Internet cafés インターネットカフェ can be found in or around many train stations. Here, you can upload your pictures from a digital camera, and if you forgot your cable, some cafés will lend you a memory card reader for free. Manga coffee shops 漫画喫茶 manga-kissa usually have Internet PCs as well. When you get tired of browsing the web, you can browse comic books, watch TV or a variety of movies-on-demand, or play video games. The cost is typically around ¥400/hour, with free non-alcoholic drinks, and possibly more. Often they have special night fares: around ¥1500 for the 4-5 hour period when no trains are running. Internet cafés can be a safe and inexpensive place to spend the night if you miss the last train.
Some larger train stations and airports also have rental PCs to surf and send e-mail, usually about ¥100 coin for 10 min.
A number of business hotels have Internet access available if you have your own computer, sometimes for free. In most cases, access is usually provided by a VDSL modem connected to the hotel telephone system. Some of the hotels that offer free Internet access do not include the rental for the modem in the "free" part of the service, so check before you use. Setting up your network interface for DHCP is usually all that is required to gain access to the Internet in such situations. Many also tend to have rental or free PC's available for hotel guests.
When using public access PC's, the Alt-Shift keys pressed together typically switch between Japanese and Roman input methods. If you accidentally switch the input method or if the last person left the computer this way and you are looking to type in English, you can use this key combination to switch back to the Roman alphabet. There may also be a language-switch key at the top left of the keyboard - above the Tab key and to the right of the space bar. If you hit one by accident, just hit it again to switch back. For email, note that the @ key is usually on the right side of the keyboard, next to the 'P'.
It is also possible to find Wi-Fi "hot spots" around many large cities in Japan, especially near tech-related businesses and large corporate buildings with unsecured wireless networks the Apple store in Ginza, Tokyo has a fast, open 802.11n connection.
3G Wireless Data is available, and if you have international data roaming, you should roam with no problem. GPRS does not work in Japan. Please see the section on mobile phones for additional information including phone/data card compatibility. Remember, the same restrictions on phones apply to 3G Data.
Pocket WiFi is another affordable option for people wanting to use their WiFi enabled devices smartphone, iPhone, iPad, laptops etc. A Pocket WiFi device is about the size of a Zippo lighter and fits in your pocket or bag. It makes available a mobile wifi hotspot you can connect your devices to. Recently NINJA WIFI, which is a WiFi rental service for foreign tourist, is released. Internet service is available anywhere and anytime in Japan where WiFi environment is not so good. Book on the website and pick up all international airport in Japan or by delivery service.
All other nationalities must obtain a "temporary visitor" visa prior to arrival, which is generally valid for a stay of 90 days. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains an online Guide to Japanese Visas. No visa is required for a same-day transit between international flights at the same airport, so long as you do not leave the secured area.
All foreigners except those on government business and certain permanent residents at the age of 16 and over are electronically fingerprinted and photographed as part of immigration entry procedures. This may be followed by a short interview conducted by the immigration officer. Entry will be denied if any of these procedures are refused.
As of 2012, a new system is in place for foreigners staying for longer than 90 days where a Residence Card is issued at the port of entry, but the system currently applies only to arrivals at Narita, Chubu, Kansai, and Haneda airports. Arrival at other ports of entry will require that a residence card be obtained in a manner similar to the former alien registration system and a stamp will be placed in your passport to note this. Under the rules in place as of 2012, a re-entry permit no longer needs to be held, in most cases, for temporary stays of less than one year outside Japan. However, the Residence Card needs to be surrendered upon the final departure from Japan. Previously issued Certificates of Alien Registration gaijin cards are still valid until expiration or 8 July 2015.
A customs issue that trips up some unwary travellers is that some over-the-counter medications, notably pseudoephedrine Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers and codeine some cough medications are prohibited in Japan. Some prescription medicines mostly strong painkillers are also banned even if you have a prescription unless you specifically apply for permission in advance. You may also require permission in order to import drug-filled syringes, such as EpiPens and the like. Ignorance is not considered an excuse, and you can expect to be jailed and deported if caught. See Japan Customs (http://www.customs.go.jp/...) for details, or check with the nearest Japanese embassy or consulate.
Once in Japan, you must carry your passport or Alien Registration Card or Residence Card, if applicable with you at all times. If caught in a random check without it and nightclub raids are not uncommon, you'll be detained until somebody can fetch it for you. First offenders who apologize are usually let off with a warning, but theoretically you can be fined up to ¥200,000.
Citizens of all former soviet countriesExcept Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania who cannot provide necessary financial guarantees and get a visa on your own must apply through a tourist company or resident in Japan.
Citizens of the Philippines and Vietnam who are traveling with a group through a registered Japanese travel agency can get a tourist visa good for up to 15 days.
Some features of Japan's toilets are worth mentioning. As elsewhere in Asia, you will find both Western-style porcelain thrones for sitting and floor-level units for squatting. If you're unfamiliar with these, it's simple: pull your pants down to your knees, and squat facing the curved hood of the toilet. Get closer to the hood than it looks like you need to, or else you might miss.
In private homes and home-style accommodations, you will often find toilet slippers, which are to be worn inside the toilet and only inside the toilet.
