You can also try Citibank, which runs a number of ATMs in Tokyo, Sapporo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, and Fukuoka (www.citibank.co.jp). The majority are available beyond regular banking hours, and some are open round-the-clock. Pick up the phone next to the ATM if you need assistance and ask to talk with someone in English.
At the exchange counters, or rygae-jo (両替所), of the main post offices and some banks, you can exchange cash and traveler’s checks. The post office accepts cash and traveler’s checks in six major currencies, including euros, Canadian, Australian and American dollar, and British pounds. The most common brands of traveler’s checks are American Express, Visa, Thomas Cook, and MasterCard. There are no commission costs and just minor price differences between banks and the post office. Banks are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 3pm, but some don’t open their exchange desks until 10.30am or 11am. Post office exchange counters often have slightly extended opening hours (typically Mon-Fri 9am-4pm).
Although most only deal in dollars or a restricted selection of currencies and may charge a small fee, large department stores frequently include an exchange counter, which can be beneficial at other times. Hotel employees are only permitted to change money for paying customers, although in an emergency, they might be convinced to assist. Remember to bring your passport in case it’s required, and give yourself plenty of time because even a quick transaction can take up to twenty minutes. Last but not least, while exchanging money, request that a few notes worth 10,000 yen be broken down into smaller amounts; these are useful for ticket machines and little purchases.
Opening hours and public holidays
The typical business hours are Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, while individual businesses frequently stay open later into the evening and on Saturdays as well. Larger businesses and department stores often open at 10 am and close at 7 or 8 pm. While many convenience stores are open 24 hours a day, local establishments typically stay open later. The majority of stores close one day a week, not necessarily on Sunday.
On Mondays, the majority of museums close. However, remain open on Sundays and major holidays (closing the next day instead); typically, the final admittance is thirty minutes prior to closing. However, practically everything shuts down for the New Year festival (January 1-3), Golden Week (April 29–May 5), and Obon (the week around August 15). All forms of transportation and lodging are sold out weeks in advance during these times, and the most popular tourist attractions are crowded.
In Japan, there are always payphones nearby, but only a select few allow international calls. These payphones are often grey or metallic silver and bronze in color and have an English sign. It can be challenging to locate these phones; try a well-known hotel or an international hub.
Most payphones accept both coins (¥10 and ¥100) and phonecards (terefon kado; ). The latter can be purchased in station kiosks, department and convenience stores, and in packs of ¥500 (50 units) and ¥1000 (105 units). Almost all tourist attractions sell phonecards with unique designs, but you’ll pay more for them and a ¥1000 card only gives you ¥500 worth of calling.
Use ¥10 coins rather than ¥100 coins when making local calls because payphones don’t give change but do return unused coins. Use a phonecard and make international calls between the hours of 7 p.m. and 8 a.m., Monday through Friday, or at any time on weekends or holidays, when prices are lower. Use a prepaid calling card as an alternative. Some examples include the KDDI Super World card (http://tinyurl.com/29b969u), Primus (www.primustel.co.jp), and Brastel (www.brastel.com); all are offered at convenience stores.
In Japan, every location has an area code, which can be omitted if the call is local. In this Guide, area codes are provided for all phone numbers. Toll-free numbers usually start with 0120 or 0088; occasionally, you might encounter non-geographic codes like 0570, which you should always combine with the main number wherever you’re calling from. 080 and 090 are the identifiers for mobile phones. Dial 0051 to get operator assistance for international calls.
In Japan, almost everyone seems to own a mobile phone, or keitai-denwa, which is sometimes abbreviated to keitai (携帯電話). Many of these phones have GPS navigation systems and the ability to be used as prepaid trip cards on trains, subways, and in stores. A QR code, which has a square black-and-white pattern, can be read by any mobile phone with a camera, which is nearly all of them. These codes, which are increasingly appearing on advertisements and in stores, typically contain links to websites or email addresses that the phone may access. They may also contain the address, contact information, and a map of a specific location.
A few 3G models are the only international phones that consistently function in Japan; verify with your mobile service provider to confirm the situation before departing from your home country. For short-term tourists, the best option if your phone isn’t compatible with Japan’s transmission standards is to rent a mobile phone (buying a prepaid phone in Japan generally requires you to show proof of local residency). Renting a phone is possible online, in Tokyo, or at the main international airports. For internet connection on your laptop, you can rent data cards from PuPuRu (www.pupuru.com), DoCoMo (www.nttdocomo.co.jp), and Softbank (www.softbank.jp/en), the latter two of which have rental kiosks at Narita Airport (3G handsets should work with either of these networks).
