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Japan is an isolated archipelago off the coast of mainland China, Russia, and Korea, separated from its Asian neighbours by the Sea of Japan. Between 1639 and 1859, Japan elected to cut itself off from trade or traffic with the rest of the world, except for marginal contact through the southern Kyushu island ports.
Since reopening up its doors around 150 years ago, the densely populated islands have developed in leaps and bounds and much of the country is now covered by sprawling neon-lit cities and the world's most sophisticated public transport networks.
Modern it may be, but Japan still retains plenty of its mystical oriental charm. From the intricacies of etiquette demanded in social situations, to the minimalist décor behind rice paper screens, traditional Japanese culture is alive and well, making a visit to Japan a fascinating experience.
The modern metropolises are dotted with numerous ancient shrines and temples, while the countryside is riddled with hundreds of volcanoes and hot springs overlooking pastoral paddy fields. Parks are festooned with rigidly raked white gravel Zen gardens or coated with layers of lilac and cherry blossom.
Japan's islands are mountainous in the interior - 75 percent of the country's landmass is made up of mountains - and most of the people are tightly packed within the limitations of the coastal plains, particularly on the main island of Honshu. Tokyo, the capital and largest city, situated on Honshu's east coast, has a population of 12 million.
Despite this huge mass of humanity, Japan is well ordered. Everything runs on time, and crime levels are almost non-existent. It is still possible to find beautiful vistas and wide empty spaces in the countryside, and when you are forced to mingle with the urban throngs you will find the Japanese to be charming, courteous, and friendly to foreign faces.
The fascinating land of pink cherry blossoms, sushi, and manga comics, Japan is a cultural explosion of historic attractions, neon-lit cities, and exquisite mountainous landscapes. Thankfully, this mystical country retains plenty of its ancient charm resulting in an experience of a lifetime.
Head to the capital of Tokyo for a spot of shopping, sample authentic Japanese cuisine, and maybe even enjoy a little karaoke. Although famous for its glitz and neon glam, this impressive modern metropolis also has ancient shrines and temples round just about every corner, making the sightseeing a wonderful combination of old and new.
Head south to the city of Hiroshima, the country's most famous tourist destination, where thousands of visitors make a pilgrimage to Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park, taking in the museums and lively city that has emerged triumphantly from the horror of the atomic bomb dropped during World War II. Hiroshima is a must for anybody interested in modern history and is a deeply moving place to visit.
Once you have had enough of Japan's cities, visit the countryside and witness picturesque volcanoes, take a dip in the hot springs, and explore the mountainous interior of the islands. Japan is a beautiful country and even in the cities the parks are punctuated with cherry blossom trees and mathematically correct Zen gardens which never cease to amaze foreigners.
Japan's Imperial Palace is regarded as the heart and soul of Tokyo, standing on a huge site that still bears the remains of Edo Castle, stronghold of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The present palace was completed in 1888 and is still home to the emperor of Japan. The palace is off-limits but its grounds and surrounds provide a much-needed green space for the city with Higashi Gyoen, site of the Edo Castle Keep, open to the public. On January 2nd and December 23rd each year, visitors are able to enter the inner grounds and see the imperial family make public appearances from the balcony. Guided tours of the palace are offered but only in Japanese, although an English pamphlet and audio guide are provided. These tours must be reserved in advance through the Imperial Household Agency.
To the north of the Imperial Palace lies the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, built long ago in 1869 to commemorate those two and a half million Japanese who died in war. Soldiers fought in the knowledge that their spirits would find rest and honour at Yasukuni in the afterlife. The shrine is confined behind a huge steel torii (gate), opening onto a long avenue lined with gingko and cherry trees, while the Worship Hall itself is a simple Shinto-style building. North of the shrine is the Yushukan Museum, containing war memorabilia, some of which is disturbing and thought-provoking, such as the human torpedo and kamikaze suicide attack plane.
This museum is dedicated to detailing Tokyo's history, culture and architecture. Edo was the old name for Tokyo when the country came under the rule of the warlord, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Exhibits include a replica of an ancient Kabuki theatre, maps, photographs, and portrayals of the lives of the city's merchants, craftsmen and townspeople in days gone by. There are numerous interactive exhibits and many intricate models with such wonderful detail that binoculars are provided for visitors to better appreciate them. Traditional performances are held in the recreated theatre, which is not the only historic building to be recreated life-size.
