Visiting Japan

Q: Do I need any vaccinations to enter Japan?

A: There are no requirements for foreign travelers from any countries regarding certificates of vaccination.

Q: Do I need a visa?

A: Japan has agreements with 60 countries that exempt these citizens from having to apply for a visa to enter Japan. Nationals of all other countries require a visa.

Q: What can I bring through Customs?

A: Baggage or accompanying items arriving separately (within six months after either entry to or exit from Japan), which are accepted as for personal use only, are duty-free within the restricted quantity as specified by the customs regulations. For more details, please refer to Customs. 

Q: Can I use my credit cards? If yes, what is the best way to carry money in Japan: Travelers Checks, cash or credit cards?

A: Although most stores and restaurants will accept VISA, MasterCard and American Express cards, travelers should keep in mind that there are smaller shops that may not have merchant account capabilities. More than 26,000 Post Office ATMs exist at various locations throughout Japan, and stickers indicate whether a Post Office has an ATM machine. Cirrus, Plus, Maestro and Visa Electron networks are accepted, as are Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club credit cards.

Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, so carrying cash is not a real problem. Travelers Checks are also an option, although it is wise to have these available in either Japanese yen, or US dollars. Travelers Checks may not be accepted by establishments other than major hotels and banks, as establishments must have currency exchange capabilities in order to accept these.

Q: Is it possible to use my mobile phone in Japan?

A: At the time of writing, the Japanese mobile telephone system is not compatible with those of other countries; however, you may wish to confirm the compatibility of your mobile phone in Japan with your phone line service provider in your own country before departing for Japan. If you want to use a mobile phone in Japan, rental phones are also available. You can find rental shops at Narita Airport and Kansai Airport.

Q: Is Japan expensive? Prices in Japan are extremely high, aren't they?

A: A visit to Japan is affordable even for those on a budget, as there are a wide variety of budget accommodations, transportation passes, and sightseeing discounts. 

Despite rumors that travel in Japan is expensive, Tokyo and other large Japanese cities are not any more expensive than other big cities worldwide. Previous surveys on price differentials from 2002 showed that the average price in Tokyo is only 1.06 times higher than the average price of London, 1.13 times higher than the average price of Paris and Frankfurt, and 1.24 times higher than the average price of New York. 100-yen shops and budget stores abound in Japan and sell extremely affordable necessities and reasonably priced gifts, and inexpensive restaurants serve meals that cost 1,000 yen or less.

Q: I don't speak Japanese. Will travel in Japan be difficult

A: Traveling in a country where you don't speak the language can be both challenging and rewarding. But even if you don't speak any Japanese, finding your way around Japan needn't be difficult. English is widely spoken throughout the country, particularly in major cities and tourist centers. Public transportation announcements are frequently made in both Japanese and English, and signs generally include decipherable roman characters or an English explanation. A comprehensive range of tourist services also provides a helping hand to foreign visitors in Japan.

Q: When is peak travel season?

A: Visitors to Japan should be aware of the peak times of the year for booking travel and accommodation reservations, which are: (1) Yearend and during New Year holidays — December 27 to January 4 and adjacent weekends; (2) "Golden Week" holiday season — April 29 to May 5 and adjacent weekends; and (3) "Bon" festival season — the week centering on August 15.

Q: Please tell me where Japan is located. Can I go from Tokyo to Hong Kong by train?

A: Japan is an island nation with Tokyo as its capital, and is situated to the east of the Chinese mainland. We are sometimes asked if people can travel from Tokyo to Hong Kong by train. But Hong Kong, a Chinese territory located in the south of the mainland, is separated from the islands of Japan by sea. The distance between Hong Kong and Tokyo is 2,890 km (1,806 mi.). Therefore, you cannot travel from Tokyo to Hong Kong by train, but you can travel by air, which takes about 5 hours.


Q: How do you go to central Tokyo from New Tokyo International (Narita) Airport?

A: Travelers can reach central Tokyo either by the JR Narita Express train, limousine bus, or the Keisei Dentetsu railway. It's approximately 60 minutes from the airport to Tokyo Station, which is in the center of Tokyo, using the JR Narita Express. A fare for the JR Narita Express is 2,940 yen and the Japan Rail Pass is valid.

If travelers take the rapid train, the commute is 80 minutes, with a fare of 1,280 yen. Limousine buses also have many direct lines to major stations and hotels, and travel times vary from 60 to 90 minutes depending upon traffic and final destination. Fares for the limousine buses are approximately 3,000 yen. The Keisei Dentetsu Limited Express (Sky Liner) travels between Narita Airport and Ueno in downtown Tokyo in about 60 minutes, with a fare of 1,920 yen. Rapid trains takes a bit longer, 75 minutes, but the fares are lower, costing only 1,000 yen.

(All prices are one-way fares, and correct as of February 2006)

Q: How do you get to Haneda Airport from New Tokyo International (Narita) Airport?

