Japan

TRAVEL & DESTINATION GUIDE

Visa Requirements | Time Zone | Population | Currency | Travel Insurance | Language

Religion | Connectivity: Phones & Data | Climate | Tipping Guide | Prescription Drugs 

What to Pack

Image by Blake Guidry
 

Time Zone

Japan Standard Time is 9 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT +9). US Eastern Standard Time +13 hours. US Pacific Standard Time +16 hours.

Population

Japan has a population of 127 million. Making it the world's tenth most populated country. Japan’s size can be attributed to fast growth rates experienced during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Currency

Japanese Yen (JPY; symbol ¥). Notes are in denominations of ¥10,000, 5,000, 2,000, and 1,000. Coins are in denominations of ¥500, 100, 50, 10, 5, and 1. The best place to grab cash is at any 7-Eleven store, located just about everywhere.

 

Visa Requirement

Passport and onward/return ticket required. Visa not required for tourist/commercial business stay of up to 90 days.

Travel Insurance

You should consider the benefits of travel insurance as part of your Japan travel planning. Plans may include valuable medical expense coverage, trip interruption, medical emergency assistance and treatment services, evacuation, and more.

 
Passport

Language

Japanese language is the certified language of Japan. It has two forms, namely hyojungo or standard Japanese and kyotsugo or the common language. The former is mostly used in schools, on television, and in official communications. It is further sub-divided in to bungo or "literary language," and kogo or "oral language". The distinction is basically in the rules of grammar and variance in vocabulary. Kogo has been used as the leading method of talking and lettering by the people of Japan since the Second World War.

COMMON PHRASES IN JAPANESE

English/Japanese

Itadakimasu" is an essential phrase in your Japanese vocabulary. It's often translated as "I humbly receive," but in a mealtime setting, it's compared to "Let's eat," "Bon appétit," or "Thanks for the food." Some even liken it to the religious tradition of saying grace
Hello - Konnichiwa
How are you? - O genki desu ka?
Thank you - Arigato gozaimasu
You’re welcome - Do itashimashite
Goodbye - Sayonara
Please - Onegai shimasu
I’m sorry - Gomen
What is your name? - O namae wa?
My name is ______________ Desu
Yes - Hai
No - EE-eh
Where is the toilet? - Otearai wa doko desu ka?
How do I get to ___? - Wa dochira desu ka/
Water - Mizu
How much is? - Ikura desuka?



 

RELIGION

Shinto and Buddhism are Japan's two major religions. They have co-existed for several centuries and have even complemented each other to a certain degree. Most Japanese consider themselves Buddhist, Shintoist, or both. Religion does not play a big role in the everyday life of most Japanese people today. The average person typically follows the religious rituals at ceremonies like birth, weddings, and funerals and may visit a shrine or temple on New Year and participate at local festivals (matsuri), most of which have a religious background.

 

Alternate Title

Shinto and Buddhism are Japan's two major religions. They have co-existed for several centuries and have even complemented each other to a certain degree. Most Japanese consider themselves Buddhist, Shintoist, or both. Religion does not play a big role in the everyday life of most Japanese people today. The average person typically follows the religious rituals at ceremonies like birth, weddings, and funerals and may visit a shrine or temple on New Year and participate at local festivals (matsuri), most of which have a religious background.

 

Internet & Connectivity

ELECTRICITY
100V 50Hz Japanese-style plug with two parallel flat blades. In any country where electricity is 220V AC, note that this is enough to fry any 120V North American appliance. Buying an adapter (which changes the shape of the plug) and a converter (which changes the voltage) is strongly suggested. Don't make the mistake of using only an adapter (unless appliance instructions explicitly state otherwise).

TELEPHONE
Japan is a leader in mobile phone technology and usage. In addition to calling, email, and messaging, mobile phones are packed with features such as internet browsers, games, cameras, televisions, electronic wallets/train passes, gps/navigation, and music players. Because of these features, mobile phones have become an important and integral part of everyday life.

The biggest Japanese mobile phone companies are NTT Docomo, au by KDDI, and Softbank (formerly Vodafone, and before that J-phone). There are also a few smaller carriers, some of which provided specialized services such as prepaid service and mobile internet.

MOBILE TELEPHONE
Due to different technologies, mobile phones from your home country may not work in Japan. Most importantly, there is no GSM network in Japan, so GSM-only phones do not work. The following are needed for a handset to work in Japan:

FOR VOICE
The handset must be compatible with a Japanese mobile phone network (typically 3G UMTS 2100 MHz or 3G CDMA2000 800 MHz). Compatible handsets may be used via international roaming (check with your home provider for details) or a rental or prepaid SIM card from a Japanese carrier (unlocked handsets only). Alternatively, phones with wireless network (WIFI) connectivity can use internet based telephone services (voip), such as Skype, when connected to a WIFI network.