In a small area west of Akihabara Station lies a bright cluster of electronics shops, manga and anime stores, and video game outlets. The suburb has been specialising in electrical equipment since the 1930s and is now regarded as the world's biggest and best electrical equipment enclave. Although the cheap and impressive technology draws many visitors, this is also a paradise for gamers and anime fans, with shops full of merchandise and numerous arcades. The arcades carry everything new and novel but also have many of the vintage games that are difficult to find these days.
The Asakusa neighbourhood in Tokyo draws visitors to admire the city's oldest temple, Senso-ji, founded in 628. The story goes that two brothers fishing in the nearby river netted a golden image of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, and the statue kept turning up in their nets no matter how many times they threw it back. The brothers were inspired to enshrine it in a temple dedicated to the deity. The statuette is still inside, but never shown to the public, though pilgrims flock here every day seeking the favour of the goddess. For many visitors, the temple is one of the highlights of a visit to Tokyo, while the nearby Demboin Garden is a good spot to relax.
There is plenty of fun to be had at Tokyo Disney Resort, reminiscent of the themepark found in California. Opened in 1983, it has gradually developed a character of its own and grown into one of the most popular amusement parks in the world. It offers unique attractions and an interesting fusion of American and Japanese culture, combining novel treats and old favourites among the seven different themed lands. Consisting of Disneyland Park and DisneySea Park, it's the premier attraction for kids in Tokyo.
Close to Ueno Station and enclosed in the beautiful, spacious park of the same name, the National Museum is host to the largest collection of Japanese art in the world. Exhibits range from antique kimonos and delicate pottery to woodblock prints and archaeological finds. The vast collection is displayed on a rotating basis with at least 4,000 artefacts visible at any time, so the museum always has something new to offer. The museum consists of five different buildings containing numerous galleries, so one needs sufficient time to do it justice. The Imperial Gift Park is a lovely place to enjoy a stroll, with big ponds and shaded areas to rest; the grounds also contain some other cultural institutions, including a zoo, the Metropolitan Art Museum, Bunka Kaikan Cultural Hall, the Western Art Museum, and the National Science Museum. There should be something here to interest the whole family and all the educational attractions can easily fill a whole day of sightseeing.
Japan's imperial family lived in the Kyoto palace from 1331 until 1868, and today visitors can view the furnishings and delicate decorations. Once only accessible via a guided tour that required advanced booking, the palace grounds can now be entered and viewed at the visitor's leisure without any prior arrangements. English guided tours are possible, and those interested should book a space in advance in order to avoid disappointment by calling at the Imperial Household Agency office. Visitors should note that even on the official tours it is impossible to enter any of the palace buildings, although you should be shown a video and photos showcasing the interiors. There are lockers at the site to store anything you don't want to carry while walking around the complex.
To-ji is a Buddhist temple founded in 794 as guardian of the then young capital city. A five-storey pagoda rebuilt in the mid-17th century, a treasure trove of statues, calligraphy, and paintings has been collected at the temple. The statues include a six-metre-tall Senju Kannon (thousand-armed Buddhist Goddess of Mercy) carved in 877. The gardens at the temple are lovely and the temple is an active place of worship holding many ceremonies and religious services, giving the place a serene and authentic atmosphere. While there are many temples in the area, To-ji stands out because of its historic pagoda and awesome collection.
Once part of a large Buddhist temple complex known as the Lotus King Temple, the temple of Rengeoin is better known by its popular name of Sanjusangen-do. Inside the longest wooden building in Japan stands row upon row of life-sized statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. They're carved from Japanese cypress and covered in gold leaf, dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries. There are 1,000 statues and each is unique, bearing a religious symbol or gesture. They surround the large, central figure of a seated Kannon, carved in 1254 in the Kamakura Period. All the golden statues create a hypnotic yellow haze, giving credence to the local myth that if you stare at them for long enough one of the statues will assume the form of a loved one.