A: There is a variety of transportation available with various fares and times. The limousine bus and Airport Limited Express are recommended, as there is no need to change vehicles. There are about 3 to 5 bus services every hour between the airports, except early morning and evening. It costs 3,000 yen, and each trip takes about 80 minutes. There are 1 or 2 Keisei Dentetsu Railway Airport Rapid Express trains every hour, which take about 110 minutes. The fare is 1,560 yen.

(All prices are one-way fares, and correct as of February 2006)

Q: How do you get to the center of Osaka from Kansai International Airport?

A: JR Limited Express Haruka, the Nankai Dentetsu Railways RAPIT Limited Express and the limousine bus are the major means of transportation to the center of Osaka. Haruka will take you to JR Shin-Osaka Station, located in the center of Osaka, in about 45 minutes. The fare is 2,980 yen and the Japan Rail Pass is valid. If you use RAPIT, you can reach Namba Station, the most bustling part of Osaka, in about 30 minutes at a fare of 1,390 yen. The express train takes about 40 minutes but the fare is only 890 yen. The limousine bus has a number of services to major stations and hotels and the fare is 1,300 yen. Travel time varies depending on the traffic, but 60 minutes is the average time.

(All prices are one-way fares, and correct as of February 2006)

Q: Is it true that trains are the most convenient way to travel in Japan?

A: Railway networks are greatly developed across the nation. Japan Railways (JR) (which includes Shinkansen lines) connects all major cities nationwide, while private railway companies operate in each region. Large cities also have their fair share of subways and monorails. The Japan Rail Pass is a very economical and convenient method of accessing unlimited travel on JR lines within Japan, including the Shinkansen. For more details on fares, validity periods, restrictions and other details, please refer to [Rail Pass].

Q: Can I purchase tickets or make reservations for JR trains in advance?

A: You can purchase tickets and make reservations from abroad. The English web site of JR East has opened a reservation site for the Narita Express (limited express train that runs between New Tokyo International Airport and metropolitan Tokyo) and Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen Line. For more details, please refer to [Railways Seat Reservation Service].

Q: Are there any unlimited ride passes for trains in Japan?

A: There is a variety of unlimited ride passes for trains, including the Japan Rail Pass, which covers a huge area of the country. Using this pass, unlimited travel is possible on JR lines (including the Shinkansen, but excluding the Nozomi train). An Exchange Order is necessary to acquire a Japan Rail Pass and can be purchased from overseas offices of JTB International, the Nippon Travel Agency Co., Ltd., the Kinki Nippon Tourist Co., Ltd. and the Tokyu Tourist Corporation, as well as from their affiliated travel agencies in other countries. Exchange Orders are also available from overseas offices of JAL. For more details, please refer to [Rail Pass].

Q: How long does it take to get to Kyoto or Osaka from Tokyo by train?

A: It takes approximately 2 1/2 hours to Kyoto and 3 hours to Osaka via the Shinkansen train Hikari. If you need to get there in a hurry, the Shinkansen train Nozomi is 15 minutes faster to Kyoto and 30 minutes faster to Osaka.

Q: Do I need an International Driver's License to drive in Japan?

A: If you wish to drive in Japan, you must possess one of the following driving permits.

1) A Japanese Driver's License

2) An International Driver's License (90 member countries) based on the Treaty of Geneva (1949)

3) A Driver's License of Switzerland, Germany or France (however, you must inquire about conditions to the institution issuing the driving permit in your respective countries)


Q: What kinds of accommodations are there in Japan?

A: You will find a variety of accommodation styles to suit all tastes and budgets in Japan. If you are looking for western-style lodgings, there are luxury hotels and business hotels. If you prefer Japanese-style accommodations, stay at Ryokan (Japanese-style inn) and Minshuku (private guest-house providing a bed and meals). We recommend the Welcome Inn, the Japanese Inn Group and Youth Hostels for travelers on low budgets.

Q: How do you make reservations at hotels?

A: If you want to make a reservation, you can either ask the travel agent to arrange the accommodation, or contact the hotel directly. Many hotels now have their own Web site where you can make reservations on-line.

Q: How do you find reasonable accommodations?

A: A non-profit-organization, the Welcome Inn Reservation Center, has made a list of reasonable accommodations for overseas visitors.


Q: I am visiting Japan for the first time. Where should I go?

A: Many visitors from overseas visit Tokyo, and its neighboring cities Nikko and Hakone. The old cities of Kyoto and Nara are also popular tourist destinations.

Q: Is all of Japan urbanized like Tokyo? Is there no natural landscape left anywhere in Japan?

A: Metropolitan Tokyo is a big city with a population of over 12 million inhabitants. Here company headquarters, commercial establishments and government agencies are concentrated, impacting the Japanese and world economies. Since there are many office buildings and commercial facilities, you may have the impression that there is no natural beauty left in Tokyo, but the truth is that there are many parks and green spaces, such as Hibiya Park, the Imperial Palace Outer Gardens, and the Meiji Shrine Outer Garden, where greenery in Tokyo flourishes.