However, most visitors come away impressed by the undeniable fact that Japan is the world's leader in toilet technology. Over half of Japan's homes are equipped with high-tech devices known as washlets ウォシュレット, which incorporate all sorts of handy features like seat warmers, hot air dryers and tiny robotic arms that squirt water. The device is operated via a control panel and may incorporate over 30 buttons all labeled in Japanese at first glance bearing more resemblance to a Space Shuttle navigation panel than your average WC.
Don't panic — help is at hand. The first key to solving the puzzle is that the actual flush mechanism is usually not operated by the control panel: instead, there is a standard, familiar, Western-style lever, switch or knob somewhere and it is thus entirely possible to take care of your business without ever using the washlet features. In rare cases, mostly with very high-end gear, flushing is integrated; if lifting your bottom off the seat doesn't do the trick, look for buttons labeled 大 or 小, meaning a big or small flush respectively, on a wireless control panel on the wall. The second key to exploration is that there is always a big red button labeled 止 on the panel — pressing this will instantly stop everything. Older models simply have a lever nearby that controls the flow of a sprayer.
Armed with this knowledge you can now begin to dig deeper. Typical controls include the following:
Oshiri おしり - "buttocks", for spraying your rear - typically shown in blue with a stylized butt icon; this action can be unnerving, but travellers should not be afraid - by the second or third attempt it will seem normal
Bidet ビデ - for spraying your front - typically shown in pink with a female icon
Kansō 乾燥 - "dry", for drying off when finished - typically yellow with a wavy air icon
Other, smaller buttons can be used to adjust the exact pressure, angle, location and pulsation of the jet of water. Sometimes the seat of the toilet is heated, and this can also be regulated. One explanation is that since houses are not usually centrally heated, the toilet business can be made a little more convenient by heating the seat. To be polite and save energy, you should leave the cover down on heated toilet seats.
using people's names
Last name first!As with many East Asian countries, a person's family name comes before his/her given name, opposite of Western names.
However, most Japanese are familiar with Western customs, and will almost always give their name in Western order when speaking with Westerners. So in Japanese they might say, "Watanabe Ken desu," but in English they'll say, "I'm Ken Watanabe."
Names are a complicated matter in Japanese language. Using someone's given name when speaking to or about them is considered very personal, and is only common among grade-school children and very close friends. At all other times, the default is to use family names plus -san, a suffix approximately like "Mr." or "Ms." Most Japanese know that Westerners usually go by their given names, so they may call you "John" or "Mary" with no suffix, but you should still call them "Tanaka-san" to be polite. In the Japanese language, though, names are frequently avoided altogether by using pronouns or just grammatically omitting them.
San is the default name suffix, but you may encounter a few others: -sama people socially above you, from bosses up to deities, as well as customers; -kun young boys, subordinates and good male friends; and -chan young children and close (usually female friends). To avoid being overly familiar or formal, stick with -san until someone asks you to call them differently.
Sentō 銭湯 are public bath houses found in any large city. Intended for people without their own home tub, they are typically quite utilitarian and are slowly dying out as Japan continues its break-neck modernization. Some, however, have gone upmarket and turned into spas スパ supa, which, in Japan, does not mean Balinese huts offering Ayurvedic massage while getting sprinkled with orchids, but public baths for stressed-out salarymen, often with a capsule hotel see Sleep bolted on the side. As you might expect, these come in varying degrees of legitimacy — in particular, beware any place advertising "esthe", "health", or "soap" — but most are surprisingly decent.
gay and lesbian travellers
Japan is considered to be very safe for gay and lesbian travellers, and violence against homosexuals is quite rare. There are no laws against homosexuality in Japan, but same-sex relationships are not recognized by the government, and open displays of your orientation are still likely to draw stares and whispers. In addition, national and regional Japanese law does not say that public accommodations have to be open to gays so don't be surprised if they turn you away.
Shoesand feet in general are considered very dirty by the Japanese. Avoid pointing your soles at anybody such as when sitting on the train and try to restrain children from standing up on seats. Brushing your feet against somebody's clothing, even by accident, is very rude.
The Japanese consider back slaps rude, especially if they're coming from someone they just met. As it is not common practice in Japan, hugging should also be avoided. For Japanese it is typically very awkward and uncomfortable.
Point at people with an open hand, not a finger but pointing this way at things is fine, and tell people to come by waving your hand facing down, not up.
Avoid shouting or talking loudly in public. Talking on a mobile phone on a train is considered rude, and many trains have signs advising you not to use them. Sending text messages, however, is considered de rigueur.
Blowing your nosein public is considered rude, much like flatulence. It is fine to walk around sniffling until you can find a private place to blow your nose.
World War IIis a touchy and complicated topic. Be considerate.
Like in India, China and Taiwan, swastikas are Buddhist symbols representing good luck and do not represent Nazism or anti-Semitism. As such, Western visitors should not feel offended seeing a swastika in Buddhist temples or in their host's home.
things to avoid
Japanese people understand that visitors may not be aware of the intricacies of Japanese etiquette and tend to be tolerant of blunders in this regard by foreigners. There are a few serious etiquette breaches, however, that will meet with universal disapproval, even with foreigners, and they should be avoided at all costs:
Neverwalk on a tatami mat wearing shoes or even slippers. Japanese dwellings and Japanese style hotel rooms will have a genkan, a transitional area. Take your shoes off while standing in the genkan, stepping back onto the boarded area of the floor.