Most visitors to Japan are fascinated with traditional geisha: white-faced kimono-clad women specially trained to entertain and spoil men in a soothing setting. Kyoto boasts one of the most famous geisha districts in the country, a neighbourhood of plain wooden buildings to the east of the Kamo River known as Gion. There were once thousands of geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) performing their genteel tasks in this area. Today, the number has dwindled to a few hundred, but visitors who stroll Hanamikoji Street at sunset, past teahouses and restaurants, will probably catch a glimpse of one or two en route to the geisha houses in their wooden shoes and full traditional finery.
Meaning 'pure water', Kiyomizu-dera is one of Japan's most celebrated temples. Founded in 780, it is associated with Nara Buddhism, the oldest sect in Japan. The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of its main features for tourists are the lovely views from the terrace of the wooded hills of eastern Kyoto. Below the terrace is the spring from which the temple got its name; visitors can sample the water said to have healing powers. Nearby is an interesting three-storey pagoda, and the Otowa Waterfall. Behind the temple is the Shinto Jishu Shrine, dedicated to the god of love. There is lots to see and do in the temple complex, which tends to be bustling with visitors and worshippers, and provides a fascinating cultural and historical experience for foreigners.
Inokashira Park is a tranquil oasis amid the bustle of Japan's capital city and is often lauded by locals and visitors as the best urban park in Japan. The park contains a temple dedicated to the goddess of love, a petting zoo and an aquarium, and is lively with musicians, artists and street performers. One of the more popular attractions in Inokashira Park is the Ghibli Museum, featuring displays on popular animated films such as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Howl's Moving Castle. Possibly the best activity to enjoy in Inokashira is a drift in one of the swan-shaped paddle boats around the lake, its reflective water particularly romantic in March and April when overhanging trees are in full bloom.
Around the epicentre of the atomic bomb explosion in Hiroshima in 1945, a complex of buildings and monuments was erected in the Peace Memorial Park. Central to the park is the only remaining building damaged in the blast, now known as the Atomic Bomb Dome. The park also contains the Peace Memorial Museum, featuring exhibits portraying the horrors of the bomb. Between the museum and the dome stands the Memorial Cenotaph containing a stone chest, inside which is a list of all those killed in the explosion or who died from radiation poisoning. The Cenotaph also houses the peace flame, which burns until nuclear war is no longer considered a threat to humanity. Other monuments include the Statue of the A-Bomb Children and the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound, containing the ashes of tens of thousands of unidentified victims.
Hiroshima boasts the first public art museum in Japan devoted exclusively to contemporary art. It sits high on a hill in Hijiyama Park, famed for its cherry blossoms and splendid city views. The museum itself contains the works of established and up-and-coming Japanese artists, covering a range of different mediums and hosting regular temporary exhibitions. For those not familiar with Japanese art, the museum has provided information books on the individual artists represented, written in English. There is an outdoor sculpture garden to enjoy in the lovely grounds and the Hiroshima Manga Library is also located here.
Hiroshima's original castle was totally destroyed in the atomic blast but has been reconstructed as a replica. When the castle was established by a feudal lord in 1589, Hiroshima didn't exist; the city that grew around the fortress took its name. At the time, the area was called Gokamura, meaning five small villages,and the lord ruled over a vast territory spanning nine provinces from the stronghold. The castle now houses a museum detailing the region's history up until World War II and particularly the historic feudal system. The exhibits include some models of ancient Hiroshima and some traditional costumes to try on, while there are great lookout spots and tranquil grounds.
The romantic little island of Miyajima is scenically beautiful with steep wooded hills, famous for its 6th century Itsukushima Shrine featuring a massive red wooden torii (gate). During high tide, the shrine stands in the ocean and is particularly picturesque when illuminated at night. The Daisho-in Temple is situated about halfway up the mountain with incredible views and a pathway strewn with hundreds of statues. There are also temples and shrines near the summit of Mount Misen worth exploring. The island offers great hiking opportunities, particularly in spring when the many cherry trees are in bloom, and in autumn, when the colours are at their most vibrant. Tame deer wander free and even bow if you give them a cookie, while monkeys chatter happily in the woods.
The erosion of a limestone plateau has left a beautiful deep gorge, creating 11 miles (18km) of primeval forest, waterfalls and unusual rock formations. The Onbashi Bridge formation is the largest natural bridge in Japan. Sandankyo Gorge is one of only five ravines in Japan that have been designated as National Scenic Beauty Spots and the country takes great pride in the beautiful area, which is a favourite with hikers. One of the most popular walking trails begins at the front gate with the lovely Kurafuchi pool, known for its emerald green water, as the turning point. On this route you will also see the Shimai waterfall and Ishidoi rapids. It's closed in winter because snow makes the ravine impassable and dangerous.
