Japan is a fascinating archipelago in East Asia that lures travellers from across the globe. This island nation tempts globetrotters with its other-worldly cultural sights, innovative technologies and futuristic fashions. From the hyperactive pace of city life to the tranquil beauty of Naoshima, Japan is an eclectic land that arrests the sensibilities of a curious traveller. Japan is the burgeoning conglomerate of the Pacific Ocean country cherishing its ancient roots and advancing as an economic powerhouse.
Before you depart into the diverse island nation of anime, manga, imperial cities and ancient temples, make sure to plan in advance. Proper preparation may not be as magical as your Japanese daydreams, but it's indispensable. Secure insurance in case your luggage gets lost, and register with the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in case of an emergency. Without requisite preparation, your dream vacation could quickly collapse into a nightmare. Use the following as your travel guide for what to know about travelling to Japan with minimal financial, health and safety risks.
Etiquette & Customs: Expect to take off your shoes before entering a house, inn or even restaurant. You’ll be provided with slippers to wear; however, slippers should be removed before stepping on a tatami mat. Bowing reflects a person’s social status and social position and is customary for Japanese people to greet one another. A handshake is an acceptable greeting for foreigners. Also, state “itadakimasu” (“I humbly receive,” “bon appetit”) before eating to express gratitude; share alcohol with others and serve based on seniority. Toast one another and then drink the first drink together.
Ecotourism: Ecotourism provides Japanese travellers with deeper exploration in natural environments and local communities the opportunity for revitalization and natural resource conservation. Sustainable recreation includes whale and dolphin watching, forest hikes, wildlife tours and treehouse stays. Japan-bound tourists can target Okinawa for “green” destinations, as well as the Tsuji island to learn about dolphin ecology. In Yakushima, a UNESCO World Heritage site, tourists can go canyoning, snorkeling, forest walking and take a two-day coastline drive to see stunning views and sea turtles.
Transportation: Japan’s modernized and energy-efficient public transit can be expensive, yet accessible, fast and an opportunity to see the country. Bullet trains (known as shinkansens) and a network of high-speed train lines connect major cities in the main islands Honshu and Kyushu. Japan-Guide.com provides a detailed railway guide on multiple lines in the shinkansen network, including tickets, seat classes, rail passes, seat reservations, amenities and services. Local trains and buses also run in rural and metropolitan areas while Japanese islands are connected by ferries.
Temperature & Weather: Japan is a relatively temperate country. Autumn is between September and November, and December to February marks the winter season. Spring, the months between March and May, is Japan’s high peak travelling season because of favourable temperatures and the holiday Golden Week, which falls on April 27 to May 6. The hot and humid summer season begins in June, which is also the start of a three to four-week rainy season. For more details on when to travel, check out Japan-Guide.com’s month-by-month breakdown on Japan’s weather and temperatures.
Money: Gather various ways to access money in case your cash is stolen or you lose your credit card. ATMs that accept foreign cards and banks that accept traveller’s cheques are limited in some Japanese areas and cities, which is why it’s important to have multiple payment options. Cash is preferred in Japan, but bring along traveller’s cheques, debit cards and cash cards as well. Check credit card limits and expiration dates to avoid getting declined. Try to use a credit card that doesn't charge a foreign transaction fee and offers travel rewards.
Credit Card Fraud: Be very mindful of your surroundings, especially during a purchase in a crowded area like the frenetic city of Tokyo. Thieves are experts at stealing credit card information, and pocket-surfers use a high-tech scanner to electronically pickpocket your information (also known as crowd hacking). Prevent credit card fraud by first notifying your credit card company about your trip abroad to prevent an account hold due to suspected fraud; your issuer will then monitor for any unusual activity. Use the device Signal Vault or wrap cards in aluminum to protect yourself from electronic pickpocketing.
Overseas Emergency: Secure your travel insurance to insulate yourself from steep financial losses in the event of a medical emergency, major travel delay or cancellation, lost luggage, damage or theft. An insurance policy is a travelling essential serving as protection from unpredictable circumstances that no traveller is exempt from. The DFAT recommends registering travel and contact details in case you need to be contacted or located. Also, subscribe to DFAT’s Travel Advisories and Bulletins to receive updates and notifications about travelling to Japan.
Accommodation: Hotels are common and available; yet, because the high costs of living in Japan affect the country’s tourism industry, prices can get costly, depending on where you’re staying. Hostel dorms and pod or capsule hotels tend to be on the cheaper end. In a capsule hotel, travellers sleep in a tiny capsule and share bathrooms and common areas. Couchsurfing, also known as hospitality exchanges, isn’t as prevalent in Japan, but if you book well in advance, you have a high chance of reserving a place to stay.
Transportation: The bullet train provides excellent cross-country travel. It’s convenient, comfortable, fast and ideal for travellers with limited time to see the country. Individual tickets are expensive though and can cost hundreds of dollars. Get a Japan Rail pass for intra-country and even intra-city travel with local stops. City metro tickets for a single journey or day pass are options as well. In Tokyo, hit the world-class Yamanote Line for all major city stops. Bus travel is less expensive than the bullet train, but keep in mind you’ll sacrifice time for a lower fare. Avoid taxis if possible; public transportation will be the most efficient and cost-effective.
Japan’s food culture is world-class from the flavours and freshness to the aesthetic presentation of any dish. Sushi, ramen and tempura are iconic Japanese cuisine to try and savor, but traditional Japanese fare goes way beyond fish, rice and noodles. Yakiniku (Korean-style barbecue), onigiri (stuffed rice balls), nabe (soup), soumen (cold soba noodles), nikujaga (stew), and tonkatsu (fried pork cutlets) will satisfy the Aussie travellers palate. Where to eat? Imagine izakayas, noodle shops, sushi bars, markets, and cafés. Regional specialties include the following:
Travel north up the Pacific Ocean to celebrate the country’s stunning natural beauty and distinctive cultural landmarks. Witness how the industrial, high-tech country moves with its de rigueur style, pop culture influences and economic advancements. Before stepping foot on this island nation, though, just make sure to prepare accordingly to avoid mishaps that can turn your trip into a catastrophe.
Health examination? Check. Travel insurance? Check. Valid passport? Check. Multiple payment options? Check. Creating an itinerary is the exciting part. But, don't neglect to also make a list of important health and safety precautions to take before you depart. Equipped with an awesome agenda and proper preparation? Now you're ready for unforgettable experience in the “Land of the Rising Sun.”
Annual rainfall and average temperatures representative of statistics gathered from World Bank for the host country or a continental sample; temperatures and rainfall gathered from a 20-year period between 1980 and 1999. Clock time does not take into account DST for other countries.