Neverleave your chopsticks standing upright in a bowl of rice as that is how rice is offered to the dead.
Neverenter a bathtub without washing up first. See Bathe for details.
Avoidphysical contact in public. You will not see Japanese people kissing or hugging.
Japan is a country obsessed with cleanliness and health hazards are few and far between. Tap water is potable everywhere and food hygiene standards are very high. There are no communicable diseases of significance, as despite the name, Japanese encephalitis has been almost eradicated.
Some Japanese public toilets do not have toilet paper, although there are often vending machines nearby that sell some at token prices. Do as the Japanese do and use the tissue packets handed out free by advertisers at major train stations.
Though it may be "common sense" for people who have lived in urban areas, many newcomers to Tokyo or Osaka are unfamiliar with life in an extremely congested metropolis, where almost everything they touch has been touched by hundreds of other people that same day. When newcomers to large Japanese cities take no precautions, they may be more susceptible to ordinary illnesses like the common cold. As in any other urban area, when in a large Japanese city like Tokyo or Osaka, wash your hands with soap and water as often as possible, especially after travelling on public transportation and before meals.
Be sure to bring a small umbrella for the frequent rainy days. Don't rely too much on the weather forecasts, especially from a day or two ago. Then again, if you forget, you can always go into the nearest convenience store and pick one up for ¥500.
Japan has its share of dirty areas. In cities, because of the sheer magnitude of traffic, the streets and curbs are just as dirty as anywhere. The obsession of cleanliness and removing shoes before entering someone's home makes sense because of the conditions of the outer world.
If you do become ill with a cold or other sickness, purchase a mouth covering, cloth surgical mask. You will find that people frequently wear these out on trains and on the job. This filters your sneezing and coughing so you do not transmit to others.
Passive smoking is a major health hazard in nearly all Japanese restaurants and public areas; this includes Multi-national food chains as well as local eateries. Non-smoking areas are not often provided and are sometimes substandard if they are.
Medical facilities in Japan are largely on par with the West, and the better known hospitals are usually equipped with the most cutting edge medical technology. However, few doctors can communicate in English. Better known hospitals in the major cities are more likely to be staffed by doctors who can speak English.
For travel notices and tips to stay healthy before travelling, visit the CDC's page for Japan.
Bathing is a big deal in Japan, and be it a scenic onsen hot spring, a neighhourbood sentō bath or just an ordinary household tub, bathing Japanese style is a pleasure. Japanese wax lyrical about the joys of hot water 湯 yu and dub even the ordinary tub with a honorific お風呂 o-furo, and a visit to a Japanese hot spring — marked as ♨ on maps — should be on the agenda of every visitor.
There are lots of ATMs, but not all accept foreign cards. Post Offices mostly have extremely efficient ATMs. Outside business hours, the ubiquitous 7-11 stores have their own bank with tolerant ATMs. In major metropolitan centers, Citi Bank ATMs are often available and allow withdrawal of as little as ¥2000.
Foreign credit cards are accepted mostly at major hotels and some stores in Tokyo, however, most Japanese stores will not be able to run them. It is advised that cash is kept on your persons at all times.
See also: Japanese phrasebook
The National language of Japan is Japanese, although Japan has no Official Language. Most Japanese under 40 have studied English for at least 6 years, but the instruction tends to focus on formal grammar and writing rather than actual conversation. As a result, outside of major tourist attractions and establishments that cater specifically to foreigners, it is rare to find people who are conversant in English. Reading and writing tends to come much better though, and many younger Japanese are able to understand a great deal of written English despite not being able to speak it. If lost, it can be practical to write out a question on paper in simple words and give it to someone young, preferably high school or college students, who will likely be able to point you in the right direction. It can also be helpful to carry a hotel business card or matchbook with you, to show a taxi driver or someone if you lose your way. Take comfort in the fact that many Japanese will go to extraordinary lengths to understand what you want and to help you, and try to pick up at least basic greetings and thank yous to put people at ease.
Japanese is a language with several distinct dialects, although standard Japanese hyōjungo 標準語, which is based on the Tokyo dialect, is taught in schools and known by most people throughout the country. The slang-heavy dialect of the Kansai region is particularly famous in Japanese pop culture. On the southern islands of Okinawa, many dialects of the closely related Ryukyuan languages are spoken, mostly by the elderly, while in northern Hokkaido a rare few still speak Ainu.
Japanese is written using a convoluted mix of three different scripts: kanji 漢字 or Chinese characters, together with "native" hiragana ひらがな and katakana カタカナ syllabaries, which were in fact derived from Chinese characters more than one thousand years ago. However, hiragana and katakana do not carry the meaning of the original Chinese characters they were derived from and are simply phonetic characters. There are thousands of kanji in everyday use and even the Japanese spend years learning them, but the kana have only 50 syllables each and can be learned with a reasonable amount of effort. Of the two, katakana are probably more useful for the visitor as they are used to write words of foreign origin other than Chinese, and thus can be used to figure out words like basu バス, bus, kamera カメラ, camera or konpyūtā コンピューター, computer. However, some words like terebi テレビ, television, depāto デパート, department store, wāpuro ワープロ, word processor and sūpā スーパー, supermarket may be harder to figure out. Knowing Chinese will also be a great head start for tackling kanji, but not all words mean what they seem: 大家 Mandarin Chinese: dàjiā, Japanese: ōya, "everybody" to the Chinese, means "landlord" in Japan!