Founded in 1195 by the priest Eisai who introduced the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism into Japan, Shofukuji was the first Zen temple to be built in Japan. In the temple grounds are the remains of two other ancient temples, as well as a number of other structures. Sadly, the ancient buildings cannot be entered but visitors can explore the lovely grounds and examine the facades. Although the temple complex is a historic and ancient site, it's not frequented by tourists and is seldom crowded. As a result, it's peaceful and serene, with its age and history almost palpable.
Fukuoka's Asian Art Museum is found in the heart of the city, housing more than 1,000 works including paintings, sculptures, prints and handcrafts. This popular modern museum offers a wide array of contemporary Japanese art and art from many other Asian countries. It's fairly small but gives an impressively comprehensive overview of current trends in the region. And while the permanent collection is wonderful, there are regular temporary exhibitions and special events too. The museum should appeal to those both uninitiated and well-versed in Asian art.
One of Fukuoka's best-known shrines is Kushida, founded in 757. It's situated in the heart of ancient Hakata with a huge 1,000-year-old gingko tree shading its forecourt. The shrine honours the grand deity, Ohata Nushina-mikoto, and was built for the common people during the Heian Period. Today it's much enjoyed by locals and visitors alike during the summer's major event, the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival. On the last day of the festival, the Kushida Shrine becomes the starting point for this fun run where hundreds of young men clad only in loincloths carry heavy wooden shrines through the streets along a set route, vying to clock the fastest times. The shrine itself contains several items of interest, particularly the Eto Arrow plate bearing carvings of the Chinese zodiac and a brace of anchor stones, recovered from the harbour, that were once attached to ships of the Mongolian invasion fleets. The Hakata Historical Museum is also situated in the shrine grounds, which are pretty and well-kept.
Situated in a corner of the Hokkaido Nopporo Forest Park in Sapporo, this impressive and entertaining outdoor museum village depicts Hokkaido life in days of old. The site features restored or recreated buildings from the Meiji and Taisho periods, and includes edifices like the old Sapporo railway station, old Otaru newspaper company buildings, fishermen's cottages and mountain villas. Horse-drawn trolleys run through the village and sleighs carry visitors during winter. The nearby Ainu Centre details the history of the region's indigenous people, exploring their unique culture developed on the island of Hokkaido for hundreds of generations. There are numerous interesting exhibits and demonstrations, making it the perfect companion attraction for the historical village.
For beer lovers, a visit to the beer museum in the historic Sapporo Brewery building is a must, together with a tour of the brewery itself, which, of course, ends with a tasting. The red brick brewery building was opened first as a sugar factory in 1876 and has been the home of Japan's famous beer since 1887. It's possible to book in advance and request an English interpreter, while there is also English information detailing Sapporo beer's history. Despite the fact that the exhibits are almost totally in Japanese, it's still interesting to see the old photographs and memorabilia.
Fondly known as Sapporo's backyard ski resort, Mount Moiwa offers 10 different courses for all grades of skiers from beginners to advanced. Most of the slopes are well lit to enable visitors and locals alike to enjoy the fun of night skiing, taking in the breathtaking view of the city as they fly down the sparkling slopes beneath the stars. There is an observatory on the mountain reached by cable car, and even if you have no intention of skiing it is worth a trip up to this platform to enjoy the incredible views.
The famous hot-spring resort of Noboribetsu Onsen is situated inside the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. The spa complex is one of many found in Hokkaido, but being closest to Sapporo is very popular. Hot mineral springs gush out about 10,000 tons of water a day, said to have healing properties for a range of disorders. There are more than 30 hotels and bathhouses grouped along a narrow street. The area is also known for its cherry trees, which make a stunning sight in spring, and there are some worthwhile hiking trails in the park. There is high-end luxury accommodation, but also cheaper options for those travelling on a budget. It is possible at some spots to bathe in the natural springs outdoors, which is the most atmospheric option.