Since one-seventh of Japan's landscape is mountainous, abundant with rivers, ravines and lakes, you can enjoy beautiful scenery within a short distance of major cities. The Shirakami-Sanchi Mountains in Aomori and Akita Prefectures and Yakushima in Kagoshima Prefecture have even been designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. There are also 28 national parks where the natural environment is protected. Furthermore, since Japan is a nation of islands surrounded by seas on all sides, you can enjoy the picturesque coastline from many parts of the country. In fact, in subtropical Okinawa, majestic ocean resorts with coral reefs and spectacular beaches stand their ground with first class ocean resorts worldwide.

Q: Where can I watch Sumo wrestling tournaments? How can I buy tickets?

A: You can find the schedule, locations, and how to buy tickets in [Sumo Tournaments] of this site.

Q: Please tell me about Japan's largest fresh market, "Tsukiji Fish Market."

A: You can get details in Tokyo Central Wholesale Market [Fish Market] of this site.

Q: Are there any aquariums in the Tokyo area?

A: You can find the addresses, directions, admission details, and other information in [in Tokyo & Vicinity] of this site.

Q: Please tell me about the Izu Island chain.

A: Please refer to [Chain Islands] of this site.

Q: I am interested in Japanese modern architecture. Are there any works from architects like "Tadao Ando," "Kisho Kurokawa" and "Arata Isozaki" in the Tokyo area?

A: You can find the names and addresses of the buildings sorted by architect in [by Major Architects] of this site.

Q: Where and when can we visit antique or flea markets?

A: You can find the addresses and directions to the markets in Tokyo in [Markets in Tokyo & its Vicinity] of this site.

Q: I heard that there were stores where you can buy everything from stationery, kitchen goods, and tableware to books and CDs with just 100 yen!

A: These stores are known as "100-yen Shops" and you can find chain stores such as "Can Do" or "The Daiso" everywhere in Japan. For the stores located in Tokyo, please refer to [Yen Shop Information] of this site.

General Information

Q: I hear that many Japanese people still wear kimonos as regular clothing. Is this true?

A: Until approximately 130 years ago, most Japanese men and women wore kimonos as their everyday clothes. However, around that time, Western clothes gradually became popular with Japanese people. By 1925, Western clothes were commonly worn by many Japanese citizens. Business suits were the norm for male company employees and female working women started to wear Western-style clothes in the office. Some people even wore Western clothes at home.

Nowadays, most Japanese people wear kimonos for ceremonies such as weddings or on other special occasions. Business suits are generally worn as business attire, but other than this, Japanese wear typical Western casual wear — such as T-shirts, polo shirts, sweaters and jeans, which are all popular.

Q: Do Japanese people eat sushi every day?

A: It is true that sushi is a typical and popular Japanese dish (particularly in the West), and many Japanese people like it. But Japanese people don't eat sushi every day. Sushi is not even a common Japanese everyday food.

In their everyday life, many Japanese people eat food that contains fish and vegetables as essential ingredients, but Japanese also eat Western food such as spaghetti, hamburgers, and beefsteak for their regular meals. You can find many fast food restaurants, such as hamburger establishments in Japan, and in big cities such as Tokyo, there are restaurants serving a variety of international cuisine. You can safely say that the Japanese diet is as rich or even richer in variety as that of other nations of the world.

Q: Are there samurai in today's Japan?

A: The samurai were members of a powerful class of warriors who mastered martial arts and were engaged in military affairs. The samurai class ruled Japan until about 140 years ago, but in today's Japan there are no samurai.

The origin of the samurai dates back to the middle of the Heian period (794-1192), when powerful clans of farmers and military officers, who had guarded noblemen and their residences, were reclassified into the samurai class. Soon after this time, the samurai class grew powerful. In 1192, the first Samurai-run government was established in Kamakura, and the samurai class ruled the nation for over 680 years until the Meiji Restoration of 1867.

As the world has seen via the Hollywood production, "The Last Samurai" starring Tom Cruise, samurai warriors are popular subjects for movies, TV dramas and shows.

Q: What are geisha?

A: Geisha are women whose profession is to entertain guests in a tatami-matted room at Japanese-style restaurants and other similar establishments. They perform traditional Japanese arts such as dancing, playing the shamisen (a three-stringed Japanese musical instrument), and playing/singing musical accompaniments. Geishas can be 18 to 80 years old. An apprentice geisha is called Maiko in Kyoto and Hangyoku in Tokyo. It is believed that there are fewer than 10,000 geisha in Japan today, so certainly, not all Japanese women are geisha.

Some people can form the wrong impression of a geisha’s occupation, because geisha are women while their guests are usually men, but it is true that geisha are purely professional artistes who entertain guests by performing traditional arts.

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