Japanese are understanding of the funny ways of foreigners, but there's one rule where no exceptions are made: you have to wash yourself and rinse off all foam before entering the bath. The water in the tub will be reused by the next person, and the Japanese consider it disgusting to soak in someone else's dirt! Basically, wash up as well as you hope the guy next to you has done.
Be it a fancy onsen or a barebones sentō, the choreography of an entire visit goes roughly as follows:
Shared bathing areas are usually sex-segregated, so look for the characters "man" 男 and "woman" 女 to pick the correct entrance. Men's baths also typically have blue curtains, while women's are red. Enter the changing room, leaving shoes or slippers at the doorway; at public baths there may be keyed lockers.
At public baths sentō, you either pay the attendant directly often through the changing room entrance, and it's almost always a woman, or use a vending machine in the entrance to buy tickets for entry and extra items such as towels or soap, which you then give to the attendant. On vending machines, look near the top for the Japanese words for "adult" 大人 otona and "child" 子供 kodomo. If the vending machine is too difficult to figure out, you can probably walk in and say sumimasen ("excuse me" to the attendant and accomplish the rest by gesturing.)
Inside the changing room, there will be rows of clothes lockers or baskets. Pick a locker and undress completely, placing all your garments in the basket. Be sure to place your valuables in lockers, if there are any, and take the key with you into the bath.
You'll be given a teeny-weeny washcloth for free, or sometimes a token fee. It's not particularly good for covering your privates it's too small and it's not much use for drying off, either. Larger towels are available, again sometimes for a fee; men should leave these in the changing room and take only their washcloth, but women can use these to wrap up with. If you'd like one, ask the attendant for a taoru.
After removing your clothes and entering the bathing area, take a little stool and a bucket, sit down at a faucet, and clean yourself really, really well. Shampoo your hair, soap your entire body, repeat. Rinse all foam off once clean. Try not to leave the water running, or get water on other people.
Only now can you enter the bath tub. Do so slowly, as the water can often be very hot indeed; if it's unbearable, try another tub. If you do manage to get in, don't let your washcloth touch the water, as it's considered mildly bad form; you may wish to fold it atop your head, or just lay it aside. When sufficiently cooked, you may wash yourself once again if you're so inclined and repeat the process in reverse; it's fine to save washing your hair for after the bath, too, if you prefer. At natural hot springs, though, you shouldn't rinse off the bath water, which is full of minerals that the Japanese consider healthy folk medicine.
Note that the bath is for soaking and light conversation; don't roughhouse, submerge your head, or make a lot of noise. Japanese people may be a bit wary of foreigners in the bath, mostly because they're afraid you'll try to talk to them in English and they'll be embarrassed that they can't communicate with you. Just give them a token nod/bow, say ohayo gozaimasu, konnichiwa, or konbanwa depending on the time of day, and wait to see if they're interested in talking to you.
After your bath is finished, you can nearly always find a relaxation lounge 休憩室 kyūkeishitsu, inevitably equipped with a beer vending machine nearby. Feel free to sprawl out in your yukata, sip beer, talk with friends, take a nap.
things to do
Learn a little of the language, and try to use it. They will be complimentary if you try, and there is no reason to be embarrassed. They realize that Japanese is very difficult for foreigners and are tolerant about your mistakes; on the contrary, they will like you more for trying.
Bowingmen bow with their hands to their sides. Women bow with their hands together in front. Women's hands look like they are settled in their lap when bowing not in a prayer position such as the Waii in Thailand. The exact degree of the bow depends on your position in society relative to the receiver of the bow and on the occasion: the largely unwritten rules are complex, but for foreigners, a "token bow" is fine. Many Japanese will, in fact, gladly offer a handshake instead.
When you are handing something to someone, especially a business card, it is considered polite to present it holding it with both hands.
When you are drinking sake or beer in a group, it is considered polite not to fill your own glass but to allow someone else to do it. Typically, glasses are refilled well before they are empty. To be especially polite, hold up your own glass with both hands while one of your companions fills it. It is rude to eat or drink outside or while walking down the sidewalk.
Gift-givingis very common in Japan. You, as a guest, may find yourself inundated with gifts and dinners. Foreign guests are, of course, outside of this sometimes burdensome system of give-and-take kashi-kari, but it would be a nice gesture to offer a gift or souvenir omiyage, including one unique to or representative of your country. A gift that is "consumable" is advisable due to the smaller size of Japanese homes. Items such as soap, candies, alcohol, stationery will be well-received as the recipient will not be expected to have it on hand on subsequent visits. "Re-gifting" is a common and accepted practice, even for items such as fruit. If opening a wrapped present do not tear or damage the paper.
Expressing gratitudeis slightly different from obligatory gift-giving. Even if you brought a gift for your Japanese host, once you return, it is a sign of good etiquette to send a handwritten thank-you card: it will be much appreciated. Japanese guests always exchange photos that they have taken with their hosts so you should expect to receive some snapshots and should prepare to send yours of you and your hosts together back to them. Depending on their age and the nature of your relationship business or personal, an online exchange may suffice.