Modelled after the Eiffel Tower, the Tokyo Tower is more colourful and serves a technological purpose. Functioning chiefly as a television and radio antenna, it's also one of the city's premier landmarks and a proud symbol of Japanese culture. At 1,091 feet (332m), it's the tallest structure in Tokyo and a great vantage point from which to take in the city. There are two observation decks in the tower, both with magnificent 360 degree panoramic views. At the base of the tower is the four-storey FootTown where visitors will find restaurants, the Guinness Book of World Records Museum, an aquarium, theme park rides and the Gallery DeLux, a display of holographic technology and imagery.
Built in homage to the Emperor Meiji and his wife, the Empress Shoken, the Meiji Jingu monument is located in a 175 acre (70ha) evergreen forest and consists of two main areas. In the inner Naien, there is a garden featuring shrines and a treasure museum holding articles belonging to the Emperor and Empress. In the outer cloister, the Gaien, the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery presents murals depicting significant events during the Meiji rule. Today, traditional Shinto weddings are held in the hall and newcomers to Japan are always intrigued when witnessing the unique Shinto wedding procession. The lush grounds are wonderful to explore, providing sanctuary from the busy city at any time of day.
Kabuki is a traditional Japanese dance-drama known for its stylised performance and the elaborate make-up worn by some performers. It enjoyed a golden age in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and today is the most popular style of traditional Japanese drama. While there are many wonderful places in Japan to view kabuki theatre, the Kyoto Minamiza Theatre is one of the principal venues for such performances and a major hub for the art form. The building itself is an architectural wonder, built in a traditional style in 1929, on the edge of the Geisha district of Gion.
Kids will be kept busy for hours on end at Tokyo Joypolis, one of the world's most famous theme parks. Apart from all the rides and games, there are several shops and a wide selection of restaurants to choose from. The park provides hours of entertainment for the whole family and is a wonderful attraction for a rainy day. The queues can get frustratingly long though, so it's best to go during the week, either early in the morning or in the evening.
Japanese Phrase Book
|Hello||Kon ni chi wa|
|Goodbye||Sayoo na ra|
|Thank you||Arigatoo (gozaimasu)|
|My name is...||Watashi no namae wa...|
|How much...?||Ikura desuka...?|
|Where is...?||Wa doko desuka...?|
|Do you speak English?||Anata wa eigo o hanashimasu ka?|
|No, I don t understand||Lie, wakarimasen|
|One, two, three, four, five||Ichi, ni, san, shi, go|
|I need a doctor||Byouin ni ikitai|
The weather throughout the four main islands that make up Japan is generally temperate, with four distinct seasons. The climate varies according to island and terrain, so visitors should be sure to check the weather for the region they are visiting.
The weather can get very hot during the summer months - June, July and August - which can also be humid. In the south, winters are cool but sunny, as one moves further north temperatures drop and snow falls. The island of Hokkaido in the far north of Japan is bitterly cold in the winter, with snow guaranteed. The rainy season runs from June to early August and August, September and October are typhoon season in Japan.
The best time to visit Japan varies depending on desired activities and regions, but April is a wonderful month to visit as the cherry blossoms are usually adorning the trees making it the prettiest time of year in the country.
September, October, and November - the autumn months - are also a pleasant time to visit, although it is typhoon season. Japan is popular year-round as a travel destination because it attracts winter sports enthusiasts in the cold months and sightseers the rest of the year, but spring and autumn are the most comfortable weather-wise.
This well-known establishment has become something of a tourist landmark in Roppongi, probably because of its delicious yakitori cuisine and reasonable prices. Yakitori is the Japanese version of the barbecue, with chicken, beef, pork, or fish kebabs grilled over oak coals, served with large bowls of crudité vegetables like crisp raw cabbage, carrots, and courgettes. Nanbantei offers bargain lunch menus and specialities like namban-yaki (grilled beef dipped in hot miso) and asapura-maki (green asparagus wrapped in thinly sliced pork). Open for dinner only, Monday to Saturday, with the last order at 10.30pm.
Decidedly opulent, the lavish La Tour D'Argent, like its famous sister in Paris, sets the standard for French haute cuisine. The high standard of the food and décor is only matched by the prices in this celebrated establishment situated in the New Otani Hotel. The house speciality is the duck, specially flown in daily from Brittany in France. Other highlights on the menu are pigeon and fricassee of lobster. It is all prepared by chefs trained at the Paris restaurant and an impressive wine list accompanies the outstanding menu, which changes seasonally. Closed Mondays. Dinner only. Reservations essential and dress code is jacket and tie.