FOR DATA
Phones that work in Japan for voice (see above) can also receive and send data (such as e-mails and web content) via international roaming or a rental/prepaid SIM card, but note that the cost for data transfer can easily skyrocket without an appropriate data plan. Alternatively, phones with wireless network (WIFI) connectivity can take advantage of the numerous paid and free wifi hotspots found around the country.

Renting is the most economical way for the average traveler to get a phone, and typically requires a picture ID and a credit card. Many companies have kiosks at the airports, while other companies will mail a phone to your hotel or to your home. You can return the phones at the airport or through the mail depending on the company.

The fees for rental phones vary and usually consist of the rental fee (typically 250-1,000 yen per day) plus a usage fee (typically 70-200 yen per minute domestic outgoing, although, incoming calls are free). All of the companies at the airports have same day rentals, while some companies offer discounts for advanced reservations.

INTERNET
Many hotels in Japan offer free internet in their guest rooms. A few hotels, typically the higher end Western chains, charge for internet access based on 24 hour periods. Access is typically provided as wired internet via LAN cable, but wireless networks are also common. At older hotels you may have to borrow and install some hardware in order to set up a network in your room. Many hotels also provide wireless internet or public computers in their lobby or business center.

 
 

Climate

Except for the Hokkaido area and the subtropical Okinawa region, the weather is mostly temperate, with four seasons. Winters are cool and sunny in the south, cold and sunny around Tokyo (which occasionally has snow), and very cold around Hokkaido, which is covered in snow for up to four months a year. Summer, between June and September, ranges from warm to very hot, while spring and autumn are generally mild throughout the country. 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.

Etiquette 

Japanese manners and customs are vastly different from those of Western people. A strict code of behavior and politeness is recognized and followed by almost all Japanese. However, they are aware of the difference between themselves and the West and therefore do not expect visitors to be familiar with all their customs, but expect them to behave formally and politely. A straightforward refusal does not form part of Japanese etiquette. A vague “yes” does not really mean “yes” but the visitor may be comforted to know that confusion caused by non-committal replies occurs between the Japanese themselves. Entertaining guests at home is not as customary as in the West, as it is an enterprise not taken lightly and the full red-carpet treatment is given. Japanese men are also sensitive lest their wives be embarrassed and feel that their hospitality is inadequate by Western standards; for instance, by the inconvenience to a foreign guest of the custom of sitting on the floor.

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. When entering a Japanese home or restaurant it is customary to remove shoes. Table manners are very important, although, the Japanese host will be very tolerant towards a visitor. However, it is best if visitors familiarize themselves with basic table etiquette and use chopsticks. It is customary for a guest to bring a small gift when visiting someone's home. 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. Smoking is only restricted where notified.

TIPPING

Service charges of 10%-15% are often added to your bill in most leading luxury hotels and restaurants. Because there is no way for the receiver of the tip to reciprocate the gesture, the Japanese often regard tipping to be insulting. Although, tipping your tour guides and drivers is not considered insulting, it should be done very discretely (perhaps in an envelop) or in the form of a thoughtful gift.

Japan has a 8% consumer tax.

Airport porter/hotel bellboy: $1.00-$2.00 USD per bag.

Your tour guide: $10.00-$12.00 USD per person, per day.

Driver/assistants: $6.00-$7.00 USD per person, per day.

 

Prescription Drugs

Prescription drugs – It is recommended to travel with prescriptions for any drugs you are required to travel with for your personal health.

Note: Some drugs available by prescription in the US are illegal in other countries. Check the US Department of State Consular Information for the country(s) you intend to visit or the embassy or consulate for that country(s). If your medication is not allowed in the country you will be visiting, ask your health-care provider to write a letter on office stationery stating the medication has been prescribed for you.

 

WHAT TO PACK

Dress is normally casual in Bhutan. Most importantly, dress conservatively. Women should avoid sleeveless, tight or short garments. Bare legs above the knee are frowned upon for men and are verboten for women. When visiting monasteries, dzongs and other religious sites do not wear shorts or hats.

Due to altitude changes, there are 13 different climatic regions in Bhutan as well as four seasons. In spring and fall, bring layers that can accommodate temperatures varying from 32°F degrees at night to the high 70’s during the day.

Pack long johns, pants, cotton shirts and sweaters. Dark colors and tough fabrics are best, as 24-hour laundry service can be found only in Thimphu. You'll also need a windbreaker, a warm jacket, rain poncho, umbrella and a warm hat. Men should bring a sports jacket, women a longish skirt to wear when meeting government or religious officials.

Pack lip balm, sunblock, sunglasses, hat, mosquito repellent, tissue and a good pair of walking shoes.