The elderlyare given special respect in Japanese society, and they are used to the privileges that come with it. Note that certain seats "silver seats" on many trains are set aside for the disabled and the elderly.
If visiting a Shinto shrine or a Buddhist temple, follow the appropriate cleansing procedure at the chōzuya 手水舎 before you enter. After filling the dippers with water, rinse your left hand, then your right hand. Thereafter, cup your left hand and fill it with water, using it to rinse your mouth. Do not touch the dipper directly with your mouth. Finally, rinse your left hand again with the water remaining in the dipper.
There are not many trash cans in public; you may have to carry around your trash for a while before finding one. When you do, you'll often see 4 to 6 of them together; Japan is very conscious of recycling. Most disposable containers are labelled with a recycling symbol in Japanese indicating what type of material it is. Some types of recycling bins you'll often see are: Paper 紙 kami PET/Plastic ペット petto or プラ pura Bottles and cans ビン・カン bin, kan Burnable trash もえるゴミ moeru gomi Non-burnable trash もえないゴミ moenai gomi
Most if not all Japanese are very understanding of a foreigner gaijin or gaikokujin who does not conform instantly to their culture; indeed, the Japanese like to boast with debatable credibility that their language and culture are among the most difficult to understand in the world, so they are generally quite happy to assist you if you appear to be struggling. However, Japanese will appeciate it if you follow at least the following rules, many of which boil down to social norms of strict cleanliness and avoiding intruding on others 迷惑 meiwaku.
For everyday dress as a tourist, you are already at a disadvantage: no matter how you dress, you will stand out next to throngs of salarymen in suits and gradeschoolers in uniforms. And keeping track of Japan's rapidly-changing fashions is far too much work for a tourist.
First and foremost: wear shoes that you can slip off easily, as you may be doing this several times a day. Athletic shoes are perfectly acceptable; just lace them very loosely so you can get in and out of them without using your hands. Sandals and flip-flops are uncommon; when you do see them, they are usually zōri sandals made from straw, resembling tatami.
Shorts are also uncommon, even in summer, and are very touristy; you'll blend in better in a pair of trendy jeans and an unbuttoned dress shirt over a T-shirt preferably one with big loud text, or abstract images. While we're at it, don't trudge around town with a big backpack like some kind of urban camper; you will stand out very badly, your backpack will get in everyone's way including your own, and it's just inconsiderate.
Young Japanese females often dress in a manner that could be considered quite sexually provocative by Western standards, even during the daytime. This style of dress is not necessarily expected of foreign women but is not likely to be frowned upon either, so wearing what one is most comfortable with should suffice. Be warned however that exposed cleavage is virtually never seen in Japan and could attract a lot of wandering eyes, and even bare shoulders are frowned upon.
In business, suits are still the standard at most companies unless you know otherwise. Plan to wear your suit into the evening for drinks and entertainment.
Although everyone bathes naked at hot springs, for the beach or pool, you still need a bathing suit of some kind. Swim trunks or speedos for men are fine, but long boardshorts will stand out. If you will be using a pool, you will likely be required to have a swimming cap as well.
Racial discrimination in Japan is legal. Although violent attacks against foreigners in Japan are almost unheard of, there is discrimination against foreigners in employment. Even Western visitors have been refused entrance into certain onsen and restaurants, especially in rural areas. Some apartments, motels, night clubs, and public baths in Japan have been known to put up signs stating that foreigners are not allowed or that they must be accompanied by a Japanese person to enter. Such places are rare, however, and many Japanese claim that the prohibitions are due to perceived social incompatibility for example, foreigners may not understand proper bathhouse etiquette and not racism. However, there is still significant discrimination against non-white foreigners, especially Asians and black people.
Banks are often reluctant or unwilling to give cash advances to foreigners, stemming mainly from stereotypes of untrustworthiness. If you need to get a cash advance from your bank, care of a Japanese bank, Japanese language proficiency, or a Japanese friend to vouch for you will strongly help your case.
Volcanoes, storms and typhoons are primarily a potential issue if you are mountain-climbing or sailing, so check the latest information before heading out. Stick to designated footpaths in volcanic areas as volcanic gas may be an issue. Typhoons are rarely physically dangerous, but they still wreak havoc with planes, ferrys, and even if there are landslides trains and buses schedules.
There are venomous snakes called habu in Okinawa although not in unusual numbers. You are unlikely to be bitten by one, but if you are, seek medical help immediately as antivenoms are available. If you are hiking in Hokkaido and Honshu, be aware of possible bear activity, especially in autumn. Attacks are rare, but in areas such as the Shiretoko Peninsula, attach bells to your backpack to scare them away.
Especially in the countryside, be aware of the Asian giant hornet; it is about 5cm 2 in long and can sting repeatedly and painfully. Every year, 20-40 people die in Japan after being stung by giant hornets. A hornet defending its nest or feeding spot will make a clicking sound to warn away intruders; if you encounter one, retreat. If you are stung, receive prompt medical attention, as prolonged exposure to the venom could cause permanent damage or even death.
