If you are a citizen of one of the over 50 countries with which Japan has concluded a general visa exemption arrangement, you require only a valid passport to enter Japan as a temporary visitor. Otherwise, you need to apply for a visa before coming to Japan. Temporary visitors from most countries are allowed to stay in Japan for up to 90 days. Please contact your closest Japanese embassy or consulate to make sure that you have all the required documents before traveling to Japan. Travelers who change airplanes or ships in Japan, may be eligible for a transit visa, which allows them to enter Japan for up to 15 days, before proceeding to their final destination outside of Japan. All foreign tourists in Japan are required to carry their passports with them at all times. There are no inoculations required for entering Japan.
Narita Airport, formally known as New Tokyo International Airport, has been handling most of Tokyo's international air traffic since its opening in 1978. It is located in the city of Narita in Chiba Prefecture, about 60 km outside of Tokyo. There are various ways to get from Narita to Tokyo:
The Narita Express connects the airport with Central Tokyo (Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro), the Tokyo Tama region, Yokohama and Saitama. It is a comfortable train exclusively for travelers to and from the airport.
Some trains on the Rapid Sobu Line operate from and to Narita Airport. They connect the airport with Tokyo Station and Yokohama. Unlike the NEX, the Rapid Sobu Line is a normal commuter train that stops at several stations between the airport and Tokyo and can become very crowded during rush hours.
The Keisei Skyliner connects the airport with Ueno Station in Central Tokyo. It is a comfortable train exclusively for travelers to and from the airport.
Besides the Skyliner, Keisei operates several slower trains between Narita Airport and Ueno. Some are local trains that stop at every station, while others are rapid trains that stop only at a few stations. The Limited Express is the fastest among them. Unlike the Skyliner, these trains are normal commuter trains that can become very crowded during rush hours.
The Keikyu Airport Limited Express connects Narita Airport with Central Tokyo (Asakusa, Shimbashi, Shinagawa) and Haneda Airport, Tokyo's second airport. Between Narita Airport and Shinagawa, the trains operate on the Keisei Line and Asakusa Subway Line. A transfer of trains is usually necessary at Aoto Station.
Many different bus companies offer connections to various places in the Tokyo area and neighbouring prefectures, including direct connections to major hotels. Buses typically take a little bit more time to get into Tokyo than the above listed airport trains.
Because Narita Airport is located about 60 km outside of Tokyo, a taxi ride into Central Tokyo would be extremely expensive and is not recommended for budget-minded travelers.
Kansai International Airport is Japan's second most important international airport. Located on a man-made island about 50 km south of Osaka, Kansai International Airport was opened in 1994 as the country's first 24-hour airport. It handles international and domestic flights. Kansai Airport has only one terminal building. Various train and bus lines connect the airport with the nearby cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe and surroundings. A direct high-speed ferry connection to Kobe was discontinued in 2002.
Red Maple tree in Kyoto, Japan
The temperature rarely drops below 0C in the plains along the Pacific coast during wintertime. It is also quite dry and very often sunny. Central Japan and Northern Japan offer excellent winter sports facilities. Southern Japan is comparatively mild and pleasant in winter. Clothing: overcoats, wool sweaters, etc.
When the plum blossoms emerge to mark the winter's end, spring is just around the corner, followed by the cherry blossom, always a highlight in the Tokyo area between the end of March and the beginning of April. Splendid panoramas of mountains, fields and gardens all coated in soft pink petals greet visitors during this season. Clothing: light jackets and sweaters.
The Japanese summer begins in June with a three to four week rainy season. This is planting time for rice farmers. It becomes hot and humid from July onward thus, many Japanese enjoy the seaside and relaxing at cool mountain resorts. Summer is when many interesting festivals and events are celebrated throughout the country. Clothing: lightweight clothing (cardigans are handy, since indoors are mostly air-conditioned.)
Autumn is always refreshing with light breezes and cool temperatures, especially so, after the hot and humid summer. All forests are painted in glorious autumn colors. Autumn is also the season for many exhibitions, music concerts and sports tournaments in Japan. Clothing: light jackets and sweaters.