Phoning abroad from Japan
In Japan, KDDI (001), Softbank Telecom (0041), Cable & Wireless IDC (0061), and NTT (0033) are the top providers of international phone calls . If you wish to make an international call from Japan using any sort of phone, select a carrier and dial the appropriate access code, the country code (UK 44; Ireland 353; US and Canada 01; Australia 61; New Zealand 64; South Africa 27), the area code minus the initial zero, and then the number.
Dial 0051 to get operator assistance for international calls. By dialing 0051 via KDDI, you can place international operator-assisted calls.
Smoking is prohibited in almost all public places, including most public transportation, buildings, businesses, restaurants, bars, cafés, theaters, and similar places. However, in some places, smoking is permitted in specified zones. Smoking in public places is being outlawed in more and more cities, including Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Once more, you can only smoke in specific areas; look for the smoke-swathed crowd gathered around the ashtrays on the ground. In places where smoking is prohibited, fines usually start at 2000 yen, though right now you are more likely to get away with a warning.
Due to Japan’s nine-hour time difference from Greenwich Mean Time, when it is midday in London, it is 9pm in Tokyo. The United States’ Eastern Standard Time is fourteen hours earlier in Japan. Because there is no daylight saving time, the difference is only eight hours during British Summer Time, for instance.
There are several foreign offices that the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO; www.jnto.go.jp) operates. JNTO runs tourist information centers (TIC) in central Tokyo, Tokyo’s Narita airport, and Kansai International airport, all of which include staff members who understand English. The personnel will assist you in figuring out routes and timings, but they are unable to book travel or sell tickets to shows, movies, and other events. Instead, they will point you in the direction of the closest store that can.
In many major towns and cities and in the most popular tourist sites, there is a network of government-run tourist information offices (観光案内所; kanko annaijo), many of which have English-speaking staff; you can find a complete list on the JNTO website. These offices are typically found in or near the main train station or in the city center, and they are identified by a sign with the word “information” and a red question mark in a white circle on a black backdrop. In actuality, the amount of written or spoken English information is a little hit or miss, but personnel should be able to help with minor questions, hotel reservations, and area maps.
There are also standard local tourist information offices; these may be found in almost every town (as well as many villages), albeit there is little possibility of receiving assistance in English.
The Goodwill Guides are a group of volunteer tour guides who work primarily throughout central and western Japan. They offer their services for free, but you are expected to cover the cost of their transportation, admission tickets, and any meals you share. They do offer a terrific opportunity to learn more about Japanese culture and to go to nearby restaurants, shopping, and other places with a Japanese-speaking person, however their language skills vary. The groups are once again listed on the JNTO website. In any case, make sure to give at least two days’ notice. Tourist information centers may typically provide contact information for local groups and may be happy to help with plans.
Travelling with children
Japan is an excellent country to travel with kids because of its high standards for health, hygiene, and safety, as well as its abundance of entertaining things to do. School-age children typically pay discounted fees at museums and other attractions, which can be as low as half the adult ticket. On trains, subways, and buses, children under the age of six ride free; children aged six to eleven pay a discounted fare.
Bringing a foldable, lightweight pushchair is a smart idea. In cities, you’ll often have to go long distances on foot, and even though many train and subway stations now have elevators, there are still a lot of steps to climb.
It can be difficult to find hotels with family rooms that can accommodate more than three people; your best chance is an international chain hotel. A Japanese-style ryokan or minshuku, where you can share a large tatami room, is a fantastic alternative. You can only schedule babysitting at Western-style hotels that are more upscale.
All the items you require, including diapers and baby food, are easily found in shops and department stores, but they may not all be of imported brands. It might be a good idea to bring a specific brand if you need it. Although it’s generally acceptable to breastfeed in public, it’s preferable to keep it as discreet as you can. The majority of breastfeeding Japanese women either find a quiet area or use the private rooms offered in many shops, department stores, and public buildings.
Even though it’s a little antiquated, Kodansha’s Japan for Kids still has a lot of helpful general information, and www.tokyowithkids.com is also worth visiting.
Travellers with disabilities
Disability has historically been a touchy subject in Japan, where disabled persons are typically kept out of sight. However, there has been a noticeable movement in public attitude recently, especially in the aftermath of Ototake Hirotada’s No One’s Perfect, his optimistic, honest autobiography as a 23-year-old student born without limbs or legs.