Japan is prone to earthquakes. On 11 March 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Miyagi prefecture, triggering a very large tsunami and bringing havoc to the city of Sendai and the surrounding area. The quake and its aftershocks were palpable throughout Japan, with the death toll numbering over 15,000, mostly due to the tsunami. The previous large quake hit Kobe in 1995 and killed over 5000. Every few days, somewhere in Japan is rattled by a quake large enough to be felt, but most of them are completely harmless. Even though electronic devices are now being introduced to detect earthquakes both the earthquake intensity and the amount of seconds it will take for the tremors to reach a certain location, be aware of a few basic safety procedures:
Do not put heavy objects in high places, especially above your bed.
If you are indoors and you feel a strong shake, the standard advice is that you are far safer if you stay indoors: falling roof tiles and masonry outside usually present the deadliest hazard.
While it is extremely important to extinguish all flames burners, candles, etc. immediately if you have time, be aware that your immediate danger is from falling objects and toppling furniture. Be aware of what is above you and shelter under furniture or a doorway if necessary.
If you are indoors and feel a large shake, try to open up the door or a window as soon as possible and keep it open by using something such as a doorstop in case it jams. Again, keep in mind that your immediate danger is from falling objects and toppling furniture.
If you are outdoors, stay away from brick walls, glass panels and vending machines, and beware of falling objects, telegraph cables, etc. Falling roof tiles from older and traditional buildings are particularly dangerous, as they can drop long after the quake has ended.
If you are by the sea and experience even a moderate quake, keep an eye out for tsunami warnings also in English on NHK TV channel 1 and Radio 2 693kHz which should be on-air within minutes of the quake. Most tremors and small quakes will merit only a scrolling announcement in Japanese at the bottom of the screen, as they are not considered particularly newsworthy; more serious quakes and tsunami warnings will be displayed as a full-screen hazard map. If you are near the sea and experience a major earthquake, evacuate to high ground immediately: do not wait for a warning.
Know exactly where your passport, travel tickets, documents, credit cards, and money are and take them with you if you leave the building as you may not be able to go back in.
Every neighborhood has an evacuation area, most often the local playground. Many schools are set up as temporary shelters. Both of these will be labeled in English. If you are travelling with others, plan to meet there and be aware that portable telephones will likely not work.
Payphones 公衆電話 kōshū denwa are easily found, particularly near train stations, although with the popularity of mobile phones, public pay phones are not quite as numerous as they once were. Gray and green pay phones accept ¥10 and ¥100 coins and prepaid cards. Be aware that not all places with public telephones have phones that accept coins, so it may be worthwhile to buy a phone card for emergency use. Some of the gray phones, as indicated on the display, can make international calls. Pre-paid cards can be purchased at convenience stores, train station kiosk stores and sometimes in vending machines next to the phone. International phone charges from pay phones can be unusually high; third-party phone cards are a reasonable alternative.
Modern Japanese mobile phones 携帯電話 keitai denwa or just keitai tend to operate on unique cellular standards not always compatible with the rest of the world. For instance, most Japanese 2G mobile phones operate on the Personal Digital Cellular PDC standard, which was developed and is used exclusively in Japan. In a nutshell:
If your phone is up to spec, double-check with your carrier if they have a roaming agreement with either SoftBank or NTT DoCoMo. Coverage is generally excellent, unless you are heading to some remote mountainous areas.
If you have no 3G phone but still have a 3G-compatible SIM card, you can rent a 3G phone in Japan and slot in your card, allowing you to keep your home phone number in Japan. Carrier restrictions may apply: for instance, O2-UK operating in Japan via NTT DoCoMo requires you to dial *111*#, wait for a callback; then, dial the actual number you wish to connect. Be sure to double-check with your network provider before departing.
Options available to you are summed up in this table:
|SIM card||Phone||Roaming||SIM rental||Phone rental, home number||Phone rental, Japanese number|
|GSM SIMa||GSM phone||No||No||No||Yes|
|GSM SIMa||3G/UMTS phone||No||Yes||No||Yes|
|GSM/3G USIMb||GSM phone||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|GSM/3G USIMb||3G/UMTS phone||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|None||CDMA phone Verizon/Sprint||Limited||No||No||Yes|
|iDEN||iDEN phone Nextel||No||No||Yes|
a GSM-only SIMs are issued by providers that don't have their own 3G network. If your home operator have no 3G network, or if you got your phone before their 3G network was introduced, this may apply to you. Call and ask your operator if their SIM cards are USIM compatible.
b USIM cards are issued by providers that have a 3G network or plan to introduce one. Any European who got their SIM card after 2003 has one of these. Call and ask your operator if their SIM cards are USIM compatible.
Data roaming works as well subject to the above restrictions, allowing you to use wireless internet on your phone although it can be expensive!. Google Maps on your phone can be invaluable although note that tower positioning does not work.
For a short visit, your cheapest option for mobile access is to rent a phone. A number of companies provide this service.Rental rates and call charges vary, the best one can depend on how long you are renting and how much you will call.