Heron dance at Gion Matsuri, Japan
The Japanese currency is the Yen. One yen is equal to 100 sen. (Sen are not used anymore.) Coins come in denominations of 1 Yen, 5 Yen, 10 Yen, 50 Yen, 100 Yen and 500 Yen. Bills come in denominations of 1,000 Yen, 2,000 Yen (very rare), 5,000 Yen and 10,000 Yen.
Vending machines usually accept 10 Yen, 50 Yen, 100 Yen and 500 Yen coins, as well as 1,000 Yen bills. Some newer machines also accept 5,000 Yen and 10,000 Yen bills.
Japanese banks offer automatic teller machines (ATM) and cash dispensers (CD). At ATMs, one can pay, withdraw, deposit and transfer money and pay bills, while at CDs it is usually only possible to withdraw money. Most ATMs and CDs are unavailable on weekends and during the night, however, the number of 24-hour ATMs is increasing. The machines found in convenience stores, for example, are often available around the clock. As a traveler in Japan, be aware that most Japanese ATMs do not accept foreign credit cards. Only the international ATMs found in post offices, in a few major department stores and airports accept foreign credit, and debit cards. In a recent development, most of the over 20,000 post offices in Japan have converted their ATMs into international ones which now accept foreign Visa, Plus, MasterCard, Eurocard, Maestro, Cirrus, American Express, Diners and JCB cards. In addition, these ATMs offer visual and audible instructions in English (with the audible ones being often loud enough for the whole post office to understand).
Credit cards are widely accepted throughout Japan. Regarding Travelers Checks: Japanese yen or US dollars are the most practical for transactions with establishments such as major hotels and banks authorized to exchange foreign currency.
UTC / GMT (+9 hours) No Daylight Saving Time is practiced in Japan.
Some main post offices are open seven days a week. Most department stores are closed for two to three weekdays a month. Most museums close on Mondays.
The number of public phones appears to be decreasing due to the popularity of mobile phones, but they are still numerous. Local calls are possible from any public phone, but international calls can only be made from certain phones. Telephone cards, which can be used to pay for calls, are sold at kiosks and vending machines.
Currently, you will find mainly three types of public telephones: Green and grey phones are the most common public phones. International calls are possible from some of them. Coins and phone cards can be used. Orange phones are the newest type of public phones and have become quite common. International calls are possible, and coins and IC cards can be used.
There are a number of companies that rent or sell cell phones to visitors to Japan. Note that cellular phones from your home country are likely not to work in Japan due to different technologies used.
The voltage throughout Japan is 100 Volt, which is different from North America (110V), Central Europe (220V) and most other regions. Japanese electrical plugs have two pins and fit into North American outlets. Some North American made equipment will work just fine in Japan without an adapter, however, caution should be taken with sensitive equipment. The frequency of electric current is 50 Hertz in Eastern Japan (including Tokyo, Yokohama, Tohoku, Hokkaido) and 60 Hertz in Western Japan (including Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Shikoku, Kyushu). This frequency difference affects only sensitive equipment.
There is only one official language spoken in Japan, which is of course Japanese. Many Japanese are able to understand English to a certain extent since English is the foreign language that everyone must learn as part of compulsory education. Even if you do not understand Japanese, making an attempt to speak a few words will make a big difference.
The Japanese have assimilated a western style of dress for the most part. Traditional attire is likely to be used for formal celebrations, performances, weddings etc.
New Year at Heian Shrine, Kyoto, Japan
Japan has an efficient public transportation network, especially within metropolitan areas and between large cities. Japanese public transportation is characterized by its punctuality, superb service, and the large crowds of people using it. Rail is the preferred method of transportation. The options are many and range from economical commuter trains to high speed bullet trains. Special rail pass opportunities exist for tourists. Domestic air travel is comprehensive and efficient. Rental cars are available. Taxis and busses are numerous.
The nationwide emergency phone numbers are:
JHelp.com is a 24-hour non-profit emergency assistance service dedicated to the international community.
Medical facilities and health care in Japan are well established. You can expect a high standard of medical attention, should you have a problem with your health during your stay. Be sure your medical insurance coverage is adequate for your intended stay.