Good old English steak and kidney pie in the heart of Japan? Charles Dickens himself would feel at home in Tokyo's British pub which serves up a variety of ales and a down-to-earth atmosphere helped along with wooden beams, sprung floors, hand-painted pub signs, and dried hops. It also offers live music every night of the week. The menu is reasonably priced and consists of several traditional British favourites such as cottage pie, accompanied by heaps of potatoes, and vegetables. Closed Mondays.
The twin restaurants of La Granata and Granata Moderna are situated in the basement of the Tokyo Broadcasting Systems building, but the Italian cuisine on offer is top level. La Granata offers a traditional ambience with check tablecloths and brickwork, while Granata Moderna is elegantly modern with mirrors and stained glass. Both offer delicious pasta specialities.
It is worth waiting in line to sample the fare at Tokyo's most renowned tonkatsu (deep fried pork) outlet. Waiters take orders while patrons queue for a spot at the well-worn Formica-topped tables, watching the hustle and bustle of the dozens of busy cooks in action. The reward is delectable treats like hirekatsu (fillet of lean pork) reishoki, or rosukatsu (loin cut), crunchy on the outside and melt-in-the-mouth tender on the inside, or perhaps a tasty kushikatsu (skewered meat with onions). Tonki is closed Tuesdays and the third Monday of every month.
Roti serves some of Tokyo's most authentic American grill and rotisserie cuisine. The ambience is relaxed and causal, the waitstaff friendly and helpful, and the food delicious. Many expats frequent this eatery due to its wide selection of beers and old favourites such as the deluxe blue cheese burger, char-grilled steaks, and sticky Shanghai style pork ribs and the classic Mexican tortillas and jalapeno cheese dip. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Booking recommended.
The currency is the Japanese Yen (JPY). Major credit cards are accepted in the larger hotels and stores, but most Japanese operate with cash. Money can be exchanged in banks, post offices and currency exchange bureaux. Banks are usually open Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm. The best foreign currency to take to exchange are US dollars. ATMs are common but do not accept all credit and debit cards; only the international ATMs in post offices, airports and some major stores will accept foreign cards.
Japanese is the official language. Most Japanese people will have studied English at school, but few can speak it well or understand exactly what is said to them in English.
Electrical current is 100 volts, 60Hz in the west (Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Hiroshima); 100 volts, 50Hz in eastern Japan (Tokyo, Sapporo, Yokohoma). Flat two- and three-pin plugs are used.
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Japan. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
UK nationals: British citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Japan. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days (extension possible), for British passport holders endorsed British Citizen or British National (Overseas). British nationals with other endorsements should confirm requirements with their nearest embassy.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Japan. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Japan. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days. Note that visa exemptions apply to holders of an APEC Business Travel Card, provided the back of the card states that it is valid for travel to Japan.
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival, and require a visa to enter Japan.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Japan. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days, with extensions possible.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Japan. Passport exemptions apply to holders of a temporary or emergency passport who are New Zealand nationals. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days. Note that visa exemptions apply to holders of an APEC Business Travel Card, provided the back of the card states that it is valid for travel to Japan.
All foreign passengers to Japan must hold proof of sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in the country, return/onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
No vaccination certificates are required for entry to Japan. Long-term travellers, staying for more than a month in rural areas, should consider getting a Japanese encephalitis vaccination if they are travelling between the months of June and September.
Medical facilities are very good in Japan, but medical assistance can be very expensive and visitors have to pay the whole cost upfront. Travellers should ensure that they have adequate medical insurance before travelling.
Vicks inhalers and other common medications used for allergies and sinus problems are banned under the strictly enforced anti-stimulant drugs law, and visitors are advised to check with the Japanese embassy if in doubt.
It is always best to take prescribed medications with you when you travel, in the original packaging and with a signed and dated letter from your doctor detailing what the medication is and why you need it.
Tips and bargaining are not expected in Japan; in fact, tipping is usually considered almost rude and shouldn't be attempted.