A campaign to increase the number of accessible hotels and other amenities is being led by the government (referred to as “barrier-free” in Japan). A wide, manned ticket gate is now standard in most train and metro stations, and escalators or lifts are becoming more common. Wheelchair users can board some trains, such as the Narita Express from Tokyo’s Narita International Airport to Narita, although you must make reservations well in advance. Taxis are a clear choice for short distance travel, but none are properly equipped, and few drivers will help passengers get in and out of the vehicle.
Accessible amenities are a requirement for new hotels, and numerous older ones are starting to offer them as well. The international chains or contemporary Western-style business hotels are your best bets because they are more likely to offer completely adapted rooms, ramps, and lifts; check beforehand to make sure the facilities fit your needs. Similar to this, the majority of modern malls, museums, and other public structures have ramps, broad entrances, and restrooms that are accessible.
Even if things are getting better, it can still be challenging to move around in Japan if you need a wheelchair, have trouble climbing stairs, or have trouble walking long distances. The sheer density of people in cities can occasionally be an issue. While assistance can typically be arranged at stations, you’ll need a Japanese-speaking person to call ahead and make the arrangements. Contact the Japanese Red Cross Language Service Volunteers (c/o Volunteers Division, Japanese Red Cross Society, 1-1-3 Shiba Daimon, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-8521) for more information and assistance. Their website, accessible.jp.org, contains helpful, albeit slightly obsolete, information.
There are numerous daily newspapers and numerous publications available in Japanese if you can read the language, and they cover practically every topic. English newspapers and magazines are widely available in large cities, and some TV and radio programs, like the main news broadcasts on NHK, are offered in English or have an alternate English soundtrack.
Newspapers and magazines
The Yomiuri Shimbun, the leading newspaper in Japan, is the most widely read newspaper in the world, selling over fourteen million copies daily (combining its morning and evening editions). The Asahi Shimbun, considered to be the intellectual’s newspaper, sells around two million fewer copies every day. The other three national newspapers, Mainichi Shimbun, right-wing Sankei Shimbun, and business paper Nihon Keizai Shimbun, which all have acceptable readership rates.
The Japan Times is the English-language daily newspaper that is most frequently available at newsstands. It offers thorough coverage of both domestic and foreign news, as well as sporadic noteworthy items that are sometimes pulled from international media. The International Herald Tribune, which is published alongside the major Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun’s English-language edition, the Daily Yomiuri, and the Financial Times’ Japan edition are further English-language publications.
Metropolis, a free weekly Tokyo listings magazine, is jam-packed with informative articles, reviews, and schedules of movies, concerts, and other events. It’s worth looking for Japanzine, a free monthly publication in Nagoya but also accessible in Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo. KIE (Kateigaho International Edition; 1260 yen) is a magnificent glossy magazine that is published twice a year and covers cultural topics. It includes many travel stories and in-depth profiles of various neighborhoods in Tokyo and other regions of Japan. The English-language magazines Time and Newsweek are also readily accessible.
Numerous international and local periodicals are available in large selections at book stores like Kinokuniya and Maruzen. The bilingual publication Hiragana Times is useful if you’re learning Japanese or even just attempting to pick up a little of the language while you’re on vacation. The top Japanese listings magazines are Pia and the Walker series (Tokyo Walker, Kansai Walker).
As the 76-90 MHz FM spectrum in Japan is specific to the country, you can either listen to FM radio in Japan the traditional way (though you’ll need a radio made for the local market) or online, where you’re more likely to hear more interesting music on stations like Samurai FM, which connects DJs in London and Tokyo). There is also Radio Japan Online, which offers programs from Japan’s official broadcaster in 18 other languages.
Inter FM (76.1MHz), J-WAVE (81.3MHz), FM Yokohama (84.1MHz), Tokyo FM (80.0MHz), and Bay FM (78.0MHz) are some of the pop music stations in Tokyo and the Kanto area.
NHK, the governmental broadcaster, offers two analog TV channels (NHK and NHK Educational). The nightly 7 p.m. news on NHK can be tuned into in English, while films and imported TV shows on both NHK and the commercial channels occasionally air with an alternative English soundtrack because many TV sets can access bilingual soundtracks. The additional major networks include TBS, Fuji TV, TV Asahi, Nihon TV, and TV Tokyo. All luxury hotels offer digital, satellite, and cable channels, including BBC World, CNN, and MTV.