Beware of "free" rental as there is a catch: usually, there are very high call charges.Incoming calls are free in Japan.
|Company||Pickup Locations||Domestic Rates||Link|
|NINJA WIFI||All international airport in Japan should be booked in advance Delivery within Japan||Pocket WiFi rental from ¥900/day+tax.||(http://www.ninjawifi.com/)|
|WIFI-Hire||Airports should be booked in advance Tokyo Shinjuku Delivery within Japan Hong Kong and Taiwan||Pocket WiFi rental from ¥893/day.||(http://www.wifi-hire.com/)|
|eConnect Japan||Delivery within Japan including Narita airport or Kansai airport post office||Prepaid SIM card ¥4100 both U-SIM and micro SIM for 1GB or 30 days. Pocket WiFi rental from ¥980/day up to 55% discount. Smartphone rental from ¥1480/day up to 40% discount.||(http://www.econnectjapan.com)|
|Mobal Communications Inc.||Narita Airport Terminal 1 only.||Free rental meaning there is no expense unless you actually call someone. ¥240/min domestic and international. Very expensive around $3 - have people call you instead, since incoming calls are free. Be careful not to lose the phone or the charger as the company charges horrendous amounts.||(http://www.mobell.co.jp)|
|Rentafone Japan||Delivery overseas and within Japan, including all airports.||¥3,900 up to one week, then ¥300/day. Shipping included. ¥35/min~ domestic. USA ¥45/min. ¥300 for unlimited emailing. You can also use your SIM in the phones. Offers customers a choice of phones.||(http://www.rentafonejapan.com)|
|Japan Mobile Rental||Mobile WiFi Router rentals for your PC and smartphone||¥1,200 per day for unlimited broadband internet Connect up to 5 devices Install Skype on your PC or phone and take advantage of cheap international calling rates Use in virtually any place in Japan Pick-up at our Narita or Kansai Airport counters, or at your hotel.||(http://www.japanmobileren...)|
|SoftBank Global Rental||Narita, Haneda, KIX, Chubu Nagoya, Fukuoka, Shin-Chitose Airports & SoftBank stores. Delivery also possible extra charge.||¥250/day; SIM card: ¥105/day. * ¥105/min domestic. USA ¥105/min. Incoming calls are free. iPhone SIM Rental3GS/4 is available. ¥1,500 per day for iPhone unlimited data communications.||(http://www.softbank-renta...)|
|MyJapanPhone||Delivery within USA or Japan. No airport pick-up.||"Free rental" for the first week, but you must pay for shipping at rather high rates working out at at least $30. After that $2/day. $0.70/min domestic. USA $0.90/min. Incoming calls are free. Extra $10 use email. Service tax of 15% added to final bill. Run from the US by the people who run Panda Phone Chinese phone rental.||(http://www.myjapanphone.com)|
|Telecom Square||Narita, KIX, Chubu Nagoya. Delivery also possible extra charge.||¥525/day. Extra shipping charge of ¥800-1800 if you want the phone delivered.. ¥90/min domestic. USA ¥100/min daytime. Incoming calls are free. ¥315 extra if you want to know the phone number in advance.||(http://www.telecomsquare.co.jp)|
|Air's||Narita Terminal 1 only.||¥200/day ¥100/min domestic NO international calls or ¥160/min omestic and international. Incoming calls are free.||(http://www.air-s.biz/)|
|Global Advanced Communications||Delivery within Japan, including airports.||iPhone ¥8,000/week with unlimited internet access. Delivery charge included. ¥24/min domestic and international. Cell Phone ¥3,500 up to one week, then ¥300/day. ¥18/min domestic. USA ¥16/min using call-back. Data card for laptop ¥4,500/3days with unlimited internet access. Must reserve at least 4 days in advance of arrival. Not open at weekends.||(http://www.globaladvanced...)|
|JCR||Delivery within USA or Japan, including airports.||They have a complicated array of plans, the basic one plan B : $75 up to one week $130 up to two weeks + obligatory insurance $15). Shipping to hotels included; $10 extra to airports. $0.90/min domestic. USA $1.35/min. Run from the US||(http://www.jcrcorp.com)|
|Sally's rental||Delivery within Japan, including airports.||Slow Speed unlimited data SIM rental ¥2,205 for a week. 1GB limited data SIM rental ¥4,935 for a week. LTE WiFi router rental ¥3,885 for a week. They charge the rental fee weekly. All rental products need the shipping charge ¥1,050 or ¥1,575.||(http://www.sallysrental.com/)|
|Blank-WiFi||Delivery within Japan, including airports.||Pocket WiFi rental ¥250/day . iPhone rental ¥800/day Delivery charge , Tax , Mobile Charger fee are included. Must reserve at least 2 days in advance of arrival. Not open at weekends.||(http://blank-wifi.com/)|
Japanese phones have an email address linked to the phone number, and most of the above companies allow you to send and receive emails. Your usual email provider may offer redirection to another email address Gmail does, so that you receive all emails on the cellphone. Beware that companies charge for incoming and outgoing emails.
For a longer trip, you can also purchase a phone, but doing this legally requires an Alien Registration Card or an obliging Japanese friend willing to front for you.
The easier way is to get a prepaid プリペイド phone. Prepaid phones are sold in most SoftBank and au stores NTT DoCoMo does not have prepaid phone services anymore. Stores located in important areas of major cities in Japan often have English-speaking staff to help foreigners, but this should be confirmed prior to visiting the store. If you already have a 3G phone, go with Softbank as it can sell SIMs as opposed to au whose prepaid service is phone-based like most CDMA carriers.