The vast majority of visits to Japan are trouble-free. It is generally a very safe country with low levels of common crime and is stable, highly developed, and modern. Travellers should, however, still be vigilant about personal safety and belongings.
Typhoons are common, particularly from August to October, and travellers should take note of storm warnings along the coastal regions if travelling during this period. Japan is in a major earthquake zone, and earthquakes of varying sizes occur very frequently.
The Japanese are formal and reserved and visitors are expected to behave politely. Their system of etiquette is one of the most complex in the world, with a strict code of conduct for almost every situation. It is important to avoid causing 'loss of face' by insulting or criticising someone in front of others. Bowing is the customary greeting.
Business in Japan can be highly formal and greetings are usually rather ritualistic due to the hierarchical society; a third party introduction is useful. Central to doing business in Japan is the notion of kaizen, which represents the drive for constant improvement. Japanese business culture is very formal in dress code and conduct.
Always greet in order of seniority, first by bowing and then offering a handshake. A polite bow is customary; the more senior the person, the deeper the bow. Expect silence in meetings and don't be surprised if a business associate goes silent and closes his eyes in a meeting - it indicates reflection. As with many Asian countries, it is important to avoid being too direct, while still illustrating sincerity and honesty. When deflecting difficult or embarrassing questions, vague forms of expression are key.
Relationship building is central to business culture in Japan. Meetings often include excessive small talk as a means of building rapport. Calm, introverted and humble personality types garner respect. However, sober attitudes are suspended during social activities; evening drinks with business associates is an important part of solidifying business relationships in Japan, and whatever happens during the evening drinks, is never repeated or spoken about during business hours.
Business cards are exchanged often, using both hands. It can be useful to have cards printed with both English and Japanese, and one should present the card with the Japanese side facing the recipient. English translators are vital when conducting business in Japan as Japanese tends to be the language of business. Office hours start at 8am and finish at 6pm throughout the week. Business wear is formal and gifts, although not expected, are appreciated. Small items branded with your company's logo are generally well received.
The international access code for Japan is +81. City/area codes are in use, e.g. (0)3 for Tokyo and (0)82 for Hiroshima. Hotels, cafes, and restaurants offering free wifi are widely available. As international roaming costs can be high, purchasing a local prepaid SIM card can be a cheaper option.
Travellers to Japan over 20 years do not have to pay duty on 3 bottles of alcoholic beverages; 400 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500g tobacco; perfume up to 60ml; and gifts and souvenirs to the value of ¥200,000.
Prohibited items include all types of firearms and ammunition, narcotics, pornography, meat products, counterfeit money, all plants and vegetables with soil, fresh fruit, vegetables and plants or parts thereof.
Japanese Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 238 6700.
Japanese Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7465 6500.
Japanese Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 241 8541.
Japanese Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6273 3244.
Japanese Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 452 1500.
Japanese Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 202 8300.
Japanese Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 473 1540.
United States Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 3224 5000.
British Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 5211 1100.
Canadian Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 5412 6200.
Australian Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 5232 4111.
South African Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 3265 3366.
Irish Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 3263 0695.
New Zealand Embassy, Tokyo: +81 (0)3 3467 2271.
The dormant volcano of Mount Fuji has been revered since ancient times, its symmetrical 12,388-foot (3,776m) snow-crowned summit as symbolic as the country's own flag. It features in poetry and art through the ages and is considered a holy site in Japanese culture. The highest mountain in Japan, it has many historical and mythological associations, with ancient samurai using the base of the mountain as a remote training area. The closest town to the volcano is Fuji Yoshida, from which buses leave frequently for the most popular hiking routes. There are six trails to the summit, of which the Kawaguchiko Trail is the easiest, being quite manageable even for children and the elderly.
Kamakura was the political powerhouse of Japan during the middle ages and the seat of government for most of the 13th century. Because of its historic importance, it boasts numerous monuments, temples and shrines. As an added bonus, the city sports sandy beaches and good hiking trails in the nearby wooded hills. One of the most important sites of interest is the Great Buddha: a bronze statue of the seated Amida Buddha located in the grounds of the Kotokuin Temple. Cast in 1252 and standing almost 44ft (13,35m) high, it's the second largest Buddha statue in Japan after that found in the Todaiji Temple in Nara.
The main reason for visiting Yokohama is to marvel at its futuristic new city centre and perhaps take a stroll through Japan's largest Chinatown. Entered through four colourful gates and teeming with restaurants and shops, Yokohama's Chinatown developed after the city became one of the first Japanese ports to be opened to foreign trade after isolation ended in 1859. Chinese traders flocked to the city, establishing a cultural neighbourhood. Minato Mirai is the new central city area around the harbour, characterised by the Landmark Tower, rising to 971ft (296m). Visitors can ride to the observation deck in the world's second fastest elevator for a view that can stretch as far as Mount Fuji.
One of Kyoto's most popular attractions is to the north of the city. The Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) is a three-storey pavilion covered in gold leaf, glittering alongside waters of a calm pond and surrounded by beautiful gardens. Kinkakuji was built in 1397 as a retirement home for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who lived there in luxury until he died in 1408, after which the building was converted into a Zen temple. In 1950, a monk burnt the pavilion down and it was not rebuilt until 1955. Today it is covered in gold leaf five times thicker than the original coating and presents an awesome sight. A short walk from the pavilion is Ryoanji, Japan's most famous Zen rock garden, laid out in the 15th century.
Built in 1645 by Prince Toshihito and considered to be the finest example of pure Japanese architecture and garden design, Katsura Rikyu is beautiful in its simplicity. The buildings are constructed of entirely natural materials and consist of a moon-viewing pavilion, an imperial hall and a teahouse, as well as the wooden villa itself. The garden is designed for leisurely strolls with surprises around each corner, from stone bridges and lanterns to ponds and manicured trees. The grounds are particularly beautiful in the autumn, when the rich colours of the trees make for even better photos than usual. It's interesting to see how the imperial families lived and the Katsura Imperial Villa is one of the most popular attractions in Kyoto.
Originally called Heijo, Nara became the first permanent capital of the country in 710. Although its capital status only lasted for 74 years, they were years that entrenched and enshrined Japan's arts, crafts and literature. It flourished as a political and cultural centre and was blessed with numerous temples, pagodas and palaces. Most of Nara's historic treasures are conveniently contained in a vast park, making sightseeing easy and pleasurable. Highlights are Todaiji, the huge temple containing Japan's largest Buddha statue, and Horyuji, the temple containing the world's oldest wooden structures. A good way to explore the city is on a historic walking tour and visitors should ensure that they take a stroll around the old Naramachi merchant district.
In the northern part of Kyushu Island in southwestern Japan lie the ruins of Dazaifu, a city that during the 1st century was the seat of government for the island and first line of defence against threat from East Asian nations. Dazaifu also boasts one of Japan's most important shrines, dedicated to a great scholar named Sugawara Michizane. It's now a pilgrimage site for students from all over the country, especially when examination season comes around. The ancient Komyozenji Temple is also worth a visit, mainly for the stunning gardens, which are particularly beautiful in the autumn when the leaves turn a magnificent array of colours.
The volcanic Mount Aso lies almost in the centre of Kyushu Island. Among the largest in the world, it's also Japan's biggest active volcano. It also boasts one of the world's largest caldera, stretching about 11 miles (18km) from east to west and 15 miles (24km) from north to south. While one of its volcanic peaks (Naka) is still active and regularly emits smoke and ash, the rest of the landscape inside the caldera is beautifully green, with horses, livestock and several towns. In the city of Aso there is a museum dedicated to the volcano which is worth visiting for those interested in the region's remarkable geology. There is a cableway up to the Mount Aso crater lake, allowing visitors to see the steaming turquoise water up close.
The beautifully situated port city of Nagasaki lies at the southern end of Kyushu Island. Nagasaki was open to the world for centuries between 1639 and 1859 while the rest of Japan was secluded from foreign contact. The exposure to foreign cultures has left the city with a sophisticated and liberal air that makes it popular for tourists, enhanced by the many attractions in the city itself and surrounding prefecture. Here you can enjoy Feudal castles, samurai houses and smoking volcanoes, as well as hot spring baths, rugged offshore islands and beautiful beaches. The most important site in the city is the Peace Park, commemorating Nagasaki's darkest hour on 9 August 1945, when a nuclear bomb was dropped over the Urakami district, killing approximately 80,000 people. A black stone column marks the blast's epicentre, alongside the Atomic Bomb Museum.
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