Prepaid phones use a "card" with a pass key to "charge" a phone with minutes. These prepaid calling cards, unlike the phone itself, can be found in most convenience stores.
A prepaid cell phone is available for as little as ¥5000 plus ¥3000 for a 60-90 day call time package, which will get drained at a rate of ¥100 per minute ¥10 per 6 seconds for AU's prepaid service.
Both SoftBank and au offer prepaid phones. Details on pricing, phone models, procedure to get them and can be found on their English websites. For e-mail/text-heavy users Softbank is the better choice due to its introduction of "unlimited mail", which gives unlimited e-mail and text messaging at ¥300/month.
The cheaper way is to get a monthly contract, but for this you'll need proof of longer stay =visa. You can expect to pay around around ¥5000 per month, assuming light calling, but prices are beginning to fall. A cancellation fee may also apply if the contract is terminated early.
Crimes and scams
Police and the lawPolice in Japan may and do detain people up to 23 days before a prosecutor formally files charges, a privilege unrivalled in the Western world except during terrorism investigations. During this period, you may be subjected to nonstop interrogation. You can hire a lawyer only if somebody outside pays the fees in advance. Your lawyer is not allowed to be present during interrogations. Insist on an interpreter and consular access, and do not fingerprint Japanese equivalent of signing anything, especially if you do not fully understand what you sign: if you sign a confession, you will be found guilty at trial.
So how to avoid this unpleasant fate? By far the most common pattern of how foreign tourists end up staring at the cold, yellow walls of a Japanese detention cell is getting drunk first and into a fight, or even near one, later. Standard police procedure is to detain everybody first and to sort out things later. If anybody accuses you of anything even on the flimsiest grounds, you may be looking at an unpleasant extension to your vacation.
Japan is exotic and mysterious; what seems strange and even appealing to you during daytime, can get obnoxious and annoying to you at night, especially with some booze running through your veins, so control your temper and alcohol level. Police patrol party areas heavily at night and they will be willing to "rescue" a fellow Japanese from a violent foreigner.
Street crime is extremely rare, even late at night. Of course, little crime does not mean no crime, and it is no excuse to ditch your common sense. Women travelling alone should take care as they would in their home countries and should never hitchhike alone.
Pickpocketing does sometimes happen: if you take your usual precautions in crowded places such as trains and at Narita Airport, you should be fine. Women on crowded rush-hour trains should be aware of the existence of chikan 痴漢 or molesters. A lot of heavy drinking goes on in the evenings and occasionally drunks may be a nuisance, although alcohol-related violence is extremely rare.
The infamous yakuza ヤクザ Japanese gangsters may have earned a partly undeserved reputation of being a bunch of violent, psychopathic criminals due to their portrayal in various films. However, in reality, they almost never target people not already involved in organized crime. Just do not find trouble with them, and they will not bother you.
Red-light districts in large cities can be seedy but are rarely dangerous for visitors, but some smaller backstreet bars have been known to lay down exorbitant cover charges or drink prices. In some extreme cases, foreigners have reported being drugged at such establishments and then charged for as much as ¥700,000, or close to $7000, for drinks that they do not remember ordering notably in the Roppongi and Kabuki-cho districts of Tokyo. Never go into a place that is suggested by someone that you just met, and you will avoid that problem.
Note that drug laws in Japan are stricter than those in many Western countries. The Japanese do not distinguish between hard and soft drugs, so possession of even personal-use quantities of soft drugs can land you a prison sentence of several years. Do not assume that just because you have a prescription from your home country that you can take it to Japan. If you have prescription drugs, check with the Japanese Embassy prior to your departure to find out whether or not your medicine is allowed in Japan. If it is illegal, they should also be able to give you information regarding what medicines you can buy in Japan to use in place of your prescription while you are there.
Police boxes 交番 kōban can be found on every other street corner. The police are generally helpful although they rarely speak English, so ask if you get lost or have any trouble. They usually have a detailed map of the area around showing not only the difficult-to-understand numbering system but also the names of office or public buildings or other places that help to find your way.
Also, if you carry travel insurance, report any thefts or lost items at the kōban. They have forms in English and Japanese, often referred to as the "Blue Form". For lost items, even cash, filling out this form is not wasted effort, as Japanese people will very often take lost items, even a wallet full of cash, to the kōban. If you happen to find such an item, take it to the kōban. If the item is not claimed within six months, it is yours. If it is claimed, you may be due a reward of 5-15%.
Japan has two emergency numbers. To call the police in an emergency, dial 110 百十番 hyakutoban. To call for an ambulance or fire truck, dial 119 a reversal of the US 911. In Tokyo, the police have an English help line 03-3501-0110, available Monday through Friday except on holidays 08:30-17:15.
Prostitution is illegal in Japan. However, enforcement is lax, and the law specifically defines prostitution as "sex in exchange for money." The most famous red-light district is Kabukicho 歌舞伎町 in Tokyo's Shinjuku district where many call girl booths and love hotels are located. The incidence of HIV is getting higher in Japan in recent years. Some prostitutes will refuse to serve foreign customers, including those who are fluent in Japanese.